Meditation in the pursuit of happiness


Geshe Chekawa 1102-1176

Geshe Chekhawa, famous Kadampa master, told us how we could measure our success in training our minds:

“Always rely upon a happy mind alone.”

This has many layers of meaning. But one thing I think it reveals is the best perspective for approaching our spiritual practice in the first place. If we can get that right, our meditations flow, and we make easy progress. If we don’t get it right, meditation and spiritual practice seem like more hard work, more duty, and one day we might just pack it in.

Discouragement naturally leads to the laziness of indolence and attraction to meaningless activities too…

Over the past 30 years, I’ve seen umpteen people start off enthusiastically, as they glimpse the infinite possibilities of developing the mind; but then the sky clouds over and they become discouraged. Sometimes, people who have been supposedly “practicing” Buddhist meditation for years just stop. That makes no sense to me because meditation gets better and better if we do it right. I love meditating. So I’m sharing some ideas in the hope that they might help a few people keep relying on a happy mind alone instead of giving into the laziness of discouragement. After all, do we get discouraged or stop doing something if we are really enjoying ourselves?

Happiness-training

Buddhist meditation or Dharma is designed to make us happier and more free. We talk about “practicing Dharma”, or “training in meditation”, which means that we are practicing or training in becoming happier and more free. “Practicing” or “training in” implies we already have the potential for happiness and freedom, otherwise we would have to say something like “adding happiness” instead.

To borrow my friend’s gym analogy again… There is no point in going to the gym unless we have a muscle. We go the gym precisely to train our muscles, so we need to have at least some muscle, however weak, in order to train it. Well, Dharma is happiness-training. In other words, we need to have some happiness for us to train. We can also say Dharma is love-training or compassion-training or wisdom-training, and similarly we need to have some love or compassion or wisdom in order to train.

This is why it so important to identify and abide with our natural good qualities of happiness, wisdom, compassion etc., however feeble they may be at the moment. Then we naturally approach our training with such faith and optimism — regarding realizations as natural, even inevitable.

This will give you actual meditation experience.

Where are you starting from?

Buddha said our true nature, our Buddha nature, was like a clear sky and that our faults are not our intrinsic nature but adventitious or temporary defilements, like rain clouds scudding across the sky.

To see if we are approaching our spiritual practice from the best and indeed only useful perspective, we can ask ourself :

“On a daily basis, how much time do I spend identifying with my pure potential for happiness and freedom? And how much time do I spend identifying with being deluded e.g. irritated, worried, diseased, insecure, lonely, ugly, unhappy, addicted? When I do meditation or prayers or go to a teaching or remember spiritual advice in my daily life, where am I starting from? From the standpoint of being a limited, dark cloudy being who is a million miles away from where I want to be, or from the standpoint of being right now a spacious-sky-like blissful Buddha or Bodhisattva or good person, just temporarily obscured by the clouds of delusions?

Am I slogging away at this because I know it is supposed to be good for me, or am I enjoying myself every step of the way?”

What is enlightenment?

In Mahamudra Tantra, my teacher Geshe Kelsang says:

“Enlightenment is defined as an omniscient wisdom whose nature is the permanent cessation of mistaken appearance and whose function is to bestow mental peace on all living beings.”

Nothing is being said here about adding anything. By freeing ourself permanently from mistaken or dualistic appearances, and by ripening our Buddha nature, we will naturally possess omniscience and universal compassion. We will then have the power to help each living being every day by bestowing our blessings on them, teaching, and emanating.

Love and all non-deluded minds are our Buddha nature — our innate potential for complete purity and bliss — which is never separate from any living being. This means that to increase our good qualities of love, happiness, wisdom and so on, we do not need to add anything. In fact, to go all the way to becoming an enlightened being we do not need to add anything. We simply need to (1) remove all cloud-like delusions and obscurations from our mind through the practice of wisdom and (2) ripen our potential for all good qualities with the so-called method practices of contentment, faith, renunciation (the mind of liberation), love, compassion, bodhichitta (the mind of enlightenment), and so on.

No time like the present

Our Buddha nature is like a jewel wrapped in rags

Anyone at all can tune into their spiritual potential, starting right now, if they know how. When you feel some peace from doing simple breathing meditation, for example, identify this as your true nature, your Buddha nature. Disbelieve or ignore all the ordinary cloud-like thoughts you have of yourself as a limited, deluded being, and in this way leave the space for the naturally pure, positive, loving thoughts to arise instead. Actually, the Pure Land is right here, right now – we are just not looking at it.

This is one of my favorite quotes:

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.

For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thru’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

~ William Blake

The more we grasp at things as real, the more out of touch with reality we are. Delusions (our unpeaceful, uncontrolled minds based on mistaken appearance and exaggeration, such as anger, greed and ignorance) grasp the most tightly, and their objects do not exist. Anger, for example, grasps at and wants to push away an inherently unpleasant person or situation; and there is no such thing. Attachment does the opposite — grasping at and pulling toward us something or someone out there that we feel is necessary for our happiness, when in fact our happiness is within, a state of mind. When any delusions are functioning, our life feels precarious, out of balance, somehow lacking.

Love, compassion, wisdom are in touch with reality and offer us transcendence – we can feel it, and it is why they make us feel good. When our love is arising in our mind, for example, it feels spacious, peaceful, and wholly connected with a wider reality. It also feels as if the elements of our life are in balance as we are in a state of not lacking anything — so it is impossible, for example, to feel guilty or worried about all the things we “should” be doing but are not…

Avoiding burnout at work

In this article, I try to explain how to use this understanding to prevent stress and burnout at work.

Your comments are very welcome. And please share this article if you found it helpful.

Comments

  1. Harald Kraus says:

    I’m also a student of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso for 15 years now and have heard the quote of Geshe Chekawa (always rely upon a happy mind alone) on Spring festival (Medicine Buddha) 2004 from Geshe Kelsang himself at Manjushry Center. This sentence and Kadampa Buddhism in general has changed my life in a very positive direction. The article above explains the meaning of buddhist teachings in a very profound way and I can only encourage everybody to enter the path of Kadampa Buddhism or similar paths. Thank you Geshe-la.

  2. Robert says:

    That was beautifully inspiring!!
    Thank you! X

  3. Shalini bhowmick says:

    I am alone

    • I am sorry you feel that because you are not. You are interconnected with all living beings and holy beings are all around you and within you.

  4. Carolle Marchand says:

    Thank you so much for this blog. As my body and mind are taking a serious beating due to chemotherapy, my practice has essentially ceased… So I thought. I do not not recite mantras anymore, I do not read dharma books and I was actually relieved when the FP ended early in May as my efforts were certainly not joyful anymore. This brings a new outlook on Dharma that I’d never considered before. Thank you again for sharing your wisdom.
    Love!
    Carolle

    • Carolle, I’m glad it is helping. I doubt your practice has ceased, patient acceptance of everything that happens to us is the most important practice of all. I hope you feel better very, very soon.

  5. Gregory says:

    I left Buddhism in April 2010 and learned how to heal the sick, myself and others since working w/ the Medicine Buddha brought no results. I was able to rid myself of great obstructions through Science of Mind but my Buddhist teaching always kept a mirror in front of me and confirmed much of what was going on in the mindstream.

    When I was unable to save my dog’s life through treatment in my thought, discouragement, unforgiveness got a hold on me. I knew intellectually that disease is empty and without power or substance but the lie in my mortal thinking was never removed. Through months of study and mentally treating the false belief of life in matter, I lost my best friend. It sent me back to Buddhism but not to where I need to be. Peace in that I have the merit to be in a good rebirth and to relieve suffering helps but it does not solve the issue at hand; discouragement.

    I found this blog because of looking for a cure in discouragement. It is my belief that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas heal and deliver due to there deep realization of Mind and there practice in it. Thus, perceived evil is destroyed and the calamity is reduced to its native nothingness.

    I cannot recite the Buddhas name all day for it is more important to me to change the belief right now. If I do that, my tomorrow or next birth will be fine.

    There is a harsh desire to heal the sick including myself but more so, gaining the revelation of the Buddha nature is obtainable now. I don’t want to give up on this life and lay down because of the obscuration. I want to clean the up now so tomorrow is better.

    You have my love and respect.

    • Dear Gregory, thank you for your honest comment. I am really sorry you lost your beloved dog, that is always so hard. I think if Dharma has taught me anything it is Atisha’s advice that we need to learn to control our own minds before we can control the minds of others. It is similar for being able to heal others. So day by day we can work on improving our love, our wish to help, our skill and our faith, without being hard on ourselves when we can’t immediately help everybody we love, but instead using that as an incentive to become a Bodhisattva as soon as we can. Good luck with everything. Luna.

  6. There was a time when I was enjoying myself every step of the way… I’ve had some amazing glimpses of bliss in meditation and dakini dreams (and maybe that was part of the problem – attachment to results). I’m in a long period of not even slogging. I’ve resorted to old habits of hoping I can get by without meditation and ignoring commitments. Intellectually, I see no fault in the advice to meditate daily and keep my commitments. I’m waiting for inspiration. It’s a lazy Buddhist’s funk. Finally, I’ve rested with the conclusion that I’m just not suffering enough. Specifically, that I am able to change my suffering too easily, relying on serial experiences of momentary relief. Eyes wide shut sliding towards Buddha’s first noble truth: you should know suffering. That my practice will be born again only once I’ve suffered to the core. When I finally found the potential of a human life, I had the karma to be born into a world of such rich distractions. What an elaborate prison! In an illusory world cast in neon lights, my pure potential is written in greyscale. I’ve clearly not developed a routine intimacy with Dorje Shugdan, as I seem to be the poster-child for needing his blessings. Tomorrow, it’s WFJ versus quality-time with my daughter…. which will I choose?

    • Whoah, you’re a good writer!

      The honeymoon period between us and Dharma usually does come to an end at some stage and we have to re-inspire ourselves to get our joyful effort back on and go deeper, much deeper, building up a lasting relationship. I always love Shantideva’s advice on overcoming the three types of laziness — if we have one, e.g. feeling discouraged, we tend to have the other two as well e.g. being all distracted again.

      You probably are suffering enough, you just don’t realize it!! Isn’t that Buddha’s point in the first noble truth? And, on the other side of the coin, we are selling ourselves short, considering how happy we really could be with a little more effort.

      Sometimes a good way to get past the post-honeymoon malaise is to reconnect to what first inspired you in Dharma as often as you can, every day, whether that is compassion or wisdom or the Pure Land or whatever. Start with what you’re good at, feel very happy about it, and build on that.

  7. Thanks for reminding us ‘that we are practicing or training in becoming happier and more free🙂

  8. Ike Lichtenstein says:

    What fantastic advice! Sounds so familiar- know I have heard a lot of it before. maybe an earlier life. The problem with uncovering the Buddha within is the innate tendency to grasp at everything without! So difficult to undo!

    As Chandrakirti says ” Wisdom sees that all delusions and all faults arise from the view of the transitory collection. Having understood that its object is the self, Yogis negate the self.” This is where the hard part begins. Now is the time for courage, steadfastness, and joyous effort. Each day will bring freedom and a little step towards happiness!

  9. André says:

    This is absolutely wonderful… I’ve been having some discouragement overall in my practice for many different reasons… I haven’t stopped, I just keep on trying, but at times it is just an obstacle after another. To read your posts makes me feel very confident… It feels very personal… Very encouraging. Thanks a lot!

  10. Chokyi says:

    Thanks for such beautiful and simple post! Practical and moving :o)
    I looking forward for the next post about Avoiding burnout at work…. very interesting the way you aprouch Dharma for the practical life…. I’d love the Gym’s example ;o)

  11. more from Blake:

    He who binds himself to a joy
    Doth th wing-ed life destroy,
    But he who kisses joy as it flies
    Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

    ~ Gen La Samden (as wass) told me that to help with my attachment one day.

  12. Love this post…thank you
    Much love,
    Virya

  13. Thank you for this blog. I love the way your writing connects Buddhism to our daily lives. Immensely practical.

  14. I look forward to the article on avoiding burnout at work. Thankyou for this article, food for thought!

  15. Carlos Cantu says:

    Thank you, this is great.

  16. outstanding.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for your love, compassion, wisdom and kindness xxx

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