Ven. Ajahn Jayasaro Bhikkhu: Happiness & Not-Self

Ven. Ajahn Jayasaro Bhikkhu on Happiness
This talk by Ajahn Jayasaro (March 24, 2013) covers a wide variety of topics. It is an excellent introduction to Buddhism. The talk starts 4 minutes and 30 seconds into the video (you can skip ahead).

In this talk, Ajahn discusses his views on Buddhism as a faith (“the key feature of faith in Buddhist terminology is the extent to which it leads to wise effort” toward the cultivation of positive, uplifting, ennobling mental states), on what is meant by ‘suffering’ (dukkha) in the Buddha’s teachings (from bodily and mental anguish to the sense of something missing in the most subtle movements of the mind that is looking for happiness outside of itself), on the difference between the low-quality happiness of the uncultivated mind (dependent on sense pleasures and external objects) and the lasting happiness experienced by the cultivated mind, and on the importance of practicing mindfulness (developing the ability to shift attention from content to process) in order to find release from all dukkha.

20:43-22:27: “When do we experience feelings of happiness? Are there different levels, different kinds of happiness? If there are, are they compatible, or is it possible that certain kinds of happiness have to be abandoned or have to be put to one side if we want to experience other kinds of happiness? Is there a hierarchy of happiness? Is it possible to say that certain kinds of happiness are superior to other kinds of happiness? This is the kind of analysis and effort that the Buddha recommended for us. So one proposal, one hypothesis here is that the more conditioned an experience of happiness is, the more inferior it is; the less conditioned a form of happiness is, then the more superior it is; and that the ultimate happiness is one which is completely unconditioned. So experience of pleasure and happiness through seeing something beautiful or hearing something pleasant – some pleasure or happiness experienced through the senses – is not considered sinful or bad, but really a kind of low-quality happiness because it is dependent on so many causes and conditions, few of which we have control over.”

24:18-28:23: “If we look at the whole process of searching for, experiencing pleasure in the world, we notice that the actual feeling of desire for something is in itself, as a feeling, rather unpleasant. And when we want something, when we really desire something, at that moment, we can perhaps observe that partly we want to get rid of the feeling of desire for it. The attainment of the object will take away the sense of lack and desire. And in the effort to gain some particular experience, some particular object which we feel will make us happy, then we can often notice that we may be willing to compromise on certain moral standards because the desire to gain something is so compelling that we can start to tell lies to ourselves or start thinking that it’s really ok or that everybody else does it. And it can obviously be a major source of corruption in the world. But the tension of desire builds up, and the way that we look at other people changes from people being friends, and colleagues, and loved ones, they can often become perceived as competitors because usually the things that we desire are the things that other people desire. We start to feel jealous of people who already have those things that we think will make us happy. So a lot of these toxic mental states are arising together with this effort to attain some particular kind of object which we believe will provide us with happiness. And at the moment that we do experience that object, the incredible high, the rush that we feel is often to a large extent just the release of the tension of desire for that object. And once we have gained an object, then we meet another very powerful, one of the most powerful features of human psychology, and that’s the fact that we get used to things, that we can’t sustain the same intensity of pleasure in even the most wonderful and most desirable object. We get used to things. And if something is very important to us, then of course before long we have all the tension and the worries about protecting it, looking after it, and then deep in our mind there is the fear of separation from that object, and then there is the eventual separation itself. So if we look at the whole process of desire, search, attainment, even more so the cost of disappointment when we can’t get the things that we want, but even in the case that we do, we see that it’s rather unsatisfactory. So one of the ideas that I’d like to share with you today is that we put too much attention on those things, those experiences which we believe will provide us with happiness and not enough attention on our capacity to experience happiness.”

50:47-51:53: “There is a lot of interest these days in Buddhist meditation techniques, but often I feel that it’s rather superficial, and people think, ‘I want to live exactly the way I’m living right now, but I don’t want to experience the tension and the suffering that arises from it; so I want to be peaceful – how can I be peaceful without giving up all the things that prevent me from being peaceful?’ And so meditation can be just a rather superficial, therapeutic device. Maybe you get yourself a little amount of stress reduction. But in a Buddhist point of view, it has to be imbedded in this whole attitude to life, of cultivation, cultivation of conduct, cultivation of emotions, and dealing with negative emotions well and positive emotions. So the training of the heart and that which is providing the foundation for the more subtle and the higher kinds of happiness is based upon effort.”

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Ven. Ajahn Jayasaro Bhikkhu
“Anatta & the Sense Of Self”

2:05-3:58: “If we have faith in the Buddha’s enlightenment, then we also have by implication faith in the human capacity for enlightenment, and therefore the next logical step, and that is that we have faith in our own capacity for enlightenment. So faith in the Buddha means faith in ourselves, faith in our own capacity to realize the truth of things, and that not only can we realize the truth of things, but we should. So faith in Buddhism is something that leads onwards. It’s not merely the acceptance of a system of beliefs, but the fundamental faith or confidence is in our ability to abandon the unwholesome, to develop the wholesome, to purify our minds. So if we have any real sincerity in that belief, then we have to put it to the test; we believe that we can abandon the unwholesome, so we try to abandon the unwholesome to see whether that belief is tenable, whether it’s an accurate or true belief, one based on the way things are or not. Similarly, our belief in our ability to develop the wholesome and to purify our minds.”

6:30-10:05: “So the wisdom faculty, the understanding, right view, investigation of the nature of our bodies, our minds, the world in which we live will only really be successful and penetrate deeply when the mind has been stabilized, clarified. It is very common in meditation practice to reach a certain stage in which it’s almost as if one peeks over the edge of a cliff or the abyss and almost automatically withdraws and fear envelopes the mind. So merely an acceptance of Buddhist teachings, an interest in an investigation of impermanence, of suffering, of not-self is inadequate for the job because we need to have the emotional resilience and stability of mind to be able to face up to the implications and the results of that kind of investigation. And one of the central paradoxes of practice is that only the happy mind can really understand suffering. If the mind is suffering, it appropriates suffering as belonging to self. So, to put it simply, if the mind lacks the ability to maintain itself in a stable and clear state, we experience ‘my suffering.’ And knowing that ‘I am suffering’ is not an understanding of the First Noble Truth. The understanding of the First Noble Truth is ‘suffering arises’ [which is] due to the Second Noble Truth, the Truth of craving. So comprehension of suffering entails an absence of the sense of self. And the stable mind produced by the ability to sustain and maintain mindfulness for a period of time is absolutely essential.”

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