Gyalwa Karmapa Teaches on Happiness on the International Day of Happiness
March 20, 2015
On the United Nations International Day of Happiness, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa gave a talk on the Buddhist understanding of Happiness. His Holiness began by saying that celebrating a day of happiness provides us with an opportunity to remind ourselves that one of the primordial wishes that all sentient beings share is the wish for happiness. His Holiness mentioned that although we human beings might not be very experienced in identifying exactly what happiness is, or identifying the means and methods for cultivating it, nonetheless the aspiration to find happiness is always there. During the Karmapa Public Course, His Holiness taught on Shantideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra (the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life). He noted that through studying this text we learned a lot about what, from a Buddhist perspective, the causes of happiness are. Cultivating inherent qualities such as bodhicitta, compassion, and loving-kindness lead to what he terms a ‘timeless’ or long-lasting kind of happiness.
What is happiness?
His Holiness highlighted the difference between how happiness is understood from a Buddhist perspective and how it is understood in everyday terms. He said that although the Buddhist understanding of happiness is described somewhat differently than in the everyday sense, nonetheless one could say that in very simple terms happiness is something that we are all looking for. Generally, the term happiness is given to any experience that is pleasant, positive, or soothing. However, His Holiness said that we could come to a deeper understanding of happiness and could clarify what happiness is if we think about what it means to all of us. Does it simply relate to fulfilling basic needs, such as having a drink of water when one is thirsty? Or is it something pleasurable, like having a tea or coffee at noon? His Holiness challenged the everyday understanding of happiness, asking whether we are satisfied with this kind of happiness, or could there be something more? He raised a crucial question; is this kind of everyday happiness vulnerable to change? If so, then we need to put energy into maintaining it, which can be tiring and over time can become a burden. Then it is no longer happiness.
The Causes of Happiness
His Holiness said that if we search outwardly for happiness, we might have a tough time finding it. Furthermore, we might get lost in distractions, as there are so many fascinating things in the world. Instead, if we search within, then it is much easier, less tiring. However, it is important to search with the right attitude. We should engage in this search with less emotion, which His Holiness described as being less judgmental and critical. If we search within, we will come to realize that positive and kind expressions are the source of happiness that arise from virtuous qualities such as loving-kindness, patience, and generosity. We will find that these qualities are inherent, already existing within us in the form of potential. Whether we know it or not we are always looking for ways to express this potential. His Holiness gave the examples that if someone is confronted with a tragedy or is confused; a natural instinct arises within us where we feel like we should do something. Because these qualities are inherent and are always trying to be expressed, they are the source of a timeless or long-lasting happiness that is not vulnerable to change.
Cultivating Happiness Through Dharma Practice
His holiness said that when we cultivate, reflect, and meditate on the methods within buddha-dharma, we see that the methods are aiming to help us find the causes of happiness. Any elaborate ritualistic or ceremonial aspects to the practices are simply skilful means to inspire us and bring a sense of lightness to the practice. His Holiness said that all of us who are dharma practitioners understand the benefits of practice. However, the search and fulfilment of happiness can be practiced and attained by anyone, irrespective of religious or philosophical orientation. Therefore, he said that he would like to encourage everyone to cultivate happiness, and to inspire others to do so. If we utilize our time to cultivate happiness, then this leaves a positive impression on others, and can inspire them to so the same.
The Role of Inspiration and Curiosity in the Search for Happiness
His Holiness said that we should practice with the attitude that happiness is attainable. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas can be our inspiration, as they are proof that we can achieve lasting happiness, so we should follow their example. One of the reasons why they are the ultimate example for us is not because of where they are right now; they are inspiring because of where they began. Where they began is exactly the same as us. They began very simply without much experience, but with the same knowing that there is happiness and that happiness is obtainable. But how is it obtainable? With curiosity. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas shared the same curiosity that we all do, which His Holiness said is what he finds so inspiring. So if we think in that way, and if we look around, there will be a lot of sources of inspiration. We will probably be able to relate to our family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances differently. We will see visible signs from everyone that they are always trying to express compassion, generosity, patience, all of that sort of thing, but perhaps without really knowing how to express it. His Holiness said it is almost like someone who cannot speak is trying to say something, wanting to get some message across but cannot.
The Importance of Cultivating Self-Awareness in the Search for Happiness
His Holiness said that those of us who know the methods taught by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas won’t need that much explanation; we just need to practice the same method continuously with diligence and enthusiasm. Nonetheless, he said that recording our experiences and simply reflecting without being influenced by disturbing emotions could inspire us to cultivate happiness. However, he also said that we would not be able to do it out of anger, attachment, or lack of understanding. We need to first calm our mind so that it is cool and relaxed and not heated by emotions. Then simply reflect on what we have experienced in the last 24 hours, to start with, without being judgmental. Then we are able to capture exactly what happened. In doing so, we begin to identify what happiness is and what the methods for cultivating happiness are. At the same time, we also come to understand what the hindrances are. Therefore, it is like self-awakening without being dependent on something or someone else. His Holiness concluded by saying that this is something that he would like to encourage all of us to do, and that he will offer his prayers and aspirations so that all of us will be able to achieve timeless happiness.
Author/editor: Sally Horne
© Karmapa International Buddhist Institute, 2015