Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Dharma is for cessation, not happiness

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.

1 comment:

Ji Hyang said...

The purpose of our lives is to be happy.

-The Dalai Lama

His Holiness speaks often about creating a happier, more peaceful world-- and I think the place of reconciling these views is to see this as pointing a deeper happiness, a true happiness which is broad enough to encompass both grief and joy because it is not dependent on conditions.

Also, to see that the Buddha sometimes contradicted himself-- all of these seeming disparate teachings are skillful means towards the heart's freedom.