Clear Motivation

"Be kind whenever possible. It's always possible" – The Dalai Lama

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Tyranny Over the Mind of Man

When I biked to the Jefferson Memorial yesterday, I was struck by the words etched on the upper rim of the structure, encircling Jefferson like a halo: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against all forms of tyranny over the mind of man.”

There are many forms of tyranny. There’s the tyranny so pervasive and subtle that Jefferson likely didn’t have the slightest thought that he was enacting it when he wrote “the mind of man” – the tyranny of patriarchy. There’s tyranny in the form of slavery, of social structures that maintain an unequal distribution of resources and access to education, and of course the tyranny of those despots who wave their wands of destruction over the homes and hearts of their brethren.

But are these examples of tyranny over our minds? To me it seems like these are forms of external tyranny. Of course, when one’s body is oppressed and one’s environment perverted, it is very difficult to have freedom and peace of mind. Even so, I recall a story told by H.H. the Dalai Lama of a monk who had escaped Tibet after being imprisoned there for decades. He reflected, “The thing that I was most afraid of was that I would lose compassion for my captors.”

This is a clear example of a person whose mind is liberated from the most deeply-rooted form of tyranny over the mind of people. This is the tyranny of self-centeredness.

Panchen Lama I referred to this tyrant as “the monstrous demon of selfishness.” With repeated introspective observation, those words are, if anything, revealed to be an understatement.

This is the demon who oppressed me under the sun’s terrible rays with anger as I sat for hours in traffic – ignoring the hundreds of others surrounding me, all in the exact same position as myself, many of whom likely had more important engagements to make.

This is the demon who distracts me every time I get involved in a constructive project, spinning me away from my object of focus towards any whim whose sweet scent it passes.

This is the demon who runs circles in my mind, ruminating about lost loves I never had and grudges that arose from simple mis-perceptions.

And when I look it straight on and examine its very nature, I can see with total clarity that this is the demon that motivates each and every form of external tyranny, none excepted. This demon told people that slavery was good and necessary This demon told Hitler of inferior races that must be eliminated. To this day, this demon tells the world that half the human race is less worthy the other.

To this day, this demon whispers to us that in war killing is justified and that, well anyway, there aren’t any other options.

This tyrant of self-centeredness is what all sages of the past have sworn hostility against. Thus, so will I, today and all days forward until it is utterly vanquished.


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The Blessing of Doing What I Don’t Wanna

“Do at least one thing everyday that you don’t want to do.”

This was one of the most profound pieces of advice I’ve ever received from my teacher, Ven. Thubten Chodron.

So yesterday when I spoke with her and she told me to do something that I REALLY didn’t want to do, amidst the turmoil of disappointment was a little sparkle of enthusiastic joy.

Why does her instruction carry such power? Because the things that “I” don’t want to do are really things that my selfish attitude doesn’t want to do.

Beneficial actions are implied here – obviously, if we don’t want to steal something but someone tells us to, the advice isn’t to go ahead and do it.

But when there are a few dishes that the roommates left in the sink and I don’t feel like washing them when I wash my own bowl? Yes – definitely, that is something to do!

When I don’t want to let the person who’s trying to sneak out of a parking lot pull in front of me when I’m coming upon a light? That is one to do!

When out of laziness I want to put off folding the laundry? I better do that one – it’s actually a job duty!



This is a mere sprinkling of scenarios. At the moment, I’m more concerned with my own well-being than with others’. Truly, until that mindset is entirely eradicated, there will be infinite opportunities of this sort.



This is an effective method to overcome self-centeredness because, first of all, it’s simple. I don’t need to spend years studying the nature of mind and how perception works; I don’t need to live in solitary meditation retreat; and I don’t need any special materials.

I just need to recognize that moment when I close inwards and resist doing something that will be worthwhile and helpful to others. I need to be aware of that feeling of drudgery that thinks, “This is too much for me! Whaaa!”

Secondly, this works so well because it’s a direct antidote to self-centeredness. It’s like hitting my selfish “I” square in the nose, stopping it in place. If I continue to let it have it’s way, then genuine altruism and compassion will not grace my mind. If, on the other hand, I stand up to it and do precisely the opposite of what it wants, then those attitudes will spring forth naturally.



While under the sway of selfish wishes, it seems like fulfilling them will bring me happiness. In reality, acquiescing to my own self-interest necessarily brings harm – it leads me to act dishonestly, to shun responsibilities, to make poor decisions in every facet of life.

What actually fulfills my need for happiness is the abandonment of the self-centered attitude itself. Today, I will strive to notice unwise self-preservation as it arises and swiftly redirect my course of action to accomplish compassionate acts and increase my altruistic motivation. Knowing that benefit will come, I’ll do so joyfully!