It is often said that all in the world wish for happiness, for themselves and for their loved ones. There is advice from Buddha to worldly people on finding happiness: live a life of virtue with loving kindness and caring for others. But, of course, such happiness never lasts indefinitely and so various states of grasping, clinging and attachment can arise, leading to negative actions that inevitably lead to suffering. How can we avoid those outcomes? In short, how can a Buddhist practitioner bring any experience of happiness in their lives onto their path?
A teaching from the Great Collection of Mind Training Teachings (‘Lojong Gyatsa’ in Tibetan) entitled ‘The Mind Training of Taking Happiness and Suffering onto the Path’ provides instruction on how to respond positively to experiences of happiness so that we can be protected from falling back into negative samsaric habits.
Firstly, there is an instruction on how to see the emptiness of one’s happiness; how to come to see that there is never any true existence to be found in any experience of happiness or the person experiencing it.
Secondly, there is a special teaching for those on the Vajrayana path on how to identify experiences of happiness with their yidam, their meditational deity.
Lama Jampa explained this:
“Although there is nothing existent in the joy that you cling to and neither is there anything existent in the mind experiencing it; nevertheless, its manifestation doesn’t need to be denied. It is both empty and appearing and so it is like a yidam.It is nothing truly existent. So, the joyfulness of your joy, so to speak - the happiness of your happiness - without becoming anything substantial, has that appearance as joy just as the yidam has the appearance of a certain divine form.”
For those who are not practising Vajrayana, the Lama explained that they can substitute the buddha nature in place of the meditational deity for this instruction.
Thirdly, an essential third instruction is given for we ordinary men and women on how to dedicate our happiness for the benefit of all sentient beings.
The training is privately to say to oneself:
“When happy, I shall dedicate my virtues to all;
May benefit and happiness pervade all of space.”
The Lama explained that if one can make this dedication process part of oneself, one will be cultivating the seed of nirmanakaya, becoming a buddha who works for others. With the attitude that you will dedicate to others whatever arises that is positive for you, then little by little, you will be growing into a buddha.
The instruction for dealing with suffering when it arises is basically the same; and there is the same method given to Vajrayana practitioners to identify the appearing, though empty, experience with the yidam.
Here one says:
“When suffering, I shall take on the suffering of all beings;
May the ocean of suffering become dry.”
So, indeed, we Buddhists can authentically open ourselves up to all experiences of happiness as well as suffering.
But, what if we don’t manage to fully see the emptiness of our happiness at the time of its arising and so craving for its repetition arises? As well as reflecting on the insubstantiality of the faded happiness, one could also turn to the instructions on how to transform the negative emotions of attachment and craving.
In this way, all such experiences we can have in life are anticipated and covered by the mind training. So as ordinary trainee bodhisattvas, we do not need to fear the world. We may not yet have escaped from samsara’s clutches, but we can face it with humour and a good heart, knowing that there is, for us, a path with power to liberate all.
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