A VIEW OF HAPPINESS
April 8, 2019
We are in business to achieve happiness and if possible to make money. We keep one eye on the shortest way to make money and the other eye on the path to a life of satisfaction and fulfillment.
We follow those who travelled in the path to happiness and enriched humanity with their experience and wisdom. In todays article we follow Buddha trying to learn his point of view about the way to happiness.
True happiness can be broadly defined as a mindstate. The characteristics of a mindstate include a sense of universality, continuity and endurance. The mindstate we call true happiness is not temporary, not hit-and-miss; it is not grounded in purely sensual gratification; it does not deal in extremes. It is constant and all-pervasive, and above all it is that which can be borne with ease.
In order to attain this mindstate, according to Buddhist teaching, we must literally begin at the beginning. In other words, we must have a starting point. This starting point is what Buddhist teaching calls samvega. Samvega has four basic elements.
- The first element is that we see the ultimate futility of a life that centers only around the satisfying of sensual desires.
- The second element is that we see how complacent we are when it comes to finding true happiness and to not be satisfied with indulging that complacency.
- The third element is the development of a feeling of urgency. We must feel an urgent need to break out of this futility.
- The fourth element is to accept that Samsaric existence, going round and round in the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, is ultimately self-defeating.
The Buddha said, “Happiness is in the mind which is released from worldly bondage. The happiness of sensual lust and the happiness of heavenly bliss are not equal to a sixteenth part of the happiness of craving’s end.”
With that quote from the Buddha we can now delve a little deeper into how the Buddhist tradition views happiness and the path to that happiness.The Dhammapada is a famous collection of the Buddha’s sayings taken from various points in his 45-year teaching career. One of the chapters of the Dhammapada is titled, “Happiness” in which some of the Buddha’s teachings about happiness are listed. In this chapter the Buddha described elements of a happy life as:
- Living without hate among the hateful.
- Living without domination of the passions among those who are dominated by the passions.
Living without yearning for sensual pleasures among those who yearn for sensual
Living without being impeded by the Three Poisons of craving, anger and ignorance which
are seen as hindrances to spiritual progress.
- Giving up thoughts of winning or losing.
Overcoming the Five Aggregates (a sense of objects, emotional attachment to those objects,
categorization of those objects, mental states arising from contact with those objects, a
dualistic view of a perceiver and that which is perceived).
- Subjugating the passions.
- Not being in the company of the foolish but being with the wise.
- Attaining the final happiness which is Nirvana, sometimes referred to as Bliss.
Now we know that we need to “endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” without
complaining, that we have to stay disciplined in the midst of the undisciplined, that we have to
stop being so competitive all the time, that we can’t give in to anger and delusion, that we have
to look at the process by which we stay deluded, that we need to find wise spiritual friends to
guide us, and that there is something transcendent to which we can aspire.
Of course, the way in which we can do all these things was outlined by the Buddha. He called
it the Noble Eightfold Path. But while the Noble Eightfold Path is the path that leads to the
ultimate happiness, Nirvana, the ultimate Bliss, it is also the path of the ultimate happiness.
Besides being a path, the Noble Eightfold Path is also a state…a state of mind, a state of
happiness, something which is universal, ongoing, consistent, enduring. It’s the practice of
happiness in our daily existence. Let’s look at this Noble Eightfold path in terms of each of its
elements. By examining each step of the path (remembering of course that each step is
interconnected with all the other steps), we can see how each one produces its own kind of
Right Understanding. This of course is the understanding of the Buddha’s teachings.
These teachings appeal to us on many levels: intellectual, emotional, logical, spiritual.
They are very straightforward and specific in that they spell out very painstakingly how and
why we suffer and how this suffering can be cured. This is the happiness of encountering a
path that will allow us to liberate ourselves from the round of birth, suffering, aging, death
and rebirth. It’s the happiness of finally getting to the bottom of our problems and of being
able to see things exactly as they are.
Right Intention. This means the utilization of the Buddha’s teachings to end suffering for
ourselves and for others. It produces the happiness of mutual benefit. We always feel good
when we do good for others; even when we’re forced to do good for others we’re also
forced to admit that there’s some kind of a good feeling associated with it. This is where
compassion and wisdom come together.
Right Speech. Whenever we lie, whenever we speak harshly or gossip there’s a negative
energy that goes along with it. When we look at it closely, we really don’t feel happiness
when we speak that way; at best it’s a feeling of smug satisfaction which is inevitably sad.
Don’t we feel better when we tell the truth, when we come clean? Doesn’t it feel better
when we speak with a friendly demeanor, when we’re talking up someone because we
really mean it? This is the happiness of Right Speech.
Right Action. The happiness of Right Action lies in knowing that whatever we do with our
words, with our deeds and with our thoughts is respectful of peoples’ lives, property,
sexuality, dignity and so forth, and it helps them to ease their suffering. It’s like “Truth,
Justice and the American Way,” right? It feels Super! People whose actions hurt or demean
others in any way carry at least a subconscious echo of those hurtful acts, not to mention all
the other things that go with it such as guilt, remorse, fear and so on.
Right Livelihood. We usually find that people whose jobs don’t cause suffering and only
serve to create peace and harmony are happy, even though they may be overworked,
underpaid and underappreciated. Any job that uplifts humanity, respects life and promotes
the welfare of all is ultimately the most satisfying despite a lack of economic benefits.
That’s why so many people with these kinds of jobs stay with them so long. When we deal
in firearms or other such harmful industries, even though we may not be directly involved
in their manufacture we tend to sweep that aspect of our company’s activities under the rug
so that we don’t get our hands dirty. This is a form of shame and fear that isn’t experienced
by someone who is engaged in right livelihood.
Right Effort. Like they say, “If you’re going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.”
What they don’t say is that walking the walk feels good! You just want to go, “Yeah!” “All
right!” When we play sports, whether we win or lose, if we’ve put absolutely everything
we have into our game we don’t really care about the outcome. This is the happiness of
Right Effort. It makes us feel like a real hero because it’s for the whole team…in this case
the ultimate team: all sentient beings.
Right Mindfulness. How about the happiness of never having a “senior moment?” You
know how you feel when nothing gets by you, right? “Hey, I’m awake and alert! I’m on
the ball! I can count on me!” Being able to keep an eye on your body, your mind, and
those things that your mind is trying to hold on to is a happy thing, a noble thing. You are
the guardian of yourself, protecting yourself from that which causes delusion and suffering.
It’s not smugness or pride, but rather a calm certainty that, as the Buddha said, “Just as rain
cannot enter a well-roofed house, delusion cannot enter a well-trained mind.”
Right Concentration. All kinds of happiness comes from meditation!
Have you ever seen a statue or picture of the meditating Buddha that featured a frown???
Now that we’ve looked into the Noble Eightfold Path in terms of happiness there are some
other examples from the Buddhist tradition that we may examine. For example, the principle
of Loving-Kindness. Love is great, there’s no doubt about it. But unless that love is extended
to others, its power is going mostly unused. Extending Loving-Kindness to others is one of the
most uplifting things we can do. The Buddha expounded on Loving-Kindness many times,
saying that by extending it to others we also cultivate it within ourselves.
There’s a happiness that comes from the realization of what we may call selflessness or
nonattachment or nonduality. Seeing directly that there’s essentially no difference between
ourselves and others is the ultimate sense of community. Imagine knowing that all sentient
beings are your family!
- The happiness of possessing calmness and insight.
- The happiness of a state of mind that is balanced and alert, calm and energetic.
The happiness of doing just what our Fundamental Teacher the Buddha did to become
liberated from suffering.
Another means of experiencing happiness in the Buddhist tradition takes the form of accepting
one’s karma. If we embrace the truth of cause-and-effect, we realize that whatever happens to
us is not necessarily bad or good, but that it is the end of a karmic cycle. Since it’s karma that
keeps us bound to what we call the Wheel of Birth and Death, this is a cause for celebration.
A famous Buddhist story deals with a young mother named Kisagotami, whose only child had
died. Since she had never really seen death before, she carried her child’s body on her hip
thinking that the child was ill and searching for a cure. The Buddha told her to collect some
mustard seed from a household where no one had died. When she couldn’t find such a
household, she realized the truth of the situation. After the Buddha taught her the Dharma she
became a nun. Then one day she observed the flickering of a lamp and reflected on the
impermanence of life, happily realizing that conditioned life is indeed impermanent and that to
hold on to it only increases one’s suffering.
In Mahayana Buddhism, happiness is being on the Bodhisattva path, the path to Buddhahood
in which we help all sentient beings on the way. Acting with compassion and wisdom is
happiness, as we’ve mentioned before.
The Four Immeasurables, which we chant here often, could also be thought of as the
Bodhisattva Mission Statement:
The first Immeasurable is, “May all beings have true happiness.” This wish is the
Bodhisattva’s declaration of Loving-Kindness to all.
The second Immeasurable is, “May all beings be free from suffering and its causes.” This
is the Bodhisattva’s expression of universal compassion.
The third Immeasurable is, “May all beings be one with the Highest Perfect Joy.” This is
the Bodhisattva’s realization of sympathetic joy, the happiness that comes from the
happiness of others.
The fourth Immeasurable is, “May all beings dwell in equanimity, freed from
discrimination and attachment.” This is the Bodhisattva’s expression of happiness that
comes from the peacefulness experienced by others. For a Bodhisattva, my happiness and
your happiness are the same happiness.
In Pure Land Buddhism we talk about the Pure Land as both a land of happiness and a state of
happiness, only we usually use the term, “bliss” to describe it. When we have purified our
mind we become one with the Buddha of boundless light and life, boundless compassion and
wisdom, and so we are blissful and happy whether we are reborn into that Buddha’s realm or
whether we are experiencing that purified mind right here and now. In Pure Land Buddhism
we also use the term “serene trust” to describe our faith in the boundless compassion and
wisdom of Buddhas. This serenity, this calmness and assuredness, are hallmarks of the bliss of
the Pure Land, the happy land.
From the Zen perspective it is exactly that here and now that is seen as happiness. Whether it’s
profound or mundane, sweet-smelling or foul, things are exactly as they are; things are empty
of self-nature, and so are not subject to that which causes suffering and misery. That is Zen
happiness…the happiness of everyday life itself.
And of course, the ultimate happiness is Nirvana, the cessation of suffering, the end of the
round of birth-and-death, the realization of perfect oneness, perfect joy, perfect peace….and
yes, perfect happiness.
I’d like to close with some words which were written by Ven. Narada Mahathera, a famous
Buddhist teacher and author from Sri Lanka, who was talking about acting in ways that
promote happiness. He said:
The world is full of thorns and pebbles. It is impossible to remove them. But, if we have to
walk in spite of such obstacles, instead of trying to remove the, which is impossible, it is
advisable to wear a pair of slippers and walk harmlessly.
The Dharma teaches:
- Be like a lion that trembles not at sounds.
- Be like the wind that does not cling to the meshes of a net.
- Be like a lotus that is not contaminated by the mud from which it springs.
- Wander alone like a rhinoceros.
Being the kings of the forest, lions are fearless. By nature they are not frightened by the
roaring of other animals. In this world, we may hear adverse reports, false accusations,
degrading remarks of uncurbed tongues. Like a lion, we should not even listen to them.
Like the boomerang, false reports will end where they began.
Dogs bark, but the caravans move on peacefully. We are living in a muddy world.
Numerous lotuses spring therefrom without being contaminated by the mud; they adorn the
world. Like lotuses we should try to lead blameless and noble lives, unmindful of the mud
that may be thrown at us.
We should expect mud to be thrown at us instead of roses. Then there will be no
Though difficult, we should try to cultivate non-attachment. Aloen we come, along we go.
Non-attachment is happiness in this world.
Unmindful of the poisonous darts of uncurbed tongues, alone we should wander serving
others to the best of our ability.
And so we can ascribe a number of qualities to happiness from a Buddhist perspective:
- It is that which can be borne with ease.
- It comes from a desire to improve our life by getting beyond the creation of suffering.
- It is a state of mind, not a state of sense-gratification.
- It free of craving, anger and ignorance.
- It is the wisdom that sees our true, interdependent, enlightened nature.
- It is compassionate, loving and kind.
- It is serene and not overly boisterous.
- It is shared with all.
- It is the path to liberation.
- It is simultaneously Nirvana, the ultimate state of joy and bliss, and our everyday existence.