Our series on the Discourse On Happiness continues. We have looked at each of the Buddha's guide statements during two Youtube lives, as well as in the blog posts under the category Discourse On Happiness, today our Shuso Shinjin picks up where Kyoji left off:
7. “To be humble and polite in manner, to be grateful and content with a simple life, not missing the occasion to learn the Dharma — this is the greatest happiness.
Sounds simple enough right? "Humble and polite" Check, I can do that "Grateful and content" Sure, sure: I am "Not missing the occasion to learn" Well yh, I'm open and receptive to life...
well except perhaps the bad stuff... right?
Let's unpack this a little more: On their podcast, 'The Way Out Is In' Episode #35, Brother Phap Huu and journalist Jo Confino discussed that sense of self-importance as being a type of 'drug' as well. Here we have a throwback to the Discourses' point 6: “To avoid unwholesome actions, not caught by alcoholism or drugs, and to be diligent in doing good things".
We all like to feel that we're important, to receive acknowledgment for our achievements and to be treated with a sort of respect, and to be honored, perhaps this happens for you in the workplace? or we reinforce this with over-the-top praising and the over-rewarding of our children with accolades?
Feeling more than ourselves can feel pretty good it's addictive.
However, it's shaky ground, a shaky superstructure and to keep it going we have to keep feeding it, taking the next step and the next, AND just how defensive do we get about protecting it? About protecting where we are in the pecking order of the pack we have around us. It feeds into that egoic mask, that we all 'hide' behind and we slowly lose ourselves and the more we lose ourselves the harder it is to come back to ourselves because the distance becomes so great.
We spoke in our Youtube lives about how this manifests at the store as impatience whilst in the queue, especially in situations where the person in front is trading in vouchers.
Consider also how impatience creeps in if the card reader is playing up. If a child is crying somewhere nearby in the store too, how does the picture of dis-ease with a situation grow? What about when there's traffic on the road and someone cuts in? Or if our colleague needs more time to do and review the paperwork? Or our children to get dressed before the event.
What's our go-to?
Do we roll our eyes, mutter under our breath, do we speak out?
Do we cuss and make gestures to the other driver? Do we belittle others? - you would not be alone, this has been habit energy for many of us. Though if we were being honest, we wouldn't like to be on the receiving end of those actions, right?
The Buddha gave us The 5 Remembrances, the last of which is: "My actions are my only true belongings.
I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.
My actions are the ground on which I stand."
If I am humble and polite in manner, then I can be open to hearing where I have room to grow. My 'footfall' in this world is gentle and compassionate. I have no use for my pride and arrogance, so I can work on letting them go, bit by bit, every day. - Try the mantra "I am enough" or "my self-worth is not tied to my productiveness" - how liberating might this be?
If I am grateful and content with a simple life, then I have no need to be greedy, to hoard resources. To buy into a lifestyle of consumerism.
Life is interconnected and I am considerate of the fact that what I actually need is very little.
- Try the mantra "I have enough".
> Pictured is Thich Nhat Hanh's instructive calligraphy.
If I try not to miss the occasion to learn the Dharma, then I can learn from Life. From the people and things around me. I can be open to discovering my blind spots, the habits that keep me locked into to protecting myself. A flower or a tree has little to no defenses, they take sunlight and carbon dioxide and exchange it for oxygen. Taking something we don't have a need for and exchanging it for something that helps keep the world of oxygen breathers alive. Could we be similar?
So then how do we train to be open-hearted, compassionate, and kind in a way that exchanges the unneeded into something useful? Let me take the liberty of rephrasing that too: How might we take suffering and change it into liberation, for ourselves and others?
The Buddha gave us the instructions! Buddhism has the Noble Eightfold Path, its Paramitas, and Precepts. These aren't a list of rules. Nor are they directives. Kyoji and I see them as helpers a roadmap to a freer life.
A compass that points True North. A gifted guidance, which is summarised in the Discourses' point 8:
“To persevere and be open to change, to have regular contact with monks and nuns, and to fully participate in Dharma discussions — this is the greatest happiness.
How do we travel this road? Would we travel it alone, stopping occasionally to ask for help? - or would we not bother at all? To persevere requires the right effort driven by the right view. Knowing our intentions and the reasoning behind them and hoping for a skillful outcome, helps direct our speech, actions, and livelihood.
Do we always get it right? No, but we can course change as soon as we see that we have taken a detour.
To be open to change, detours will happen.
How open are we to them? Do they set us off into a tailspin?
That life is impermanent, is at the core of Buddhism. The way we see things going often doesn't happen in full. We have to respond to the situation, people, and obstacles in our path. Respond, not react.
Quite a clear and important distinction, but how do we do it?
With right mindfulness, we are with what is occurring, not with it, AND planning this evening's meal or with any of the other plates we are spinning.
We practice this with zazen meditation 'just' being with what is for the duration of the sit.
With right concentration, we are able to be with what's happening and gently be aware of how our habits want to kick in: to see when we are triggered/hooked and to observe the clench of the stomach, the tightening of the jaw, etc. as our aversions try to steer us into an emotional reaction. Where accidents with body, speech, and mind are more likely. Whereas if we can see these things as: "I have aversion to this upon me", we might also see how the reply comes as: "Can I skillfully course correct, without needing control."
Practicing these can take us beyond aversion, attachment, reactivity, and story-building.
Regular contact with monks and nuns, being in a community is important. We all seek a place of belonging and refuge.
Working on the application of Buddhism can sometimes seem daunting. Sitting together, doing book studies together, writing together, and just being together socially, we learn we are not alone...
To fully participate in Dharma discussions, we collectively connect with the Buddha's instructions: the Dharma and we discuss the dharma of life: the lessons of life. We discuss the application of the Dharma to the dharma!
Participation expands our knowledge base: you always add value to the discussion, even if you don't think the question is worthwhile asking, it will clarify something for someone else. AND it brings those who have been practicing for a while back to basics. We welcome you, wherever you are.
We're kind of holding hands and walking through this life - and learning as we go - together. I don't know about you - but I feel better about that.
The practice might be implemented individually, but together our efforts might show up as one set of footprints.