Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche once encouraged his students to pursue dharma teachings as much as possible because he felt that “dharma wealth” is the only kind of wealth worth having. I agree, and yet sometimes I ask myself why is striving to gain dharma teachings less a sign of discontentment and greed, than any other object I might chase after?
Part One of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse’s new book, “Not for Happiness”
deals with this question head on, with a clarity and ruthless honesty
rarely found in many dharma books. In addition to being a beloved and
highly respected Tibetan Buddhist teacher, he is also a filmmaker,
writer, and brave commentator on modern life.
The title of Khyentse’s new book says it all—the dharma is not meant
to be a path to happiness. Sorry… I know most western practitioners
think they sit on the cushion to achieve happiness, but that is a
misinterpretation of the Buddha’s awakening. Cessation of suffering does
not equal happiness. Cessation of suffering equals freedom from the
incessant human pursuit of pleasure and unending flight from pain. Hope
and fear rule our lives and are deeply woven throughout the fabric of
all our thoughts, emotions, and actions. This is the main cause of all
our suffering. And the Buddha was clear, dharma is the only path to
directly know that cause and free the psyche from its tyranny.
In light of that truth, chasing after dharma teachings is different
from striving for objects of happiness, because when we truly pursue the
dharma as a path to cessation, we are required to embrace one big truth
and three difficult principles. The big truth is, none of this is
permanent or ultimately real and all egoic perception is deluded and
false. It is our duty to clear the doors of perception of all
obscurations and recognize unbounded awareness, our true nature. The
three principles are discipline (in life and in meditation),
selflessness, and wisdom—all of which are hard to apply because they
require mindful attentiveness to the continual presence of habitual
approach and avoidance. Buddhism is not easy. Well, I take that back,
there are forms of easy Buddhism in the East and the West. Pray at a
certain temple for health, wealth, and good rebirth, then toss some
coins, ring a bell, and salvation is yours! Or go to a meditation group
or sangha once a week and then live in whatever way suits you the rest
of the week.
Practicing the dharma takes courage and a commitment to something
greater than personal or even collective happiness. Freedom is not
happiness; it is equanimity and contentment. And equanimity and
contentment include all experiences; good and bad. Freedom from
suffering means the psyche views all phenomena as just phenomena,
including the illusory self that once clung to hope and fear as real and
true. So gather as much dharma teachings as possible, and pursue your
dharma practice for the true freedom of all beings everywhere.