Tag Archives: happiness

Why is the Buddha Smiling?

Why, if there is so much suffering going on, is Buddha smiling?

Sculpture by Jen Brom

And how are we supposed to ever be truly happy and joyful when, as soon as we move beyond our own suffering, we are immediately assaulted with the huge amount of suffering going on in the world all around us?

My Son, Suffering Terribly from a Pitched Fit

In his book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching Thich Nhat Hanh discusses real love, one aspect of which is “karuna,” which means “the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows,” and could loosely be translated as “compassion,” but without the meaning of having to actually participate in the other’s feeling.

Hanh then explains how it is possible for the Buddha, and for us, to smile and be happy despite the suffering of others:

When I was a novice, I could not understand why, if the world is filled with suffering, the Buddha has such a beautiful smile. Why isn’t he disturbed by all the suffering? Later I discovered that the Buddha has enough understanding, calmness and strength; that is why the suffering does not overwhelm him. He is able to smile to suffering because he knows how to take care of it and to help transform it. We need to be aware of suffering, but retain our clarity, calmness, and strength so we can help transform the situation. The ocean of tears cannot drown us if karuna is there. That is why the Buddha’s smile is possible.

My first impulse is to feel rotten if I happen to be happy when I become aware that others are in pain. It feels wrong, selfish and uncaring to even consider dwelling in joy when others dwell in misery.

But if it’s true that we can only help from a position of strength? And if that strength comes from being tapped into a good place where we understand joy, love and wisdom? Perhaps that is the only chance we have to help pull someone over to the other side. Perhaps our smile of contentment and calm is the thing that can reassure the other person that there is something else in this world besides their suffering, and that as we are sharing our smile with them, the world will also share its joy.

Pure Joy, Freely Shared

What do you think? It is selfish to be happy while others suffer (as long as you are working, as Hanh says, to “transform the situation” with them)? Or is the only way to be helpful to keep one’s head above the ocean of tears so we don’t drown and become useless?

I Quit!

I want to quit caring if my kids are happy.

Can a person do this?

I will always care if they are genuinely suffering. I will always respond to that.

But the whining because they don’t want beans for dinner?

The whining because they feel too lazy to find something to play?

The whining because it’s too cold for a trip to the park?

The whining! The whining! THE GOD-AWFUL WHINING!!!

I can’t be held responsible for it anymore. I don’t believe it’s genuine suffering. It might FEEL like genuine suffering. But it’s a choice. An unfortunate, soul-crushing, peaceful-home-atmosphere-destroying choice.

I can’t care anymore. I’ve cared for almost 20 years. I’ve tried to respect their feelings, understand where they’re coming from, be responsive and supportive.

But I have to take responsibility for my own happiness. No one gives a thought to what I’m feeling.

So guess what? I will continue to do my very best as a homemaker and parent, providing what my family needs and some of what they want, making good meals, keeping the house a place for creativity, fun, relaxation and joy, but whether a child takes advantage of any of the good stuff I’ve done or not is THEIR problem. Starting NOW.

I am committed to sitting at the table and enjoying every bite of whatever I’ve cooked, even if there are people wailing in agony because they don’t FEEL like having rice for dinner.

Tough! Yesterday I cared, but then I quit. Good luck!

“To Suffer Is Not Enough”

I was taught by my mother and grandmother to be a martyr to the cause of the family.  They had to constantly worry, fuss, struggle and work to make sure everyone else was happy.  Their own happiness was just a shy smile to see others enjoying life, and then it was back to the grindstone.  They’ve been shining examples of selflessness, which is a difficult act to follow.

So when I read passages like the following by Thich Nhat Hanh in his book “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” it is like a total release of all the anguish built up over the years of believing that suffering is a sign that you are caring enough, doing enough, loving enough:

The ocean of  suffering is immense, but if you turn around, you can see the land.  The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.

Being allowed and even encouraged to have happiness as one part of your reality is a dream come true.  Not just my own happiness, of course, but the happiness of all beings.

And we don’t have to get rid of suffering entirely to be happy!  What a concept.  How many of us are waiting until conditions are perfect before we can be happy, whether it’s getting the bathroom sink fixed or having our child cured of his cold, we feel we must not allow ourselves happiness while there is still something amiss.

Hanh continues:

When one tree in the garden is sick, you have to care for it.  But don’t overlook all the healthy trees.  Even while you have pain in your heart, you can enjoy the many wonders of life — the beautiful sunset, the smile of a child, the many flowers and trees.  To suffer is not enough.  Please don’t be imprisoned by your suffering.

“To suffer is not enough!”  I will suffer, and I will feel that pain, and things will be amiss, and I can work towards eliminating that suffering, but while I’m traveling that road — I am allowed to be happy!  I am allowed to appreciate what beauty and pleasure still exists!

I am reminded of the story of the man chased by a tiger.  He falls over a cliff, and realizes that he is hanging by a root which is slowly pulling out of the dirt, with a snarling tiger waiting on the cliff above, and sharp rocks far below ready to make pulp of his flesh.  In the midst of this, he sees a little plant growing right beside his cheek, smells the perfume of the plump, perfectly ripe strawberry, plucks it and savors its juicy sweetness.  Who among us has the courage to find and appreciate joy under such pressure?  How do we cultivate that kind of awareness and focus?

Do you suffer from a martyr complex?  Have you found any ways to overcome your tendency to color the whole world with the pain of the worst thing that’s happening in your life right now?  Can you care for the sick tree while drawing inspiration from the healthy ones?  Are you waiting for an end to all suffering before you experience joy?