The essence of Buddhism is in the four Noble Truths, namely, Dukkha, the cause of Dukkha, the cessation of Dukkha and the Path leading to the cessation of Dukkha. Thus, all four truths deal with Dukkha. The Buddha Himself declared as follows. "This do I teach and this alone, Dukkha and the cessation of Dukkha.”
Dukkha, a word in Pali, the language of Theravada Buddhism is often translated into English as suffering and this has caused some confusion. Thus, several believe that Buddhism deals only with suffering, the negative aspect, and not about happiness, the positive aspect.
However, a better translation of the Pali term Dukkha is the unsatisfactory nature of life which would include both happiness and sorrow. Even happiness in Buddhism is considered Dukkha because everything is impermanent and nothing is of a lasting nature. Thus, the Buddha included happiness also as Dukkha because of its changing and ephemeral nature. Since the Buddha deals mainly with Dukkha, He is often referred to in Buddhist Literature as the Lord of Dukkha.
|Buddha’s countenance: One of serenity
Yet, the Buddha encouraged His adherents to be happy. After all, the goal in Buddhism is Nibbana, the highest happiness - Nibbanam Paraman Sukkham. So, even prior to the attainment of Nibbana, the followers of the Buddha were advised to be happy. Merely because Buddhism deals with Dukkha, it does not mean that a Buddhist should be melancholy or sorrowful. On the contrary, a Buddhist should be happy living in the present and not regretting the past or speculating over the future. He should understand the true nature of life, that it is a package of the pleasant and the unpleasant experiences and be calm and serene, with less fears and anxieties, and face the vicissitudes of life with understanding and fortitude.
The Buddha Himself was never melancholy or gloomy. Contemporaries described Him as the ever smiling Buddha. Buddhist paintings, sculpture and architecture depict Him with a countenance that is happy, serene, content and compassionate. The Buddha advised His disciples not to be angry or impatient with suffering. By being angry or impatient, one would not overcome suffering but it would actually aggravate one’s troubles and an already disagreeable situation. Anger and hatred are evil emotions that disturb the mental equilibrium of man. What is required is neither anger nor impatience but a clear understanding of suffering, its cause and how to eliminate it and then work towards that goal with perseverance and diligence.
Most persons in an unhappy frame of mind have a negative relationship with society and those who associate with them. At such times, they often tend to impose it on vulnerable persons whenever possible like children and subordinates. On the other hand, when one is in a happy state of mind one often tends to reveal noble qualities of generosity, consideration, understanding and helpfulness.
One way to be happy is to develop the noble quality of Upekkha. It is defined as balance of mind, equanimity or mental equipoise. It rejects both attachment (Anurodha) and resentment (Virodha) and advocates the middle path of being neither attracted nor repelled by desirable and undesirable or pleasant and unpleasant experiences. One accepts that in life there are pleasant and unpleasant experiences. One must accept that these are impermanent and not of a lasting nature, and make the effort as far as possible not to be carried away by success or depressed by failure. This is the seventh and final factor in the seven factors of Enlightenment and the mental health of Arahats who enjoy Upekkha.
So happiness is in the invisible but powerful mind. The importance of the mind for happiness is stressed by the well-known British literary figure, John Milton, who remarked that the mind could make heaven, a hell or hell a heaven. The mind is ours to control and we should direct and guide the mind rather than being led by the mind to realize happiness.
One could also make an effort to be happy with what one does. Taking care or helping a seriously ailing patient could be a trying experience. However, this experience could be transformed to happiness contemplating that a great service is being undertaken for a person in need. The Buddha declared that helping the sick is as good as helping the Buddha Himself.
The Buddha identified the fundamental problem of life which is Dukkha or the unsatisfactory nature of life. All problems of life could be reduced to the fundamental problem of being dissatisfied with life. It is because life is unsatisfactory that all other main religions of the world refer to a heaven after death where the unsatisfactory features of life are absent. The Budda proceeded beyond the identification of the central problem of life of Dukkha and enunciated a Path to overcome Dukkha, namely, the Noble Eight-fold Path.
Thus, some say that Buddhism far from being pessimistic is an optimistic religion where there is a problem and there is a solution to that problem. Others, perhaps more correctly say that it is neither pessimistic nor optimistic but it is a realistic religion.
With regard to happiness, the words of the Dalai Lama, an outstanding propagator of the Dhamma, is relevant. Addressing a large audience in Arizona, USA, he declared as recorded in the book "Art of Happiness", co-authored by the Dalai Lama and Dr. Howard C. Cutler, a psychiatric practitioner in Phoenix, Arizona, USA as follows: " Believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness... whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion we are all seeking something better in life. So, I think that the very motion of or life is towards happiness...."
A quality that should be cultivated for happiness is contentment or to be happy with what is available. It is true that a certain minimum is required for contentment. For laymen, the minimum would vary according to one’s own background and comforts one has enjoyed in the past. However, many people have that minimum but still continue to be discontented, craving for more sense pleasures and making insidious comparisons with others who enjoy higher standards of life. The Buddha emphasized the importance of contentment and stated "Santhusthi Paramam Dhanam" - Contentment as the highest wealth. He added that His Dhamma is for the contented and not for the discontented.
On one occasion, the Buddha told Anathapindika, the great banker, one of His most devoted lay disciples who founded for Him the celebrated Jetavana monastery at Savatthi, that a layman, who leads an ordinary family life has four kinds of happiness. The first happiness is to enjoy economic security or sufficient wealth acquired by just and righteous means (atthi - sukha); the second is spending that wealth liberally on himself, his family, his friends and relatives, and on meritorious deeds (bhoga-sukha); the third to be free from debts (anana-sukha); the fourth happiness is to live a faultless, and a pure life without committing evil in thought, word or deed (anavajja-sukha); The first three of these kinds of happiness are economic, and the Buddha finally reminded the banker that economic and material happiness is not worth one sixteenth part of the spiritual happiness arising out of a faultless and good life.
Thus, recollecting that one has overall led a harmless and virtuous life could make one happy. Thus, let us make an effort to be happy most of the time despite the fact of Dukkha or the unsatisfactory nature of life. By so doing, we will be encouraging wholesome actions, by word, deed or thought and would be good to those with whom we associate. Being happy is good for oneself and others.