Many Buddhist teachings begin with the statement that all beings want to be happy, but that unfortunately they are looking for happiness outside and fail to understand that true happiness can only be found inside. The goal of Buddhist practice is to find a deeper happiness which is based on inner peace and contentment. This peace is not something we can obtain or get. It arises naturally when we know ourselves. So it is just a question of getting rid of what obscures our innate capacity to know. It is about awakening from being lost in the appearances and activities of our mind. Sometimes this is spoken of a new level of consciousness. Mind is waking up to its natural, pure, open and self-aware being.
While ultimately this natural great peace arises from the recognition of our true nature, the nature of mind, the teachings explains that on a relative level there are practices that bring us closer to this are meditation, compassion and devotion.
Whatever topic I am reflecting on, I always find that The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche seems to be an inexhaustible source of inspiring passages on every imaginable topic of the Buddhist teachings. Here is a passage that explains wonderfully how compassion can help us find real happiness:
“The logic of compassion
We all feel and know something of the benefits of compassion. But the particular strength of the Buddhist teaching is that it shows you clearly a “logic” of compassion. Once you have grasped it, this logic makes your practice of compassion at once more urgent and all-embracing, and more stable and grounded, because it is based on the clarity of a reasoning whose truth becomes ever more apparent as you pursue and test it.
We may say, and even half-believe, that compassion is marvelous, but in practice our actions are deeply uncompassionate and bring us and others mostly frustration and distress, and not the happiness we are all seeking.
Isn’t it absurd, then, that we all long for happiness, yet nearly all our actions and feelings lead us directly away from that happiness? Could there be any greater sign that our whole view of what real happiness is, and of how to attain it, is radically flawed?
What do we imagine will make us happy? A canny, selfseeking, resourceful selfishness, the selfish protection of ego, which can, as we all know, make us at moments extremely brutal. But in fact the complete reverse is true: Self-grasping and self-cherishing are seen, when you really look at them, to be the root of all harm to others, and also of all harm to ourselves.1
Every single negative thing we have ever thought or done has ultimately arisen from our grasping at a false self, and our cherishing of that false self, making it the dearest and most important element in our lives. All those negative thoughts, emotions, desires, and actions that are the cause of our negative karma are engendered by self-grasping and self-cherishing. They are the dark, powerful magnet that attracts to us, life after life, every obstacle, every misfortune, every anguish, every disaster, and so they are the root cause of all the sufferings of samsara.
When we have really grasped the law of karma in all its stark power and complex reverberations over many, many lifetimes, and seen just how our self-grasping and self-cherishing, life after life, have woven us repeatedly into a net of ignorance that seems only to be ensnaring us more and more tightly; when we have really understood the dangerous and doomed nature of the self-grasping mind’s enterprise; when we have really pursued its operations into their most subtle hiding places; when we have really understood just how our whole ordinary mind and actions are defined, narrowed, and darkened by it, how almost impossible it makes it for us to uncover the heart of unconditional love, and how it has blocked in us all sources of real love and real compassion, then there comes a moment when we understand, with extreme and poignant clarity, what Shantideva said:
If all the harms
Fears and sufferings in the world
Arise from self-grasping,
What need have I for such a great evil spirit?
and a resolution is born in us to destroy that evil spirit, our greatest enemy. With that evil spirit dead, the cause of all our suffering will be removed, and our true nature, in all its spaciousness and dynamic generosity, will shine out.
You can have no greater ally in this war against your greatest enemy, your own self-grasping and self-cherishing, than the practice of compassion. It is compassion, dedicating ourselves to others, taking on their suffering instead of cherishing ourselves, that hand in hand with the wisdom of egolessness destroys most effectively and most completely that ancient attachment to a false self that has been the cause of our endless wandering in samsara. That is why in our tradition we see compassion as the source and essence of enlightenment, and the heart of enlightened activity. As Shantideva says:
What need is there to say more?
The childish work for their own benefit,
The buddhas work for the benefit of others.
Just look at the difference between them.
If I do not exchange my happiness
For the suffering of others,
I shall not attain the state of buddhahood
And even in samsara I shall have no real joy.2
To realize what I call the wisdom of compassion is to see with complete clarity its benefits, as well as the damage that its opposite has done to us. We need to make a very clear distinction between what is in our ego’s self-interest and what is in our ultimate interest; it is from mistaking one for the other that all our suffering comes. We go on stubbornly believing that self-cherishing is the best protection in life, but in fact the opposite is true. Self-grasping creates self-cherishing, which in turn creates an ingrained aversion to harm and suffering. However, harm and suffering have no objective existence; what gives them their existence and their power is only our aversion to them. When you understand this, you understand then that it is our aversion, in fact, that attracts to us every negativity and obstacle that can possibly happen to us, and fills our lives with nervous anxiety, expectation, and fear. Wear down that aversion by wearing down the self-grasping mind and its attachment to a nonexistent self, and you will wear down any hold on you that any obstacle and negativity can have. For how can you attack someone or something that is just not there?
It is compassion, then, that is the best protection; it is also, as the great masters of the past have always known, the source of all healing.” (p. 192-194)