The Secret Is Mind

In the opening editorial of the May 2020 issue of Lion’s Roar, Melvin McLeod looks at Buddhism’s central insight and the key to Buddhist meditation.

Melvin McLeod
1 April 2020

What’s the secret of life? That’s a question that seems trite and clichéd. But actually, it’s what we all want the answer to. What’s the one thing that makes all the difference?

Our mind.

That’s what the Buddha said.

Mind is the ultimate cause of our suffering. Mind is the true source of our happiness. This is Buddhism’s central insight and the key to Buddhist meditation. It’s what makes Buddhism unique among the world’s religious and secular philosophies. Among all the different causes of happiness and unhappiness people talk about, only Buddhism says unequivocally, “Mind!”

According to Buddhism, transforming the mind of suffering into the mind of joy is the secret of life.

Specifically, the Buddha said in “The Mind” chapter of the Dhammapada, “A tamed mind brings happiness.” Conversely, a wild and untamed mind brings unhappiness. Taming our wild, suffering mind is what this issue’s cover story is about.

Sometimes it feels like our mind is the enemy, full of painful fears, deep traumas, and repetitive thoughts we can’t seem to control. But it can also be our greatest friend, the source of love, wisdom, beauty, and all good qualities. According to Buddhism, transforming the mind of suffering into the mind of joy is the secret of life.

Buddhist meditators have been working on this for 2,600 years. They’ve studied the mind carefully and developed effective techniques to tame and transform it. They’re still doing it today, like the five Buddhist teachers who in this issue offer us wisdom to free ourselves from the negative mental habits that plague us.

That starts, as both Sylvia Boorstein and Willa Blythe Baker teach, with making friends with our mind, which is to say, with ourselves. Loving-kindness toward ourselves is the foundation; without it our spiritual practice is always some sort of internal war, pitting one part of us against another.

When we are friends with ourselves, then we can profitably practice the two components of Buddhist meditation: mindfulness and insight. When our mind is tamed and stabilized by mindfulness meditation, then we can look deeply at the true nature of our painful thoughts and emotions. Almost miraculously, that frees us from their grip and reveals the true nature of our mind—wisdom and love.

This doesn’t mean our own minds cause all our suffering (just a lot of it). We know full well that others also make us suffer, from childhood traumas and bad relationships all the way up to fears for humanity’s future. But all that too is mind—just other people’s minds. That’s why the great Buddhist thinker Joanna Macy says in this issue that the only answer to the global crisis is a great turning, a great awakening of mind.

Because transforming mind is the secret of life. Your life. My life. All life.

Melvin McLeod

Melvin McLeod is the Editor-in-Chief of Lion’s Roar magazine and Buddhadharma.