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The Buddha

The Dalai Lama often says that everyone wants happiness. Presumably, he is aware that people all over the world will listen to what he says and take it seriously, as they should. He has translators, but he still speaks from a Tibetan cultural tradition.

I once asked a Buddhist teacher of my acquaintance about happiness as the chief goal for Buddhists. Without disputing the Dalai Lama, happiness as a goal strikes me as trivial. In my mind, awakening fully should have more significant consequences. The teacher I asked agreed. Remember, I intellectualize everything.

One problem with happiness in the United States is that too many people here think they can buy happiness, which they can, but only a very temporary happiness that is the problem, not the solution, from the Buddhist perspective. Good Americans go to happy hour, thinking they will find happiness by getting drunk in loud, ugly places with other drunks.

Not according to the Buddha.

I have said that I have had moments when I felt so happy that it literally hurt. I can only ascribe those moments to my meditation practice. The teacher I discussed this question with said he prefers to use “joy” to describe the outcome of Buddhist meditation practice. Joy is like happiness turned up to eleven.

But, gate, gate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha. That is a mantra from the Heart Sutra, which is very important in certain schools of Buddhism. “Gate” means “gone.” “Paragate” means “gone all the way.” Some say the Buddha was gone beyond. He went beyond the suffering of ordinary human life, to the deathless, to nirvana, to enlightenment.

Joy is beyond happiness. But beyond joy is bliss. One Buddhist author wrote that a common side effect of meditation is elation. Oh, I thought, we like elation. Elation is good. The author went on to say that elation is a booby trap and that the goal is not elation but equanimity. The other problem with happiness and joy as goals is that they are versions of elation.

Bliss is like joy mixed with equanimity. Bliss is where you want to be. Just keep meditating and keep letting go. The more things you hold onto, the more disappointment you will suffer because all is impermanence.

Except the bliss of awakening to pure consciousness.

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Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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