What is happiness? Ask a thousand people, and you will probably get a thousand different answers.
Many think of happiness as freedom from work, or an abundance of money, so that one can lead a life of leisure.
Others look for happiness in another person, a dream relationship, a beautiful marriage. Some want to travel and see the world. Others want good health.
Perhaps the common demoninator in all of their answers – the thing they all wish for – is an absence of problems.
If we could somehow get rid of our problems – be they relationships, health, financial, etc. – we could become happy.
From a Buddhist perspective, all of these goals represent what we would call relative happiness. In other words, these are fine objectives, and things we all work toward; but, at the same time, they are all subject to decline. Any of these goals, once obtained, can crumble in the next instant, leaving us with nothing. Financial prosperity can disappear, health can deteriorate, relationships can wither and even turn into their opposite.
What kind of happiness then can we find that will endure? This is the goal of Buddhist practice. And what does it look like?
For one thing, Buddhism strives to develop the treasures of the heart. These arise from expanding our sense of compassion, not only for our own life, but for others around us, and indeed for all of life. These are the only treasures that stay with us, throughout life and death.
But beyond that, Buddhism looks squarely at life in this world, confronting life’s problems head-on. The world, and everyone’s life, is filled with problems, with challenges, with obstacles. How do we become happy in such a world?
Buddhism finds its answer in the pursuit of absolute happiness. Absolute happiness is a state of life, overflowing with life-force and strength, that allows us to face and overcome any problem we may be facing, and to be victorious in our lives. It is a state of life that can never be defeated.
To develop such a state of life is the purpose of practicing Buddhism.
In this latest episode of the SGI-USA YouTube series, “Buddha Beat”, some Bostonians explore the meaning of happiness.
James Hilgendorf is the author of eight non-fiction books, and a long-time member of the SGI, or Soka Gakkai International, the largest Buddhist lay organization in the world, with 12,000,000 members in 192 countries and territories. His books are available through bookstores, or online in paperback or e-book format from the following retailers:
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