How to Attain Happiness
by Khöndung Ratna Vajra Rinpoche
Generally speaking, every sentient being from the tiniest insect to the most powerful person, all have the same wish, which is to attain happiness and to overcome suffering and problems.
So we all have a common goal to achieve. But at the same time, most of us don’t know what is the cause of real happiness and what is the cause of suffering. Because of this, although we wish to gain happiness, we engage in the cause of suffering. Although we wish to gain happiness and remove suffering, we destroy the cause of our own happiness. Although we wish to gain happiness and remove suffering, we are acting against our own wish. Therefore, it is important to know what is the right way and what is the wrong way. And for this purpose, the Lord Buddha has shown us what is the right path and what is the wrong path.
Our welfare and the Buddha’s teachings have a very strong connection. We should not practice the teachings for our own sake, but for the sake of all sentient beings. And the connection between our own welfare and the Buddha’s teachings is that the Buddha gave these not for himself but for all sentient beings, for others’ welfare and well-being. The Lord Buddha performed an enormous amount of activities, noble activities, but the most important among these was to turn the Wheel of Dharma, to free sentient beings from suffering and dissatisfaction, and to help them attain temporary and ultimate happiness. The purpose of the Buddha’s teachings is to tame our mind. The purpose of the Buddha’s teachings is to overcome the suffering of sentient beings. The purpose of the Buddha’s teachings is to gain happiness, not only for a few beings, but for every sentient being.
The Buddha gave teachings through which, we can fulfill our own wish. The way that the Buddha guides us is not just through miracles. The Buddha said that he didn’t wash away all our negative actions or remove our suffering by his own hands, nor did he transfer his wisdom or his knowledge to others. How the Buddha helps is through showing the right path, the correct path. And if we follow that path, we can be liberated from the suffering of samsara. And if we don’t follow it, then we will remain in samsara, where we will experience infinite suffering in the future. The Buddha said: “I have shown you the path. Whether you gain liberation from samsara or not depends on you.” This means that the Buddha showed us what is the right path and what is the wrong path. And after that, whether we can gain benefit from the Buddha’s teaching or not depends on us.
The purpose of the Buddha’s teachings is to tame our mind.
If we study, contemplate, meditate and practise the Buddha’s profound teachings, then we can gain liberation, we can gain ultimate happiness from them. The Buddha also said: “One is one’s own saviour, and one is one’s own enemy.” What this means is that our real refuge, our real protector should come from our own practice. The real saviour is oneself. Although we can learn precious and profound teachings, if we don’t practise accordingly, then we won’t get results. Whether we can obtain results or not depends on our own practice, and for this reason we are our own saviour. The teachings also say that one is one’s own enemy: “Our worst enemy is not ouside. Our worst enemy is within our own mind.” Our worst enemy is our own anger, our own negative thoughts. Our worst enemy is not outside our own mind. For example, if all humans became our enemy and all of them attacked us at the same time, although it would cause us great suffering, it wouldn’t be as great as the suffering of the lower realms. So the worst enemy, the worst suffering is produced by our own anger, and not by external enemies. Therefore we can say that our worst enemy is not outside, it is within our own mind.
So the first thing we need to do is to study, contemplate, meditate and then practise the Buddha’s teachings. And when we practise, we need to have the five perceptions, which means that we should see the Buddha as a skillful doctor; we should see the Buddha’s teachings as medicine; we should see ourselves as patients; we should see our own defilements such as anger, attachment, ignorance, jealousy and pride as our sickness; and we should see how receiving the teachings and following the teachings is like receiving the doctor’s advice and following his advice. These five perceptions are very important.
Even if we consult the best doctor, take the best medicine and have the best facilities, if we don’t follow the doctor’s advice, for example by not taking our medicine at the right time or not behaving according to his advice, then, no matter how skillful the doctor is, he won’t be able to cure our sickness. To cure the sickness, the patient himself or herself needs to put effort in overcoming the sickness and recovering from it. This implies taking medicine at the right dosage, at the right time, and adopting the right behaviour as advised by the doctor. So the main effort should come from ourselves, the main effort should not come from others.
“I have shown you the path, now whether or not you gain liberation from samsara or not depends on you.”
Similarly, when we practise the Buddha’s teachings, it is important to follow the Buddha’s advice, not just to listen to the teachings but to follow the Buddha’s instructions. The Buddha’s teachings and our own mind have a strong connection. They have a cause and effect connection. The practice of the teaching is the cause, and the result is the taming of our mind, developing positive thoughts in our mind. It is important that we should be aware of this connection.
The Buddha’s teachings are based on helping others by overcoming samsara. They are actually designed to guide us in gaining liberation, the enlightened state. But in this process, we can also gain enormous benefit in this life. We can gain enormous benefit in our welfare, in our well-being. Although as Buddhists, we should not just focus on this present life, our proper practice will naturally help this present life. The Buddha’s teachings are meant to tame our mind, they are meant to help sentient beings. When we help sentient beings with a positive mind, with altruistic thought, then naturally the result is going to be a good result. Because our best result comes from good action, positive action. So it’s important to know why we should practise. The reason is that through the practice, we can gain great benefit, not only for ourselves but for all sentient beings. And it’s important to know why we need to help others, why we need to benefit others, why we need to look after others’ welfare and well-being.
It seems to me that there are two reasons why we need to benefit others. The first, as I mentioned earlier, is that we all have the same goal to achieve, we all wish to gain happiness and we all wish to remove suffering. In striving to accomplish this common goal, it is not right to ignore others’ welfare and just think of our own welfare and well-being alone. This is not right. So we must put effort for the sake of all sentient beings to gain happiness and remove suffering. Because of this common goal we need to benefit others; this is the first reason. The second reason is that in the teachings it clearly says: “All our happiness is caused by wishing others to be happy. And all the suffering that we experience is caused by wishing ourselves to be happy.” This means that altruistic thought is the cause of happiness and selfish thought is the cause of suffering. So because of this, we should focus on others and not just on ourselves alone.
It’s important to know what is the cause of happiness and what is the cause of suffering. As I mentioned earlier, the cause of happiness is wishing others to be happy and the cause of suffering is wishing oneself alone to be happy. Because of this, we need to help others, we need to benefit others. And what kind of happiness do we need to achieve, what kind of happiness do we need to accomplish? The answer is that when we talk about happiness, we are talking about ultimate happiness, the happiness found in the state of Buddhahood. This happiness is superior, far superior to our mundane happiness. And if we focus on ultimate happiness, then naturally we will achieve mundane happiness in the process.
First, it is important to know what the difference is between mundane happiness and ultimate happiness. We can see that there is a great difference between the two, from the cause point of view, from the nature point of view, and from the duration point of view. First, let us look at the cause point of view. Mundane happiness can come for example from having a good house, good facilities, having a big name, gaining fame, or money, or power. But most of the time, in the process of gaining these advantages, we are doing negative actions. This means that these advantages are the result of our own negative thoughts, our own negative actions. Most of our mundane happiness is the result of our negative actions, such as deceiving others and behaving wrongly. This is very different from the cause of ultimate happiness, which is positive action. So from the cause point of view, ultimate happiness is superior to mundane happiness.
From the nature point of view, mundane happiness is actually a kind of suffering. It’s known as the suffering of change. For example, a poor person suddenly wins a big lottery and moves into a very luxurious house, with all the modern facilities, all the best amenities. This person in the beginning will feel joy, he or she will feel happiness. But this house and its facilities are not the real cause of happiness. If they were the real cause of happiness, then the more this person stays in that house, the more he or she should feel happier. But in fact, the longer he or she stays in that house, their happiness gradually wanes. After a while they will have all kinds of suffering and all kinds of problems.
So material things are not the real cause of happiness. We can see that there are many poor people experiencing more happiness than rich persons. Many rich people have mental suffering, lots of problems, lots of charities, lots of pressure, and no time to rest. They have to work, and work, and work, they become very busy and can’t sleep during the night because they have too much work, too much pressure, too many challenges to face. This means that the materialistic world is not the only way, or not the way, to achieve happiness in our present life. Some poor persons, even though they don’t have a good house, their mind is happy, they don’t have much to worry about. They are quite happy. Whether we’re happy or not doesn’t depend on whether we’re rich or not.
We can easily say that the happiest person is not the richest person. We can say that the happiest person is not the most powerful person, or the most famous person. This means that fame and power are not the ultimate cause of happiness, not a genuine cause of happiness.
“Our worst enemy is not outside. Our worst enemy is within our own mind.”
The genuine cause of happiness is doing good actions. Actually, whether we’re happy or not depends on our mind, how we face problems, how we take up the challenge of problems within our own mind. For example, if two people are facing the same problem, and one of them can handle the problem well, and the other cannot. The one who cannot handle the problem well feels more suffering than the other, even though they are facing the same problem, the same challenge. This means that whether we’re feeling sad or not, whether we’re experiencing suffering or not depends on how we handle our situation, it doesn’t depend on others. It depends on our own mental state.
We can also say that material development is not the source of happiness. During the last few decades, or since I was born (I was born in the 1970’s), there has been a great deal of material development. But we cannot say that nowadays people are happier that they were four decades ago. Material development has been tremendous over that span of time, there are many things that we see now and didn’t see in the past. Modern technology has made great advances and is still making them. And yet, we cannot say that nowadays people are happier, that they are experiencing less suffering. We can say though, that we are facing lots of external problems as well as internal problems. There are many kinds of illnesses, many new diseases that are spreading in the world which were not there in the past. Although medical facilities have improved a lot, at the same time there are more and more new diseases, many of them very serious. So there are a lot of external and internal problems that we need to face in this world today.
So the most important thing for us to do is to improve our inner world, not just our external world. Although developing our external world can provide us with many facilities and make us comfortable, we should combine this with developing our inner world. We need to develop our mind. So mundane happiness is actually the suffering of change, while ultimate happiness is free from all kinds of suffering. It’s a genuine happiness, a perfect happiness.
And then, from the duration point of view, ultimate happiness is far superior to mundane happiness. We put effort to gain mundane happiness in this life. But if we think carefully, this life is very short. This life won’t last forever. There are millions of people in this world, but we have never seen or heard of anyone being born and not eventually dying. Every being that is born is this world will die sooner or later. We cannot avoid death. Sooner or later, it will come, and so our life is very short. Our life has no definite span. We can see people dying at different ages. Some die in their mother’s womb, some die right after they were born, some die when they’re babies, when they’re teenagers, in their twenties, their thirties of their forties, and so on. So there is no definite lifespan for us human beings or for animals that we can see in this world. Happiness in this life is very short. Our life can last at most over a hundred years, no more than that. Actually, there are very few people who can live beyond a hundred. Most human beings in this world die before they’re a hundred.
And within these hundred years, there’s not a single person who has not experienced suffering, who has only experienced happiness from their birth until their death. There’s not a single person like that. For example, if we live up to a hundred and calculate whether we’ve experienced more happiness or more suffering, we’ll find that we’ve mostly experienced suffering. So, out of our hundred years, our happiness can maybe mount up to 30 or 40 years, while our suffering can take up 60 or 70 years. We are not happy. Although we can smile, deep in our mind we have this problem, or that problem. So out of a hundred years, we can estimate that our happiness lasts 30 to 40 years. So mundane happiness, the duration of mundane happiness is very short. It only lasts a few decades, not more than that. But ultimate happiness, once achieved, won’t cease. Once we gain such ultimate happiness, we will not change from happiness to suffering. Once we achieve this ultimate happiness, then we’ll feel happy forever.
So this is the big difference between mundane happiness and ultimate happiness. They are vastly different from the cause point of view, the nature point of view and the duration point of view. Therefore we should focus on ultimate happiness, and when we focus on ultimate happiness, then we will naturally acquire mundane happiness in the process, we will feel happy in this mundane world. So it’s very important for us to handle situations in a good way. Generally speaking, there are many actions, but we can divide these into three major categories: physical, verbal and mental actions. And out of these three, the most important is mental action. Physical and verbal actions, in a way, play a supporting role to mental action. Without the mind, there is no physical or verbal action. All our physical and verbal actions are motivated by our mind. Sometimes, we can be acting in a proper way, using pleasant speech, while our intention is wrong or even bad. So outwardly, it seems that we’re doing a positive action, while in reality this action is a negative action because of our negative intention, the real intention behind our physical behaviour or verbal action.
We must have a positive mind, a mind that wishes to help others, a mind that wishes to benefit others, a mind that looks after others’ welfare and well-being. Such a mind is very important for us to develop. So the Buddha’s teachings are there to tame our mind, to subdue our mind, to remove our anger, to remove our attachment, our jealousy, our pride. If we can remove these negative thoughts, then naturally we won’t experience suffering. Because all our suffering is caused by our negative actions. And all our negative actions are caused by our negative thoughts and our defilements. And all these negative thoughts are caused by our ignorance, our selfish thought.
“All our happiness is caused by wishing others to be happy. And all the suffering that we experience is caused by wishing ourselves to be happy.”
When we have selfish thought, then naturally we have two sides, our own side and the others’ side. And when we have two sides, then we feel attachment to our own side, we like our own side. And then we hate, or we feel anger, toward the other side. Because of this selfish thought, we have two sides, because of this selfish thought, we feel attachment and anger. So these three are called the main poisons, or the three poisonous thoughts. And because of these three, other negative thoughts arise, such as pride, stinginess, jealousy, and so on.
So selfish thoughts are the root of all suffering, the root of samsara. It’s very important first to know what is the real cause of suffering and what is the real cause of happiness. For example, when the doctor needs to cure the patient’s disease, first he needs to diagnose what is this patient’s illness, what is his problem. Without identifying the patient’s illness or the problem, how can the doctor cure it? It’s not possible. The first thing the doctor needs to do is to identify the illness or the problem, and then he can give the right treatment for the right illness or problem.
Similarly, first we need to know the cause of suffering. If we know that the cause of suffering is selfish thought, then we should try to abandon it, we should try to eliminate it. For example, anger. Anger is something that we can remove from our mind, because anger is not the nature of our mind. The nature of our mind is pure from beginningless time. It is just a mental state. For example, when there’s dirt or a stain on a cloth, we can adopt the right remedy or the right antidote that can remove this dirt or stain. Because these are not the nature of the cloth, they are just temporary, they can be removed by using the right remedy – water and soap. So by using the right method, the dirt or stain can be removed from the cloth.
Similarly, our anger and other negative thoughts are not the nature of our mind. They are temporary. Because of this, we can remove them, we can eliminate these defilements. But to eliminate them, we need to put effort. We need to use the right method, we need to adopt the right remedy, or the right antidote. Without such a remedy, we cannot eliminate our defilements. But it’s important to know that they can be eliminated. And the right remedy is to cultivate positive thoughts, like kindness and compassion.
We should start with our own family, our children, our parents, and then gradually cultivate the same kindness and compassion toward our friends, our community and finally toward all sentient beings.