Happiness from Buddhist perspective – By Dr. Justice Chandradasa Nanayakkara
Source : island
It is the nature of every human being to seek happiness and peace of mind. It is something everyone aspires to achieve all the time. Our life is involved in a never-ending search and pursuit of happiness. As humans, we are naturally wired or programmed from birth to seek happiness wherever we can find it.
Happiness can mean different things to different people and different things make different people happy. What makes one person happy makes another unhappy. People generally define happiness based on their individual objectives, goals, and values. Happiness is an abstract concept, which defies definitive and concrete definition.
Happiness as a subjective feeling is brought about by a wide range of human emotions, that an ordinary person experiences in life. What constitutes happiness has caused some confusion in the minds of many, and it has been a subject of controversy since time immemorial. Happiness is purely subjective, emotive, or altitudinal for some philosophers and intellectuals. Aristotle, who was one of the greatest thinkers in history, was of the view that happiness is bound up with morality and ethical conduct. He believed happiness can only be achieved through the practice of virtue.
Every religion has its own concept of happiness and to attain the desired objective of happiness has its own method. In Buddhism, the path to real happiness starts with a clear comprehension of the causes of suffering and the way out of it, as enunciated in its fundamental teaching, the Four Noble Truths, according to which craving and desire are the cause of all unhappiness, people experience in life everywhere. The second of the Four Noble Truths attributes our suffering and unhappiness to the relentless drive to satisfy our never-ending insatiable craving or desire. We live in a world that is designed to distract us in every way. It is human nature our desires are never satisfied.
The senior most Arahant Annakondanna Maha Thera who lived during the time of the Buddha declared: ” In this world, there are various objects, among them there are beautiful things that arouse lust in our mind. And thoughts of such nature agitate the entire human world”. for more and more and when we finally have what we desire, our tendency is to look again for other things.
In Buddhist teachings, happiness is a feeling that can be experienced when a person is content, a mental quality that is regarded as the greatest wealth. The Buddha emphasised the importance of contentment when he said “Santhushti Paramam Dhanam“. It is an important virtue that has been extolled in many scriptures like Mangala Sutta and Metta Sutta as a quality to be cultivated for one’s happiness and well-being. It holds a timeless truth.
According to Buddhism, the mind is the source of happiness, and it is the feeling of joy, contentment, and satisfaction which can be experienced by one whose mind is free from unwholesome afflictive emotions, such as hatred and obsessive craving, and delusion. Dhammapada states, ” All mental phenomena have mind as their forerunner; they have mind as their chief; they are mind-made. If one speaks or acts with pure intentions, happiness will follow like a shadow that never leaves one’s side. Conversely, if one speaks or acts with evil intentions, suffering will, just as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that pull it along”. Man, himself is the maker of his own happiness and happiness is something individualistic.
For some people, happiness is the enjoyment of sensual pleasures. They live under the misconception that happiness comes from indulging the desire for delightful sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations. Others are concerned not so much with sensual pleasures but the material things and wealth. They live under the delusion, that their happiness is proportional to the quantity and monetary value of their possessions, thereby placing greater value on extrinsic happiness rather than on intrinsic happiness. They evaluate themselves and others by the amount of their wealth, money, and other materialistic possessions. They utilise their time and energy for the purpose of augmenting their wealth, money, and other material things. People who believe that money and other material things will bring them lasting happiness and satisfaction will eventually realise that they are mistaken and deluded in their thinking.
Then there are some others such as politicians who invest their energy and effort in the pursuit of power so that they can rule over others, their main aim is the attainment of happiness through the exercise of political and social power (Bhikkhu Bodhi). All these are pervasive illusions, as the key to our happiness is the ability to feel contented in life with what one possesses. Therefore, people who seek happiness through their material possessions, careers, the pursuit of power, gratification of sensual desires, and all other pursuits will eventually realise that they have wasted their lives in pursuit of empty dreams.
Happiness should not be confused with pleasure. The pleasure that someone experiences through sensual gratification is not happiness. Pleasure is something evanescent and temporary. It only gives a person instant gratification. But happiness conceived in Buddhism is long-lasting. According to Dhammapada happiness and sadness depend on the purity of the mind.
Life is a journey filled with ups and downs. Everyone experiences setbacks, disappointments, failures, and challenges in his life. Today, man’s mind is more agitated than before. The world has become restless and in a state of turmoil and people face a myriad of problems. There is fierce competition in society and one is trying to beat the other in every sphere of life. Even people blessed with enormous wealth and other luxuries can find themselves unhappy with their lives. The world has lost the very happiness it was pursuing.
Every human being faces the eight vicissitudes of life in the course of his life according to Buddhism. That is gain and loss, good repute and ill repute, praise, and censure, pain and pleasure. It is natural, that people experience these realities from time to time. But people respond to these worldly conditions with unhappiness and disillusionment. A Buddhist is expected to be resilient in these circumstances. Resilience is not about avoiding hardships but how a person responds or reacts to them. Happy people see setbacks not as insurmountable obstacles when things do not turn out the way they expected, as they maintain a positive and optimistic outlook. A Buddhist is expected to approach life’s challenges with a positive mindset. According to Buddhism, they should maintain equanimity (Uppekka) and should not be swayed or assailed by the vicissitudes of life. Uppekka is mental equipoise or mental impartibility. It is a perfect, unshakable balance of mind rooted in insight. A person who is equanimous and unperturbed by these realities is happy and contented. Equanimity is extolled as one of the greatest values and virtues in many religions in the world.
In Buddhist teachings, equanimity or peace of mind is achieved by detaching oneself from the cycle of craving that produces dukkha. Uppekka rejects both attachment (anurodha) and resentment(virodha) and advocates the middle path of being neither attracted nor repelled by pleasant and unpleasant experiences in life, a person must not be carried away by success or depressed by failure.
Moreover, a Buddhist should not obsess over the past which cannot be changed or worry about the future he cannot predict. He is expected to come to terms with the reality.
The fact that Buddhism’s dominant discourse is on suffering has led some to believe that Buddhism is overly pessimistic in outlook and always takes a gloomy and melancholic view of life. This is an erroneous view, as pessimism is a philosophy of suffering, while Buddhism is a philosophy of the relief of suffering resulting in eventual happiness. Had the Buddha discoursed that there was nothing but misery in life, and there was no place for happiness in his teachings, without a way out of unhappiness, one can be justified in characterising Buddhism as pessimistic. But the Buddha while exposing the unhappy part of life enunciated the way to come out of it through the Noble Eightfold Path. In this regard, it should be stated that Buddhism does not countenance a melancholic, sorrowful, and gloomy attitude to life and it does not foster an attitude of hopelessness. Buddha did not expect his adherents to brood over misery only but admonished them to understand that both life’s happy and sad sides are equally fleeting and impermanent. Buddhism teaches the unsatisfactory nature of life, which would encompass both happiness and sorrow. It should be realised even the feelings of happiness a person experiences at a given moment in his life can amount to dukkha as happiness is not everlasting but ephemeral. Happiness is a mental state that changes from moment to moment as reflected by our moods and emotion. Happiness depends on how a person perceives the true nature of reality in its true perspective.
Ven. Piyadassi Thera says, “a mental property(cestasika) and is a quality which suffuses both the body and mind He further stated ” the man lacking in this quality cannot proceed along the path to enlightenment not, 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 find deliverance from the fetters of samsara that repeated wandering should endeavor to cultivate the all-important factor of happiness”. (Barbara Obrien)
The Buddhist teaching, the practice of generosity and helping others, no matter how small, is also acknowledged as another factor that contributes to a person’s happiness and emotional well-being. In Buddhism, Dana (generosity) constitutes the first Parami of the ten transcendental virtues that an aspirant to Buddhahood should practise. It eliminates craving that lies dormant within a person. It is believed a person engaged in such acts of kindness and compassion will have an increased level of satisfaction and happiness. Moreover, a new study has found selfless acts of giving activate an area of the brain linked with happiness and contentment. They derive a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction from making a positive difference in someone’s life.