Although I don’t consider myself a Buddhist, I’ve always been fascinated by Buddhist philosophies.
I want to share with you what I consider to be the most important lesson the Buddha ever taught: how to be happy.
He taught that the goal of life is to eliminate suffering. In the absence of suffering, there’s happiness. Happiness is our natural state.
To eliminate suffering, we need to understand what causes it.
The Buddha talked about Dukkha, which translates as “dissatisfaction.” We’re in a constant state of dissatisfaction. We’re always craving something, feeling incomplete, fooled by the idea that getting that thing we want will complete us.
This comes in two forms. There’s “raga”, which describes clinging to things we want, “dvesha” which describes our aversion to things we don’t want.
We want a new car, a new relationship, a new mystical experience. That’s “raga.”
And we reject things we don’t want. We get frustrated with our boss, angry about situations we can’t control, and we try to resist those emotions. That’s “dvesha.”
Every time we cling to things we want or resist those we don’t, we create an expectation. We’re attached to a given outcome, and we suffer when we don’t get it.
To be clear there’s nothing wrong with wanting a new car, or preferring sunny days over rainy days.
The problem is when we’re attached to these things.
The problem is when our happiness depends on external factors we don’t control.
The problem isn’t having desires, but letting our desires own us.
“I’ll be happy when I get that car, when my co-workers treat me fairly, when it stops raining…”
The Buddha taught that the problem with attachment is that everything is impermanent.
We can enjoy a sunny day, but if our happiness is derived from good weather, we’ll suffer when it rains. And, at some point, it will rain.
The phrase “this too shall pass” applies to all phenomena: the things we like and those we don’t. Nothing is permanent.
Buddhist monks practice non-attachment by creating sand mandalas, and then destroying them. They spend weeks creating them and understanding their temporary state, breaking the illusion of permanence.
When we buy a new car, we’re so excited about it… at first. After a while, we get used to it. It’s no longer a novelty. It becomes our new normal. And then new cravings start to arise again. We want new gadgets, new experiences.
We can never quench our cravings. As we satisfy some, new ones arise. This is the nature of the human mind.
Does this mean we should go through life without any goals or desires? Not at all. We just need to understand that getting what we want won’t bring us lasting happiness.
We need to understand that solving a problem won’t bring us lasting happiness either. New problems will arise. There’s no doubt about it. It’s how life works.
Now, non-attachment doesn’t mean we don’t care. When someone we love dies, we experience pain. There’s nothing wrong with that raw pain.
The problem is when we try to resist the pain. We don’t like it and we want it to be over. That creates resistance. It creates suffering.
Pain is unavoidable, but suffering can be avoided.
When we accept life as it is, we don’t create suffering on top of the pain we already feel.
Accepting life as it is doesn’t mean we have to find every experience pleasant. When someone we love dies, we’re sad. The key is to accept this sadness, to embrace it, to not add any fuel to the fire.
In Zen Buddhism, they talk about “mind like water.” When we throw a rock into a lake, the water doesn’t reject it. It absorbs it. Ripples form and then dissolve. The water is never disturbed by any of this.
Look, I’m not asking you to instantly get rid of all your attachments.
I’m inviting you to pay attention to how your attachments lead to suffering.
I’m inviting you to be happy now, not when you get everything you want.
I’m inviting you to accept life as it is instead of clinging to your idea of how it should be.
I’m inviting your mind to be like water.