What is happiness ? There’s happiness on many levels. Buddhism describes three.
First is the most accessible, at your fingertips, skin deep kinda happiness. A great meal, laughing with friends, a sunny day at the beach. They are sensory experiences and instantly gratifying. They feel good and are fun, but are not deeply fulfilling. God made beautiful things to be enjoyed, but not to be worshipped, knowing these would provide distraction from a fulfilling life and restlessness in those whose lives revolved around them. In Christianity we call them false idols. In Buddhism it is said “Right resolve is to renounce money and gold.” And Hinduism’s Bhagavad Gita states, “Insatiable desires only lead to ruined souls,”
Second is a truer form of happiness, found in the mind and heart. The things that bring us down like greed, hatred, fear, impatience temporarily lose their power as they are replaced by these deeper feelings of gratitude, compassion, and loving kindness. However, replacing or pushing the negative feelings away does not eradicate them; they do come back. Happiness here is real, and conditional.
“Do not store up for yourselves earthly possessions, which moths and rust can destroy, and robbers can steal. Rather store up heavenly treasures which cannot be destroyed or stolen. For wherever your heart is, there is your treasure too. – The Gospel according to Matthew
“As fresh as morning breeze, feeling reborn, I wander here and there without a care in the world. Let others chase after wealth. I am content with the gifts provided by Mother Tao.” – The Tao de Ching
The third level of happiness is the deepest level of joy residing deep within us, regardless of circumstance. This life of truth, love and awareness can be cultivated through clear seeing and being. Here we don’t bypass the sufferings of life, but meet them head on, and honor them for the lessons they provide which diminishes their ability to hold our happiness hostage. Insight meditation helps facilitate our journey into this deep end of life where still waters of peace and joy reside. It’s not easy, or necessarily recommended to jump right in here, but it’s well worth it once you get there. The deepest and most sustainable happiness and peace is found beyond the ever changing circumstances in our lives.
“No God. No Happiness. Know God. Know Happiness.”
“Those whose happiness is within, whose peace is within, whose light is within-that person becomes free.” – The Chandogya Upanishad (Hindu philosophy)
Insight Meditation teacher and psychotherapist Tara Brach lends personal insight into how she navigates these waters, and why. She explains these three attributes as gateways and universal paths to finding true happiness. Simply said,
‘Truth, love, and awareness are the three jewels of Buddhism—the teacher, Buddha (awareness); the teaching, dharma (the truth); and the community, sangha (love). In Christian terms, God the Father is awareness, Jesus the Son is the living truth, and the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Love.’
We’ve all had experience with all kinds of happiness, and they are ‘all good.’ Some days, months even years it behooves us to stay safely within that first level of happiness. We were rigged for survival, and sometimes the easiest way IS the right way, for the time being. Not always, though. Like most things in life, we need to find balance. Living more deeply in a heart centered way, being grateful, practicing loving kindness, and showing compassion are joyful arenas to put our energy into as well, but nothing compares to the deep and true happiness found when we approach the whole of our lives with truth, love and awareness.
Read more of Tara Brach’s story and her meditative practices for living deeply into a truly happy life: