Happiness 102

November 2008

A previous post focused on Lama Norlha Rinpoche’s advice that the secret to happiness in this lifetime is, in all our relationships, to focus on people’s good qualities and kindness rather than on their faults and negative behavior.

But in other teachings, Rinpoche has revealed: it is not the whole secret!

If we want to achieve ultimate, lasting happiness, happiness that never turns on us, that never diminishes and never ends, what we really need to do is give up forever all our expectations that such happiness is to be found in any corner of samsara: in any relationship, career, book, financial windfall, honor, dessert, or day of fun at Six Flags. The kind of happiness produced by those things—if it even materializes in the first place—is fleeting, whether it lasts five minutes or thirty years.

But wait, don’t get discouraged! That doesn’t mean we need to give any of those things up—we can still enjoy them, according to Rinpoche. All we have to give up is our attachment to them, our reflexive belief that changing our external circumstances in a big or small way is finally going to put our life on the right track once and for all.

How to go about this? Just follow the path that has been laid out before us: contemplate and really internalize the four thoughts, and make meditation a part of our daily routine. Meditation is the key to really experiencing the truth of the Buddha’s teachings. In meditation, by sitting through the parade of whatever happens in our mind, we begin to see for ourselves that there is no reality to anything we think or feel; it is all just a stream of temporary impressions, and if we let it flow without getting caught up in particular aspects of it, nothing in it can ever hurt us or anyone else. We won’t see much, according to the teachings, by sitting for a few minutes now and then; we will only see it by clocking the hours on our cushion or chair. But even in small increments, daily practice will add up over the months and years.

If we accumulate enough hours of meditation, we also begin to experience what is underneath the surging waves of all those fleeting experiences: the vast, unperturbed, brilliant, completely compelling ocean of mind. Connecting with this, Rinpoche teaches, is the real secret to happiness.

In the rare spare moment, I have recently been going through my notes on teachings I’ve received over the past three decades, and this is a recurrent theme. We won’t attain ultimate, lasting happiness until we take the well-being of others to heart, practice meditation and get to know our own mind, and ultimately, through these two, under the guidance of a genuine teacher who has realized the path, recognize and dwell in the essential nature of who we really are.

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