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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Escape to reality

5.5 mins read

Happy Buddha’s Enlightenment Day!

Heruka and VajrayoginiThere were a thousand people at the recent Kadampa Buddhist Festival in Mexico, all receiving Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments and commentary. There will be several thousand more attending Heruka and Vajrayogini empowerments this Summer in England. This may be just the beginning. And, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I think this development might indicate a coming paradigm shift for much of modern humanity. 😁

In my defense …. there’s loads of hyperbole around these days anyway, only most of it is painting the picture of a dystopian future for us all. There are many articles around, such as this one, bemoaning the moral decay of civilization and politics, the rise of nationalism and “strong men”, the destruction of our planet, and more. And the more of this stuff I read, the more I feel that Buddhism can help in these times, that Tantra gives us mighty tools for helping.

Carrying on from this article.

Point is, there is no inherently existent world. There is no fixed future – the future doesn’t even exist, all we have is our thoughts and imaginations about the future. These can change. We need to choose what we focus on – so that we can bring that out of ourselves and others.

futureIn this article, a guest author talks about how wisdom and compassion are needed in modern society to bring about the real shift that is necessary to empower us all.

Tantra is the embodiment of that wisdom and compassion, it gives it vision and life. A paradigm shift is defined as:

An important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way.

If there are thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of human beings practicing Buddhist Tantra, the world has no choice but to change for the better. And we seem to be heading in that direction.

I don’t think for a moment that 7 billion human beings are about to become Buddhist, let alone start practicing Tantra, in the next few years. But I do think that millions may, and, given that the wisdom of Tantra tears down the illusions of samsara and builds Pure Lands in the here and now, this will surely make the biggest impact not just on them but on everyone around them.

paradigm shift

There are good people everywhere with big hearts, in all faiths and walks of life — beautiful people making a difference. As Tantric practitioners, we can help them.

Escape to reality

Buddhist Tantra is far from escapist, far from make-believe. At the moment we are hallucinating ourselves, the world, and everything and everyone else – projecting a “real” world outside the mind and then reacting as if it was actually there. Samsara is the make-believe. Tantra sees through the hallucinations. It escapes TO reality, rather than from reality.

So, I’d like to continue sharing ways I make Tantra practical.

Let’s say we have now generated ourselves as Heruka or Vajrayogini in the way described in this article — using as our basis of imputation to begin with a positive mind that is not hard for us to generate. If we are in our meditation session, this is now our jumping off point for going deep.

Then what do we do?

Well, one thing I like to do after thinking “I am Vajrayogini” is to check what’s happening in my mind, like if there are any delusions coming up. Then I find it incredibly helpful to deal with those delusions in the space of bliss and emptiness.

In Sutra we are taught not to dwell on our faults nor identify with them, and in Tantra we take this to its logical conclusion and do it in a supercharged way. Check out this section from How to Solve Our Human Problems:

Normally our need to escape from unpleasant feelings is so urgent that we do not give ourself the time to discover where these feelings actually come from. …. In reality, the painful feelings that arise on such occasions are not intolerable. They are only feelings, a few moments of bad weather in the mind, with no power to cause us any lasting harm… Just as there is room in the sky for a thunderstorm, so there is room in the vast space of our mind for a few painful feelings.

That’s just from a Sutra point of view. If we apply this to Tantra and understand that the space or sky of the mind is bliss and emptiness, then our bad weather delusions become utterly manageable, even if they feel really painful.

clouds 3

So, for example, rather than grappling with attachment or anger like a dog with a bone, we self-generate first and then look at those unpleasant feelings that are arising like clouds. Is it possible to have some unhappy feelings and be happy at the same time?! Yes, providing we are not identifying “Me” with those cloud-like feelings but instead with the blissful, spacious sky.

Painful feelings can only arise and remain in our mind because of our present self-grasping … we strongly feel “I am hurt” or “MY feelings are hurt.” The intensity of our suffering is in direct proportion to the intensity of our self-grasping.

So, if we look at our delusions from our perspective of being bliss and emptiness, they can seem weirdly fascinating, but we are neither threatened nor scared by them. We are not bogged down by them. We are not them. We have the space to look at them and understand how to work with them, and then it is easy to apply any antidote of Sutra and Tantra — all within that context of being very light and free and confident.

light and free and confidentWhatever painful feelings arise, we can see that they’re not able to harm us in any way, any more than weather can destroy the sky; and, sooner or later we’ll see that they are just aspects of clear light.

Here is a profound paragraph in The New Guide to Dakini Land that will help us let it all go:

First we should know that in ultimate truth there are no impure things, no samsara, no suffering, and no mistaken appearance; everything is completely pure in the nature of definitive Heruka, emptiness inseparable from the clear light of bliss. Impure things are only the creation of the ignorance of self-grasping and therefore actually do not exist.

The next installment is here: Using Tantra to destroy everyday delusions.

Over to you for comments …

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Change our thoughts, liberate ourselves

Buddha’s Enlightenment Day 

“Love hurts.” Or doesn’t it?

(Part of the series Is compassion happy or sad?)

The main reason why thinking of others’ suffering hurts is due to our self-cherishing. This is not always obvious. In fact it’s quite subtle.

A dumb but destructive mind

self-cherishing

Self-cherishing believes that our self that we normally see (an inherently existent me) is supremely important, and that its happiness and freedom are supremely important. That inherently existent I is in fact non-existent, so self-cherishing is a really idiotic mind, which has nonetheless managed to pull the wool over our eyes since beginningless time! For us, self-grasping ignorance and self-cherishing are almost the same, as Geshe Kelsang said in Summer Festival 2009. They are both aspects of our ignorance and, as such, the root of all our misfortune and suffering. To be clear, self-cherishing is not the same as caring for ourselves.

How can I bear this?

love and desire

In Modern Buddhism, page 78, Geshe Kelsang explains how with self-cherishing we find our own problems unbearable, and this makes us suffer, and how with cherishing others we find others’ suffering unbearable.

Why, one may wonder, would I then try to cherish others – it is bad enough cherishing just one person, me! Surely if I cherish others and then find their suffering unbearable too, I’ll just collapse in an agonized heap?

No. The interesting and profound thing about it is that if we don’t have self-cherishing, we don’t experience any mental pain. Ever. Cherishing others, we find their suffering unbearable, but it doesn’t hurt! It is compassion, which is by nature a peaceful, positive mind and leads to the everlasting happiness of enlightenment. Geshe Kelsang explained this in 2009, pointing out that we can see from this that it is self-cherishing alone that is making us unhappy. (Implicitly this seems to suggest that it is not contemplating others’ suffering, or even our own, that in itself makes us unhappy.)

Exchanging myself with others

equalizing self and others loveIf this is true, it has far-reaching consequences because it really does mean that all we need to do is change our views and intentions by removing self-cherishing from our minds and cherishing others instead (also known as exchanging self with others). According to Kadam Lamrim, this is the actual way to become a Buddha, and it is devastatingly simple – anyone can do it through the force of determination and meditation. It may take a while at first to get going with it, like anything, and we’ll have to review the reasons a lot more than once; but with familiarity it becomes easy. If we believe this, we will gradually lose all resistance to contemplating others’ suffering and generate compassion, enabling us to attain the bliss of enlightenment.

Does it really work?

To believe it, I think we have to “suck it and see”, as they say. Does it really work? If I reduce my self-cherishing, and then contemplate my loved ones’ suffering, will it really not hurt my mind? I tried to apply this to one specific scenario, the swelling of Rousseau’s third eyelids. (I have of course many other scary examples I could use, such as friends with serious illnesses, but the same principles will apply.)

What is happening when I look at Rousseau’s eyes at the moment? His eyes appear unsightly and unpleasant to my mind and various things are going on if I’m honest:

Rousseau the catThe good bits:

(1)    I love this cat, feel for him, and want him to be free from sore, itchy eyes and having to stay inside all day long, which he loathes.
(2)    I will do anything it takes to make him feel better.

The not-so-good-bits:

(1)    Those swollen eyes mean expense at the vet. This is his second infection in three months and I cannot afford to keep paying for his treatments.
(2)    Pushing and grasping – if his eyes aren’t completely better after 5 whole days, someone’s gotta do something! This is desperate. Panic.
(3)    I am guilty that I allow him to roam free outside so he can pick up infections, even though I feel even more guilty keeping him cooped up inside in prison his entire life. I can’t win. It’s frustrating.
(4)    It is more urgent to get rid of his suffering than that of all the other cats in the neighborhood, nay in the world.
(5)    I feel woefully inadequate at protecting him from sickness and suffering even though he is my responsibility. I am a failure.

Yes, the good bits are all about him. And if I can stick to the good bits, no matter how much I consider his sickness, I feel no mental pain at all. I’ve been trying it, it is true. Good bit (1) is also a basis for wishing better things for him, like complete liberation from all sufferings, and good bit (2) is the basis for my determination to become a Buddha as quickly as possible to help him become one too. That is actually bodhichitta, a most blissful state of mind. I can even think: “What would a Buddha do in this situation?” and then approximate it. (For one thing, Buddha would be giving him mental peace through blessing his mind – something we can do somewhat ourselves already, especially if we identify with being a Buddha right now — perhaps a subject for another day. Meantime, see Joyful Path pages 60-61 and page 116 for how to self-generate as Buddha Shakyamuni out of bodhichitta, and bless others, even without an empowerment.)

what to do about depressionThe 5 not-so-good bits are all about me, and they are what are actually causing my pain and worry. They are also the basis for all inappropriate attention and getting stuck down grimy mental cul de sacs, such as (1) dwelling on his eyes in an unhelpful fashion, and then on how little money I have to fix him, and then moving on to all the things that can go wrong, requiring money; (2) not letting things run their karmic course but trying to force all the issues ahead of time, impatiently grasping at results, not seeing the mere (mistaken) appearance of the situation; (3) guilt, which is an entirely useless, cracked-record state of mind; (4) finding Rousseau’s suffering to be more important than the suffering of a gazillion other cats in the world, just because he is my cat, instead of having equanimity and universal compassion; and (5) identifying with my current limitations as opposed to figuring out that I need to, and I can, swiftly get into a position where I can help EVERYONE by practicing Kadam Dharma – going down the open road.

I have been reading both too much into Rousseau’s eyes (with inappropriate attention, causing worry) and too little (not recognizing them as a symptom of needing to get him and all of us out of samsara altogether).

“Question ourselves and give ourselves the answer”

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Summer Festival 2009You can try doing something similar with the person you are most worried about right now, including even your own child – what is going on in my mind, the good bits and the not-so-good bits. As Geshe Kelsang suggested in 2009 when analyzing whether or not self-cherishing is indeed the root of our suffering, we can “question ourselves” and “give ourselves the answer.” (No doubt we’ll have to do this a number of times before the answer sticks.) Please let us know in the comments what you discovered.

Jennifer, my neighbor, also loves Rousseau and often has him to visit, but she is not over-dwelling on his problems – she is not worried about him, and is simply efficiently helping me put in his eye drops, confident that he’ll feel better soon. And although we sometimes want other people to worry about our loved ones with us, for misery loves company, in fact it is far more uplifting when they are not worried, but simply care.

Finally, exchanging self with others is primarily a mental training — we change our thoughts, and our physical and verbal behavior naturally follows suit. Which leads me to a question I have for you, which I’ll ask soon.

Your turn: Do you think your self-cherishing is responsible for all your mental pain or not? Please share your experiences.