The Pursuit of Happiness

by Rev. Marvin Harada.

All people seek happiness. There isn’t anyone who wants to live a life of misery and suffering. We all seek to live a happy life, but where can we find happiness? Sometimes it is as elusive as chasing a mirage in the middle of a desert. You see it in the distance, but once you get there, the mirage is gone, -- happiness is gone.

You think that happiness is found in having a boyfriend or a girlfriend, but although you enter into a relationship, you still aren’t happy. When you break up, you find yourself quite miserable, actually. Then you think that if you get into the college of your dreams you will be happy, but even if you do, then you realize that college is a lot of work and study. After college, your pursuit of happiness is focused on finding a job. Once you get your job, happiness fades away again, as your work might not be the job of your dreams. Your pursuit of happiness then turns to owning a home, and although you purchase that first new home, now you have to make payments, and you have to spend your Saturdays mowing the lawn. Your pursuit of happiness then turns to having a family, and although you have children, they don’t listen to you, or demand too much of your time. Where is this thing called happiness? Maybe it is retirement? You look forward to retirement when you can be really happy. But by the time you retire you begin to have all kinds of aches and pains, and need this replaced and that replaced and you cannot find happiness in retirement.

It is easy to see how we could spend our entire life in pursuit of happiness and never really find it.

The Buddhist author, Ajahn Brahm, in his book, Who ordered this truckload of dung?, writes in a very humorous manner the following:

Have you ever noticed how many old people occupy the pews in a church? I asked them why they were now going to church. They told me, “Because, when I die, then I’ll be happy!”

p. 194

Who ordered this truckload of dung?

Ajahn Brahm

Truly, our quest for happiness could be a lifelong search that we never realize or attain.

Buddhism challenges us to question what is the source of happiness. Is happiness found in something external to us, like a house, a car, a job, or a partner? Or is the source of happiness something that occurs from within us? Rev. Kubose, in his classic book, Everyday Suchness, writes:

Buddhism teaches us to look into the core of things, instead of looking around. We have to look within ourselves to see what creates happiness. For instance, TO BE LOVED is happiness, but TO LOVE also is happiness. It is happy to receive something; but also to give and share is happiness. The happiness of the giver is more permanent and rich than that of the recipient.

p. 5 – 6, Everyday Suchness

by Rev. Gyomay Kubose

A few years ago, I read to students at the elementary school where my wife teaches. It was for the annual, “Read Across America” program where outsiders come into the school to read stories to children to emphasize the importance of reading. I read some stories to a kindergarten class and then engaged them in a discussion. We read a story about happiness, so I asked the children what makes them happy? I expected to hear answers like, “When I get a nice Christmas present,” or “When I get to go to Disneyland,” or things of that nature. I was shocked when one little girl responded that what makes her happy is “when a butterfly lands on my nose!” What a beautiful and honest answer by a young child. I would never, ever say something like that. Such simple joys from children are so striking to us.

I will never forget the first time I visited the famous Zen temple, Ryoanji, in Kyoto, Japan. This temple has the famous white rock garden, that is so simple, yet so serene and beautiful. When I visited this temple, I was struck by a small fountain that had four Chinese characters written in the fountain, that when read in a sentence means something like, “The only thing I know in life is gratitude.” What a profound statement. Someone who knows gratitude, never has to pursue happiness. Someone who knows gratitude, never has to seek something external, outside of oneself. Instead, by looking within, a person is able to find the true source of happiness. A person is able to realize and awaken to the unending sources of gratitude in one’s life.

Encountering the teachings can be a life changing experience. It is life changing, because the direction of one’s life is turned completely around. Instead of chasing after mirages of happiness in the desert, one’s focus and direction of life is turned inward, where the mirage never disappears.

The real way of happiness is the realization of one’s life itself. It is the unfolding of the whole self. The real way of happiness is in the way of giving, rather than happiness in receiving. We must find the way of love rather than that of being loved. It is the life of always giving, loving, sharing, and the enjoyment of work that is always creative and has no end, while the other ways of happiness turn into failure or disappointment. True happiness is not given to us – we create it.

p. 7, Everyday Suchness

Namuamidabutsu,

Rev. Marvin Harada