Changing the World

By Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche • 6 min read


Your mind, your world

There’s an inextricable relationship between our minds and our external world. Whether we perceive our environment as gorgeous or hideous, useful or a hindrance, neutral or deeply meaningful — it all depends on what’s within us. If you can perceive it, it’s happening in your mind.

change the world

The spoon can’t do it

This is true even of your physical senses. Take taste, for example. You take a bite of food, causing your organs of taste to send signals to your brain; then quickly your mind forms a judgment: Delicious! Or, ugh, sickening! Or, hmm, needs salt.

All your perceptions of external phenomena are like this. If you think about it, it only makes sense. After all, objects outside of your mind don’t have the power to explain their existence to you. A spoon can’t say, “Over here! I’m a spoon! You can use me to eat soup!” Only you can identify it as a spoon and assign it a name and a function. This subjectivity is the reason that, if you want to change your outer environment, the best place to begin is your own mind.

Altruism and ego

Should you attempt to change the surroundings without transforming yourself, you’ll encounter a lot of pitfalls. The Dalai Lama has spoken often about this type of situation — people starting out with a pure intention to “change the world,” but then, once their endeavor is underway, they begin to get concerned about how it benefits them.

For example, let’s say you feel moved to plant one thousand trees. If your heart is completely pure, and love for the ecosystem is your sole motivation, it’s a wonderful plan.

However, it’s not good if — despite your good intentions — there’s a little voice in the back of your mind whispering, “This is gonna make me look really good,” or, “I can’t find a decent job, so maybe I should use this venture to launch an organization and make a profit.” If you don’t address your inner environment, even your altruistic actions can become self-interested. They can take a back seat to your personal issues. They can cause problems within your mind, or among your friends and community. The situation can get very convoluted.

“The outer environment and inner environment are really connected. If you want to change, then first you try to change your inner environment, and then you can change the outer environment

– Mingyur Rinpoche –

Control tower

Conversely, if you transform your mind in the service of helping the external world, your actions will have tremendous power. Without your mind, you can’t do anything. It’s the control tower, the force guiding and controlling your actions, navigating you from points A to B. If you harbor any doubts on that point, recall that in this very moment, if your mind didn’t think, “Okay, time to go on to the next thing,” you’d be staring at this sentence for the rest of your life. In order to be of assistance to other sentient beings, your head and heart need to be in the right place. It all starts from the inner environment.

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About the Author

By Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

In his approach to teaching meditation, Mingyur Rinpoche integrates traditional Buddhist practice and philosophy with the current scientific understanding of the mind and mental health – making the practice of meditation relevant and accessible to students around the world. Mingyur Rinpoche is the author of the best-selling book The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, as well as Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom, In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying, and many others.

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