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Buddhism and Happiness

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For Buddha, the path to happiness starts from an understanding of the root causes of suffering. Those who consider Buddha a pessimist because of his concern with suffering have missed the point. In fact, he is a skillful doctor — he may break the bad news of our suffering, but he also prescribes a proactive course of treatment. In this metaphor, the medicine is the Buddha’s teachings of wisdom and compassion known as _Dharma_, and the nurses that encourage us and show us how to take the medicine are the Buddhist community or _Sangha. _The illness however, can only be cured if the patient follows the doctor’s advice and follows the course of treatment — the Eightfold Path, the core of which involves control of the mind. In Buddhism, this treatment is not a simple medicine to be swallowed, but a daily practice of mindful thought and action that we ourselves can test scientifically through our own experience. Meditation is, of course, the most well known tool of this practice, but contrary to popular belief, it is not about detaching from the world. Rather it is a tool to train the mind not to dwell in the past or the future, but to live in the here and now, the realm in which we can experience peace most readily. _All that we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts. It is made up of our thoughts. If one speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows one, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the wagon._ _All that we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts. It is made up of our thoughts. If one speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows one, like a shadow that never leaves._ _(Dhammapada 1-2 / Müller & Maguire, 2002.)_ **BUDDHISM & HAPPINESS** The first and second verses (above) of the _Dhammapada_, the earliest known collection of Buddha’s sayings, talk about suffering and happiness. So it’s not surprising to discover that Buddhism has a lot to offer on the topic of happiness. Buddha’s contemporaries described him as “ever-smiling” and portrayals of Buddha almost always depict him with a smile on his face. But rather than the smile of a self-satisfied, materially-rich or celebrated man, Buddha’s smile comes from a deep equanimity from within. **BUDDHA: A LITTLE BACKGROUND** During the late 6th and early 5th centuries BCE, Siddhartha Gautama of Shakya, who later became known as the Buddha, was born in modern-day Nepal near the Indian border. While there are several mythical stories surrounding his conception and birth, the basic facts of his life are generally agreed upon. Born into a wealthy royal family, the Buddha was born and raised in worldly luxury. Despite his father’s attempts to shield him from the ugliness of life, one day he ventured out beyond the castle walls and encountered three aspects of life: the old, the sick and the dead. Each of these experiences troubled him and made him question the meaning and transience of life and its pleasures. After this, he encountered an ascetic who, by choice, lived a life renouncing the pleasures of the world. Even while he was completely deprived of life’s comforts, his eyes shined with contentment. These shocking experiences moved Buddha to renounce his comfortable lifestyle in search of greater meaning in life. It was during his time practicing extreme forms of self-denial that Buddha discovered the “Middle Path” of moderation — an idea that closely resembles Aristotle’s “Golden Mean.” During his life, he had experienced intensive pleasure and extreme deprivation but he found that neither extreme brought one to true understanding. He then practiced meditation through deep concentration (_Dhyana_) under a bodhi tree and found Enlightenment. He began teaching the Four Noble Truths to others in order to help them achieve transcendent happiness and peace of mind through the knowledge and practice that is known today as Buddhism. **THE PROBLEM & THE SOLUTION: THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS & THE EIGHTFOLD PATH TO HAPPINESS** _These Four Noble Truths, monks, are actual, unerring, not otherwise. Therefore, they are called noble truths.  (Samyutta Nikaya 56.27)_ Buddha taught his followers the Four Noble Truths as follows: 1.      Life is/means _Dukkha_ (mental dysfunction or suffering). 2.     Dukkha arises from craving. 3.     Dukkha can be eliminated. 4.     The way to the elimination of dukkha is the Eightfold Path. Buddha believed that dukkha ultimately arose from ignorance and false knowledge. While dukkha is usually defined as suffering, “mental dysfunction” is closer to the original meaning. In a similar vein, Huston Smith explains dukkha by using the metaphor of a shopping cart that we “try to steer from the wrong end” or bones that have gone “out of joint” (Smith, 1991, p. 101). Because of such a mental misalignment, all movement, thoughts and creation that flow out can never be wholly satisfactory. In short, we can never be completely happy.

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1 Sahil Badruddin = ""Next I would place appreciation and enjoyment of the glories of nature. All those sunrises and sunsets ó all the intricate miracle of sky colour, from dawn to dusk. All that splendid spend-thrift beautyÖ. As a very rich man treasures the possession of some unique picture, so a man should treasure and exult in the possession ó his individual possession ó of the sights of this unique world. "-“My Personal Life”, Aga Khan III: Selected Speeches and Writings, ed. K.K. Aziz"