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Are You Happy Now? (What About Now?) October 5, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.

“Skillful actions are those that create the causes for happiness, such as actions motivated by loving-friendliness and compassion. Any action that comes from a mind not currently filled with greed, hatred, or delusion brings happiness to the doer and to the receiver. Such an action is, therefore, skillful or right.”

— quoted from Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

I have heard Dharma teachers say that for all his lists, techniques, and stories, the Buddha only taught (about) two things: suffering and the end of suffering. Just like in the yoga philosophy, Buddhism focuses on the root causes of suffering in order to identify what thoughts, words, and deeds cause the end of suffering. And, in both philosophies, everything begins with understanding/knowledge. The bottom line (in both philosophies) is that avidyā (ignorance or false understanding) leads to desire/attachment which in turns causes suffering. If we can eliminate the ignorance, we can eliminate the suffering. So, ultimately, each philosophy is a path to understanding cause and effect in order to end suffering by eradicating ignorance.

The question is: What is the end of suffering?

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana is a Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist who has lead retreats around the world and taught graduate level courses at American University, Georgetown University, Bucknell University, and the University of Maryland, College Park. In addition to writing about mindfulness “in plain English,” he identifies the end of suffering as “happiness;”thereby making the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path “Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness.”

“The Buddha pointed to ten actions that are always unskillful because they inevitably cause suffering. Three are actions of the body: killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. Four are actions of speech: lying, malicious words, harsh language, and useless talk. The last three are actions of the mind: covetousness, ill will, and wrong view of the nature of reality….

Before we can begin to practice the Buddha’s path, however, we need enough basic understanding to see that these ten actions are unskillful because they inevitably bring deep suffering both to the doers and the recipients.”

— quoted from Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

Right at the beginning of Sukkot, which some refer to as the “Season of Happiness,” Rabbi Marc Katz asked his synagogue a question which really resonated with me. He asked, “What is something you are holding on to that, in fact, would be better understood as impermanent?” Now, this question really resonated with me for a number of reasons – with the primary reason being that it hones in on some key points related to avidyā. First, it highlights our attachment to ignorance/delusion. Second, it brought to mind the fact that in the philosophy of Yoga the very first example of avidyā is the belief that something impermanent is permanent.

It seems to me that Patanjali was just as fond of lists as the Buddha. So, I’ll point out here that mistaking the nature of things is only the first example of avidyā. The belief that something impure is pure, that something which causes suffering will cause happiness, and that the experience of something related to the self is the (whole essence) of the Self are all identified in yoga sūtra 2.5 as avidyā. And, don’t forget, that avidyā (ignorance) is not only the first afflicted/dysfunctional thought pattern (klişţa) which leads to suffering, it is the bedrock for the other four afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns which lead to suffering: false sense of self, attachment, aversion, and fear of loss/death.

“Moreover, people engage in such misdeeds only when their understanding is faulty and their minds are polluted by greed, hatred, or delusion. In fact, any action that comes from a mind filled with greed, hatred, or delusion leads to suffering and is thus unskillful or wrong.”

— quoted from Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

Yoga Sūtra 2.40: śaucāt svāngajugupsā parairasamsargah

– “From purity/cleanliness arises sensitivity to the unclean nature of one’s own body and [physical] unmixing.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.41: sattvaśuddhisaumanasyaikāgreyendriyayātmadarśanayogyatvāni ca

– “[From purity/cleanliness arises] pure wisdom of the heart, cheerfulness of mind, the power of concentration, victory over the senses, and the ability to directly experience our Self.”

According to the Noble Eightfold Path, skillful (or right) understanding, leads to skillful thinking, skillful speech, skillful action, skillful livelihood, skillful effort, skillful mindfulness, and skillful concentration. In the Yoga Philosophy, practicing the 8-limbs will also lead to the ability to think, speak, and act in a way that alleviates suffering. In other words, both practices can be seen as paths to happiness.

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, October 5th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

Yoga Sūtra 2.42: santoşādanuttamah sukhalābhah

– “From contentment comes happiness without equal.”

“(21) Always maintain only a joyful mind.

Constantly apply cheerfulness, if for no other reason than because you are on this spiritual path. Have a sense of gratitude to everything, even difficult emotions, because of their potential to wake you up.”

– from Always Maintain A Joyful Mind: And Other Lojong Teachings on Awaking Compassion and Fearlessness by Pema Chödrön

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