Gelong Thubten: “Choose Happiness” | Talks at Google

Gelong Thubten: “Choose Happiness” | Talks at Google

[APPLAUSE] GELONG THUBTEN: Thank you. Thank you. So I’d like to start by talking
about the concept of freedom. I think the term “freedom,”
the concept of freedom, is something that is
very important to us. We’re very passionate in
our search for freedom and in our defense of
our rights of freedom. And we fought very hard for many
centuries to achieve a certain level of freedom, which in
many ways has been achieved, in many ways hasn’t. But what I’m interested
in addressing is the fact that even
though we may have a certain degree of external
freedom in terms of how we live our lives, in terms of how
we dress, what we believe in, what we do with
our time, there’s a deeper aspect
to freedom that I think is more important, which
is deep down in our minds, how free are we. So if we look at our mind
and we see how often it does things we don’t want it to do– often, our mind goes to places
we don’t want it to go– thoughts, emotions,
memories, worries. So the mind is not behaving
in a way we want it to behave. And also, the opposite– very often, our mind does
things or goes to places we don’t want it to go to– worries, obsessive planning,
painful memories, reactions. When we’re sitting in
a car stuck in traffic, and then we find ourselves
reacting negatively– feeling impatient,
feeling upset– this is beyond our
intellect, isn’t it? We don’t plan that reaction. Or when somebody says something
to us that we don’t like, and we feel hurt, we feel upset. We don’t plan the reaction. So in many ways, we are not
in control of our minds. And of course, you discover
this really strongly when you try to meditate. Anybody who meditates discovers
within five minutes, or five seconds, the lack of control. We’re trying to sit there
and focus on our breathing, for example. And within seconds, the mind
is planning menus, or writing emails, or plotting revenge. I don’t know. The mind is going to
places constantly. So there’s this lack of
freedom, this lack of choice. And then when it
comes to happiness, the same thing seems
to be the case– that we don’t know how
to choose happiness. It’s almost as if
we have to hope that happiness will choose us. You know what I mean? And also, our
quest for happiness is very much based
on external things. Very often, we think
happiness will come from, and then there’s a whole list– people, places, situations. Happiness comes
from those things. And so then we are
left hoping that we can manipulate our life
to a certain degrees so that happiness will arise. But of course, it’s
beyond our control. And also, I think,
for many people, the definition of
happiness is very much based on a sensation, a
kind of quick sensation, almost like a buzz. We have this kind of–
we want to get high. We want to feel something. Our idea of happiness
is a sensation that is triggered by something,
and then we feel good. And of course, the problem
with that is it doesn’t last. So we feel good,
then we feel bad. It’s very unstable. So when our happiness depends
on an external trigger, then the problem is when
the trigger is absent, the happiness is absent. And we’re just, in a
way, lurching from one high to the next, looking for a
buzz, looking for a sensation. And so much of the way we
construct our lives now is based on that with our
use of the internet, even food, caffeine,
different experiences. We construct our life to
give us these sensations that make us feel good. But the problem is the more
we are hoping that happiness will come to us
from the outside, the more we feel lacking inside. In a way, we’re
telling ourselves that we are deficient. I need this. I need that. I need that. Then I’ll be happy. So we’re creating
a feeling of lack, that we lack that happiness. We’re creating a deficiency
or sense of almost despair, and this becomes very painful. And then also, the wanting
and the grasping and craving that we experience becomes
a habit that creates more wanting, grasping, and craving. So the wanting leads
to more wanting, and then we feel
never satisfied, because whatever we
get isn’t enough, because we’re perpetuating
the habit of wanting. So then we’re jumping
over the experience, looking for the next thing. So we feel this unsettled
quality in our lives, almost like a fear or a
feeling of uncertainty. And this feeds us to want more. So it’s a very vicious cycle. And then all the things
that we depend upon for our happiness are,
of course, impermanent. They’re subject to change. So there’s a feeling
of uncertainty because we’re depending
on the unreliable. And we kind of know that. We kind of know that
everything we depend upon for our happiness is
unreliable because of its changeable nature. So we have two problems here. We have the problem
of endless wanting and the problem of
depending on the unreliable. So this kind of happiness
hasn’t worked for us. It hasn’t given us peace. It’s just made us more
exhausted, more frustrated. And I think, through
meditation training, we can find a very
different approach. Basically, we’re looking
for something different– happiness from the inside. We’re recognizing that
happiness and suffering are states of mind. So of course, they are triggered
by all kinds of situations. But ultimately, they
are mind states. So if we’re looking
at our states of mind, and then looking
at the possibility to transform those
states of mind, then that becomes very fruitful. And then, of course, the
problem starts up again, because we start meditating
looking for happiness. So we’re busy meditating,
and then, again, trying to get something,
trying to feel something. And this is the
struggle for many people in meditation, is
they say, it’s not working because I
don’t feel anything. I’ve been at this for this long. When am I going to get high? Where’s the buzz? So we want the feeling
because we’re very conditions to feel something. We’re in this culture
of looking for a high. And then we meditate and
look for the same thing. The cycle starts again
of wanting, not getting, feeling it’s not enough. So I think maybe
we could redefine our notion of happiness here. And instead of looking for some
kind of feeling or sensation– which is very temporary,
it comes and it goes– instead of that, maybe we
could discover a kind of peace within ourselves where
everything is OK. Whether things are going
well or not going well, everything can be OK. Because true happiness
is a state of freedom where our mind can
feel calm and positive. And when I say calm, I’m
not talking about some kind of tranquilized state. Often when people hear about
meditation and mindfulness, they think, OK, this is
about calming the mind. So I’m going to really
bring my stress down. I’m really going to calm down. And then what
happens to people is they think meditation means
you’re supposed to get rid of all of your thoughts. So they have this idea
that the calm state is an empty state, a blank state. Calming the mind means stilling
everything, stilling the mind. And that again becomes
a problem because we’re struggling to blank out
our thoughts and emotions. And we think of meditation
a bit like going to sleep or going into a coma,
just going under. It’s not about going to sleep. It’s about waking up. It’s about being present,
being conscious, being aware. So then the thoughts and
feelings and distractions are actually part of
the whole journey. It’s all about how
you deal with those. It’s not about calming them down
so there’s nothing happening. It’s about being
the observer, taking the place of the observer, the
one who is aware of the mind. And the observer is happy. The observer is free. Let’s think about it this way. When you’re experiencing
unhappiness, when you’re
experiencing sadness, there’s a part of you
that knows you’re unhappy. And when you meditate,
you become more identified with that part that knows
what the mind is doing. And that part is not
in the unhappiness. That part is able to see it. So that awareness is free. And the more we can
build our awareness, the more freedom we can develop. So I think it’s important
to stop seeing meditation and mindfulness as a way
of just getting rid of or removing everything,
but instead, a way of becoming the
observer of the mind. And this is how we
choose happiness. Because when we can
be the observer, we can start to make choices. Let’s look at what happens
to somebody in a meditation session. They are observing
their breathing. That’s a very common technique–
focusing on your breathing. And then, of course,
within a few seconds, the mind starts wandering. And then the person starts
punishing themselves and saying, I’m a
failure, I can’t do this. That’s not right. So instead of feeling
like a failure because our mind
wandered, the other option would be to simply notice
that the mind wandered and then return to
the breath, gently and compassionately
returning to the breath. This is actually the
meaning of compassion, is that you’re not
beating yourself up for what your mind is doing. And also, you’re not trying
to chase those thoughts and make them different. You’re just letting
them be how they are. That’s unconditional love. You have a thought or a feeling. It’s OK the way it is. You don’t need to get rid of it. You don’t need more of it. It’s just fine. That’s compassion. It’s fine the way it is. And then you return to the
breath, and you carry on, and then the mind goes again. The mind escapes again. The mind floats
off into thoughts, and you bring it back. And this bringing it
back again and again– that’s how we’re
exercising choice. Because it was choiceless
that our mind got distracted. And now we’re turning around and
bringing it back to the breath. We’re making that choice. I’m coming back here. So through meditation
training, we’re strengthening that
power of choice. And then as we
meditate every day, regularly, just like
going to the gym, lifting weights, exercise,
we’re exercising our mind. And this is making us stronger. So then we can find
that in our life, we can become more able to
choose to stay positive. Instead of being
automatically dragged into negative reactivity,
which is our normal habit, we can choose to stay calm and
stay present, stay focused, stay positive. And what we’re doing
is we’re choosing a happiness that is beyond
triggers and supports and need. It’s simply an internal
state of being. So when we hear this term inner
peace, it sounds very weak, doesn’t it? Inner peace, like
nothing is happening. But I think it
means to be at peace with your experiences, negative
ones as well as positive ones. So say you’re
sitting in the car. A favorite practice of mine is
to practice mindfulness moments when I’m stuck in traffic
or when I’m standing in a queue at an airport. So these are situations that
normally make us feel wound up, irritated, impatient, et cetera. So you’re choosing
instead to just be aware of your body
and your breathing. You’re sitting in that car. You’re stuck in traffic. Your mind is running into
the impatience or anger, and you just pull it back and
go into a sense of presence– feeling the ground
under your feet, feeling the chair
under your body, being aware of your
shoulders, your breathing. You’re in that mindful state. What you’ve done
in that moment is you’ve reprogrammed yourself. Because we normally have
this automatic programming of when I’m in a stressful
situation, such as waiting for something, I must
react negatively. It’s not even intellectualized. It’s very much
part of our habit, our habitual way of reacting. So instead, we’re
changing that and learning to just be still and be
calm and be in this moment without judging this moment. So we’re reprogramming
ourselves. We’re, in a way,
rewiring ourself. Instead of having this stressful
situation and negative reaction fused together, we have
a stressful situation and a relaxed response,
creating a new connection. In terms of our brain, we’re
building new neural pathways. And these become stronger
and stronger and stronger. And also, we’re
learning happiness. Because next time
you’re stuck in traffic, you can think, oh, great. Now I can do that thing that
I learned from that monk. So you feel joy. You think, great. Bring it on. Traffic. Come on. Let’s do more. It’s like going to the gym
and loading more weights on the weight-lifting machine. You get bigger muscles. So life’s struggles
and difficulties become chances or
opportunities for awakening. So then you’re almost
looking forward to that. I don’t mean you’re becoming
some kind of masochist who just wants everything to go wrong. I just mean that you’re taking
experiences as they come. And when you’re stuck
in traffic, you feel OK. You feel, in a way, good. You want this to happen
because it gives you a chance for training. And then that shifts
into your relationships. Because let’s face it–
relationships are the main provokers of stress
in our life– how people behave, how we
behave, all of that stuff. So that becomes your
traffic experience. You’re with somebody who
you feel uncomfortable, and that’s your traffic
training, because you’re learning to meet the obstacle
with a relaxed mind, which doesn’t mean you’ve become
passive or like a doormat, letting people abuse you. It doesn’t mean that. It simply means you
don’t get wound up. And it means you can
actually, in a way, experience compassion
towards that person. Because in the same way as
when you’re stuck in traffic and you felt somehow
good about the traffic, because this is your
chance for training, you now feel that this
person is your friend. They’re presenting you with
an opportunity for training. So your heart opens to them. And that’s compassion. You see, for many people,
compassion is very partial. It’s just an
emotional experience that is triggered when you
see small, fluffy animals and children, or the vulnerable. And of course, that’s a
very, very crucial area of compassion. We see people who
are vulnerable. We feel compassion. But that’s very partial just
in that moment, at that time, and it’s just an experience
of an emotional reaction that comes and goes. Whereas what I’m
talking about here, through meditation
training, is where you’re building the networks
of compassion in your behavior. In your brain, in your behavior,
you’re building those networks. Because every time
somebody does something or says something that
makes you uncomfortable, you don’t have to take it. You don’t have to be a victim. But how you feel internally is
the crucial thing, isn’t it? And if you can see this person
as your compassion tester, your opportunity, then
your energy changes, and the relationship changes. So you’re choosing happiness
even in difficult situations. Because I think if happiness
is only in certain situations when things are going well,
then it’s very partial. But if you’re choosing to be
happy, even against the odds, then you’re really in
charge of your life. But of course, we
have to train in this. This is work. This is work. We need to train. We need to put effort
into daily meditation. And I think many people find
that difficult because they’re so busy, and meditation is
the last thing on the list, and then we’re too tired,
all of those things. But I think, actually,
the main reason people struggle to meditate every
day is because of grasping. It’s because of a sense
of hidden grasping, a hidden agenda, which is I
want the meditation to make me feel good. It’s a hidden agenda. It’s got to feel nice. And if it doesn’t feel
nice, it’s not worth doing. And then, of course,
that doesn’t happen, so then we don’t
want to meditate. We want to do other stuff. We don’t drink five
coffees in a row because that makes us
feel better, or whatever. We want things. We want people. We want situations. That’s feeding us
very instantly. The meditation doesn’t
give us an instant hit. So it becomes much harder to
stay committed to something that’s not giving you a hit. It’s really hard. So I think the solution
is to do two things. One is to learn how to practice
tiny moments of meditation throughout the day. I’m not saying that
will give you a hit, but I’m just saying it’s easy to
just drop into a mindful state while you’re washing your
hands, or brushing your teeth, or stuck in traffic,
because it’s just a moment. You’re not requiring time. You’re just momentarily
going into that state throughout the day. And what happens to you
is you start to notice that this is quite pleasurable. You’re not looking for pleasure. You’re not looking
for a feeling. But as the mindfulness builds
up throughout your day, you start to feel good, because
you start to feel at peace, and you start to feel nourished. It brings an enormous amount
of nourishment into your being because you’re being
present, you’re being calm, you’re not going with
negative reactivity. This is really enriching. And this gets you
wanting to meditate more. So that’s one thing. Another thing which
really helps if you find it hard to
meditate regularly is to occasionally develop
some kind of wisdom about the process
of meditation, which means to spend time thinking
about why meditation is important. And the best way to do this
is to actually ask yourself simple questions, such as where
does happiness really come from. Where does happiness
really come from? And where does suffering
really come from? They come from the mind. They are mind states. And what happens if I
change my mind state? What happens if I train my mind? How does this address
the deep question of happiness and suffering? So if you ask yourself that,
it helps you to remember that actually, in life, all we
want is happiness and freedom from pain, and all the things
we’re doing to get that are only working to
a certain degree. But if happiness and freedom
from pain are mind states, then surely, training our mind
is the way to get what we want. So when you realize that
meditation will actually give you what you wanted
from all those other things but weren’t getting
in the long run, when you realize
it’s a long journey, but it will give
you what you wanted, then you want to meditate. This gives you
energy for practice. So I think I’ve covered
a few points here. I’ve been talking
about happiness and the choice of choosing
happiness, learning where happiness comes from,
and the link with meditation practice. And I think a
really crucial thing to take away from this is that
meditation requires letting go rather than grasping. We tend to live in such
a grasping culture. We’re always wanting something. And then when we
meditate, it’s really hard not to grasp after results. But I it’s really important
just to have some time when we totally let go and
just experience our mind, whether it’s busy or not busy. There’s no such thing as good
meditation or bad meditation. Some people have a
session where their mind is just crazy, crazy, just
rolling around like a– I don’t know– like
a spinning top, and they feel it
was a bad session. To me, that’s a good
session, because you saw your mind in all its glory. You’re experiencing
the busy mind. That’s a good session. That’s work. That’s a good workout. So maybe we need to move
away from this judgment around what a good session
and a bad session is. And I think then we can
experience more freedom and greater compassion. So I want to stop there
and now open this up to questions and discussion. So [INAUDIBLE] is
going to lead that. SPEAKER: I think I’ve known you
a little more than a year now. And every time– I think last year [INAUDIBLE]
six weeks of coming to Google and giving such talks. And I still find myself
learning new things when you speak about the same subjects. GELONG THUBTEN: Me too. Every time I speak,
I learn something. SPEAKER: OK So I have
a lot of questions, but there’s a lot of
people in the room. So I want to make
sure I give time to– well, not everyone, but a lot
of people to ask questions. But I’ll just start
with a few questions and then open it
up to the floor. And I want to start with
a bit more, I guess, personal about your choice when
you decided to leave acting and become a monk. At what period of
your life, and how did you come to that
decision, in case there’s someone in the room
looking to make the switch? GELONG THUBTEN: Oh, yeah OK. So I was 21, which
is 25 years ago. And I was living in New York. And I was incredibly stressed. I really was burning
out with stress. And I needed something to really
get my emotional and physical health back on track. And a friend of mine told me
about a Buddhist monastery called Samye Ling in Scotland. It’s the oldest Tibetan
Buddhist monastery in the West. It was started in the 1960s. And she told me about
this place and said, you could go there and
be a monk for a year to sort yourself out. And I went there, and I became
a monk after three days. And it was only for
a year, first of all. I wasn’t planning
to stay longer. But slowly, over time,
during that year, I started to study Buddhist
philosophy and meditation. And also, through
studying these teachings, my attitude about life
started to change. I started to think, what
do I want in my life? Do I want to live a
life maybe more that’s down the avenue of
service, serving others? And I started to
see how being a monk could help me to not only
help myself, but help others. And so I decided to stay. And I eventually became a
fully ordained life monk. But the initial motive, I think,
was just feeling really crazy and needing some peace. And then it changed into a
sense of a journey and a path which I’m learning and trying
to help others to learn. SPEAKER: Cool. At the beginning of
a journey, I suppose, in a lot of people
that start meditating, your probably face
some challenges and some difficulties. And I know you’ve
probably meditated way– a lot more than a lot
of people in the room. So I guess just to relate
to your experience, your challenges when you
first started to meditate, and a lot of the
difficulties you faced, what are some of them
that you can share? GELONG THUBTEN:
Well, the first time I meditated, it was
really into the deep end. We had to do two
hours without moving. And I just remember sitting
there with my legs on fire. I had to sit cross-legged
on the floor. My legs and my back on fire. And there was a carpet in
front of me with patterns, and I was looking
at these patterns to just try and stay alive. Just focus on that pattern,
and you won’t go crazy. So that was extreme. And then, of course, I learned
how to build it up slowly and do smaller sessions. But one of the challenges
I found earlier on, which I addressed
in this talk, is that I really was searching
for a feeling all the time. And there was a period where I
was doing a lot of meditation and getting very depressed
and feeling very– almost like let down. It was a heavy feeling. And I spoke to my teacher,
[INAUDIBLE] Rinpoche, and he– I told him about this,
and he said, actually, you’re like somebody
who’s taking drugs. You’re using the
meditation like a drug. You’re trying to get high. And I realized that’s
what I was doing. I was sitting down
to try and ramp up some sensation in
my mind or my body. And of course, because
you’re looking for something, you’re feeling the lack of that. And so he showed me how to work
through that, and instead– there really has to be a
motivation of compassion. Even if you’re just meditating
for stress reduction, that’s not enough. There’s got to be a feeling
that this is not just about me, but about others. And you’re dedicating
your practice to the happiness of all,
the happiness of others. And then this removes
the grasping– not all of it, but some of it– and also gives a
sense of a journey. SPEAKER: And at this stage
for you, do you still find it hard to let
go of the grasping and always have the
right intention? Do you still struggle? GELONG THUBTEN: Of
course I still struggle. This whole idea of having
the right intention that– in Buddhism, we talk about
having the motivation to free all beings from
suffering, and this needs to be your
motivation for practice. So I could really give
myself a hard time about that and say, well,
that’s not genuine. I’m not experiencing that
much, and my motivation is not good enough. But I actually think wanting
to have good motivation is good motivation. It’s almost like wanting to
be more compassionate means you already are compassionate. And that’s the way I relax
myself about this stuff. When I’m struggling
with this stuff, I say, actually, I’m
doing my best, so it’s OK. I’m much gentler on
myself than I used to be. That’s changed a lot
through meditation. SPEAKER: I suppose it’s a
common challenge for a lot when you beat yourself with
a stick when it wasn’t a good meditation session. GELONG THUBTEN: It
wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t authentic. It wasn’t this. It wasn’t that. That’s just another judgment. That’s another
thing to let go of. SPEAKER: And– along
those lines of what’s good and what’s bad– so a
lot of people sometimes, me included, when you’re
feeling good, then OK, and whatever is around
you is benefiting you. To meditate, you
sit and meditate. But when you’re sick,
when you’re ill, when you don’t feel
good, you’re like, no, I don’t need meditation now. Or vise versa– sometimes
people really only meditate when they’re stressed. And when they’re really
happy, they’re like, I don’t need medication
because I’m already happy. GELONG THUBTEN: The first one
is more common, which is– both are true, and the first
one is even more common, which is where, if you’re tired,
you’re sick, you’re unhappy, you think, oh, I’ll
meditate later. I’m not in the right state
for it to be a good session. And this is really a
deceptive motivation. Because what happens then
is you’re telling yourself, I have to feel a certain way
for my meditation to work. I can only meditate when I
feel like it, when I feel good. And that’s not meditation. Then it’s again back
to that grasping. So I think it’s really important
to meditate when you’re tired, when you’re sick,
when you’re unhappy. Because you’re just being
with that experience in an unconditional way. And that is how you make
friends with yourself, all aspects of yourself. Otherwise, you’re just showing
up at the meditation cushion when you’re in a good mood. It’s like you’re having a
very partial relationship with yourself, like a
fair-weather friend. When I’m in a good mood,
then I’ll sit with my mind. But when my mind is
not in a good state, I’m going to reject it. So instead, if you meditate
when you’re unwell, you’re making friends with your
experience in a very genuine, compassionate way. SPEAKER: Does anybody
have any questions, or should I keep going? AUDIENCE: So you were
speaking about the experience of being stuck in traffic. So I wonder if any
of the techniques may be applied to the situation
where you are actually driving. So I wonder whether
being mindful may get in the way of doing
some important work that requires being focused
on something external. GELONG THUBTEN: Well,
actually, just to drive a car, you are being mindful. Everyone has a natural
kind of mindfulness. To drive a car, you
have to be mindful. Otherwise, your car
is going to crash. So there is already a
level of mindfulness there. And I think it’s important
to see mindfulness as you’re being really present. You’re not switched off. Some people like to close
their eyes and go within. That’s not what
I’m talking about. I’m talking about being
totally in this moment. So when you’re
driving a car, you have to be totally
in this moment. But what many people
do is they drive a car, and they are partially
mindful of what’s going on. And then they’re listening to
music and chatting to a friend, and there’s very
split attention. But you could drive
completely mindfully, and that could be meditation. AUDIENCE: So I basically– I have two comments, and I was
hoping you can reflect on it. So the first
comment is why isn’t being more aware and a state
of freedom the default. Why is it such a
challenge for us? And secondly, I was wondering,
are we not actually choosing– not per se happiness,
but to be more in control of the
different states of being? So it’s more like a
control issue, almost. If you have more awareness
of all the states of being, then you feel in control. You’re not as much into either
being happy or suffering. So basically, the two comments
are why it’s not the default and why it’s not more
about building awareness to feel more in control. GELONG THUBTEN:
Well, in a way, when you say happiness and
freedom and default, in the Buddhist
understanding, we believe that our
natural mind is pure. Our deeper mind is free. We call it Buddha nature, which
is that deep down inside, we have the potential
for awakening. And in fact, every time you sit
down on a chair or a cushion to meditate, you’re
acknowledging that potential. Because why would
you do something unless you felt you
had the potential to achieve the results of it? So you’re meditating because you
know there’s something deeper. So in a way, our natural state
is happy and pure and free. But it’s layered with confusion. We get caught up in confusion. We get addicted to confusion. And a lot of that is
to do with survival– the survival instinct, the
fight or flight reaction. In a way, our brain is wired
to obsess about what’s wrong and what’s dangerous, because
that’s how we stay alive. But much deeper than that
is pure consciousness that we can learn to slowly
access through meditation. And then the second
comment around– actually, I’ve forgotten
your second comment. It was really intense. So can you repeat it? AUDIENCE: So are we not
choosing to be more aware? GELONG THUBTEN: In meditation? AUDIENCE: Yeah, in meditation. Instead of– OK, we’re
not choosing happiness, but it’s more like
we’re choosing to be more aware of our
different states of beings. Thereby, we build
up more control of– either we are in this happy
mode or this suffering mode, yes or no? Basically, our
capability to zoom out is built by the meditation. GELONG THUBTEN: I don’t
know about control. I don’t know if we’re
controlling our mind states. I think it’s that we’re
learning to let go. So it’s a bit like
traffic on a road. You have cars going by. Are you getting into the
cars and going for drives, or are you just
letting the cars go by? And then maybe you
could choose to get into the useful
cars, the cars that take you somewhere positive. So it’s about making choice. I find the term “control” makes
me think of something very tight and rigid and repressive. I’m talking about
freedom and choice. Does that make sense? Cool. Thank you. AUDIENCE: Do you
think that you’re more free if you control
your own mind or more free if the mind controls you? GELONG THUBTEN: Well, let’s
dump this word “control.” I think you can be
more free if you can choose what your mind is doing. Do you understand
why I’m slightly hesitant about the
term “control?” Because it sounds like you’re
making your mind very tense, controlling what it
does, pushing down the negative
thoughts and jumping into the positive thoughts. That, to me, feels
very stressful. Yeah? So can we rephrase this and
think more in terms of freedom? And your question
was are you choosing or is the mind choosing you. And like I started
my talk today, it really feels like
stuff chooses us. Suddenly, we’re experiencing
sadness, and we’re thinking, I didn’t ask for this. Where did this come from? And then we think
somebody put it in us. We immediately point the finger. Oh, it must be you. Why am I feeling like this? It must be you, or
it must be this. And so it feels like these mind
states are invading or choosing us, and sticking
to us like glue. And I think meditation is about
changing it round so that you are the one who is creating. You are creating your
thoughts and emotions, and you are learning how
to create the right ones and just let go of the
ones that harm you. Thank you. AUDIENCE: So I actually
also have two questions. For one, it’s mindfulness– we want to be present
in this moment. But I guess a lot of people here
have days that we plan ahead. We plan our next day. We plan our next week, our year. So how do you
suggest we do this? How do we plan, but
we still stay mindful? GELONG THUBTEN: So yeah,
we do need to plan. And it often sounds like
a contradiction when we say mindfulness is about
being in the present moment, and then, we’ve
got to plan stuff. Are we supposed to just live
in the present all the time? If you lived in the present
all the time, you wouldn’t eat. You wouldn’t plan–
you know what I mean? You’re planning your meal. So again, it’s to
do with choice. I think we plan obsessively. We plan impulsively. We plan in a way that becomes
so habitual that we never actually arrive. Because when we get to
the thing we planned, we’re busy planning
the next thing. So how about
planning the choice? How about choosing
to plan, as and when you need to plan,
and then let go? Make plans, do what you need
to do, but let go of outcomes. That would be a
much healthier way of making our plans
actually succeed. What was your second question? AUDIENCE: So with
this, you really say that we just let
go of the outcome, like we don’t judge it anymore. GELONG THUBTEN: I think
that’s important, even in worldly success. If you want to be
successful at work, you’ve got to make a plan. You’ve got to do what it
takes to get there and let go of outcomes. Because otherwise, you’re
so actually fearful that the outcome won’t
happen that it won’t happen, because you’ve created a sense
of lack already in your mind. AUDIENCE: The second one
was more about emotions. So we have this thought
that we actually need to let out our emotions. So if I feel sad– I don’t know– I need
to cry to let it out. So would you really
say we need to do this? Because this state of
being aware of the feeling, I feel like we make suppressive. GELONG THUBTEN: So when we feel
we need to let out our emotion, it’s because we see our emotion
as something very solid, and we need to somehow eject it. You know what I mean? We have to get it out,
because otherwise it’s going to poison us. It’s so solid, and we have to– almost like vomiting. You know what I mean? And so with
meditation, you start to understand the mind in a
very different way, which is that your emotions aren’t real. Your emotions aren’t real. They can come and go like
clouds in the sky or waves in the ocean. So you don’t need
to suppress them. You don’t need to get them out. You can just experience
them and let them go. So this is the
training of meditation which will help us to
understand our mind or experience our
mind more in that way. And then this whole notion
of suppression or expression starts to change. You find that you can
just be with the emotion and not be too bothered by it. AUDIENCE: I have one
interconnected question with you, maybe. So I do meditate, and
I’m far away from– well, doing it the ideal way. It’s a journey. I understood it’s a journey. But I try to think of ways to
bring this to other people, to encourage other people,
or to hold my own meditation session, maybe, one day. Would you have any
advice what to do, or maybe what not
to do, in order to really encourage people
who may be connected to that? How would you– it’s maybe
a difficult question to ask. But I think many people
connect meditation to spirituality or
religion, and they might be disconnected from
religion and spirituality on an intellectual level. So this might– although it
is so accessible– you just need to sit down– it might
be difficult for people to get over that barrier. Maybe you have any advice on
how to encourage that more? GELONG THUBTEN: OK. So the first question
around teaching others– of course, it’s really
important to let one’s own practice mature
before one teaches others– mature to a certain
degree, at least, and also to have good
instruction and guidance from teachers so that you
really are transmitting it in the correct way. I think that’s really,
really important. There are obviously
different levels of teacher. I’m just an ordinary instructor. I’m not an enlightened
person who can give lessons and all that kind of stuff. I’m just an ordinary instructor. But even for that,
I’ve had to do a certain amount of
retreats, and training, and be taught properly,
and transmit according to a correct procedure. So it’s important to get
more training for yourself before maybe passing
it on to others. But it’s great to have that
motivation, because you’re already seeing that this
meditation journey isn’t just for you. It’s something
you want to share. Without preaching and
trying to convert people, it’s just making it available. I think that’s really good. And then sure, the second
thing you mentioned is around how people
sometimes associate meditation with religion, spirituality,
Buddhism in particular. It doesn’t have to be. And that’s what this whole
modern movement in mindfulness is about– where you’re using meditation
techniques in a completely non-religious way. And I think the neuroscience
aspect is very helpful there. If you explain to people some
of the neuroscientific evidence for meditation’s
efficiency, how it works, that gets people to see
it on a different level. It doesn’t have to be
a religious experience. To me, the boundaries between
all of this are very blurred. Because if you sit
down and meditate, if you’re a Buddhist, if you’re
a mindfulness person, if you’re this or that, you’re just
sitting there with your mind. I don’t think there’s any such
thing as religious meditation. Meditation is beyond religion. It’s you and your mind. So these are constructs
which I think have to fall away eventually. AUDIENCE: Thank you. GELONG THUBTEN: OK. AUDIENCE: Hi. I’m Lucas, and my question
will be very straightforward. But before I ask it,
I want to tell you that I see many things
that you’ve been talking about that also relate to me. Like I’ve been working– I’m 34, and I’ve been working in
big corporations for the last– I don’t know– 12 years. I’ve been working in
sales, closing big deals, earning good money,
getting good paychecks. And those moments were
always a high for me. GELONG THUBTEN: So
are all of you, yeah? AUDIENCE: They were always
the high for me at the moment when I was really
excited and great. And in the last year, I
closed the biggest deal of Google Cloud here in Dublin. And it was another moment where
I felt like, wow, I’m so great. But since, I would say,
three or four years, I’ve been feeling that my
mental and my physical health was getting worse and worse. And I’ve been
having things like– I was panting. I was getting anxiety
attacks, panic attacks. I was going to doctors. I was checking
myself, doing MRIs, doing cardio tests,
everything, different doctors, expecting the worst
and never getting the results that would say that
something was really wrong. And I was asking myself,
what’s the problem? And some of the doctors
were referring to me– maybe it’s time for you to
focus on your mental state, advising me to go
to psychiatrists who deal with those situations. Because I realized, and
I’m realizing right now, that when I was on the
high, then it was great, but when there was a time
when I not closing those deals and getting big
paychecks, I was feeling like I was almost depressed. And maybe it’s an
extreme case, but I decided to leave
Google because I was just no longer able to
find my state of balance in the current situation. Like you said,
all these thoughts the whole time running
through my head, and just being motivated
by those things. So I decided to leave. GELONG THUBTEN:
Where you’re at now is to close a deal with
your own mind, isn’t it? You’re now working
on the internal deal. This whole idea of closing deals
is a relationship, isn’t it? And if you can
now use meditation to connect with your mind
and have more compassion for yourself and others– that’s where you’re
at now, isn’t it? It’s exciting, no? AUDIENCE: At the
moment, it’s exciting. It’s a very scary moment,
because I’ve been like a drug addict for 12 years. And now I’m trying to leave
it, and all these things are coming out from me. But my question,
actually, at the end of this long introduction,
is where should I start if I would like to find maybe– I don’t know if I can call it a
solution, but a help in things like meditation, like
becoming more aware of myself, of my thoughts? How can I start this journey? GELONG THUBTEN: Start now. Start now. The journey starts now. You just need to find a class. There’s classes here in Google. You can attend a class here,
and just learn some techniques, and just do it. It’s very easy to
learn, in a way. You just learn the method,
and then you start. And really, let it be
part of your daily life– meditating every day,
but also practicing moments of mindfulness
throughout the day. Just start right now. Make that deal. AUDIENCE: So you wouldn’t say
there’s one particular way of– I don’t know– the yoga,
meditation classes? Whatever you choose is good? Because you say
it’s here at Google. So if I choose something
outside Google– GELONG THUBTEN:
I think breathing is a good place to start,
mindful breathing, focusing on the breathing. You can learn that
technique, and that’s it. It doesn’t need much
color or drama to it. It’s very simple. Just try it. It’s exciting. Thank you. Who else? AUDIENCE: Hello. Before you came here, I
googled you, of course, to know who you were. And I found an
interesting article. I just want to read it. [INAUDIBLE] It says Buddhist
monk returns to life after four years in retreats. GELONG THUBTEN: Oh, yeah. My past is coming
back to haunt me. AUDIENCE: I would like to
know, can you explain us how was these four years in
retreat, and what you learned, and the pros and cons,
the difficulty it was, and what you learned in
yourself, how it was, basically? GELONG THUBTEN: So yeah. I was in a four-year retreat
from 2005 to 2009 on an island off the coast of Scotland. And it’s a really intensive
meditation training. You have no contact
with the outside world. You have a letter from
your family once a month. So there’s no internet,
no Google, nothing. And in fact, we
had no electricity. We had a generator which came
on in the mornings and evenings. And it’s a very
intensive program of meditation sessions all day. You’re not doing anything else. You have tea breaks and
food, but you’re just doing long, long
sessions of meditation. And it’s really intense. And really, you learn a lot. You meet your edge, and
then you meet your edge, and then you discover later
on that there’s another edge that you also have to meet. It never stops. And I found it
incredibly difficult, but incredibly rewarding
at the same time, because it really helped
me to become more– kind of making
friends with myself. In Buddhism, we don’t
like the word “self,” but in a different way. You become more comfortable
with who you are. You learn to deal with
your emotions differently. I experienced a lot of
very painful emotions during that time, a lot
of sadness and depression. In fact, the first two years,
I was severely depressed. But then the meditation
started to change that in that I started to
learn to have compassion for that part of my mind. And then it started
to shift and change. SPEAKER: And just jumping
in, since you mentioned for two years you
were depressed, what kept you going knowing
that, OK, you’re going to get over this depression? Or maybe after one
year, you said– GELONG THUBTEN: Oh, I definitely
felt like, should I leave, should I stop? I can’t take this anymore. I suppose what keeps
you going is there is some kind of deep commitment. And you know that I really
trust the meditation journey and the teachings. There was never a point when
I thought this stuff doesn’t work, or it’s not good for me. I knew it’s good. I just felt unable. And so that’s what
kept me going. And then eventually, through
the help of my teachers and then my own
commitment, I was able to connect
with the practice, and then things changed. AUDIENCE: So overall, Googlers
tend to be quite data-driven. And I’m wondering
about your opinion about actually
measuring happiness. So most of the time,
it’s a scale out of 10, so putting absolute numbers
to such a subjective thing. GELONG THUBTEN: I don’t know
about measuring happiness, because then you start
to grasp after results. Yeah, we’re all data-driven. We’re all in measures
and evaluations. And can we maybe take
meditation and happiness away from that world
and have some time when we’re just not driven,
and we can just let go and be? I think that’s crucial in
a data-driven environment. And that’s what I’ve
been talking about a lot here when I’m doing these
regular classes at Google, is can we have some time when
we just switch off all of that and go into a sense of being. I think that would be great. And then go back to the data,
but bringing the being with you into the data. Thank you. SPEAKER: I’ll just
ask one last question since you mentioned
data and you mentioned working with a
neuroscientist on the book. I was just wondering if you– from a science perspective,
what is the one thing you learned about meditation
from the neuroscientist that was interesting from a
scientific perspective? GELONG THUBTEN: Yeah, it’s
been really interesting working with Ash. He’s a neuroscientist. So Ruby Wax, Ash Ranpura, and
myself did this book together, and it was an amazing
conversation about the mind and the heart and the brain. And I learned a lot
from Ash about– well, OK, so what meditation
does to your brain– there’s proof that it works–
but more interestingly, this whole notion of creating
habits and changing them. He gave a really
beautiful example where he said the brain
is a bit like a field, a field with lots of grass. And there’s no path. And one person walks
and makes a path. A second person walks and
makes a path, a third person. Eventually, that path–
the grass is flattened, and there’s a path, and
you can easily go down it. And he said that’s
what meditation does. You’re creating
neural pathways that become more and more
natural, and that’s how you can be happy. So I learned a lot from
Ash, and from Ruby as well. SPEAKER: Thanks for coming. GELONG THUBTEN: Thank you.

Danny Hutson

30 thoughts on “Gelong Thubten: “Choose Happiness” | Talks at Google

  1. It's not wrong to seek happiness, what is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside. — Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) Indian Saint.

  2. the science of happiness: the observer is happy, the reflector is unhappy
    f(h) = f(o) – f(r). The happy Buddha. Happiness & suffering inheritance of mind vacillations then the world could cause one to be unhappy.

  3. Thank you, Gelong Thubten. I feel this is right. "I am much gentler on me than i used to be". I find this to be key. I remember being gentler on myself but am not as much now as i used to be. Just realizing it already makes me a little gentler on myself.

  4. Amazing! Most of us are going through same mental state issues thanks to the constant society pressure to be faster at what we do – who can adjust society, is Technology causing it and is that why we need to shift the focus to mental training ?

  5. Amazing! Most of us are going through same mental state issues thanks to the constant society pressure to be faster at what we do – who can adjust society, is Technology causing it and is that why we need to shift the focus to mental training ?

  6. I can sesnce a lot of negativity and disconfort by the monk the students seem to be jugdemental by the body language .

  7. "Suicide is another thing that’s so frowned upon in this society, but honestly, life isn’t for everybody. It really isn’t. It’s sad when kids kill themselves ’cause they didn’t really give it a chance, but life is like a movie: if you’ve sat through more than half of it and it sucked every second so far, it probably isn’t gonna get great right at the very end for you and make it all worthwhile. No one should blame you for walking out early. "– Doug Stanhope

  8. I searched around on YouTube and found Gelong Thubten, who is the voice for everything I need right now in my current life situation. And I'm not even a buddhist!

  9. i put this on my facebook page.. thank you Gelong. CHOICES –okay, so meditation. you say.. i couldn't do that.. or why would i want to. Well, if you have alot of anxiety, you may. People have lost control of our thoughts.. they bombard you and make you worry, or scared or mad etc. So, this fellow is pretty good at explaining how you take a few minutes out, and bring your attention back to breathing every time a thought sweeps through. Of course you don't catch them all, at least not at first, but you begin to see how many of them are sabotaging and ambushing you. He says it's like you're going somewhere and suddenly these taxi's show up, and you obligingly get in them and let them take you to some awful place.. and on top of that it costs you a fortune..heh.. And the practice of making your own choice to go back to the breathing (even though it seems boring) is like a body workout making your muscles stronger, but this muscle is your mind. It's like gripping the reins of the runaway horse, if you will, and finally, patiently getting him turned around and headed back to the barn. Someday he'll not run away, and be trained. In your day to day living you start to see how you can observe these past and future based thought disturbances,choose to let them be (thereby draining them of all their power to influence you), and carry on with the now.. freeing up all this potential energy that was being spent on irritation. Your life gets way more vital and vibrant.. and helpful to others because your mind is becoming clear of clutter. And, get this.. you may start to even invite tough situations with people and traffic etc.. (really.. not kidding) because its a chance for you to strengthen that muscle and hone your mind skills.. you start to be compassionate because you see how you being content in life spreads like wildfire to help others feel better too. It gets down deep into your satisfaction because you know society really needs our help.. we really should be having our kids do this little exercise in school. check it out (then i put this link)

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