Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Buddhist concept of Happiness

Bhante G (author of Mindfulness in Plain English,, West Virginia)

Happiness in Pali is called sukha, which is used both as a noun meaning “happiness,” “ease,” “bliss,” and “pleasure,” and as an adjective meaning “blissful” and “pleasant.”

To understand the nature of happiness, a brief discussion of the Buddhist analysis of feeling is necessary. Feeling (vedana or sensation) is a mental factor present in all types of consciousness, a universal concomitant of experience. It has the characteristic of being felt, the function of experiencing, and as manifestation the gratification of the mental factors. It is invariably said to be born of contact (phassa), which is the coming together of a sense object, a sense faculty, and the appropriate type of consciousness.

When these three coalesce, consciousness makes "contact" with the object. It experiences the affective quality of the object. And from this experience a feeling or sensation arises keyed to the object’s affective quality.

Since contact is of six kinds (by way of the six sense faculties), feeling is also of six kinds: It corresponds to the six kinds of contact from which it is born. There is feeling born of eye-contact, feeling born of ear-contact, and so on. Feeling is also divided by way of its affective tone either into three or five classes. On the threefold division there is pleasant feeling (sukha-vedana), painful feeling (dukkha-vedana), and neither pleasant nor painful (i.e., neutral) feeling.

The pleasant feeling may be subdivided into bodily pleasant feeling called “pleasure” (sukha) and mental pleasant feeling (cetasika-sukha) called “joy” (somanassa)....

The five types of feeling: pleasure, joy, pain, displeasure, and equanimity

The Buddha enumerates contrasting types of mental happiness:
  • the happiness of the household life and that of monastic life
  • the happiness of sense pleasures and that of renunciation
  • happiness with attachments and taints and happiness without attachments and taints
  • worldly happiness and spiritual happiness
  • the happiness of concentration and happiness without concentration
  • Aryan happiness
  • mental happiness
  • happiness without joy
  • happiness of equanimity
  • happiness not aimed at joy
  • happiness aimed at formless object[s]

Happiness associated with the wholesome roots produced by the renunciation of sensual enjoyments is spiritual happiness or the happiness of renunciation. The happiness of meditative absorption (jhana) is a spiritual happiness born of seclusion or withdrawal from sense pleasures and the Five Hindrances. It is also a happiness of concentration (samadhi-sukha).

There are numerous ways of bringing about happiness. “Friends bring happiness when a need has arisen; pleasant is contentment with whatever there might be; [to have accrued] merit is pleasant at life’s ending; and pleasant is the destruction of all suffering. Happy it is, in the world, to be a mother, and happy it is to be a father; happy, in the world, is the life of a recluse and happy is the state of Brahman. Happy is age-long virtue, and happy is confidence well-established; happy is the gaining of wisdom, and happy it is not to do evil [defined as deeds, words, and thoughts rooted in greed, hatred, delusion, and/or fear]. “Happy is the arising of the Awakened Ones; happy is the teaching of the Dharma; happy is the unity of the group, and happy is the ascetic life of the united” [Dh. 194, 331-333].

In pursuit of happiness many people are engaged in sense pleasures or self-indulgence in the extreme (hedonism). Because of the availability of ample opportunity for people to indulge in sensual pleasure, the human realm is called a plane of sensual pleasure.

As enjoying sensual pleasure is called happiness, to be born as a human being with all the senses complete is a happy occurrence. For one can experience a very high degree of sense pleasure through sensory stimuli. One can be happy thinking that one has plenty of wealth. For even the thought “I have enormous wealth” gives one a secure feeling. This feeling of possessiveness is one's happiness.

One can be happy consuming one's wealth in any manner one deems secure, entertaining one's senses in any manner one wishes, or sharing with relatives, friends, or giving charitably to whomever one pleases, or saving as much as one pleases, using wealth whenever one needs. One can be happy thinking that wealth was earned honestly. One can be happy thinking that one is free from debts [A.ii.p.69].

For these reasons, "happiness" has been defined by some as a "satisfaction of the will." If we obtain what we have been dreaming, we are said to be happy. Pursuing this definition of happiness, we may do countless things to fulfill our wishes so as to be happy. We may spend all our time, money, energy, skill, and opportunities to do our best to make our lives happy, or to bring happiness to the lives of others.

Considering all the possible variables available for the will to desire, this definition is inadequate. If we will to procure something perishable, changeable, impermanent, and subject to slipping from your grasp, procuring that particular object makes us more unhappy than not procuring it. Or if we obtain something and we have to spend our time, energy, peace, skill, even our health to protect it, safeguard it, and secure it, then we will experience more unhappiness than happiness.

Sariputra, echoing the Buddha’s explanation of sense desire, says to his fellow monastics: “There are these five strands of sense desire. What five? There are forms cognized by the eye, longed for, alluring, pleasurable, lovely, bound up with passion and desire. There are sounds cognized by the ear… smells by the nose… tastes by the tongue… contacts cognized by the body, longed for, alluring, pleasurable, lovely, bound up with passion and desire. These are the five strands of sense desire. And the happiness, the well-being arising therefrom is called sensuous happiness.”

Generally, people misconstrue the source of happiness. They think that by pleasing their insatiable desire they can be happy. They do not realize that the means available to them to please their desires are limited by time and space. When we try to obtain happiness by pleasing unlimited and insatiable desires by means limited by time and space, we end up frustrated, losing whatever relative happiness we have.

Does wealth really bring happiness? Obviously not. For there are many wealthy people who live miserable, unhealthy lives. Does education bring happiness? Apparently not. For there are many well educated people who are more unhappy than those who are uneducated. Does this mean that the poor and uneducated are happier than the wealthy and educated? No, not at all. [Happiness is not in those things].

Does marrying someone whom we are passionately attached to bring happiness? No. Does divorce make us happy? Apparently not. Does being single bring happiness? No, not at all.

Some people believe that revenge makes them happy. But tit-for-tat actions never bring any happiness to anyone. In reality, an "eye for an eye" makes everybody miserable, not happy. It is not by cultivating, but by destroying hate, that happiness grows in our minds.

“One who with the rod harms the rodless and harmless soon will come to one of these states: One will be subject to acute pain, disaster, bodily injury, or even grievous sickness, or loss of mind, or oppression by the kind, or heavy accusation, or loss of relatives, or destruction of wealth, or ravaging fire that will burn one's house” [Dh. vs. 138 - 140].

“One who, seeking one's own happiness, does not torment with the rod beings that are desirous of happiness obtains happiness in the hereafter” [Dh. v. 132]. All of us without exception have within us the roots of happiness.

However, they are buried under our hatred, jealousy, tension, anxiety, worry, and other negative states of mind. In order to find the roots of happiness, we have to remove the roots of unhappiness and cultivate and nourish the roots of happiness.

Suppose one thinks of making oneself happy by killing, stealing, committing sexual misconduct, lying, or taking intoxicating drinks and drugs that cause infatuation and heedlessness, would that person really be happy?

Certainly one is not happy. Why? One's mind is confused by what one is doing. How can a person who is full of greed, hatred, and delusion be happy? How can a person who kills be happy? The Buddha said:

“To live without anger among the angry is, indeed, happy. To live unafflicted among the afflicted is happy. To live without ambition among the ambitious is happy. To live without possessions is a happy life like that of the radiant gods [devas]. To live without competition among those who compete is happy. For one “who wins creates an enemy, and unhappy does the defeated sleep. The one who is neither victor nor defeated sleeps happily” [Dh. v. 201]. “There is no happiness greater than the perfect calm” [Dh. 203].

“Good is the sight of Noble Ones; happy always is it to live with them; away from the sight of fools, one would always be happy” [Dh. 206]. Living with the wise is very comfortable and happy. “A wise person is pleasant. Living with the wise is very comfortable and happy. “A wise person is pleasant to live with as is the company of kin” [Dh. v. 207].

No matter how long our list of happiness is, we continue to be unhappy, frustrated, suffering without ever being successful in experiencing happiness -- unless we add the essential, absolutely necessary item to our list and execute it with diligence:

That item, number one on our list of priorities, is the purification of mind through the practice of virtue, concentration, and wisdom.

Whatever else we do without these essential and absolutely necessary components, we are not going to experience happiness, but the opposite of it. Happiness is the result of the purification of mind.

We will never find enduring happiness in greedy, hateful, deluded, or fearful states of mind. For these are the very roots of unhappiness, pain, and suffering. More>>

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