It’s been about six weeks now since I first listened to No Way To Happiness Happiness Is The Way, an episode of the podcast The Way Out Is In by Plum Village. The Mangala Sutta can be found in both the Theravada and Tibetan Canons and is a talk the Buddha gave on blessings. Thich Nhat Hanh translated this discourse for us in a way that makes this ancient text still relevant to our present-day lives.
This discourse was given at Jetavana, a monastery given to the Buddha by one of his benefactors. Jetavan is located in Shravasti in the northeast of India. At the time this discourse was given, tradition tells us that there were discussions happening amongst the people about the definition of blessings (happiness). The Discourse On Happiness is the Buddha’s answer to a question asked by a Deva (divine being),
“Many gods and men are eager to know
what are the greatest blessings
which brings about a peaceful and happy life.
Please, Tathagata, will you teach us?”
And the Tathagata answers with ten ways to be blessed (happy). I’d like to briefly touch on 3,4 & 5 today.
3. To have a chance to learn and grow. To be skillful in your profession or craft. Practicing the precepts and loving speech. This is the greatest happiness.
To Have a chance to learn and grow. I am humbled by this. In my country and others, there is an educational disparity due to income. There are some places in which women can not receive an education. While I believe that receiving an education is a human right, learning and growing encompasses much more than just books and universities. We can only learn and grow in safe places. Factors that affect learning are war,poverty and disease. Homelife can also affect one's ability to learn and grow. Where we have made strides, there is still so much to do to make education available to all.
To be skillful in your profession or craft. Learning by watching and doing, by learning a trade or craft can be just as rewarding, just as important as a university education. I don’t think western society has placed equal emphasis on trade schools and apprenticeships as viable options for learning. Careers in culinary arts, fine arts, music, carpentry, electrical and mechanical work are all rewarding paths. Being skillful at a profession or craft means we have been diligent and have spent time learning formally or as an apprentice. Much time has been spent practicing and interning. Many mistakes and corrections have been made. Being skillful means not giving up.
To be able to have a career that you enjoy and one you are good at develops self-confidence and self-respect. Happiness.
Practicing with the precepts and practicing loving speech is most certainly a learning experience. If we are awake, there are opportunities to learn and grow every day. The Buddha left us with a road map. He gave us a “how-to” manual. It’s not always easy to follow, but if we use what he left us as our guiding light, as our North Star, we are able to alleviate suffering in our own lives and the lives of others.
4. To be able to serve and support your parents. To cherish your own family. To have a vocation that brings you joy. This is the greatest happiness.
In some cultures, children take care of their elderly parents, providing care, support and even living within the same household. This is considered more a labor of love and respect than obligation or duty. While we do see this happening in Western culture, taking physical and financial care of our parents is not as prevalent. Serving and supporting isn’t all about physical and financial care. In the 21st century, it’s time to say that family doesn’t always mean the family we are born into. For many reasons, family can be a family of choice.
Happiness comes from spending time together, and caring for one another, with love.
In 3 above the Buddha mentions profession and craft. Here, he talks about having a vocation. A vocation by definition is a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation. A calling. Generally we think of pastors, priests, and nuns and as having a vocation. Other people in service careers, police, teachers and social workers. If you have a calling and pursue that calling, many people state they find their vocation rewarding. I know I do.
5. To live honestly, generous in giving. To offer support to relatives and friends. Living a life of blameless conduct .This is the greatest happiness.
Certainly to be honest and generous, to help others and to be a good human not only lessens our own suffering, but also the suffering of others. It makes us feel good inside to do something good for someone else that in turn helps them or lightens their load. As bodhisattvas, this is what we are called to do. Most times the best ways are the hidden ways in which we reach out and help a neighbor, friend or family member. There are myriad ways in which we can be generous and offer support every day. Sometimes it’s just a smile and a hello.
Honesty is hard. We all lie. It’s a human thing. Most times we lie because we don’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings (that’s what we tell ourselves). If we become aware of the ways in which we lie, we can work at ways in which we can be more honest with ourselves and others. There is a communication skill you might have heard of. This is to stop and take a breath before you speak and ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to day true? Is it kind? Is it helpful?” If you can’t answer yes to all three, you may need to adjust your words. This is a work in progress and takes awareness, time and practice.
We’re half-way through the list. You might notice that as the Buddha recounts the ways in which we can be happy (blessed), he ends this one with “This is the greatest happiness.” I think what the Buddha is saying is that each is a way to happiness, not that each one is the only way to happiness.
If you like YouTube, you can watch a livestream of some of our members talking about the Discourse on Happiness, here. Please also like and subscribe to our channel! To read the first blogpost in this series, written by Shinjin, go here
May we each be a blessing,