Inner Disarmament

The Dalai Lama once said, “There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” He teaches that the antidote to hatred dwelling in the heart is tolerance, as it serves as the armor that protects us from the compulsion to counterattack when harm has been inflicted upon us.

Mark Epstein (1998) suggests that the Dalai Lama referred to tolerance as an attribute applicable not only toward others, but also toward the self. It can be utilized to soothe the difficult feelings we encounter within ourselves (emotional stress, anxiousness, and depression). Our inclination is to run from these feelings because they carry the threat of destruction; however, the best way to protect ourselves from the thoughts that haunt us is not to fear them at all, but rather to allow them to exist freely, knowing they will soon see their way out, and we will grow from them. This practice is known as inner disarmament.

Thoughts are only as powerful as we let them be, and they will only take us as prisoners if we succumb to their intimidation. It’s as if we’re being attacked by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Our impulse to survive tells us to use the age-old tactic of fight or flight, but rather than run, and rather than attack, the beast won’t harm us if we just stand still. These are merely thoughts; we have no means of making them anything more than that. In this case, surrendering to them is not only the path of least resistance, it is also the bravest thing we can do from a psychodynamic perspective.

The practice of inner disarmament originates from the teachings of Siddartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha, who claimed that it is possible to cultivate a mind that neither clings nor rejects. He believed that in doing so, we subsequently alter the way in which we experience time, ourselves, and the idea of permanence. This is the foundation for which the concept of Om was created. “Om” refers to the Atman, meaning “the soul or self within”, and the Brahman, meaning “the ultimate reality”—the all-encompassing objective truth. These are some of the oldest Sanskrit teachings and, in turn, the earliest forms of human communication. Epstein (1998) adapts them under a more contemporary lens, arguing that the balance between attachment and aversion permits the observing mind to be in harmony with the transience of the world, without surrendering to its oppressiveness. It can be what we want of it, and it is what we need of it.


  1. Epstein, M. (1998). Going to pieces without falling apart: a Buddhist perspective on wholeness. New York: Broadway Books.