The Pursuit of Happiness
“A concentrated mind is able to have a direct glimpse into the nature of things just as they are. When the nature of things has been perceived directly (rather than conceptually), it leads to disenchantment, which in turn leads to dispassion. When disenchantment and dispassion are firmly in place, the practitioner has become liberated.”
(Upanisa Sutta, “Prerequisites,” Samuytta Nikaya, 12:33; paraphrased by Mu Soeng in “Worldly Happiness/Buddhist Happiness; Parabola, Summer, 2016)
When we Westerners hear words like disenchantment and dispassion, we think “emotionally flat and possibly depressed.” Not so in the Buddhist mind. Nirvana is not paradise with a multitude of virgins, or even eternity with “the Lord.” It is final release from the desires of the flesh. It is letting go of samsara; the endless search for everything worldly. In other words, it is the realization that happiness is not found in external things, or in sensual pleasures. In fact, according to Mu Soeng, the ingredients listed as the “poisons” of samsara include seeking gratification through food, sex, sleep, fame, and wealth. Oh, no!
Before you hit the off button, let's explore this a little bit. Obviously, even Buddhists have to eat and sleep, and they certainly enjoy sex, wealth and fame. But in the practice of meditation and mindfulness, one comes to realize that one's life should not be lived out in the search of these pleasures. When we think of what happiness truly means, it is most often contentment. A hot car, or a hot partner is not likely to give anyone contentment for very long—too much to worry about there. What happens if we lose that hot car, or hot partner? What about extreme wealth? When is enough enough, and what happens when the market crashes and it all turns to dust in a day? And fame? Very few people manage to be both famous and content. We now have a long string of celebrities who are dead before their time from the effects of trying to hang on to that bright star. And, Lord knows, we've seen, and are seeing everyday, the results of seeking pleasure through food. So, the Buddhists may be right about the things that keep us from true liberation.
In his book, The Happiness Industry, William Davies lays out the case for the way our capitalist economy has duped us, and made well-being expensive. Here are a few quotes from his book: “...we have become a culture obsessed with measuring our satisfaction...we measure ourselves and continually find ourselves wanting...the pursuit of happiness only makes us sad—and the rise of depression and anxiety proves it.” We're chasing happiness and satisfaction in all the wrong places. If we use this beauty product, if we constantly monitor our every move with apps on our phones, if punish our bodies with brutal workouts and running ten miles a day, if we eat only gluten-free sushi and rice—well maybe we'll be satisfied with ourselves. And then the product, device, diet, and ideal exercise changes so that we have to start all over. All that does not result in happiness, but it can and will deplete our resources. Whole industries—such as the makers of food supplements and pharmaceuticals, Nike sports shoes and Fit-Bit—are making a fortune off our pursuit of happiness. When you really think about it, it's a crazy merry-go-round.
Happiness is an inside job. If you truly want to find it, look inside of you. Finding contentment with being exactly who you are right now is a good starting place.
In the Spirit,