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Barbara O'Brien

Happiness First

By January 23, 2013

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I've been working on an article about Buddhism and happiness. Happiness may seem to be a pretty basic element of Buddhism, but Zen teachers don't go on about it as much as teachers in other schools are reported to do.

Reading what teachers from several schools said about happiness clarified a couple of points for me. One is that many of us enter practice thinking that if we get practice right, and "get enlightened," then we will be happy. But the Buddha taught his disciples to cultivate happiness in order to realize enlightenment.

The Theravadin teacher Piyadassi Thera (1914-1998) said of happiness,

"The man lacking in this quality cannot proceed along the path to enlightenment. There will arise in him a sullen indifference to the dhamma, an aversion to the practice of meditation, and morbid manifestations. It is, therefore, very necessary that a man striving to attain enlightenment and final deliverance from the fetters of samsara, that repeated wandering, should endeavor to cultivate the all-important factor of happiness."

So much of Buddhist practice, such as following the Precepts, amounts to training ourselves to live the way an enlightened being lives. I've actually encountered people who said they wouldn't be wise, or compassionate, or moral, until they realize enlightenment, so there was no point in trying to be wise or compassionate or moral until they were enlightened. That seems to miss some points.

Of course, that takes us to the question of what happiness is, and how one becomes happy, which the article addresses (a little), and will also be touched on in the next post.

In my research I came across a delightful video of Matthieu Ricard, French scientist-turned-Buddhist-monk, giving a short lecture on happiness. Highly recommended; it's bound to cheer you up.

Comments
January 24, 2013 at 11:40 am
(1) Arnold Zeman says:

Re Theravadin teachings on happiness, please check out website of Ven. Thanissaro’s texts & talks: dhammatalks.org. He distinguishes between mundane happiness & true or transcendent happiness that harms noone & is unconditioned, and is attained by arahants.

January 25, 2013 at 8:39 am
(2) Hein says:

I’ve actually encountered people who said they wouldn’t be wise, or compassionate, or moral, until they realize enlightenment, so there was no point in trying to be wise or compassionate or moral until they were enlightened. That seems to miss some points.

Precisely! One at least has to “fake it till you make it”. Striving seriously towards compassion and wisdom at least create the pathway to ultimately reach it. To have an attitude that there is no point in trying to be wise or compassionate or moral until one is enlightened is a to create a pathway in your mind of defeat. Not conducive for progress, me thinks.

February 6, 2013 at 9:45 am
(3) toecars says:

According to Chaung Tsu: “Happiness is never found until you stop looking for it”.

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