By Hema Senanayake –
Robin McLaurin Williams was an American actor, comedian, film producer, and screenwriter. Starting as a stand-up comedian in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, he is credited with leading San Francisco’s comedy renaissance. Robin Williams made us laugh and happy but it seems that he was not happy within. Once he said, “I felt alone and afraid” in one night in Alaska in 2003. In August 2014, he killed himself. Before that he was treated for depression and substance abuse. Many people across the world were shocked and saddened after hearing his death. A few opined him as a cowered for taking his own life. Such tragedies sometimes make us to look inside of ourselves even though we very much involved in politics, economics and social injustices etc. I think his death has sent a clear message to human kind; that is, “we need to mind our own Mind.”
Your body may become sick but do not let your Mind be sick. Can we do it? However, we all wish if we could do it, because we all know for sure that our body becomes old and sick. Everything that comes into existence stays for a while and then passes away. This is a universal and eternal truth. A human being in general stays 100 years maximum; the earth and our solar system stay for a few more billion or trillion years before perish. This is the reality; we will be sick and die.
Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, a wonderful great human being got sick before he got really old. He had a terminal cancer. He knew that he was going to die sooner. His body was sick, but for sure he did not let his mind be sick. During his commencement speech at Sanford University in 2005, he laughed at death; he joked about death. He said, “The death is the best innovation in life.” Being an innovator himself, he explained the reason for his observation. When something is invented anew, old things become obsolete and vanish; similarly the death of old generation will give way to a brand-new generation of people. Mindfully, it seems that he was at ease with his sickness.
Do we conclude that Steve Jobs did not let his Mind be sick even though his body was gravely sick? Also, do we assume that Robin Williams let his Mind be sick even though his body was not so sick at all? Rather than seeking conclusive answers to above questions what we should do is to find out whether we could mindfully choose not to let the Mind be sick.
In fact, what is mind? Is there something call “mind” in our body? Modern science and some Asian religious views clash on this point. Modern science rely on “brain chemistry” to explain the mind; science does not accept the existence of a separate entity or activity call “mind” in our body rather than the brain. At least one religious view differs; it too, rejects the existence of a physical organ or entity call “mind” in our body but it insists the existence of certain actions independent of physical body including brain and five sensory organs (such as eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin) themselves and that process of actions are known as mind. Without mind the brain is of no use and without physical body the mind cannot exist, they argue.
Those who hold the later view insist a few important practical points which perhaps help us to keep the Mind away from being sick if a person wishes to do so. They say the “feeling” is an action and is known as Mind. For example when the eye contact with an outside object we see things. The action of seeing is known as the “Mind” in this particular instance. In other words the feeling of seeing itself is the Mind. Likewise, mainly through our five sensory organs various types of “minds” are sprung up in our body. But a unique feature of mind is that no two minds exist at the same time. This means that a thought associated with happiness cannot co-exist with a thought which is associated with sadness. The importance of this feature is that you can dispel sadness quickly by replacing it with a happy thought or from a thought that is neither happy nor sad. The question arises now is, whether we can switch minds or simply thoughts. Yes, but in order to understand it we need to understand the next unique feature of the mind and thought process.
The next important feature of our mind is that the action of feeling or thought is not one long activity. In order to make it easy let us take one thought as an example. In fact one thought is consisted with many billions of “thoughtlets” that sprung up one after the other. Here, “thoughtlet” means a very small thought. One thoughtlet originates, and then last for a while and then it ceases. This is the nature of any action. Any action begins, last for a while and then ceases. Therefore, any action has to have a definitive time. Since, mind is an action it also should have a definitive time. According to Buddhist texts, the time duration of one particular mind is one billionth of a blink of an eye. Therefore, what we call a “thought” is to be understood as billions of billions of such thoughtlets sprung up one after the other.
Since no two minds take place at the same time we get a chance to replace one mind from another mind within a theoretical time of one billionth of a blink of an eye. This means we can switch the mind that is associated with sadness from a mind that is associated with happiness within a fraction of a blink of an eye. Yet how can we originate a positive thought to replace a negative thought or feeling? This will be explained by the third unique feature of our mind.
The mind is able to create an imaginative object to be associated with a thought other than from five sensory organs. In this case the mind itself works as a kind of sensory organ. Let us take an example. If you feel greedy you know that you are feeling greedy. So, you need to change this greedy thought which consisted with billions of thoughtlets from positive thoughts detached with greediness. This becomes possible only if you can generate an imaginative feeling or mind.
But changing of thoughts or minds to be happy or calm or serene one might requires a lot of energies. Perhaps one might be easily tired or fed up with the effort put into changing the thought process. However if you practice to sustain such positive moods you do not require to make a constant effort to be happy, instead happy thoughts sustain by themselves effortless. This particular school of Buddhist thought believe, due to the said unique features of mind, the MIND can be trained or developed to be free from being sick. If brain chemistry is wrong, we need to put it right by seeing a qualified doctor but that will not be enough. We need to understand that we got a “vehicle” call Mind in our body with good break-system, but a person must learn and be trained to use it. Had Robin knew this, he might have learned it; perhaps that might have saved his life.