Taming the Tiger
By Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche
The mind is the root of all our experience, both of ourselves and of others. If we perceive the world in an unclear way, confusion and suffering will surely arise. It is like someone with defective vision seeing the world as being upside down, or a fearful person finding everything frightening. We may be largely unaware of our ignorance and wrong views, yet at present the mind can be compared to a wild tiger, rampaging through our daily lives. Motivated by desire, hatred and bewilderment this untamed mind blindly pursues what it wants and lashes out at all that stands in its way, with little or no understanding of the way things really are.
The wildness we have to deal with is not simply that of anger and rage; it is much more fundamental than that. The tendency to be driven by ignorance, hatred and delusion enslaves us, allowing confusion and negative emotions to predominate. Thus the mind becomes wild and uncontrollable and our freedom is effectively destroyed. Normally we are so blind that we are unaware of how wild our minds really are. When things go wrong we tend to blame other people and circumstances, rather than look inside ourselves for the causes of the suffering. But if we are ever to find true peace or happiness it is that wildness within which must be faced and dealt with. Only then can we learn to use our energy in a more positive and balanced way, so that we stop causing harm to ourselves and to others.
Before we can tame the tiger we must first track it down. Neither goal is at all easy to achieve, but the difficulties and dangers simply have to be faced. If a child is weak and underdeveloped it isn't helpful just to let that child have its own way. It is the parents' responsibility to encourage the child to walk, so that its body may grow properly and become strong. Thus firmness on the part of the parents can be seen to be a manifestation of true compassion. Similarly, although training the mind might be difficult, even painful at first, we still have to go ahead and do it.
The teachings in Taming the Tiger are applicable to anyone who is suffering, not only to oriental people or to Buddhists. Eastern people may differ from Westerners in their facial features, manner of dress, customs and ways of talking, but human nature is universal and runs deeper than mere racial characteristics or skin colouring. Kindness, wherever it is shown, generally evokes a favourable response; while its opposite causes anger, sorrow or pain. When we consider the joy and suffering in a direct and practical way, it becomes clear that the mind, which is behind everything we do or say, is essentially the same. East or West. Yet where is this mind? We have only to look at everyday situations and examine our behaviour, our desires and our suffering in our every-day situations in order to detect its presence.
As human beings there is a great deal of desire and attachment in our lives. This can cause much suffering, both to ourselves and to others. If the desire is unfulfilled we become unhappy. Even when we get what we want the happiness is only temporary, because invariably a new desire arises to take its place. Time after time all we are doing is trying to satisfy desires which are limitless, shapeless and as vast as the sky. The process is repeated throughout our lives. As children we want lots of toys - one is not enough - and we soon tire of each, in turn. Later on we may have educational ambitions, or wish to have lots of friends. Desire makes us strive to collect material possessions; own a whole range of different clothes; to buy special kinds of food; to collect property, cars, radios and televisions. Less obviously, we may wish to be beautiful or to avoid sickness for as long as we live. We might even fall ill in order to attract attention, sympathy, kindness. Yet as soon as we succeed in becoming ill we want to be well again.
Similarly, our attitude to eating may be affected: when our stomachs are full, we want them to be empty; when empty, we wish they were full. In all these many ways we constantly search for and dream about what we haven't got, without ever finding true satisfaction. Despite all our effort, hardship and expense, we constantly fail to fulfil our wishes.
The mistake is that we expect to find happiness outside ourselves, failing to realise that it can only come from within. If we admire a particular flower and pick it, within days its beauty has gone. But as it withers and dies the desire remains and we want another flower. Clearly our desire cannot be eternally satisfied by any one flower; rather it requires an endless supply of them. So what is required is a change in the way that we perceive the world. We have to learn to accept our desire and yet not be driven by it, only then will we be content with what we already have instead of constantly wanting more. Desire is limitless. It is said that since the mind has no form and no finite end then likewise desire has no form, no finite end it is shapeless, it just goes on and on. Only by taming the mind, therefore, can the endless search for gratification be pacified and our understanding be developed. At that stage we become a little more mature, a little more grown up.
Of course, to some extent, our minds are trained already. When we are babies, we simply act, move and make noises on impulse. Later on as we grow older we do learn some control and independence. Enduring hardships and relating with others grants us a measure of understanding, and some maturity does develop naturally. So, it could be said that we have tamed the tiger a little, in living and growing from day to day. Yet this is still not riding the tiger.
Gurdjieff expresses mind-training in terms of a wild horse and its trainer. Wild horses are neither trained by being completely left alone, nor by continual beating. Such extreme measures will inevitably fail. We have to find a middle way. On the one hand, no benefit comes from the negative attitude that it isn't worthwhile to try and train the wild horse at all. On the other hand, we have to accept that the horse is wild and have a compassionate approach towards training it. Perhaps most important of all, the horse must also accept us as its trainer.
Maturity is only possible once we accept who we are. It isn't helpful to justify our own wildness by blaming society, our family, or our enemies. We have to reach some kind of agreement with ourselves as we really are and accept our thinking, whether it be good or bad. So whatever thoughts which may arise are allowed to flow through us, without our acting them out impulsively, or trying to suppress them, to make them our prisoners.
For example, if we separate out the bad thoughts and instead of accepting them try to hide them in a rubbish bag, then at some stage the bag will become so full that it will burst. This could lead to mental illness and, just like an untamed tiger, we could do a lot of damage, cause a lot of harm. Instead we can work with and transform what is negative; the power of the tiger can be put to good use.
The correct approach is to train the tiger in a dignified way, in a very accepting way. We accept the tiger even if we can't directly see it. The important thing is to face the situation as it is. Irrespective of whether or not we are religious, men or women, young or old, all our sufferings are quite similar; only the causes of those sufferings differ substantially. If we are elderly, for example, we experience the suffering that accompanies old age; if middle-aged, the suffering of jobs and relationships; and if we are young, we have the suffering of education, of growing up. Throughout our lives we are faced with a continual series of sufferings, according to the development and changes of our bodies.
Although the varieties of suffering may be many, and its intensity and degree may change, there is only one effective way of freeing ourselves from the pain of our existence, and that is to accept it. We still deal with our daily life situations but we stop trying to make the whole world conform to our desires and projections. If we are old, we come to accept being old; if we are young, we accept that too whatever the situation, we simply accept it. Once this acceptance occurs, then to a large extent we are freed from the suffering. Once we are able to let it go, it just falls away from us.
This is not to imply that the solution is to develop total inactivity and passivity in relation to the world. Nor should we maintain an endless struggle to make our lives perfect. Instead we follow a middle way, between the two extremes. Having accepted the limitations of being human, we are content to do our best in any situation and to behave in a flexible way according to the level of our understanding, aware both of our own development and the situation as we find it. Our aim throughout is to be completely free from the causes of suffering and to stop creating new suffering for ourselves and others.
First of all we seek to remedy our own suffering. The way of accomplishing this is very much the same wherever one is. Once we accept that the causes of suffering lie mainly in the mind's inability to fulfill its desires, we can see that these causes are internal and are not simply products of our external environment. Whatever society we come from, whether we are spiritual people or not, the understanding that desire arises within our own mind allows us to begin to go forward. We will become aware that others suffer just as we do, and compassion will arise spontaneously. Further, it becomes clear that they, just like us, want only to be happy.
Compassion means the wish to benefit all beings and free them from the causes of suffering. However, when we 'blame' ourselves for the difficulties arising in our own minds it may appear that we lack compassion towards ourselves. And if we have no compassion for ourselves, how then can we cultivate it towards others? In fact it isn't a question of 'blame' at all, nor are we trying to torture or punish ourselves. We are simply acknowledging that desire arises inside our own minds and nowhere else. Such acceptance awakens confidence and wisdom within us and we begin to realize that desire arises in the minds of others just as it does in our own. At that point we are able to co-ordinate ourselves with others and compassion for them grows. Then there will come a time of true friendship.
Understanding how to tame the mind is beneficial for everyone, not just for beginners. We may think that we know a great deal and have a wide knowledge of life, but for all of us the important thing, the essential and first thing is to tame the mind. This way we can develop compassion and feel friendship for ourselves and others, rather than enmity. There is a Tibetan saying that it's very easy to make enemies, but to develop friendship takes a long, long time. The way beyond suffering lies in the development of friendship within our families, our society and between nations everywhere. We try to be kind to one another, always.