Will this make me happy?

I asked some people recently if they want to be happy all the time. I thought they’d all say yes, duh!, but some of them weren’t in fact quite sure. When I asked why, they come things that make me happyup with two classic observations (1) because they felt that without unhappiness they wouldn’t appreciate what happiness was, and also (2) how can you be happy when you get cancer or people die?! 

These seem like reasonable points. Made me remember that we have to understand what Buddhas might mean by happiness as opposed to what the rest of us usually mean by it. There are two types of happiness, which Geshe Kelsang has called artificial and real. Both are pleasant feelings, both feel good (even great), so what’s the difference?

Real happiness is not the pleasant feelings such as excitement that come from worldly enjoyments such as a new relationship or a new hairdo. That is worldly pleasure, and the reason it is not real happiness is because it doesn’t last and is simply the changeover point between unpleasant feelings and more unpleasant feelings (as is explained more here.)

mosquitos in Dallas Texas

Buddha called this type of happiness “changing suffering” —  not because it feels bad or because there’s anything wrong with it per se, but because it is not the pure or unconditional happiness of inner peace that arises from wisdom. It’s like the relative pleasure we get from scratching an itch (and I know about that, as I’ve just spent the weekend in Texas with about 1,234 mosquito friends). As it says in The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:

The mental peace that develops from worldly enjoyment is not real happiness but changing suffering.

So in response to the first observation, it is true that without unhappiness we wouldn’t know what this kind of happiness is, because it is just the temporary alleviation of unhappiness.

In response to their second observation, I would say that actual happiness is not the same as excitement or glee. It is not generally appropriate to jump around with joy when someone drops dead.

To get closer to what Buddha means by the real happiness that comes from wisdom, I decided to ask the same people a different question – did they want to be at peace all the time? This time, everyone said yes.

For one thing, it is easier to see how being at peace is not just in contrast to being depressed — it is not part of that seesaw, but an underlying way of being. It is also easier to understand how we can learn to be at peace even when things go wrong. We are learning to maintain an internal locus of control, taking ownership of our lives.

The practice of meditation

And when we’re at peace, we’re happy, are we not? That’s the happiness we’re talking about, the happiness that we can grow more and more deeply by meditating, aka familiarizing our mind with wise positive thoughts both on our cushion and in our daily activities.

The Oral Instructions says:

This book principally presents the practice of meditation, through which we can develop and maintain a peaceful mind all the time. If our mind is peaceful all the time, we will be happy all the time.

As Gen-la Dekyong pointed out during this year’s Kadampa Summer Festival, there is a difference between these two questions:

Will this make me happy?

and

Will this make me happy all the time?

I’ve been finding this very helpful. For sure, as I’m about to take my first sip of this Costa cappuccino and have my first bite of muffin, if I ask myself the question “Will this make me happy?,” the answer is “Of course!” But will it make me happy all the time? No.

muffinOnly inner peace can do that. Therefore, I can get a lot more out of this cappuccino and cake by learning to enjoy it with inner peace. And I can recognize too that the happiness of those first few bites (before the worldly pleasure wears off) is in fact coming from the inner peace rather than from the muffin – if I remain in a miserable mood, for example, no muffin on earth has the power to make me happy from its own side.

What this means is that if I can keep the inner peace going, my enjoyment can go on! It’s like having my cake and eating it! But otherwise it can’t – the eating will just turn back into a sickly feeling and/or the need to lose 5 lbs.

Searching for happiness

Since beginningless time, in life after life, we have all been roving around in search of happiness. If we subscribe for just a moment to the narrative of evolutionary biology … in just this one world, Planet Earth, we can see how living beings — whether dinosaurs, marsupials, mammals, fish, or primates — have been trying nonstop to find happiness and get rid of suffering. Home sapiens (that’s us I’m afraid) have been uniquely cruel, koala bearsselfish, and destructive in our pursuit of happiness and profit, managing in the past few millennia as we roamed further and further afield to “domesticate” (ie, own and entrap) untold living beings while driving the majority of other species to extinction. And we’re obviously still at it (including Koala Bears!), justifying ourselves every step of the way.

Nothing exceptional about me

Self-grasping, thinking everything really is out there for the grabbing, is why we are in samsara experiencing one hallucination after another. That constant craving of uncontrolled desire — seeking happiness out there — then perpetuates samsara, keeps it rolling on and on, traveling everywhere but nowhere.

I’ve been reading the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s very thought-provoking – not least because it reminds me that the difference between me and a monkey is … yikes, monkey handsnot much! I am a primate!! So are you!!! There is only 1.2 percent genetic difference between me and a chimpanzee! Look at your hands … they’re designed for climbing trees!

I mean I went to school, so I knew that — but this book has brought it home to me and made me appreciate even more that I have to use this life to break free. It’s obvious. I cannot afford not to because there is nothing at all exceptional about me, especially my body. Feelings of human superiority are very deceptive. I am simply a part of this ancient scary endless horror movie, nature red in tooth and claw; and if I remain as such, how can I hope for anything other than disaster and pain to befall me sooner or later? It’s all very well fearing taking rebirth in the lower realms, such as the animal realm, in our next life – but it turns out we’re already in the animal realm according to this paradigm. We even have tail bones!

monkey babiesRight now, due to the power of a more creative imagination, I am finally able in this life — after countless lifetimes as monkeys, albatrosses, cockroaches, and dinosaurs etc in this and many other world systems — to use my mind to break free. This is due to some out of the blue good fortune whereby I have met enlightened beings who know that life does not equal samsaric suffering, that there is an alternative. They are explaining clearly how I can manifest and purify my very subtle continuously residing mind, the formless awareness that goes from life to life, in order to realize my potential for enlightenment. They are revealing that none of any of this is as it seems, that there is nothing beyond mere appearance, that everything depends 100% upon thought; which is what makes it possible, at long last, to break it all down.

I saw this video of a toddler last week – he wanders up to a mirror, looks curiously at his reflection, and then walks around the back of the mirror to find out where it’s coming from. We are, according to Buddha, childish ones – but we can learn through our own examination and experience that the things we normally see do not exist, that there is nothing behind mere appearance. And that truth will make us blissfully happy, forever.

This opportunity is what makes my current life a precious human life as opposed to an animal life with no freedom or endowments. I may have a primate’s body, complete with opposable thumbs; but there is nothing to stop me at the moment from developing a Bodhisattva’s and then a Buddha’s mind. Notwithstanding I have only a few hundred months left (at most) to get this done before I find myself in a new body, perhaps with an actual tail.

Luxuries become necessities

However, I do digress ever so slightly, because what I was planning on quoting from that Sapiens book is this (when the author is talking about when the human species started to domesticate their world):

One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it.

It’s like me with camping, or rather not camping. I camped at UK Kadampa Festivals for years, maybe even a decade or more! The tents did become larger as the years went by, I admit, and the thermoses, pillows, and so on became more and more fancy. But the point is that I didn’t much mind camping, and I might even have quite enjoyed it from time to time. Slowly but surely, however, I was invited to stay a night here or a night there on a Amelia tentsitting room floor by someone who took pity on me when it rained. These invitations grew over the years to being offered more nights inside, space in a caravan, a bed in a shared room, even my own room from time to time … Then some very generous  American friends said I could share a modest house with them in my own small room for the whole Festival! What luxury!!! However, sure enough, the moment I put down my suitcase and lay down on my soft bed, I had started to take this for granted. Fast forward several years, Summer Festival 2019, and I am writing this in a beautiful house that is a darn sight posher than my own apartment … and there is no place to go from here but down. I am already plotting neurotically how to maintain this level of luxury next summer.

So, what about this lasting happiness then?

In Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s teachings on developing love in 2009, he said:

Probably we think: If I have money I will be happy all the time. If I have a good friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, I will be happy all the time. If I have a good reputation or a higher position, I will be happy all the time. This is wrong.

More on why “This is wrong” (ie, worldly enjoyments don’t make us happy all the time) is explained all over this blog, including here.

We need stuff, but we probably don’t need it quite as much as we think, and we definitely don’t need to grasp at it for happiness. As soon as we do that, it is like trying to drink water from a mirage, we will always come up thirsty. As Geshe Kelsang says in How to Transform Your Life:

It is as if we are continually chasing mirages, only to be disappointed when they do not give us the satisfaction for which we had hoped.

It doesn’t matter how hard we try, or how speedy, inventive, or efficient we become in the pursuit of pleasure. Talking about the transition from snail mail to emails etc., for hamster treadmillexample, Harari says:

We thought we were saving time; instead we revved up the treadmill of life to ten times its former speed and made our days more anxious and agitated.

To be happy all the time, we need to learn to enjoy mere appearance without the grasping – enjoy the mirage without grasping for the water, or enjoy the muffin or the hairdo or the relationship without grasping at something actually being there causing happiness. As it says in Oral Instructions:

When I search with my wisdom eye,
All the things that I normally see disappear
And only their mere name remains.

The point is that we can come to enjoy everything if our mind remains at peace thanks to wisdom, whether that be mirage-like muffins, relationships, or whatever. But not if it’s not. That’s the difference between liberation and samsara.

Tried and tested method for finding lasting happiness

As it says in Oral Instructions:

Meditation is a scientific method to transform human nature from bad to good. Everybody needs to be good-natured with a good heart.

Why do we need to be good? Why shouldn’t we all just stay like we are, each man out for himself, with occasional heroic flashes of selflessness (recorded on social media?)

I don’t know about you, but whatever I see in the news, in history, around me, or in my own life confirms that cutting ourselves off from others, being selfish and mean, doesn’t seem to be a remotely successful self-defeatingstrategy for finding lasting happiness or freedom, either individually or collectively.

Instead, the way to develop deeper and deeper happiness is by getting rid of our inner problems – our delusions – and cultivating our boundless potential for good qualities such as love, compassion, patience, and wisdom.

This is the real method to solve our own inner problems – problems of ignorance, depression, anger and so forth – and is also the real method to benefit others practically.

You’d think we’d know this by now! But we seem to have surprisingly short memories about what makes us really happy and what doesn’t.

Rather than just lumber around like great apes, we need to unleash our spiritual side. It is there, have no doubt – it has always been there inside you. As Buddha says in a Sutra:

If you realize your own mind you will become a Buddha; you should not seek Buddhahood elsewhere.

When we manifest our very subtle clear light mind we can mix it directly with the true nature of all things, emptiness, the mere absence of all the things we normally see; and the mental peace that arises from this wisdom is real deep happiness, pure and lasting. As Ven Geshe Kelsang says:

So, if we really wish for ourself and others to be happy all the time, we must learn to practice meditation. Eventually, through practicing Mahamudra meditation we will be able to benefit each and every living being every day.

i myself must make myself happyThere is life with suffering and there is life without suffering. There is life without any real or lasting happiness, and there is life with real and lasting happiness. At some point we have to choose because it looks like we can’t have both.

Which brings me back to Gen-la Dekyong’s practical question that we can ask ourselves throughout the day:

Will this make me happy?
Will this make me happy all the time?!

Over to you. Comments are warmly invited.

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Itchy feet, itchy mind

I was just thinking about Puerto Rico earlier, much of which, almost 7 months on, is still without power. I have good friends there who have built a beautiful retreat center in the rainforest, you can visit there if you like, it is so conducive to going deep in meditation. I was sort of planning to go back last Christmas but Hurricane Maria had other ideas.casa-kadam

Carrying on from this article on refuge.

Anyway, I was thinking that if you’re in Puerto Rico right now, you probably really want a shower. And if you got in the shower, and got all clean and fresh and cooled down, it’d feel just great, wouldn’t it? So it’d be great if everyone in Puerto Rico could have a shower; if they could have everything they need right now.

Indeed, it would be wonderful if everyone could have whatever they need, whenever they need it, especially shelter, food, and medicines. These are necessities for human beings’ basic survival, and worth striving for.

But are they enough? No, not if we want real or lasting happiness and freedom. For we can also recognize that if the Puerto Rican was to stay in that shower for more than about an hour, he would start suffering again.

While we’re in the shower it can feel fantastic, can’t it?, especially if we haven’t showered for a while. So we assume that a shower is an actual source of happiness. But if it was an actual source of happiness, then the longer we stayed in the shower the happier we’d become. After 3 hours in the shower, we’d be so blissed out it’d be crazy. But as it is, even the person in PR just can’t wait to get out of that shower. It becomes like a torture, doesn’t it?

shower

If someone just came along and locked you in the sauna because you’re loving it so much, it would not be long before you were hammering at the door, “Have mercy, let me out!” I rest my case.

What are true causes of happiness?

The great Indian Buddhist master called Aryadeva says in Treatise of Four Hundred Verses:

Although it can be seen that the increase of happiness is destroyed by its cause, it can never be seen that the increase of suffering is destroyed by its cause.

This is only fair: If something is an actual cause of something, then it has to produce that effect every time. If someone hits us on the thumb with a hammer, we’re gonna say, “Ouch!” If they keep hitting us on the thumb with a hammer, that pain is only going to grow – it is not going to turn into happiness. This means that it is an actual cause of suffering.

However, when we increase the cause of any worldly happiness, instead of feeling better and better we instead start to feel pain (to experiment, try eating the whole can of Pringles or having sex for 24 hours straight).overreating

If we enjoy eating food, our pleasure may increase as we eat the first few mouthfuls, but if we continue to eat more and more, our pleasure will turn into pain. ~ Joyful Path of Good Fortune

That’s what happens with food, isn’t it? The first few mouthfuls of that doughnut are always the best, aren’t they? And at some point we push away the box and say, “No! No more.” If we had to keep eating them, if we had to eat 10 doughnuts, our pleasure would decidedly morph into pain. We pull faces when we see people in those overeating competitions, it’s almost frightening. This means that eating doughnuts or hot dogs is not a real cause of happiness because if it was it could not cause suffering.

Which pleasures are overrated?

The point about worldly or external pleasures is that they are all changing sufferings, meaning that sooner or later they ALL turn into pain, every single one of them. Every single worldly pleasure, every “temporary refuge” if you like, turns into pain unless we stop in time. Try and think of one that doesn’t.

This is like Buddha’s challenge to us – find something outside the mind that is always going to make us happy, and that the more we have of it the happier we’re going to get. If you can think of that thing, you’re going to get very rich. No one has invented it yet. It can’t be invented because this is not where happiness or refuge come from. fleeting pleasure

I read a survey recently on “Which pleasures are overrated?” The replies included the usual suspects – partying, drugs, sports, food, drinking beer, etc. Respondents also mentioned kids, spouses, jobs, and traveling. And one or two wise folks replied, “any fleeting pleasures”. But the fact is that all external enjoyments are overrated.

My neighbor has been playing Candy Crush saga since we got on this flight. (So now I know who is playing that game!) Her nosy neighbor (me) sees that she has reached level 274! That’s got to be good, right?! She doesn’t seem that ecstatic though. No resting on laurels here. A glancing smile, perhaps, before she’s off again, chasing level 275.

The world is wounded

plastic in oceanThe great Indian Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna says our mind is like an itchy wound. Worldly enjoyments only ever work when we need to scratch the itch. Doughnuts, for example, only work if we are hungry. They don’t work at all if we have just had a six-course Indian curry or have a cold and can’t taste anything. If we’re lonely, company feels fantastic, sometimes, and so on.

If we have a big itch, we want to scratch it — it feels great, scratching itches. But we all know what happens if we keep doing it — itches turn back into pain. Buddha is saying that these kinds of temporary refuges or changing sufferings are like scratching an itch – there is some temporary relief, and then it turns back to pain.

Sometimes more pain than we started with, in fact. The things that we turn to for solutions to our problems are also, ironically — or samsarically — the sources of our problems. Our problems come from our food, they come from our doctors, they come from the police, they come from our medicines, they come from our relationships, they come from our living quarters, etc. All the things we turn to for protection or refuge are just as capable of giving us problems.

Our whole planet is being polluted and the oceans turned into plastic by all of us trying to derive refuge from this, that, and the other, jostling to get as comfortable as we can while treading on other people’s needs and future in the process.

Therefore, although we are turning to these kinds of temporary refuges to get rid of our problems, to get comfortable, to get happy, at best they are only palliative, scratching an itch. And if we keep going, they give rise to further pains. And this is because we’re in samsara, whose very nature is suffering. scratching itch

In Joyful Path, Geshe Kelsang also gives the very helpful example of sitting and standing:

If we sit in the same position for a long time, and then stand up, it will seem that standing is a cause of happiness, but …

… if we remain standing for a few hours, we’re desperate to sit down again. Then lie down. And then prop ourselves up. And then move around. The amount we have to move these bodies around in the average day just to keep them comfortable!! — sitting up and lying down and moving around over and over again, all day long, just one mini-relief after another, or mini happiness hits. Meaning that neither sitting nor standing are real causes of happiness because both of them are causes of changing suffering. And the same goes for all our worldly pleasures.

Thought experiment

Here is a thought experiment to help us see this. It might even save you loads of time and money!!!

Close your eyes and imagine you have already got everything you have ever wanted or worked for – enough money, career, relationship, house, vacation, well behaved kids, fast car, no body fat, equitable society. Whatever it is – you can imagine having all the material things and/or worldly pleasures you have ever wanted or worked for. Right now. Already. You did it! Congratulations!

(Impossible of course to get all our ducks in a row, let alone keep them there; but imagine it anyway.)

You have got everything you want! Are you happy? Finally … are you happy?!

donkey and carrotHmmm. Maybe for a few minutes. Until we want something else as well. Or until someone annoys us and our mind starts hurting again.

Has that preempted years, maybe lifetimes, of throwing time and money after dreams that can never come true?! I’m half-kidding. But half not.

Point is, we can still go to work, build a career, etc., of course, and we need to gather necessary conditions; but we need be under no illusion that these are actual or lasting sources of refuge or happiness. The pressure is off. The false expectations are dropped. We can relax. Maybe spend some of that money and time on making other people happy instead – just a side thought. Right now the global divide between rich and poor is getting so crazy and it is helping no one.

In our countless lives since beginningless time we have actually had everything. There is no tee-shirt large enough to list all the places, enjoyments, and bodies (our own and others) we have had. Nonetheless we have lost them all. Indeed we have forgotten them all. We have forgotten everybody and everything.

So what are we supposed to do?

teeshirtDoes this mean lasting refuge or happiness is impossible? Of course not. But Buddha’s point in explaining this second type of suffering, changing suffering, is that we need to stop selling ourselves short, just muddling through life trying to make it bearable; and instead discover actual comfort, satisfaction, joy, happiness, and deep bliss by seeking refuge in a different source. This will help us not just now but in all our future lives as well. With non-attachment to worldly pleasures, we will also discover a lot more energy and patience for helping others.

We are not starting from scratch, either, of course. We already have a taste of the potentially limitless joy inside us whenever we experience any contentment, love, faith, wisdom, and so on. When we have these states of mind going on inside, we can also enjoy everything going on outside, not least because we’re in a great mood. So it’s a question of what we want to emphasize.

Here concludes what I have to say on changing suffering, as part of a series on refuge. More on the third type of suffering, pervasive suffering, in a future article.

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Get Up to Speed and Out the Door

6.5 mins read

Where on earth is there no suffering?world peace

From just a cursory look at CNN’s daily Five things you need to know to Get Up to Speed and Out the Door, which drops into my inbox each morning: The recent bombings of children in Syria, where “words are no longer sufficient to describe the horror, terror, and suffering.” The leader of the free world calling to congratulate a “dictator on winning a sham election.” The 17-year old who tried to murder his classmates, now numbingly routine. The vigil for those crushed under a Miami bridge. The abysmal life of pigs who are kept in cruel iron cages no bigger than their bodies. And the “good” news that some of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram have been released. (However, most have not; and what kind of shape are these girls in now?) And so on. These all help my renunciation and compassion – I like to call it Five things you need to know to Get Up to Speed and Out of Samsara.

Manifest suffering

There are three types of suffering that we want to get rid of by being in refuge, which include all the sufferings endemic to samsara. The first is the suffering of manifest pain. We know this one all too well – it refers to any unpleasant bodily or mental feeling. Toothache, heartache, CNN’s five things, etc. This manifest pain is what we normally think of as suffering — we think suffering refers to when something hurts.

Carrying on from this article.

Manifest suffering is obviously horrible. It is the easiest-to-understand suffering. We don’t need to be taught about the suffering of manifest pain – we’re all well aware of what it is, how much we dislike it, and how we’d like to find refuge from it and help others do the same. We try hard day and night to get rid of our own manifest pain, and many people try hard day and night to help others get rid of theirs.

And it’s not just five things of course – there are countless painful reasons to Get Up to Speed and Out of Samsara. It’s not just me — everyone around me is experiencing some variety of discomfort at any given moment.CNN five things

A random example: As I was walking to my seat just now, on this evening flight to Chicago, I wondered in passing why a woman was hiding behind huge dark glasses.

Turns out she is in the seat in front of me, 25F, and I can hear her talking into her phone before take-off:

“Oh, honey I’m a wreck. I could pass as the twin of the Terminator. I can’t take these glasses off. And, honey, if you could see my arms and legs — I am covered with hives!”

She is doing her best, as many of us are:

“Anyway, I love you. See you soon.”

But whatever improvements we are able to make in our own and others’ lives, that is not the end of the story. There are two other types of suffering in samsara, which underpin and cause this manifest pain; and we need more wisdom to identify these. If we don’t identify changing suffering and pervasive suffering, we cannot bring an end to all suffering. We will have to carry on experiencing both physical and mental pain endlessly, however much and often we try to patch it up.

Changing suffering

The second type of suffering is called “changing suffering”. In the big yellow book called Joyful Path of Good Fortune — which contains all of Buddha’s teachings if you get a chance to read it, sort of like the Buddhist bible — there’s a section on how the three sufferings of samsara pervade our experience, including our worldly pleasures:

For samsaric beings, every experience of happiness or pleasure that arises from samsara’s enjoyments is called changing suffering.

beer drinking

This experience of pleasure is called “changing” suffering (or “suffering of change”) because it’s a kind of changeover or switchover point between manifest pain and more manifest pain. It is those brief feelings of relief.

Now, a few weeks later, I am on the tube from Heathrow to North London, my journey colliding with the morning commute. And the expression on many people’s faces, or rather the studied lack of expression, brings to my mind the word “heaviness”. People seem weighed down. One bloke ten years younger than me I reckon, but with heavy creases in his brow, speaks into his phone, “Hey, mate, just got in, you alright?” A pause, then, louder, “What? he did what? That’s just what I told him not to do! Idiot.” He stared dejectedly at the ground. “Look, mate, let’s meet up in about an hour. I need a pint.”

People’s lives are difficult everywhere. And over the course of a lifetime, many people are struggling to muddle through their lives without things going too badly wrong, catching excitement, release, and pints of beer wherever we can.

Changing suffering is pleasant feelings. It feels like a kind of happiness. Buddha called it changing suffering not because it feels like suffering, but because it is not real happiness, it is just relief. This experience is contaminated by delusions and ignorance, and actually has the nature of suffering. Geshe Kelsang also calls it “artificial happiness”.

We may sense that things are not quite right even when they are going well, but we need to know exactly why this is in order to fix it. And we need not fear that this knowledge will depress us further, for it is this knowledge that in fact will finally set us free.

In Joyful Path it says:

We need to meditate repeatedly on this point because it’s not obvious to us that our worldly pleasures are worldly suffering. We can gain a better understanding by considering the following analogy. If we have a very painful illness and our doctor prescribes painkillers we take these and for a while we stop feeling the pain. At that time we actually experience a feeling that is merely the reduction of pain, but because the strong painful feeling has gone we feel happy and experience pleasure. This pleasant feeling is changing suffering.

Selling ourselves short

I’ll just point out that Buddha is not saying don’t go to the doctor or take painkillers. This is subtle, trying to understand what Buddha is saying here. It’s not that we don’t enjoy or take care of things, but that we understand what’s going on. Then we don’t sell ourselves short.

sell yourself short

Because, extraordinarily enough, every person on that tube goes unfathomably deep. Everyone I saw racing along the pavements in the unusual spring snow-freeze and darting in and out of the crazy London traffic goes unfathomably deep. We are seeing a tiny fraction of who people are — a fleeting appearance, their body of this life, of this day, just a reflection or imputation of thought. Their real body and mind are indestructible and full of the potential for lasting mental freedom and bliss. As it says in The New Heart of Wisdom:

Each and every living being has their own body and mind, which are their subtle body and mind. These are called the “continuously residing body and mind,” and are his or her Buddha nature, the lineage of a future Buddha. Because they have this, when living beings meets Buddhadharma they will all finally attain the state of an enlightened Buddha.

However, at the moment impure appearances seem so real to us that we are perpetually overpowered and sucked into the daily drama of samsara. Most people of course don’t even know what they have inside them, nor the future that could be. We have been through countless lives already without finding this out.

(Not only are we selling ourselves short by not knowing who we really are and of what we are capable, we are also not even enjoying life’s pleasures a fraction as much as we could be. When we know about changing suffering and the dangers of its usual corollary, attachment, we have the impetus to transform these enjoyments into the spiritual path and make super speedy spiritual progress! But this can be the subject of other articles, such as this one.)

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Samsara’s pleasures are deceptive

In the Spring Festival I just attended at the Kadampa World Peace temple in the Lake District in England (laid back, relaxed, good Dharma, lovely Sangha, blessings all over), Gen-la Dekyong gave a talk on Friday night about the deceptive nature of samsara’s pleasures. In general, people think they will find happiness in eating, drinking, sexual activity, or watching television, or in a good job or nice relationship, or in lots of money, or even more money, or in a good reputation. If I have all this, we think, I will be happy, so we put all our energy into it. But we can see that even people who have managed to get a lot or even all of these things together are still not happy.

Pringles 2So, maybe, she said, you know what is coming next.  The happiness that arises from these worldly activities–eating drinking etc–isn’t real happiness, because it changes into suffering. Geshe Kelsang calls this artificial happiness or contaminated happiness or happiness mixed with suffering. For example, a pleasant feeling may arise when we start eating, but if eating was a real cause of happiness, then the more we ate the happier we would become. Yet the opposite is the case – the more we eat, the more uncomfortable we become.

Thinking this through I have concluded, not for the first time, that the same does indeed apply to all the other things we grasp at for pleasure, without exception. We’ve tried it all enough times, in this life and in countless previous lives – trying to find happiness in things or people outside the mind. Every time we get excited, “Perhaps this is it! This is the ultimate café, town to live in, relationship, weather, job!!” But it never lasts, does it?

Pringles 1Don’t get me wrong – I like eating, drinking, hanging out in the sun, and the rest of it as much as anyone else, and am not suggesting that we stop all these enjoyments (as if we even could). But it is important to find a way to transform them into the spiritual path through wisdom, compassion, and bliss, and we will only bother doing that if we see that in themselves they are not the real causes of our happiness.

I think we have to check this point carefully, not in an abstract way but based on our own activities and experiences at the moment – where are we investing our happiness? For example, what did you do today? Did it deliver the goods? Or was it more reminiscent of the words of Venerable Atisha:

Friends, the things you desire give no more contentment than drinking saltwater.

Pringles 3Or eating Pringles. I have often tried to find contentment in eating Pringles, and “once you pop, you cannot stop”, as their jingle goes — but I just end up with a sore mouth and slight feeling of nausea.

(And we are not even talking here about the problems of samsara, just the pleasures!! Which can often end up, weirdly, amounting to the same thing.)

Okay, I’ll start. I was just contemplating this all a bit earlier on this plane when my vegetarian Asian dinner arrived, a delicious BA curry, so much tastier than the stodgy pasta and dead chickens that all those meat-eaters have to eat! Ravenous after several hours of packing, traveling, security, and powerlessly waiting around, I eagerly stopped what I was doing (actually writing this), put lime pickle all over it, and shoved it in my mouth, barely managing to remember that it was not an actual cause of happiness, even though I had just been thinking about this subject. The first few mouthfuls were fine and dandy, then, hunger pangs abating, it already got a bit boring, and I started to toy with it, roll it around on my fork, and wonder, “What exactly is this?”, and “What shall I eat next?” One mouthful of the lemon cake was more than enough. To eat the bread roll or not to eat it, that was the next question. I decided not, but I have hedged my bets by buttering it and photo 1 (1)secreting it away for a snack later, no doubt so I can find it in a few days’ time mouldy and festering in my rucksack, like the banana I “kept for later” on my last plane trip, or the year-old cookies found in a forgotten pocket. I am a very slow learner when it comes to figuring out how to make samsara work for me. But there again, aren’t we all? Perhaps it is why we are still here, we are still hedging our bets, “One day it’ll work out, surely?! I just need to try harder!” Then I needed a coffee to wash down my coca cola, and while I was at it I thought I should finish my earlier purchased Kit Kat before it melted completely. Now I’m on a sugar/caffeine high, of which you, dear reader, are bearing the brunt. I also am waiting again, this time for the flight attendant to take this annoying meal tray away. I’d also like to use the bathroom, but I am in the window seat, and trays and bodies are everywhere, in my way. Oh, and did I mention that I dropped the tray of leftovers from this once appetizing curry all over my lap?

But my search for happiness on this flight is not over yet. Nowhere near. I still have 7 hours and 47 minutes to go. (And that’s just the first leg, getting me from London to San Francisco just so I can get on a whole other flight backward eastward to Denver, don’t even ask … ) When I watch a movie later, it may moreorless entertain me and keep me awake, but by the time I crawl into bed 5am UK time, I won’t feel I have accomplished much, really — just gone from A to C and back to B, killing time. If on the other hand I used this time in the sky plane in sky who takes these photosactually flying, thinking about renunciation, universal compassion, and wisdom, for example, or generating bliss and using that to meditate on emptiness, that would be a day well spent, whether or not I watched the movie or enjoyed the curry or even spilt more stuff over myself. My journey would have meant something. Something would have changed forever for the better.

Gen-la Dekyong went onto quote the verse from Je Tsongkhapa’s Prayer of the Stages of the Path:

Samsara’s pleasures are deceptive
Give no contentment, only torment.

If we believed this from our own experience, we could reach a conclusion: “I don’t want artificial happiness. I want the real thing!” So what is the happiness we experience when we eat?  It is actually just a reduction in our previous suffering of hunger.  Buddha says that in this world no one has real happiness and their actions cause suffering.  But we keep looking; we are absolutely convinced that within this cycle of impure life we can find happiness.

I find it very helpful to consider how happiness could ever possibly come from outside the mind when there isn’t anything outside the mind to begin with?! Attachment is based on ignorance, grasping at (pleasant) things outside the mind, so no wonder it is futile.

We can remember the story of the thief rummaging around in Milarepa’s cave at night to find something to steal, only to hear Milarepa’s voice: “I cannot even find anything in here worth stealing in the daytime!” Buddhas in the light of their omniscient wisdom have searched and failed to find any real happiness in samsara, so what hope do we have in the darkness of our ignorance?

Over to you, do you think we can find happiness in objects and people outside the mind?