Well-being, a Matter of Being Less

Ricardo Sasaki
Originally published at: http://www.baolin.org/cdinsight/rs0704.html

That everyone should look for well-being or happiness is a statement all agree. However, the problem begins when we do not qualify precisely such statement. Just to look for happiness, without caring 'where' to find it, is to subject ourselves, through years or perhaps the whole life, to a search where 'it is not'. A suggestive Sufi story that comes to my mind is that of Nasruddin searching at night for his keys. His friend arrives and eager to help spends sometime looking for the keys under the lamp where Nasruddin is also searching. After sometime he turns to Nasruddin and asks: "Are you sure you lost the keys here?" Nasruddin replies: "No, I lost them at that dark corner, but here we have more light!" The search for happiness must be done with wisdom. If we aim to be happy or well but search it in impermanent states and wrong places, the result will only be constant frustration. Curiously, as Dhamma followers, we 'know' there is no happiness in worldly things and states. Happiness does not come from them. And with just a little intelligent thought any person will see that things are impermanent, and with their change the happiness we had previously based on them will also vanish. Yet, it seems like we 'do not want to know', we rather keep believing that if we just get this or that, happiness or well-being will meet us at the corner. Aspiring for happiness from a wise reflection basis makes it clear that our aspiration should be directed to what cannot be subject to the ups and downs of life. Though the promise of happiness is present in all the major world religions, still a mere passive and thoughtless participation in a religious path is not enough. The majority of the religions today are under the influence of the modern world ideology, which goes against the religious principles. While Jesus proposed that one should look for the treasure of God's Kingdom where dust and rust can't reach, the modern devotee aims to find or build a God's Kingdom, a happy and pleasant place, in this very world in which we live, and priests and ministers often corroborate this view. The flock is gathered based on immediate satisfaction promises. Devotees bring power, influence and, of course, money. And when religion (conditioned by the spiritual consumerism of the modern world) preaches a happiness to be found in the world 'beyond', it is still a world whose image perfectly fits the materialistic desires of the beings down here. What religion we can hear preaching that happiness is mental non-acquisition of impermanent states?

Unable to make a 'concrete' image of the object of our spiritual search we end up with an imitation of the true search, and thinking we are stepping up we are truly going down, towards just another version of the attachment to the multiplicity represented by sensorial objects. Engaged in a religion or spiritual path, thinking it will protect us from 'wrong desires' coming from the external world, we made up, not without the help of our own religious representatives, themselves as deluded as to the true purpose of the search and the true object of it, a 'religious version' of the same search for pleasure and gratification that we were engaged in before being 'converted'. As the tendencies of the modern Western ideology penetrate more and more inside the traditional religions (leaving aside the modern sects themselves fruits of the very same tendencies) and its representatives incorporating those tendencies into their discourse, the initial spiritual search of the young people (and the old) end up neutralized and diluted by the present religious environment, just another version of the common mistakes of the 'non-spiritual' mind. So, while I said in the beginning that looking for well-being or happiness is a statement all agree, the very same search for well-being can become a trap, even when we have already shifted our focus from the rude view of a happiness caused by the acquisition of material things. Our minds can still be kept being sucked by the greed within that demands 'anything' to crave for. Convinced that material things and possessions are not wise to crave for? Then let us desire well-being, inner growth, spiritual development, self-empowerment or any new word our minds can come up with. The "craving wheel" is turning again! It is for this reason that well-being or happiness for me has to do with frugal living. Mental and material frugal living. Simplicity is one of the fundamental aspects of genuine life. Ancient people placed a special emphasis in this virtue. It was a means and an end in life for many individuals. Contentment with little goes direct to the root of the problem of suffering which affects so many lives at the same time that questions the basis on which we structure our own ego. There's a kind of greed in today's world that impels to esteem oneself and the others in terms of the quantity of what one owns or produces. It generates a psychological need for action and constant movement, and from that, tension and anxiety. Simplicity on the other hand tends to place value more in life's flow and less in having and wanting. As a means, simplicity is able to show us our most deep-seated attachments. As an end, it is a reintegration in the flow of life, nature's essence, which is oblivious to "mine" and "yours". The practice of simplicity is an attitude of handing back to the world everything that we had taken mistakenly thinking it was ours.

Investigate your life and see what is really necessary! To live simply is to be content with what is really important and essential. And this is really not much. To know how to distinguish the necessary from the superfluous is a big step on the way towards simplicity. In simplicity we can even find a common ground with all the theist religions, as we can find in the words of Frithjof Schuon when he says that through, "...la vertu de simplicité l'homme est libéré de toute crispation inconsciente à base d'amour propre; il a, vis-à-vis des êtres et des choses, une attitude parfaitement originale et spontanée, c'est-à-dire dépourvue de tout artifice; il est libre de toute prétention, ostentation ou dissimulation; en un mot, il est sans orgueil; cette simplicité ne sera toutefois pas une humilité affetée, mais une absence de préjugés innés, donc un effacement naturel du 'moi'- du 'coeur durci' des Ecritures, - effacement naïf par lequel l'homme s'apparentera symboliquement à l'enfance. Toute méthode spirituelle exige avant tout une attitude de pauvreté, d'humilité, de simplicité ou d'effacement, attitude qui est comme une anticipation de l'Extinction en Dieu". The Buddha, twenty six centuries ago, used to say there were four requisites for a happy life: a shelter, a few clothes, a frugal meal and medicine when necessary. Ajahn Buddhadasa, a contemporary Buddhist monk, said there was a fifth: while the first four requisites are for our corporal existence, our mental life needs a philosophy of life, a spirituality, a knowledge of the way things are, a knowledge of nature's laws and the corresponding duties of knowing those laws. In synthesis, a path. Buddhism calls it Dhamma. We only really need those five requisites. Let us remember that. Ajahn Buddhadasa also used to suggest something like this as a constant mantra: "Nothing to have, nowhere to go, no one to be". How important it is to remind ourselves that we do not need to have, to go or to be anything to be truly happy right now!