Monday, December 28, 2009

The Paradox

We live in a world of sound bites . . . . advertising jingles, campaign slogans, song verses, news headlines, logos, late-night joke punch-lines, sayings we repeat to ourselves, tweets, jargon, avatars, etc. Some people resort to tattooing messages on their bodies, others adorn the walls of their homes, computer screens and t-shirts with them. Messages, messages and more messages.

So forgive me for adding one more, this is a well-known one, and is, I believe, a message significantly worth remembering. It comes from the 8th century Indian master Shantideva:

All the joy the world contains
Has come through wishing happiness for others.
All the misery the world contains
Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself.


An aspect of our retreat sadhana has been meditating on various concepts and ideas, most of which, when see through an understanding of emptiness of inherent existence, are quite illuminating.

As many of you know, the Buddha offered a very short teaching that has come to be known as the Four Immeasurables. In it, the Buddha suggests four aspirations with which to fill our mind, each is a wish for sentient beings’ love, happiness, joy and equanimity.

We have been paying particular attention to the words expressing our aspiration for immeasurable happiness, they are:
"How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings had happiness and the causes of happiness. May they have happiness and its causes. I myself will cause them to have happiness and their causes."

This is a very profound thought, and serves as the basis for the entire Mahayana Buddhist path.

To have the causes for happiness abiding in our mind implies that the causes for our unhappiness are not present. This unhappiness (often referred to in Buddhist-talk as suffering), as referred to by the Buddha is not of the type of a splinter in the foot or the sadness one feels at the death of a loved one.

Rather, it is the everyday discontent, the every moment discontent we live with as a result of our ignorance, and our resultant desires. (No major discussion of suffering here, many Chenrezig Projecteers cups’ still runeth over from our recent Lam-rim Middle Scope studies of suffering.)

The point is this, and it is such a simple paradox that when one realizes it they cry out (or in) in amazement: as the Buddha said, as Shantideva said, as Tsong-Kha-Pa said, as the Dalai Lama says all the time, if you want to be happy, cherish others. Any and all true happiness comes from wishing (and skillfully acting to help manifest) happiness for others.

The discontent, unhappiness, depression, bad moods, anger, frustration, we feel stems from wanting pleasure (or in other words, "our way") for ourselves. We even try to make others happy "our way" as opposed to what would be most beneficial for them.

Think about this, contemplate, meditate; look at recent events in your life and see where the happiness and/or lack of happiness stemmed from.

This understanding is the most powerful antibiotic for the mind, manifest it and you will weaken and ultimately destroy the ability for your self-centered delusions, the bacteria that infects the clear mind, to harm you. It has changed the life of many, and it may change yours.


So, if this sounds like it might have some truth to it, try this . . . later tonight or tomorrow morning, after you’ve thought about this, and I mean "really" thought about it . . . set aside some time to think of making others happy. What might make them happy, what it would feel like to make them happy, how they would react to being happy. (Of course, remembering that happiness comes from thinking of others, so we’re not necessarily talking about a red Porsche or flattering talk.)

Set aside a reasonable amount of time, don’t bite off too much . . . an hour would be fantastic, as would 30 minutes, 2 minutes or even 30 seconds. Just try it.

Don’t listen to your ego, which may tell you quite convincingly this is all a silly game -- the ego does not like others truly being put before it, and its going to try to fill you with doubt. The ego knows you better than anyone, knows which buttons to push. Recognize it when it comes, and just say, "no thanks."

You may already be living a life in which you are extraordinarily generous, if so, that’s fantastic. Keep it up, but try this as well. Just move your own concerns our of the equation and focus on the happiness of others. Just a reasonable amount of time, deliberately focused on the happiness of others.

It won't cost a dime, you can do it anywhere, and is really wonderful (and for beginners a little tough sometimes) to do it when you are with others. See how this makes you feel, this focused thinking of others’ happiness before considering or striving for your own pleasure.

Play with it. Have fun with it.

Take Shantideva's verse, tape it to your bathroom mirror, and read it while you brush your teeth each morning. This is more than a sound bite; you may find a whole new type of happiness emerging, one that is clear and joyful and light and bursting with energy. It's there, in your own mind right now, just waiting to be realized. Dig it out.

Stopping my finger now, thanks for reading.