Students looking for enlightenment or just new ways to relieve the stress of upcoming finals were able to learn ways of reducing personal suffering last week from Buddhist monk Venerable Geshe Ngawang Phende.

Phende was invited to Kingston by the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies as a guest lecturer for their series of talks devoted to inner peace. Phende earned the title of Geshe while studying at the Drepung Loseling Monastic University in Karnataka, India. Originally from Nepal, he currently shares his teachings at a monastery in Atlanta, Georgia.

As a Buddhist, Phende believes that it is innate human nature to be pure, but a negative state of mind corrupts our lives and can prevent this.

“A newborn baby does not know how to talk, does not know how to walk, and does not know how to eat,” Phende said. “But when she suffers, she cries. When she’s happy, she smiles. Nobody teaches her that you should cry when you suffer, or smile when you are happy.”

Understanding this example is key to Buddhist thoughts on suffering and hardship, which Phende believes that we, as humans, bring upon ourselves.

Human suffering exists in humans due to negative emotions that we feel in our lives. According to Phende, inner peace and happiness are the “ultimate goals” for humanity, and are what individuals should strive for in their daily lives. These goals are often clouded, however, and obscured by negative emotions and feelings.

“Today, we have so much anger, attachments, and jealousy, and egos [in society],” Phende said. “From the Buddhist philosophy, one of the fundamental causes for these negative emotions is self-centeredness and the selfish mind.”

Phende believes that self-centeredness brings about emotions like anger and jealousy, and he cites that attachments to material things are the root cause of the negative emotions present within one’s life. He discourages attachment to material things.

“We always think about ‘me, me, me’…,” Phende said. “Thinking that the self is more important than others. We must satisfy our own attachments to material things like money and power, before we can ever consider the needs of others.”

Phende vehemently believes material attachments are wrong, and not the correct way to obtain true happiness. According to Phende, by ridding oneself of attachments in life, another step is taken towards inner peace and happiness. Separating necessities from desire–and minimizing the amount of materials desired in the process–reduces attachments in life.

With less attachments, self-centeredness is also reduced, and we can continue our lives while more altruistic and humanitarian: a core concept related to peace itself, which is what the URI Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies is all about. According to their webpage, one of their missions is “to institutionalize and internationalize nonviolence as a process that reduces human suffering and promotes a global beloved community.”

By practicing what Phende spoke about, URI students can reduce self-centeredness and accomplish the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies’ goal in the process. So, as another semester at URI edges closer to its end, students should remember Phende’s teaching and apply it to something like the looming final exams: if we can reduce the wants and desires in our lives, and complete our courses accordingly, we can perform well on our exams–which is certainly a necessity!