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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Meditation and Ultimate Happiness 1

Calming the Mind

Meditation can have several functions. It is about calming the mind but it is also about freeing oneself from habitual states of greed, hatred and delusion. Each of these is a source of suffering and therefore unhappiness. Although the Buddha's teaching starts with suffering or dukkha, the first noble truth, it ends in freedom from suffering - nibbana or nirvana (the third noble truth). The Buddha's teaching therefore is about achieving this freedom from suffering - ultimate happiness (though beyond what we might ordinarily conceive as happiness).

Though nibbana is the ultimate goal, how is it that Buddhists might find happiness in a world that they know is full of change, uncertainty, unsatisfactoriness? Even when happiness is possible, there is no escape from old age, sickness and death. What Buddhism does teach is that there are skilful ways of living. These include, following certain moral precepts and working on various meditation techniques that are conducive to well-being.

The five precepts are moral guidelines that - because they are skilful - lead to happy states. Not killing or harming living beings, not lying, not stealing, not indulging in inappropriate sexual activity, not drinking or taking drugs, mean that unhappy states are less likely to occur. To harm a living being, for example, has bad karmic consequences. It can lead to feelings of remorse and regret for what one has done. It will lead to suffering, whatever, according to the Buddhist doctrine of kamma.


A strong element of Buddhism is cultivating strong states of mind. These include resisting a tendency towards anger and fostering loving kindness (metta) and compassion (karuna). Many Buddhists actively practice meditation techniques that develop good will to all beings. In certain schools, there is the practice of seeing each individual being as if they were your mother. The kindness and good will you would extend to your mother, you extend to others universally. Also there is the compassion of empathizing deeply with another's suffering. If they suffer, it is your suffering too - there is no separation!

So, how do we find happiness in this world? One message from Buddhism is the deep truth that one finds happiness by seeking the happiness of others. There is no other way. This isn't a soft option. To love is to give endlessly, to fail repeatedly, to see the weaknesses in oneself on a daily basis, to fail an to fail again... but then to get up and try again.

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