What comes to your mind when you think of Buddhism? Bald guys meditating in faraway temples deep in the mountains? Good! That’s an image commonly sold in the west. In this series of articles, I’m taking a closer look at the other side – the more grounded one. The practical one. You know, it’s not that big of a deal to follow Buddhist guidelines while living in a serene place, isolated from the society (i.e. “everyday problems”) and surrounded by people who are bent on doing the same. The true challenge is to work on your mind the Buddhist way in the midst of everyday life (Mahjong games) while dealing with not-so-compassionate and wise people on daily basis (at the tables).
Where should you start? Uhh… sit down, cross your legs, close your eyes and feel that Buddhist compassion and wisdom flow through you. Nirvana’s just behind the corner… Done? Not quite! There’s a long, long way to being wise & compassionate enough to apply Buddhist guidelines effectively. It’s high level, kind of like Houou on Tenhou. So again – where do you start? I’d recommend the Ennobling Eightfold Path, yet again!
As Venerable Robina Courtin (she’s badass, look her up) explains: developing wisdom and compassion, seeing past the delusions of our minds (attachment to ego, conventional reality etc.) is high school. We can’t possibly jump straight there and act all holy! We gotta start in the kindergarten.
Here we go:
ETHICAL CONDUCT – action based
- Proper speech – plain and simple: it’s foolish and unproductive to badmouth other players, put them down, use offensive language, tell lies or gossip.
You think you got that one down? Wait until you get hit by 4th place dama Oya Haneman on your way to Riichi Pinfu for 1st place in oorasu…
It’s worth it to learn when/how to speak and when silence is more appropriate. Yeah, don’t give Mahjong advice without being asked first… If you advise someone, make sure it’s constructive criticism with useful tips, not strutting your knowledge and trying to make others feel less… Make sure to praise other players for good plays!
- Proper action – avoid in-game cheating and other shady Mahjong business. This point also promotes helping others whenever a need arises.
- Proper livelihood – you shouldn’t live off things that bring harm to others. Mahjong parlors?
So far, so good. Now on to…
MENTAL DISCIPLINE – thinking based
- Proper effort – whenever a negative mind state arises, you should learn how to let your mind calm down and gradually replace the negative states with positive ones.
- Proper mindfulness – that’s such a buzz word these days, isn’t it? Mindfulness isn’t an inherently positive state of mind. Thieves and murderers do need it too to get their jobs done.
What does it mean to be mindful? Simply – to be aware of what’s going on in your body and mind i.e. your thoughts, sensations, feelings. By being mindful and focused, you can learn to differentiate between positive/negative and neutral states; how they’re triggered, how they affect your mind and body and how you can manage them.
You’re also more aware of your sorroundings (opponents and the board).
Try it yourself! Take a closer look at how you react to wins and losses in Mahjong.
How do you feel when things go your way and what happens when that damn Kuitan nomi stops your Riichi for the 3rd time in a row… When you’re on a lucky streak on Tenhou and after you’ve dropped 2 ranks…
What are your thoughts and mental stories you tell yourself in those scenarios? Do you tend to play a victim or are you more on the predatory side?
Is the way you react to those events beyond your control? It may feel that way, but it’s not once you get a better hang of the mechanics of your mind (and Mahjong itself!).
Mindfulness also entails being laser focused on one particular activity, without distractions. Only then can you reach your full potential.
- Proper concentration – it’s the process of training yourself to gradually let go of the negative states of mind (anxiety, ill-will, anger, disappointment, resentment, jealousy etc.) and learn to replace them with positive ones (joy, happiness, playfulness). Eventually, you’ll develop equanimity even in the midst of negative/ positive emotions. In other words, you won’t be a slave to them. You won’t be a robot running amok.
You’ll realize that feelings are volatile and you shouldn’t give into them the very second you they pop up because you may regret it later. Your words and actions won’t be easily swayed by your inner turbulations. In Mahjong, as a result, you’ll stop tilting and make smarter in-game decisions overall. How’s that for a benefit?
Here’s where meditation comes in handy. What’s meditation? The process of mentally watching yourself (or pretty much anything you can think of) from a neutral standpoint. That means seeing past your habitual thought patterns, opinions; analyzing your inner processes from different angles to gain a better understanding of their nature. No judging, no clinging to any of the thoughts, just watching them flow… Inner dialogue is also a form of meditation in that sense…
Anyway, sitting with crossed legs is totally optional. You can meditate everywhere, doing whatever. It’s not a fixed religious ritual. I also don’t think meditation is essential to learn how to manage your inner department effectively. It’s just a tool.
Now the last part:
- Proper understanding (proper view) – full realization and acknowledgment of the Four Ennobling Truths. In Mahjong, that means to fully acknowledge the random nature of the game and learn the proper approach to in-game dilemmas, free of flawed concepts and biases
- Proper intention – inner determination to stop:
- being overly attached to material, status related things (fancy Mahjong sets & tables to show-off with; Tenhou ranks etc.)
- giving into every single desire (e.g. to flip a table after a bad game, to be greedy and click ‘the delicious Riichi button’ again or to flip off that guy who knocked you off to 4th in oorasu )
- harming others – be it mentally or physically. That includes secretly wishing harm (Ron) upon others. Every thought counts in the Buddha world!
That’s all. Till next time!