I’ve decided to write tonight 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 tonight I came across a delightful video of Matthieu Ricard, French scientist-turned-Buddhist-monk, giving a short lecture on happiness. I highly recommend; it’s bound to cheer you up.