For a buddhist, the path to happiness starts from an understanding of the root causes of suffering.
Those who considered The Buddha a pessimist because of his concern with suffering have missed the point. He could be considered a skillful doctor — he may break the bad news of our suffering, but he also prescribes a proactive course of treatment. In this metaphor, the medicine is The Buddha’s teachings of wisdom and compassion known as Dharma, and the nurses that encourage us and show us how to take the medicine are the Buddhist community or Sangha. The illness however, can only be cured if the patient follows the doctor’s advice and follows the course of treatment — the Eightfold Path, the core of which involves control of the mind.
In Buddhism, this treatment is not a simple medicine to be swallowed, but a daily practice of mindful thought and action that we ourselves can test scientifically through our own experience. Meditation is, of course, the most well known tool of this practice, but contrary to popular belief, it is not about detaching from the world. Rather it is a tool to train the mind not to dwell in the past or the future, but to live in the here and now, the realm in which we can experience peace most readily.
All that we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts. It is made up of our thoughts. If one speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows one, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the wagon. All that we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts. It is made up of our thoughts. If one speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows one, like a shadow that never leaves. (Dhammapada 1-2 / Müller & Maguire, 2002.)
The first and second verses (above) of the Dhammapada, the earliest known collection of The Buddha’s teachings, talk about suffering and happiness. So it’s not surprising to discover that Buddhism has a lot to offer on the topic of happiness. Buddha’s contemporaries described him as “ever-smiling” and portrayals of Buddha almost always depict him with a smile on his face. But rather than the smile of a self-satisfied, materially-rich or celebrated man, Buddha’s smile comes from a deep equanimity from within. These very qualities and perspectives are available to each and all – we simply need to begin the path away from our suffering.
Peace and Love, Jim