By Rev. Marvin Harada
For our new online Buddhist study program, “Everyday Buddhist,” I will be offering a class titled, “Become Happy.”
The Dalai Lama, in his book, “The Art of Happiness,” writes, “I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness.”
All beings seek happiness. But why is it that the happiness we seek seems to slip away as soon as we think we have it? Why does it disappear like a mirage in the desert as soon as we approach it, or have it in the palm of our hand?
First of all, Buddhism teaches us that our search for happiness is misdirected. We are looking for it in the wrong places. Normally, we seek happiness in things external to us. We seek happiness in more money, in a bigger home, in a new car, or in the love of our life. We might achieve many or even all of those things, but we somehow feel unsatisfied. More money is still not enough. A bigger house brings more repairs and headaches. A new car is nice for a while, until the next model comes out and now our new car is already outdated. Even finding the love of our life can lead to heartache and sorrow if the relationship dissolves or if we lose our loved one tragically. With any of those things, our happiness disappears. What happened? Where did it go?
If you have ever felt the futility of searching for happiness in any of those external things, then you are ready to turn your search for happiness in the right direction.
Rather than looking outside of ourselves for happiness, we need to look within ourselves. We need to find in our life, a sense of inner fulfillment, a life of inner purpose, and an inner meaning to our life. When we turn the direction inward, we enter the right path to happiness.
Once we enter the path, then in a sense, we have already arrived at our destination. The goal is the journey. The reward is in the path. That is why a person can dramatically change the situation of their life, even overnight. It all depends on our perspective in life. A life of misery can turn into a life of meaning and fulfillment. A life of greed, anger, and ignorance can be transformed into a life of wisdom and compassion. A life of self-pity, jealousy, and envy, can turn into a life of philanthropy, generosity, and kindness. A life in which we never get any breaks can become a life in which life itself is our biggest break, our biggest gift.
So how do we make that change? How do we unlock the key to a life of happiness?
First, we have to see that for our entire life, we have been looking at the world from a self-centered perspective, a “filtered” perspective, a view of life from the ego self. Life viewed from the ego self always falls short. There is never enough money or material happiness in the life of the ego self. Buddhism first points to our mistaken view of our ego self as not only a hindrance to a life of happiness, but it is the main source of the problem. It is the problem.
Naturally we react to such a teaching defensively. “Naw, I can’t be the cause of my problems. My problems are because of other people. It’s because of my boss, or my irritating neighbor, or my rebellious son or daughter, or because of my unappreciative company, or this or that, ad nauseam.”
We might come to accept some responsibilities for our problems. Well, maybe sometimes I am the one who is wrong. Maybe sometimes I am the one who is self centered, but not all the time. We can easily point out someone in our life who is selfish all the time. What about that guy, our ego self asserts. But even there, Buddhism challenges us to look within even deeper.
We then come back to ourselves, the one and only culprit. The source of our suffering and misery. Not anyone else. Not anything else. Just us. Just me.
But if we can come to accept that we are the culprit, we are the problem, then our transformation begins. Now we open ourselves up to the teachings. We open ourselves up to truly listening and learning. We find that teachings and teachers in life can emerge anywhere, at any time in our life. The more we listen and learn, the more we want to listen and learn. We begin to soak up the Dharma like a sponge, and then we realize that we are the sponge submerged in the water of the Dharma.
From our listening and learning, an inner happiness begins to emerge. Every insight, every realization, every little “aha” moment brings an inner sense of happiness and fulfillment that far exceeds any happiness we used to know from external things. We find that the inner happiness is more lasting, more consistent in our life. It doesn’t just come and go like a flash in the pan. It stays with us in our hearts and minds. It builds. It grows. Eventually, it becomes fathomless.
Becoming happy is not quite like the popular song by Pharrell Williams, “Happy.” It doesn’t mean we bounce around the room shouting, “Happy, happy, happy!” Buddhist happiness is more expressed by words like meaning, fulfillment, and gratitude. You could be in physical pain with a terrible illness like cancer, and it would be hard to say that you are “happy,” but in the Buddhist sense, you could very easily say that your life has meaning, is fulfilled, and that you have a heart of gratitude.
Rev. Marvin Harada