Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. ~Buddha
One of the underlying principles of Zen Buddhism is – “To understand your true nature is to find Buddha. To look for Buddha outside of your mind is not possible, because your mind is the Buddha.” Finding Buddha is a metaphor for attaining Nirvana.
I read it as, “You can not find happiness outside yourself because you are the source of your own happiness. If you can not be happy with yourself, no amount of searching will bring you closer to happiness.”
One of the literature on the subject states that there are various ways to find the Buddha, and one of them is through practice. The practice involves four acts. I will list the four acts below (in italics), as well as their essence. I’ll follow those up with my own interpretation, in context of aspiring for happiness:
- Suffering Injustice – You are trapped in the cycle of life and death because you are a mortal, and your past sins are bearing fruit now. Realizing this truth will give you the strength to endure adversities in your life.
Let go of the past. Realize that the suffering is a result of wrong choices made in the past. You can not travel back in time to correct those mistakes. Endure your suffering and pay attention to your present to avoid making any more mistakes. Don’t crib about the job you didn’t get with that Fortune 500 company or the movie you couldn’t go to with your friends because of work. Focus on the present. Do your job well and prepare for the interview with that company again, so that they can’t turn you down. Get your work done on time, instead of chatting with friends in the cafeteria, so that you can go to the movie this weekend.
- Adapting to conditions – All suffering and joy we experience depend on conditions. The state of joy or suffering ends, when the conditions change. Make yourself unmovable to the whim of conditions.
Let go of expectations. Success or failure depend upon our expectation of the result. We tie our happiness to a certain outcome. Adapting to conditions means to be ready for all possible outcomes of our actions. Do the best you can, without expecting any result. I realize it is easier said than done. But, for e.g., if you really want to score well in a test, pay attention in class and study well for it. If you have put in your best efforts, it is highly unlikely that you will fail. You might not be the top scorer but your score will not be disappointing because it reflects your efforts. If you want to validate the truth of this example, just compare the satisfaction of the class topper who worked hard all year and scored 99/100; and the back-bencher who studied the night before the exams and scored 60/100.
- Seek nothing – People in this world are always looking for something, always seeking something. To seek is to suffer. To seek nothing is bliss.
Let go of your desires. Do not let external influences be the source of your happiness. This is a trap that most of us fall into. How many times have you wanted to buy something (new shoes, the latest smartphone, the dream house etc.) so bad that you can think of nothing else during your waking hours? What happens a few weeks after you buy it? It doesn’t seem as valuable or important, as when you didn’t have it. What happens a couple of months after you successfully get into your dream job or university? It doesn’t seem all that awesome, as it did from the outside. I have fallen into this trap a lot of times, and still do. When you let your happiness be dictated by acquiring a physical object, fulfilling a career goal etc., you are setting yourself up for disappointment. If you get the thing you set out to, you will be happy for some time and then find another object you believe will bring more happiness. If you don’t get it, you become sad imagining the benefits it might have brought.
I am still struggling with the solution to this problem. A partial solution is to stop buying things, at least. Starting now, buy only that which is essential for you to live, like toilet paper, food etc. You do not need the latest Nike or the new iPad I would also suggest letting go of career growth and life goals, but, I’ll cover that in a subsequent post, to do the topic full justice.
- Practice Dharma – Dharma is the truth that all things in the universe are one. To practice Dharma is to realize this truth and give yourself over completely to the service of this universal truth.
The concept of Dharma is difficult for to understand fully. But, I will try to explain it, hoping that in doing so, it becomes clearer to me as well.
You are a reflection of a part of the world. If there is sadness around you, you can not be happy. If you live in a society where corruption and crime are a way of life, you can not remain untouched by these evils. And, though it may seem counter-intuitive, you can change your reflection of the world by changing yourself. Or more accurately, finding and being true to yourself. Becoming your true self, in the face of adversity, is Dharma. You can choose to be happy amidst all the pain, you can choose to be righteous amidst the injustice. The way won’t be easy, but, only by being true to yourself, by following the path of Dharma, can you bring about a positive change in the world around you. The practice of Dharma is to do the right thing, no matter the cost.
The practice of finding the Buddha is not a menu you can pick and choose from. You have to do all four. Sequentially, in the beginning, and simultaneously when it becomes natural. For example, when you stand up to your boss (or a school bully) about an issue, you do it because it is the right thing (for e.g., something that dilutes the quality of work). The fear of retaliation shouldn’t stop you because you are ready to face the consequences of your past mistakes. Nor should the expectation of a reward motivate you because this is how it was supposed to be and you just pointed it out. So, to find happiness in your life is to let go of the past and the future (expectations), let go of your desires, and to do the right thing. With time, you will realize that these aren’t four separate acts, but, are inter-dependent; part of a cyclic whole.
The concept of attaining happiness through practice may seem abstract and impractical. But, if you really take some time to think about the situations in your life that cause you pain, and apply it, you will see a solution to your problem. Whether you decide to do act on it or not is totally up to you. But, I wish that you will at least try.
I have been following this blog, for practical approaches to improve quality of life. Hope you like it.