Buddha said more than two and a half millennia ago: all beings want happiness and wish to avoid suffering. At first glance, this may seem a simplistic observation, however a closer examination will reveal an extraordinary implication.
Everyone has an innate wish, the wish for greater happiness—a flourishing life. This is not a selfish wish. However we often employee erroneous methods in our endeavors to find said happiness. Many people believing happiness to be found through external conditions such as physical stimuli or financial security can spend their entire life chasing after money, power and fame, only to be exhausted by their efforts. Buddhism claims that although external conditions, such as, money or a nice car do have a role to play in a good life they are not the real causes of happiness. And you don’t need to look too far to find people who are materially well off yet experience unhappiness, which if left unchecked can lead to depression.
It does not follow from this position we should not have material things or work towards providing for our families. Owning a nice car, a big house or having a highly paid career is not the issue. The issue is how we relate to these things. The real source of life’s problems and their resolutions can be found within our mind.
What I find most compelling about the Buddha’s statement is he hints at our fundamental capacity to expand and develop our experience of happiness. Not the kind of happiness that is generated by forcing yourself to laugh, or the kind of happiness that is sometimes jokingly described as happy happy joy joy. The happiness referred to here is genuine happiness—the feeling of joy that naturally arises due to the cultivation of functional states of mind. It is a feeling of contentment with yourself, your life and the things and events that you encounter. It is not a passive experience. It makes you want to embrace life and the people you encounter through it.
So his statement, all beings want happiness and want to avoid suffering, is not merely an observation but rather a supremely optimistic statement.
This claim also hints at our current situation. For most people experience unwanted problems. Be they big or small, they are problems nonetheless and they are unwanted. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks, “today I hope nothing but problems come my way.” But in fact the opposite is often the case. We wake up thinking about all the good things that might happen. We plan our day, thinking of the things we need to get done. Yet unexpected problems do arise. Isn’t this true? We can find ourselves experiencing the tension of a strained relationship, the stress of deadlines, or even the boredom of work.
The Buddha points this out as a means of motivating us to begin our journey. Don’t live in denial. Face up to the fact that we do, even if just occasionally, experience these problems but, understand there is something we can do about this situation. We have the power to change your life, no one else can do it for you and in this regard the Buddha once said,
You are your own protector, who else will be this protector?
If this is true, and I believe it is, this is great news for we can change our life and it is not that difficult. However, it is a journey, and like all good journeys, it starts with making the decision to go.
To sum up then, the basic framework of the Buddha’s message is: all of us want happiness, yet what happiness we currently experience is fleeting at best. It is possible to experience real and lasting happiness that transcends any experience of happiness or bliss that is generated from external stimuli, and that the methods which enable this can be found within our own mind.
This is the purpose of meditation. And in that sense meditation can be thought of as a tool of liberation—to use Buddhist parlance. That is to say, meditation in all its flavors is a tool to help people becoming mentally (and physically) healthy.
Meditation is a liberative tool used in the path to Enlightenment. It is both a diagnostic and therapeutic tool in this endeavor for meditation introduces us to the world of your mind. A world that for many has remained hidden. It brings the world of your mind to the forefront of life, making it work for you rather than enslaving you. Many people are unaware of the potential of their mind or the role it plays in their life acting out in habitual ways and reacting to events with habitual tendencies. This can, if left unchecked, lead to problems such as stress, anxiety, loneliness or depression.
However, it is wrong to think that meditation is for those who suffer from stress or some kind of mental illness. As we all know by now there is hard-nosed scientific research to show that meditation—even just 15 minutes a day—can help your immune system.
The removal of dysfunctional states of minds—minds such as anger, jealousy or pride and the development of functional minds such as the minds of loving-kindness, compassion and wisdom—constitutes the Enlightenment Project and thus the very purpose of meditation.
Subscribe to get my latest content by email.