De Houtwielen-Ballonnen, Ellen Kooi, 1997, 57 × 80 inches, courtesy of Torch Gallery, Amsterdam
De Houtwielen-Ballonnen, Ellen Kooi, 1997, 57 × 80 inches, courtesy of Torch Gallery, Amsterdam

It is said that after his enlightenment the Buddha was motivated to teach by seeing that all beings were seeking happiness, yet out of ignorance were doing the very things that brought them suffering. This aroused his great compassion to point the way to freedom.

The Buddha spoke of different kinds of happiness associated with various stages on the unfolding path of awakening. As we penetrate deeper into the process of opening, the happiness of each stage brings us progressively closer to the highest kind of happiness, the happiness of nibbana, of freedom.

What are the causes and conditions that give rise to each of these stages of happiness? How does this joy come about? The events and circumstances of our lives do not happen by accident; rather they are the result of certain causes and conditions. When we understand the conditions necessary for something to happen, we can begin to take destiny into our own hands.

The first kind of happiness is the one that’s most familiar to us—the happiness of sense pleasures. This is the kind of happiness we experience from being in pleasant surroundings, having good friends, enjoying beautiful sights and sounds and delicious tastes and smells, and having agreeable sensations in the body. Even though these pleasures are impermanent and fleeting, in the moments we’re experiencing them, they bring us a certain delight.

According to the Buddha, each of the different kinds of happiness is created or conditioned by a different level of purity. The level that gives rise to sensual happiness is purity of conduct, sometimes called purity of action. Purity of conduct is a fundamental way of coming into a true relationship with ourselves, with other people, and with the world. It has two aspects. The first is the cultivation of generosity—the expression of non-greed and non-clinging. It is greed or attachment that keeps us bound to the wheel of samsara, the cycle of life and death. With every act of giving we weaken the power of grasping. The Buddha once said that if we knew as he did the fruit of giving, we would not let a single meal pass without sharing it, so great is the power of generosity.

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