Why do we talk about dukkha?
Dukkha has to be seen for what it really is, namely, the starting point of our spiritual journey. Unless we know and see dukkha, we have little reason to practice. If we have not acknowledged the existence of dukkha, we won’t be interested in trying to get out of its clutches.
When we do acknowledge dukkha and its cause, we no longer try to find our way out from the same routes previously trodden. We will not try to become richer, more famous, more knowledgeable, have more friends, own more possessions. Instead of reaching outside for the solution, we look inward and know that contentment and satisfactoriness cannot be found in more “mores”.
If that is so, does that mean there is no happiness in the Buddhist context?
The answer is no. Buddhism is not a pessimistic religion. So instead of going onto the cause of dukkha, let’s make a detour and explore what is meant by sukha, the literal opposite of dukkha. Being the first Noble Truth, dukkha is mentioned a lot in Buddhism. However, sukha is seldom mentioned and this has to do with the fact that the worldly nom of happiness, being a conditioned phenomenon, does not last and will eventually lead to suffering,
Generally speaking, what can be borne with ease is sukha (happiness); what is difficult to bear is dukkha (sorrow).
Ordinary happiness is the gratification of a desire. As soon as the thing desired is gained, we desire some other kind of happiness. To the average person, the enjoyment of sensual pleasures is the highest and only happiness. Surely there is some momentary happiness in the anticipation, gratification and recollection of such pleasures. However, the fact that man is constantly searching for new stimuli, new goals, new objects of desire points to the illusive and temporary nature of such happiness – and like a cow driven by the carrot hung before his eyes kept going round and round the grind.
Can material possessions give one genuine happiness? Why is it in countries that have reached material zenith, some people need psychiatrists and some people opt for a simple way of life? Similarly, can dominion over the whole world produce true happiness? Can real happiness be defined in terms of wealth, power, honors or conquests?
If such worldly possessions are forcibly obtained, or are misdirected, or even viewed with attachment, they will be a source of pain and suffering for the possessors.
The Buddha enumerates four kinds of happiness for a layman. They are the happiness of possession (atthi sukha) – health, wealth, longevity, beauty, joy, strength, property, children, etc.
The second source of happiness is derived by the enjoyment of such possessions (bhoga sukha). It is only natural that people wish to enjoy themselves. The Buddha does not advise all to renounce their worldly pleasures and retire to solitude. Nevertheless, the enjoyment of wealth lies not only in using it for ourselves but also in giving some for the welfare of others. Whatever we eat and however much we enjoy it is temporary. What we preserve we leave and go. What we give we take with us. We are remembered by the good deeds we have done with our worldly possessions.
Not falling into debt (anana sukha) is another source of happiness. If we are contented with what we have and if we are economical, we need not be in debt to anyone. Debtors live in mental agony and are under obligation to their creditors.
Leading a blameless life (anavajja sukha) is one of the best source of happiness for a layman. A blameless person is a blessing to himself and to others. He is admired by all and feels happier, being affected by the peaceful vibrations of others. The noble-minded person is concerned only with a blameless life and is indifferent to external approbation.
To help us lead a blameless life, the Buddha taught us the Noble Eightfold Path which consists of the following:
1. Right understanding
2. Right thought
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration
The majority in the world delight themselves in enjoying pleasures while some others delight in renouncing them. Non-attachment or the transcending of material pleasures is happiness to the spiritual. Nibbanic bliss, which is the bliss of relief from suffering, is the highest form of happiness.
Some people may have the misconception that nibbanic bliss is equivalent to the bliss one is supposedly to enjoy in heaven, and one would have to wait until after death. Here in Buddhism, first of all, there is no god, no heaven, reward or punishment, and one does not have to wait until one dies before one experiences moments of nibbanic bliss.
In the coming four weeks, why don’t you record each day 5 incidents that bring you happiness, be it a smile, a happy feeling, some good sharing with friends and family, anything . . . and at the end of each week review that record and see for yourself what brings you joy, what really matters to you.