Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The pursuit of happiness

The Buddhist way:

Buddhism teaches us that if we want to find happiness and be at peace within ourselves, we must be satisfied with what we have. Easy though it may sound, but putting it into practice maybe difficult. In the ever increasing competitive world that we live in today trends are changing as soon as they begin, where the next version of the latest gadget comes out seemingly straight away. People are driven to work longer hours to afford to be at the forefront of the trends-the latest gadget, the latest car, the latest fashion. But lurking behind the lives of shiny new cars, flat screen TV's and iPhones is a void, is a huge deficit, and it's not a budget one. Our world is experiencing a passion and purpose deficit.

Then what really is happiness? Dictionaries say happiness is a range of emotions, from contentment to joy. We might think of happiness as an ephemeral thing that floats in and out of our lives, or as our life's essential goal, or as just the opposite of 'sadness'.

In order to understand the Buddha's teachings on happiness, it's important to understand the origin of happiness. As the Buddha explained, physical and emotional feelings (vedana) correspond or attach to an object. For example, the sensation of hearing is created when a sense organ (ear) comes in contact with a sense object (sound). Similarly, ordinary happiness is a feeling that has an object -- for example, a happy event, winning a prize, or wearing pretty new shoes.

The problem with happiness is that it never lasts, because the objects of happiness don't last. A happy event is soon followed by a sad one, and shoes wear out. Unfortunately, most of us go through life looking for things to 'make us happy'. But our happy 'fix' is never permanent, so we keep looking.

You have the power to make yourself happier. According to Megan Willett and Meredith Galante, journalists of Business Insider, the famous US business on-line magazine, 13 scientific studies have discovered small changes we can all make to improve our outlook on life. From writing down the good parts of your day to simply smiling, these social scientists have recommended 07 proactive steps you can take towards becoming a happier you. Those are (1). Be generous, (2) Savour everyday moments, (3) Avoid comparisons, (4) Put money low on the needs list, (5) Have meaningful goals, (6) Make friends, treasure family and (7) Look on the bright side of life.

Let us see what Buddhism says about these 7 points.

1. Be generous

Buddhism has always emphasized the practice of dana, or giving. Giving hasn't been seen purely as the exchange of material possessions, however; giving in Buddhist terms includes non-tangibles such as education, confidence, and wisdom.

And which are the three factors of the donor? There is the case where the donor, before giving, is glad; while giving, his/her mind is bright & clear; and after giving is gratified. These are the three factors of the donor. Dana Sutta:

2. Savour everyday moments

This is an example of another fundamental Buddhist practice - mindfulness. When we're mindful we stay in the present moment, and really pay attention to our experience. Walking meditation, and even eating, can be ways of savouring everyday moments. In being present, we dwell in the present without obsessing about the past or future, and this brings radiant happiness:

They sorrow not for what is past, they have no longing for the future, 
The present is sufficient for them: Hence it is they appear so radiant.

By having longing for the future, by sorrowing over what is past, 
By this fools are withered up as a cut down tender reed. (Aranna Sutta)

3. Avoid comparisons

Conceit or Mana is a Buddhist term. It is defined as an inflated mind that makes whatever is suitable, such as wealth or learning, to be the foundation of pride. It creates the basis for disrespecting others and for the occurrence of suffering. Mana is identified as one of the fourteen unwholesome mental factors (cetasika) and one of the ten fetters (sa?yojana). A mental fetter shackles a sentient being to sasara, the cycle of lives with dukkha. By cutting through all fetters, one attains nibbana.

Though possessing many a virtue one should not compare oneself with others by deeming oneself better or equal or inferior." (Sallekha Sutta)

4. Put money low on the list

In Buddhist terms we validate our wealth creation by giving our money away to support what's really important in life, which is the pursuit of wellbeing, truth, and goodness. The idea that materialism can bring us genuine happiness is what Buddhism calls a "false refuge."

There are these four kinds of bliss that can be attained in the proper season, on the proper occasions, by a householder partaking of sensuality. Which four? The bliss of having, the bliss of [making use of] wealth, the bliss of debtlessness, the bliss of blamelessness. (Anana Sutta)

5. Have meaningful goals

The Buddha's last words were "with mindfulness, strive." The whole point of being a Buddhist is in order to attain spiritual awakening - which means to maximize our compassion and mindfulness. What could be more meaningful than that?

He gains enthusiasm for the goal, gains enthusiasm for the Dhamma,[8] gains gladness connected with the Dhamma. When he is gladdened, joy is born in him (Vatthupama Sutta)

6. Make friends, treasure family

To the Buddha, spiritual friendship was "the whole of the spiritual life." And even though people tend to think about monks and nuns leaving home, for those who embraced the household life, close and loving relationships with others was highly recommended. "Generosity, kind words, beneficial help, and consistency in the face of events" are the things that hold a family together,

Support for one's parents, 
assistance to one's wife and children,

consistency in one's work:

This is the highest protection [from suffering].

(Mangala Sutta)

7. Look on the bright side

Buddhism doesn't encourage us to have a false sense of positivity, but neither are these researchers.

They're suggesting that we find the good in any situation we find ourselves in. Buddhism encourages positivity through practices such as affectionate and helpful speech, where we consciously look for the good in ourselves and others.

The strongest expression of this is where we're told to maintain compassionate thoughts even toward those who are sadistically cruel toward us:

Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words.

We will remain sympathetic to that person's welfare, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate.

We will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will equal to the great earth - abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.' That's how you should train yourselves. (Kakacupama Sutta) Buddhism pursues happiness by using knowledge and practice to achieve mental equanimity.

In Buddhism, equanimity, or peace of mind, is achieved by detaching oneself from the cycle of craving that produces dukkha. So by achieving a mental state where you can detach from all the passions, needs and wants of life, you free yourself and achieve a state of transcendent bliss and well-being.

Sunday Observer by Lionel Wijesiri