In my last two posts What is true happiness? and Do we need to give up the sense pleasures to find true happiness?, I wrote that in the Buddhist teachings looking for happiness outside is talked about in terms of the eight samsaric dharmas. They are hope for pleasure, gain, praise and fame and fear of their opposites: pain, loss, criticism and infamy. The happiness this approach can bring is dependent on satisfaction derived from outer circumstances, like the pleasures of the senses, being successful, getting material things, being praised, feeling respected by others. If we want to be authentic dharma practitioner we need to learn to become free of being controlled by these hopes and fears.
The heart of spiritual practice is to renounce looking for happiness outside. But it doesn’t mean we need to intentionally seek pain and suffering. Fundamentally it is not a problem to want to feel good. It is ok to take care of our relative well being. We need some joy, pleasure, love and appreciation in our lives. We don’t have to abandon them or feel guilty when we are able to enjoy them. The main point of spiritual practice is to discover a deeper and more reliable source of contentment and happiness!
Of course it might be wise to reflect what we really need. If we observe and reflect, we will discover that some of things we do are not necessary. It might be wise to not follow impulses and urges that are a waste of our time or even destructive. That’s why it is said that the teachings show us what to adopt and what to abandon.
However, true happiness and contentment arises from a deeper sense of connectedness with what we really are. This is what we are trying to discover in meditation. In meditation we are trying to gain a deeper understanding that will help us enjoy the beauty and gift of being alive and also allow us to let go whenever it is time to let go of something without too much suffering.
It is fine to engage in life and enjoy the happiness it brings, if we know how to also let go when the time comes. One of my teacher sometimes explains renunciation as this: If someone gives you Paris today you take it, enjoy it and take care of it. If they come back tomorrow and want it back you give it back. There is a way to engage and be fully in life and also be prepared that the inevitable separation that is bound to occur sooner or later won’t be so painful.
The most important question for me is whether I am relying on outer circumstances to bring me happiness. Sadly often my answer is “yes”! That’s where I find the teachings helpful. They help me to bring a little deeper perspective, to realize that all this kind of pleasure and satisfaction is transient, and to be less attached.
You need to observe and reflect a little for yourself. Our approaches to happiness are all a little different. The teachings point out some patterns that generally apply to human beings. But because we are all a little different, we need to reflect and discover how this applies to us. Reflecting like this can help you to become more aware of how we obscure deeper contentment.
We might be basically content, but discover that the agitations of our mind continually pull us off center. Sogyal Rinpoche often says that it’s not just simplicity in terms of material things that we need, but also simplicity of the mind. It’s quite fascinating to observe the mechanism of our mind. This empowers us to transform the less helpful habits slowly over time.
It is important not to be hard on ourselves when we become more conscious of our habits. Rather judging it as “wrong” or “bad” we can just think how good it is that we have become more conscious of what we are doing. Once we are more conscious, we can then reflect and conclude what is and what isn’t a good approach to truly feeling happy. Then next time when we feel stressed maybe we can be aware of the urge to want to go shopping to make ourselves feel better. Then we can choose to not follow this impulse. And instead, we can choose to do something that will help much better with our stress, like meditating or going for a walk or calling a friend to talk about feeling stressed. That would be much cheaper than shopping!
But don’t expect 100% immediate change! Sometimes you will still find yourself pulled to online shopping by a magic force. The purpose of practice is to change these habits and integrate the wisdom of the teachings into our being.
If you would like some more reading here are two articles related to happiness on my wife Sandra’s blog:
1) Happiness Is An Inside Job (from a series on Inner and Outer Harmony is based on advice from the Dalai Lama)