Tuesday, May 10, 2016


- along a wilderness trail -

Yesterday I watched a TV ad for some new multi-million dollar homes just built in one of the gated communities here in this desert region where I live. The ad showed the front door of a gorgeous new property set amidst a lush desert landscape, and as the door opened, an announcer’s voice offered an invitation: “Come on in, this is your doorway to happiness.” 

My first response was, “Is that really a doorway to happiness? Can happiness be achieved by moving into a house like that?”

Interestingly enough, when I go online every day I often see the word happiness used quite frequently in many conversations about spiritualty; but the word happiness has many different meanings and it means something very different when used in popular culture from what it means when it is used in a spiritual context. In popular culture happiness is usually a concept informed by a “gospel of consumerism” rather than by the wisdom of spiritual principles.

Actually, the Buddha and Buddhist teachers have much to say about happiness; but to understand what genuine happiness is, they make a very clear and helpful distinction between pleasure and happiness. Food gives us pleasure, so does sex, wealth and prosperity are pleasurable, so is fame and social power. As I think about it, I’m sure I might find a great deal of pleasure If I owned one of those brand new expensive homes as advertised on TV yesterday; but I don’t at all believe that walking through the doors of that new home would bring me happiness.

As I see it, there is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying the pleasures of life- people on a spiritual path don’t have to walk around in rags and live in hovels; but the secret to genuine happiness lies in the ability to “let go” of it all. I very much ascribe to the Buddhist wisdom that happiness comes about through what is known as renunciation – letting go of your tight grip on life, not allowing yourself to be consumed by a constant desire for more and better and bigger and newer.

Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, puts it this way:

Letting go gives us freedom
and freedom is the only condition for happiness.
If in our heart we still cling to anything –
anger, anxiety, strongly-held ideas or possessions,
we cannot be free and therefore we cannot be happy.

Today’s popular culture talks about pursuing happiness, achieving and acquiring happiness; but as I see it, the opposite is true when it comes to the experience of genuine happiness on a spiritual path because happiness cannot be achieved or acquired or even pursued. Simply put, happiness happens.

Happiness happens when I set myself free, when I am able to loosen my tight grip on my life, when I stop craving the best house or the nicest car. Happiness happens when I stop clinging on to my long-held, sure and certain ideas, it happens when I give up my grudges, let go of my anger and when I stop spending my whole life scheming over how I can climb up the next rung on the ladder of success.

The well-know Christian Monk and author, Thomas Merton, once said:

When ambition ends, happiness begins.

At this point in my life, I find great wisdom in these words.

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