Buying Happiness

If we could choose between stopping suffering or being happy, upon first reflection we would probably say, “If I can only chose one, I would want to be happy.” However, grasping at happiness rather than the elimination or destruction of the causes of suffering is connected to the ordinary view. If we really want to be happy, then it follows that we would want to completely eliminate all forms of suffering, isn’t that so? Happiness depends upon how close to perfect we can achieve to absolute removal of every single source of suffering.

Some years ago, I had a gentleman come to see me who said, “I’m ok having a certain amount of suffering. I’m ok with that, and I accept it.”

“Oh, that’s very interesting. Why would you accept suffering?”

“Because my suffering pays for my happiness. What I have suffered and am able to endure is the payment I make for happiness. So far, it’s working out really good because I’ve gotten a bit more happiness than suffering.” He was firmly convinced there is an amount of suffering you need, like the obverse and reverse of a coin, and unless you accept suffering, you are not going to get happiness.

Like a pot with a crack, this is a crackpot theory and does not hold water! If it were true, it would eventually logically follow that no one could ever be liberated! If you became really, really happy and achieved high levels of happiness, you would have to accommodate a tremendous amount of suffering as payment. In that way, no one could ever actually be truly happy, because lurking behind all happiness would be the unseen demand of equal quality and quantity of suffering of equilibrium.

At the end of a long discussion, he finally said, “In the balance I’ve achieved between suffering and happiness, I feel like I’m doing quite ok. I’m not interested in anything that will set me free from that.” He had made quite a lot of money that he spent on his boat, other sports and entertainments, had a current girlfriend, and he was ok with all of that.

I replied, “I hope the balance remains weighted toward your happiness as you get older and not shift,” in which case he might not be able to tolerate the price of suffering for a small amount of happiness. Buying happiness and buying suffering at the same time means you are selling your happiness to buy suffering.

Meditators in any of the Tibetan traditions use a blessed series of visualizations and prayers to effect change. Every practice wishes for happiness. However, the happiness requested in this important line of the meditation sadhana is profoundly different than ordinary happiness connected with suffering/happiness dynamic. This profound happiness that we seek uncovers a new form of happiness that is untouched by greed and a cultivated endurance of pain of the dog eat dog strategy.

To the great delight of those discovering this for the first time, arises a new attitude. There is a state of happiness unconnected with buying and selling of magical favors to some unseen godlike accountant that controls the good stuff. Achieving complete cessation of suffering, when suffering is completely stilled, a natural happiness arises. Do you still hold a buying and selling deep attitude that affects your ability to progress?

For someone who meditates regularly on arising compassion, perhaps brain chemistry changes after a while. In the soup of relaxed hormones, luxurious new thoughts arise, as fear of not getting enough subside. This could lead to conclusions that all others are also seeking happiness. Following logically is a feeling of commonality between us and all other living beings. It is not easy to find common ground in a diverse society, isn’t that so? The common ground is our desire and their desire to be happy. The principle is valid even thought one may decide that stealing and killing would make them happy, and another would find that to become completely enlightened, forever free of suffering would make them happy.

It is reasonable to maintain good relationships with all living beings as we progress in the path toward enlightenment. That means, as we find virtue and high thinking to be more expressive and creative, we do not push away living beings but seek commonality. Eventually, at the time of the full flowering of compassion at enlightenment, we retain a careful connection with others rather than rest in false superiority.

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