Chief Prelate of the Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth, Australia
We seek for happiness in so many areas and in so many ways, always seeking in the wrong place. Eventually we realise that not finding happiness in these places doesn’t mean there is something wrong with us. It doesn’t mean we are incompetent or hopeless. Insight will show us that there is no way anyone can find happiness in the place we were looking. The mind realises that the world can only be dukkha (suffering). The wise person, instead of being distressed by that suffering and wallowing in it, contemplates what The Lord Buddha says about suffering, the Four Noble Truths. That means, they seek to understand this whole process of suffering.
Sometimes the suffering can be raw, going deep into the bones, even deeper than the bones, right to the very source of what we think we are. It goes so deep and can cause so many problems. It’s such a relief to find out that this is par for the course, that there’s nothing wrong with this. This is the nature of the world. What do we expect?
Sometimes we go about with the false expectation that if we’re clever enough, if we’re smart enough, if we keep all the rules and do all the right things, somehow we can have a happy life. Sometimes we think everybody is happy but me. What we need to understand is that there is nothing special with us, and that as we practise in this monastery these are things that everyone has to deal with. We’re going against the stream, and we can expect to feel the pressure of the defilements, just in the same way as when we go against the wind we can feel the force against our bodies. This is a sign we are getting somewhere.
Wisdom Power Better Than Will Power
You will find that when suffering arises, you have two options. You can either try to escape from the suffering or you can investigate it.
The way of Buddhism is to investigate suffering, not to fight it. Because if you fight you will find that you just get more and more suffering. Instead, use wisdom power rather than will power. Wisdom power is always much more effective because it’s coming from a good place. Will power, in nearly all cases, comes from ego, from self, and you cannot expect it to produce results if it’s coming from such an unfortunate source.
To use wisdom power means remembering the Teachings and looking at your experience in the framework of those teachings, the framework of the Four Noble Truths. The Lord Buddha taught that birth is suffering, old age, sickness and death are suffering. And all that goes in between is also suffering. In brief, life is suffering. So when suffering comes – as disappointment, as frustration, as loneliness or depression, or as wondering what you’re supposed to be doing – you’re seeing here a basic truth of nature which every human being, whether in a monastery or outside, must come across from time to time in their lives.
There are times when you don’t know what to do because the suffering is so bad. The thing to do when suffering arises is to investigate. To investigate means to watch and to observe in silence. You have to watch without interfering, without getting involved, because if you get involved you’re not watching fully.
It requires courage and strength to stand your ground and just watch. One of the things you will see is that suffering passes and it always passes into happiness. This is the play of sansara (the perpetual wandering from life to life), the play of night and day, the play of warmth and cold. It is the basic duality of experience. There is no escape from that in this realm or in any other realm. It will always follow you around, this duality of experience.
The Lord Buddha said that getting what you don’t want is suffering and not getting what you do want is also suffering. I often ask myself, “Just what do I want?” I use that as a mantra as I walk along the meditation path, or as I sit if my mind is restless. “What do I want?” I’ve been in this world long enough now – forty-eight years – and I have experienced much of this world. I wasn’t born in a monastery, and from all that I have experienced and seen, from all that I have known, I know there is not a corner of this world where I can find happiness. By its very nature, sensory experience is going to be disappointing, and I know that if I ask for something the world can never give me, I will suffer. When I crave for something I cannot reach, I know I am just torturing myself more than necessary.
Putting Make-Up On The Mirror
Instead of craving for something else you learn to be content with what you have. When you talk about contentment you are talking about the Third Noble Truth. The Third Noble Truth is letting go of craving. Contentment is the letting go of wanting something else. It is learning to be at peace with what you have. This is where in this struggle – and it is always a struggle you can be at peace. How can you be content when everything is going wrong? How can you be content when the body is on fire with pain? How can you be at peace and content when the mind is going crazy with so many thoughts? Even in these situations you can find contentment in letting go, letting go of the ‘controller’.
It’s just like when one sees oneself in the mirror, and sees this ugly person, but instead of actually doing something with one’s face, one puts make up on the mirror. One tries to make the mirror look good! Of course, it’s a complete waste of time. The mirror might look good for a while with all the make up on it, but when one walks somewhere else and sees another mirror one is back to square one again. Putting make up on the mirror is like trying to solve the ‘outside’ by craving instead of trying to solve the ‘inside’ through contentment
The way that craving works, the Second Noble Truth, is to delude you into thinking that if you just try and do a little bit more, if you just strive harder, work harder for just one more day, then everything will be O.K. “I’ll just work another year and I’ll pay off my mortgage.” “I’ll just sit for one more retreat, that’s all I need, and I’ll get my Jhanas.” “There’s this one last course of medicine then I’ll be healthy again.” You might put off sickness for a while, but you’ll never escape it. It’s just the nature of the body. You might put off suffering for a while, but you’ll never escape it in that way. You’re just putting it off.