Articles

Mental Habits

Have you ever wondered “Why on Earth did I do that?” or “Why did I say such an inappropriate remark?” It just happened and you regretted it almost immediately. Especially when you started mind training and you are just beginning to be mindful about your action, speech, and thoughts.

One of the reasons is our weak mindfulness. We became aware but have not yet established full control over our being. The question is then, “Why did my mind react in that manner?” Especially, when you wondered where did that thought come from?

For example, when your parent or siblings says something and you immediately snap back at them. (seemingly without even thinking) Or when you hear something or see something, and that triggers an uncontrollable surge of emotion. Sometimes, certain things make us angry for no apparent reason. Or they make us desirous with wanton craving. Or they make us feel disgusted. If that emotion causes a person to act destructively or inappropriately, we say they lost control. How did a peaceful person suddenly become violent, we wondered? Some people believe that it is caused by possession.

Well, one of the causes is simply mental habits.

Before we start practicing mindfulness, we are creating a lot of mental habits without our realization. Some of these mental habits were carried over from our previous lives. Some of these habits were developed since young, influenced by our family, education, society, friends, TV programs, etc.

In another word, we allow our minds to be programmed in a certain manner. Like Blue is for boy and Pink is for girl. Or we program ourselves to be careless in our speech with family members. Or we program ourselves to react in a certain manner to certain people (being bias or discriminatory)

Now that we start to practice mindfulness, the various Buddhist precepts, the various Buddhist mental qualities, etc. We became alarmed with ourselves. Why did I even think in that manner? Why does my mind think in that way? Why did I react that way?

Some people give up. They wrongly conclude that it cannot be changed because they are born that way. That is not completely right. Even if our mental habits are brought over from our previous lifetimes, it is never too late to correct ourselves. When we practice Buddhism, we are building a better future. (Including our future lifetimes.)

It is therefore, very important for us to develop new positive habits now. The most important is our habit to take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. We do this every day. We build a mental habit to treasure the Triple Gems, have faith in it, love it, respect it, practice it etc. That way, when we encounter Buddhism again in our next life, we will immediately “recognize it” and continue with our practice.

Some Buddhist shared their first encounter with Buddhism as almost magical. They heard a chanting or saw a picture of a meditating monk or a teacher and somehow, something in their mind just switched on. Did you have that experience?

That is why, Buddhists are so freakishly attached to respectfulness towards Buddha statue, Buddhist books, and people in monastic robes. We want to develop a good mental habit for refuge in the Triple Gems. Besides building a mental habit to take refuge in the Triple Gems, we also start to develop mental habits for positive traits.

loving-kindness or benevolence (maitrī/metta)

compassion (karuna)

empathetic joy (mudita)

equanimity (upekṣā/upekkha)

The next time, you are shocked by your own words and actions. Just remind yourselves to strengthen your mindfulness and also be patient with yourselves. We might have developed bad mental habits over many lifetimes, changing it will not be easy. The only way is to practice and practice. Practice till we become good.

May all be well and happy.

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