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An Enlightened Mind Is Unshaken by External Circumstances

February 1st, 2015

When faced with changing vicissitudes of life, one tends to become emotionally agitated. The deluded ones are constantly reacting to environmental stimulations, allowing the mind to wander off. Whereas the enlightened ones are good at observing the external situations, and will develop a mind capable of acting consciously in order to grow spiritually.

Once, while I was having a discussion with Tzu Chi volunteers, they brought forward the issues they faced after the reform of Tzu Chi volunteers’ structure to four-in-one structure*.  This means the scope of each zone gets smaller, yet clearer.

The team leader and members, who get along well, were reluctant to be separated into different zones. Another volunteer was saddened by the fact that he was no longer in charge of the care recipient whom he had been taking care for a year. From these two examples, we can see that if the mind is inclined towards emotions, we become fettered by attachment.

The main difference between the enlightened and the deluded ones is the ability to “be aware of the external circumstances” and “respond rationally to them”. The enlightened ones are good at observing the external situations, and will develop a mind capable of acting consciously in order to grow spiritually.

In contrast, the deluded ones are constantly reacting to environmental stimulations, allowing the mind to wander off. Hence, regardless how much efforts they put in, the wandering mind will never get close to the right effort.

The mind is like a fish, swimming in any direction, and when it is unaware of a fishing net, would get caught and entangled. The same happens when one is emotionally bonded, thus trapped in the net of affection.

When one is enlightened, love is brought to a higher level into a selfless love, leading to “wisdom”. When one is deluded, love becomes self-centred attachment and this gives rise to “afflictions”.

Affliction is Bodhi for the enlightened; whereas Bodhi becomes affliction for the deluded. Wisdom and affliction are both boundless, the perception depends on the way we think. To be enlightened, one learns by doing and understands through learning, like a car battery that is charged by a running vehicle.

With a loving heart but no willingness to learn, one might make a wrong move even with good intention. A smart person, who is unwilling to learn, might fall prey to his own cleverness. An honest person, who is unwilling to learn, might not be able to make good judgments and adapt to circumstances. An upright person unwilling to learn might be outspoken and offend others. A person, who stands for justice but is yet unwilling to learn, might be foolhardy and act with brute courage.

One who acquires only loving-kindness, but is not rich in knowledge and wisdom, is just a “nice guy” with misplaced kindness. He is described by Confucius as a “local yes-man” who offends no one but is a hypocrite from deep within with low morality. Confucius also said, “One who is great in caring but not in learning will be foiled by acts of folly. One who is great in courage but not in learning will be foiled by lack of control.”


It is easy to be a nice guy, but not one with wisdom or principles and courage. One who is broad-minded like the Bodhisattva can take on different roles in life; and, one who is clear-minded will be able to find peace and ease in any situation. As long as one keeps his mind free from defilements, one develops a mind that is independent of external circumstances and gains control over emotional disturbances.


Mankind, all beings and conditioned phenomena, undergo the “four universal phases of change”, that is, existence, growth, decay and cessation. All occurrences arise due to the presence of necessary conditions. If one condition is absent, the existence ceases. This does not happen based on our willpower, hence, the thirst for permanence in a reality of impermanence is a blind futile struggle.

Thus, feeling upset over the changes of group with the team leader or care recipients, is a form of attachment. Emotional attachment is self-centred, where one builds and extends the notion of “self” or “ego”. If one continues to be blinded by this emotional urge unconsciously, dissatisfaction, disappointment and frustration are bound to occur.

“Ego” means clinging to one’s idea or perception due to lack of thorough understanding, biasness and inconsideration for the overall picture. “I” becomes the centre of the universe. These sense of ego, sense of pride and sense of self will make one to live in a dream world of self-existence and ownership, which results in conflict with others, bringing discomfort and unhappiness. Some people are knowledgeable yet attach to their own views. These people will always think they are right and do not accept other person’s opinions easily.

How do we know if we have rid ourselves of ego? This can be tested by observing our mind when dealing with criticisms and slander. Do we get angry or think of revenge? If the answer is yes, we are not free from it; if the answer is no, then we have eliminated it.

Part of the Dharma is actually to see the causes and conditions, which give rise to the various qualities. When those causes and conditions are not there, those qualities cease. Be aware of the impermanence of everything that is dependent on conditions, and be at ease when parting from the pleasant. When we are disturbed and bound by emotions, the burden gets heavier as we move on with our life.


As Buddhist practitioners, we must learn to take a broader perspective and cultivate a tranquil mind. If we could stop reacting emotionally to situations in life, we would be free from greed and delusions, thus living a happy life.


Be it friendship, romance or families, these affections are in essence self-centred emotions, and inseparable from joy and sorrow when meeting and parting. These relationships correlate with affinities. If there are affinities, seize the moment when the conditions ripen; otherwise, just let them go. So, what is affection? It is merely attachment which many people call love. A true love is not an emotion, it exists only in a tranquil state of mind and is of goodness and selflessness.

The way to happiness begins with the right thinking. The practice of selective thinking leads to the gradual development of consciousness, resulting in awakening from the dream of existence.


*Starting 2003, the fundamental structure of Tzu Chi was reformed into four-in-one structure, namely Unity, Harmony, Mutual Love and Joint Effort. The structure enables efficient execution of tasks by the smallest unit, and serves as one when combined, with no superior or subordinates.

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