Where to find happiness
December 23, 2012
Today as usual, the sound of the reed horns echoed in the distance and increased as the Karmapa neared the Pavilion. He entered from the side, made three bows to the Buddha, and sat on his throne carved of a rich brown wood. After prayers, came the supplications for his long life. The central aisle was filled from beginning to end with disciples holding the offerings—representations of enlightened body, (a statue), speech (a text), mind (a stupa), qualities (a long life vase), and activity (a double dorje), all tied with scarves in bright colors.
Recently, the Karmapa explained that he was teaching The Three Primary Elements of the Pathbecause it presents the three central aspects of the Mahayana path: renunciation, bodhicitta, and the correct view. The text will benefit all who hear the teachings since they will know where to focus and can then practice with clarity about the key points. The commentary is by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye and remembering the contributions of his lineage is the essential theme of this year’s Kagyu Monlam.
Today, the Karmapa began by saying that he had talked about overturning our attachment to this life. And now he will talk about reversing our attachment to future lives. We can do this by following the advice of the root verse:
Repeatedly contemplating the unerring process of action and result and also the sufferings of samsara
Reverses preoccupation with future lives.
The Karmapa then gave a reading transmission for the commentary, The Path to Freedom for the Fortunate, by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye on renunciation in relation to future lives. He followed this with his thoughts on the main topics.
“Preoccupation with future lives” means attachment to them of which there are two types. We may harbor hopes for birth with high status and wish to lead the good life, resembling our imaginations of celestial realms. Or, without the intention to help others, we could also wish for rebirth in a pure realm, which we envisage free of problems and suffering.
Reflection on karma, the linking of cause and effect, can help to counteract these two preoccupations. In our past lives, we have taken wrong paths and created negative karma, which is so great that all of space cannot contain it. If we don’t do anything, our situation will not change. Negative karma will not finish itself off and come to an end on its own: we have to do something to purify it away. To spur us to action, we need a clear certainty, a confidence in karma’s pattern of cause and result, because merely believing does not help; we have to actually become engaged and do something.
The most universal Buddhist practice is to discard the ten unvirtuous actions and take up the ten virtuous ones. This applies to everyone who is not enlightened; it includes both lay and ordained people, all of whom should do this practice. The beginning of the path is finding an authentic teacher; then the actual practice is to work on one’s karma, trying to live the right way through the ten virtues.
I have a story to tell, which I’ve told before. It fits in here so I’ll tell it again. There was a rich man who spent his evenings counting his money. By his house lived a beggar who sang at night. The rich man thought, “I’m so rich but I have no time for singing.” He wondered what would happen if the beggar had lots of money, so while he was out begging, the rich one put a chunk of gold the size of a goat’s head in the poor man’s place. When he returned he was amazed. He thought a god had given it to him and he spent that evening thinking about what he would do with his new wealth. He forgot to sing. The rich man was watching from the window and then he understood: “Due to my wealth, I have forgotten how to make myself happy.” This is what is happening in the world today. We work hard to become happy and then we forget what makes us happy. In my own experience, happiness is not a complex thing: The simpler things are the happier and more peaceful I feel. True happiness comes from the way we think and how we experience our life.
We assume that happiness has to come through great effort. And since we don’t value what we do have, we think we need to get something new. Actually, we already have true happiness, but we don’t see what’s worthwhile. I’m completely certain that we don’t have to acquire something new. Happiness is to recognize what we already have.
Once I was going around the monastery and the weather was nice. I relaxed my mind and noticed that I was just breathing. I thought that’s not special, we always breathe, yet spontaneously, I thought how satisfactory this experience was—there was a natural joy in it. Taking one breath is a rather complex process; it depends on oxygen from trees, an elaborate system of exchange within the body, and so forth. And yet my experience of that one breath came without any effort, and I just thought, “It’s amazing that I’m alive now and can breathe so easily.” If I had had to think about creating oxygen, for example, it would have been very complicated. But I was simply happy because I could breathe. It all depends on how we think.
Happiness is always there; we do not have to bring it in from the outside, but simply recognize it within and allow ourselves to feel it. For example, we can be content with what we have, whatever it is. If we have a lot, it doesn’t mean we have to get rid of things. We are simply satisfied with that is there, be it large or small. With this contentment comes happiness. So we have to learn how to satisfy ourselves. This is extremely important as our endless greed is using up the limited resources of the world. We must think about future generations and our future lives. In some places, water is becoming scarce, so when we use water, we should keep this in mind. This is one way of thinking about cause and effect.
It’s crucial for us to become good people. If we are not, then how could we say we’re Buddhist? We need to reflect: What kind of person am I? If you’re making a golden vase, first you have to see if the material is real gold. If it’s brass, then you’re not making a gold vase. To become a good Buddhist, you have to become a good human being. It doesn’t mean that you have no anger or jealousy, for example, but that you have decreased the negative emotions. Otherwise, it’s a sham: you have the name of a Buddhist, but have not transformed yourself. Nobody can change us. We have to talk to and instruct ourselves about the right way, then change will happen.