Rapid technological advances. Increased wealth. Stress. Stable lives and careers come under the pressure of accelerating change. The twenty-first century? No, the sixth century B.C.E.—a time of destructive warfare, economic dislocation, and widespread disruption of established patterns of life, just like today. In conditions similar to ours, the Buddha discovered a path to lasting happiness. His discovery—a step-by-step method of mental training to achieve contentment—is as relevant today as ever.
Putting the Buddha’s discovery into practice is no quick fix. It can take years. The most important qualification at the beginning is a strong desire to change your life by adopting new habits and learning to see the world anew.
Each step along the Buddha’s path to happiness requires practicing mindfulness until it becomes part of your daily life. Mindfulness is a way of training yourself to become aware of things as they really are. With mindfulness as your watchword, you progress through the eight steps laid down by the Buddha more than twenty-five hundred years ago—a gentle, gradual training in how to end dissatisfaction.
Who should undertake this training? Anyone who is tired of being unhappy. “My life is good as it is,” you may think; “I’m happy enough.” There are moments of contentment in any life, moments of pleasure and joy. But what about the other side, the part that you’d rather not think about when things are going well? Tragedy, grief, disappointment, physical pain, melancholy, loneliness, resentment, the nagging feeling that there could be something better. These happen too, don’t they? Our fragile happiness depends on things happening a certain way. But there is something else: a happiness not dependent on conditions. The Buddha taught the way to find this perfect happiness.
If you are willing to do whatever it takes to find your way out of suffering—and it means confronting the roots of resistance and craving right here, right now—you can reach complete success. Even if you are a casual reader, you can benefit from these teachings, so long as you are willing to use those that make sense to you. If you know something to be true, don’t ignore it. Act on it!
That may sound easy, but nothing is more difficult. When you admit to yourself, “I must make this change to be more happy”—not because the Buddha said so, but because your heart recognized a deep truth—you must devote all your energy to making the change. You need strong determination to overcome harmful habits.
But the payoff is happiness—not just for today but for always.
Let’s get started.
On the mountain peak of Jimlung Lungdro:
Watching—watching the khawo glacier in the upper valley,
the meltwater in the lower valley wasn’t noticed.
It’s too late for cultivation
Watching—watching the clay slopes of Rumbu,
the daisies spread on the valley floor weren’t noticed.
It’s too ate to tend the herds.
Watching—watching the green rushes in the lower valley,
the yellow meadow of the upper valley wasn’t noticed.
It’s too late to gaher the autumn harvest.
Striving—striving for the aims of this life,
the body aging and approaching death wasn’t noticed.
It’s too late to practice the divine Dharma.
—Godrakpa Sonam Gyaltsen (1170-1249)
From Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness: Walking the Buddha’s Path, © 2001 by Henepola Gunaratana. Reprinted with permission of Wisdom Publications. To get started, you can read Bhante Henepola Gunaratana’s instructions on Vipassana meditation practice.
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