Buddha offered profound teachings on our universal search for happiness, and these teachings have resonated with people for over 2,500 years. One of my favorite Buddhist teachings on this topic is a poem from the 11th century called Eight Verses of Training the Mind. My Spiritual Teacher, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, wrote a commentary to that poem a few years ago called Eight Steps to Happiness. Geshe Kelsang is now 82 years old, and I thought you might enjoy some words of wisdom on our search for happiness from this modern-day meditation master.
“Everyone wants to be happy and no one wants to suffer, but very few people understand the real causes of happiness and suffering. We tend to look for happiness outside ourself, thinking that if we had the right house, the right car, the right job, and the right friends we would be truly happy. We spend almost all our time adjusting the external world, trying to make it conform to our wishes. All our life we have tried to surround ourself with people and things that make us feel comfortable, secure, or stimulated, yet still we have not found pure and lasting happiness.
Even when we succeed in fulfilling our desires, it is not long before our desires change and we want something else. We may find the house of our dreams, but a few months later we feel that we need a bigger kitchen, an extra bedroom, or a larger garden, and we begin to think of moving. Or perhaps we meet the ’perfect' partner, fall in love, and move in together. At the beginning our partner seems to be the most wonderful person in the world, but before long we begin to see faults in him or her. We discover that we are no longer in love, and soon we are looking for someone else to fulfill our desires. …
The result of an unbridled pursuit of happiness from external sources is that our planet is being destroyed and our lives are becoming more complicated and dissatisfying. It is time we sought happiness from a different source.
Happiness is a state of mind, so the real source of happiness must lie within the mind, not in external conditions. If our mind is pure and peaceful we shall be happy, regardless of our external circumstances, but if it is impure and unpeaceful we can never be truly happy, no matter how hard we try to change our external conditions.
We could change our home or our partner countless times, but until we change our restless, discontented mind we shall never find true happiness….
The first step towards changing our mind is to identify which states of mind produce happiness and which produce suffering. In Buddhism, states of mind that are conducive to peace and happiness are called ‘virtuous minds,' whereas those that disturb our peace and cause us suffering are called ‘delusions.’
We have many different types of delusion, such as desirous attachment, anger, jealousy, pride, miserliness, and ignorance. These are known as ‘inner enemies' because they are continually destroying our happiness from within. Their only function is to cause us harm.
Delusions are distorted ways of looking at ourself, other people, and the world around us. The way a deluded mind views these phenomena does not accord with reality. …
Although attaining our own liberation from suffering is a wonderful achievement, it is not enough. We are not isolated individuals but part of the family of all living beings.
Everything we own, everything we enjoy, all our opportunities for spiritual development, and even our very body come from the kindness of others. Are we to make our own escape from suffering and then abandon everyone else to their fate? …
We definitely need to make an effort to liberate ourself from the mental prison of our deluded minds, but our ultimate aim must be to help everyone else do the same. Thus the final goal in Buddhism is the attainment of full enlightenment, or Buddhahood.”
Extracted from Eight Steps to Happiness by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
Gen Kelsang Khedrub is the Resident Teacher at Kadampa Meditation Center Washington, based in Ballard. He has been ordained as a Buddhist monk since 1995. KMC Washington offers classes in meditation throughout the greater Seattle and Puget Sound area. You can also find Kadampa on FaceBook.