Tricycle Teachings: Happiness

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We are in constant pursuit of happiness. But what does it mean to be truly happy? And doesn't Buddhism teach us that to focus solely on our own happiness creates suffering instead? In our newest e-book, Tricycle Teachings: Happiness, some of our favorite contributors—including Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, B. Alan Wallace, Joseph Goldstein, and Ken McLeod—offer a range of Buddhist perspectives on happiness and the paradox at the heart of its pursuit.

Table of Contents

1 “Conceptions of Happiness,” by various authors
2 “The Evolution of Happiness,” by Joseph Goldstein
3 “What Is True Happiness?” an interview with B. Alan Wallace
4 “The Pursuit of Happiness,” by Pamela Gayle White
5 “The Pleasure Paradox,” an interview with Daniel Gilbert
6 “Forget Happiness,” by Ken McLeod
7 “The Wisdom of Frogs,” by Clark Strand
8 “Passing it On,” by Mark Magill
9 “Lighten Up!” by James Baraz
10 “The Happiness Metric,” by Madeline Drexler
11 “Simple Joy,” by Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara 

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DaveS's picture

Pursuit of Happiness:

The teachings on the Four Noble Truths are regarded as central to the teachings of Buddhism and are said to provide a conceptual framework for Buddhist thought. These four truths explain the nature of dukkha (suffering, anxiety, unsatisfactoriness), its causes, and how it can be overcome. These truths were an illuminating revelation in Buddha's time and necessary to provide hope as well an understanding that suffering could either be overcome in Awakening (Enlightenment) or at least managed to create a better life. Various methods based on such insights were created and stressed by the Buddha (and others) to help many lead happier lives with less suffering during their relatively short life spans.
However, now in the 21st century, an unbelievable amount of progress has accumulated over the millennia since the Buddha lived with numerous ways to manage suffering states that no one could have imagined possible in his time. Mankind has made tremendous advances in nutrition, disease and stress management, pharmaceuticals, medical knowledge, surgery, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychology, and numerous other sciences.
Given that change is inevitable in all fields of human endeavor it is a worthwhile to consider or investigate a 'positive' makeover of the Buddha's fundamental teachings. Advanced societies especially seem to have greater affluence, longer life spans and more leisure time to pursue fields of greater growth and opportunities for happiness as compared to the time of the Buddha. In brief, more people are spending more time in happiness than ever before such as the distant past and far more capable of minimizing if not eliminating suffering in their daily lives. With the prevalence of or drive to happiness rather than suffering then let's turn our attention to what would be more relevant to our time by recasting in a positive way the fundamental teachings of the Buddha or the four noble truths and eightfold path. The author gives utmost credit to the achievement and insights of the Buddha and with humility will adhere to his basic outline in the writing to follow. Also to a lesser extent the author gives credit to the field of psychology for detailing the importance of positive thinking for happiness and certain highly regarded, contemporary Hindu mystics who provided greater insight into the nature of Enlightenment.

1. The truth of happiness (gladness, joy, satisfaction)
2. The truth of the origin of happiness
3. The truth of permanent happiness (with no suffering)
in Enlightenment
4. The truth of the path leading to Enlightenment
The first truth explains the nature of happiness. Happiness as used as a general term to refer to such pleasant states as gladness, joy, bliss and can be said to have the following three aspects:
•The obvious happiness of physical and mental health, growing wiser and aging gracefully.
•The peace and joy of letting go of things that are constantly changing.
• A subtle satisfaction from acceptance in the knowledge that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance.
The second truth is that the origin of happiness can be known. Within the context of the four truths, the origin of happiness is explained as wholesome desiring (directed outward by the senses) which is the result of ignorance. Therefore on a deeper level, the root cause of happiness is identified as ignorance of our innermost nature.
The third truth is that permanent happiness or Enlightenment is possible, and
The fourth truth identifies a path to Enlightenment.
Continuing on with a more detailed presentation of the 4 truths and followed by the 8 fold path.
1. Life consists in the pursuit of happiness
2. Cause of this happiness is the fulfillment of beneficial
or wholesome desires
3. Permanent happiness (bliss) without suffering can be
attained via Enlightenment
4. The following 8-fold path can enhance happiness,
reduce stress or suffering and lead to Enlightenment:
a. Right lawful or cultural living.
b. Right ethical conduct
c. Right understanding of your ego (false self) (ex. not
taking oneself so seriously).
d. Right practice of letting-go (ex. of outcomes to
increase equanimity).
e. Right practice of mindfulness (ex. Living fully in the
moment to maximize happiness)
f. Right practice of proactive positive thinking based
behavior (ex. seeing the glass half-full
not empty, correct problems as they arise to
increase happiness).
g. Right practice of compassion (ex. Alleviating the
suffering of others)
h. Right practice of Samadhi-inducing meditation (to
purify, enhance joy & expand awareness).
The pursuit of happiness seems quite natural to humankind rather than seeking to increase suffering which is generally avoided. The search for happiness and suffering from greed, aversion, and delusion will continue until permanent happiness is attained in Enlightenment after overcoming ignorance.
Fulfillment of wholesome desires that increase happiness, enhance growth and diminish suffering will lead to a better quality of life. A life increasingly free of such Buddhist fetters to include: identity view, doubt, ritual attachment (stream-enterer & once-returner), sensual desire and ill will (non-returner), lust, conceit and ignorance (arahant).
The mind-body paradigm subject to continuous change is insufficient to support Enlightenment so the following assumption based on various sources will be invoked in that this level of total fulfillment already exists and must be realized by each individual. The basis for the mind is the luminous mind, transcendental bliss consciousness (Hindu phrase), fourth level (deepest level of meditation) of Samadhi, ground of being (Thich Nhat Hanh (TNH)), or pure eternal blissful self (Mahaperinirvana Sutra). TNH also said 'The notions of impermanence and nonself were offered by the Buddha as instruments of practice, not as doctrines to worship, fight or die for. "My dear friends," the Buddha said," the Dharma I offer you is only a raft to help you to cross over to the other shore." The raft is not to be held onto as an object of worship. It is an instrument for crossing over to the shore of well-being'. Anatta or Anatman is simply a term meaning not to identify a self with composite parts (skandhas) of the mind/body.
Once the mind permanently merges into or identifies with the luminous mind or bliss consciousness then Enlightenment has been attained. Whereas the dreaming man is conscious throughout his body the enlightened man is conscious throughout the universe. Once saturated with bliss and not to identify with the changing mind/body than complete fulfillment without suffering or ignorance (of the ground of being) is guaranteed.