Can Buddhism make you happy? What I learn from Buddhists in New Zealand
I’m an atheist and I always had a strong dislike towards religion. I don’t like the ‘this is how it is. If you don’t behave you go to hell’ stuff. Besides that, from my point of view, religion is one of the major causes of problems in the world. What about Buddhism?
Whether correct or not, I never categorised Buddhism as a religion, more as a spiritual way of life. Buddhists offer a practical path, to become completely and perfectly happy & free from suffering. Everything they do is focused on mind-training, gaining more focus, creating a positive mind. I like this. I’m a big Eckhart Tolle fan (I absolute recommend reading The Power of Now) and there are many similarities between Tolle’s perspective and Buddhism.
Chandrakirti meditation centre, a Buddhist centre in New Zealand
During my stay in New Zealand, I spend some time at a Buddhist Meditation Centre (Chandrakirti, in the Nelson area). I read some books about Buddhism and I’ve always been interested in becoming a Buddha (lol, I’m kidding, but Buddhism always fascinated me). This was my first actual experience with Buddhists.
In the centre, there lives a Geshe from Tibet, as well as a (Kiwi) nun. There are teachings, meditations, retreats and other events, like yoga retreats. I volunteered at this place. We worked for 4 hours a day. Every morning we did meditations with Youdon, the nun resident. 3 times a week, there was a teaching about a specific subject.
So what did I learn from Buddhists, and how can Buddhism make you a happier person?
- Everybody is the same
You probably think ‘bullshit, everybody is different’ and I can understand your reaction. What the Buddhists teached me is, that everybody is the same in the way that everybody wants to be happy and free from suffering. So in essence, everybody is the same. Everybody has the same wish. There is no-one in the world who doesn’t want to be happy and be free from suffering.
Why is this important? Because when you realise this when you are in a difficult situation with someone, it’s easier to feel compassion for the other person. The other person is working on being happy and free from suffering as well. Maybe not in the way you are, but he/she is. Nobody is behaving like an asshole while being happy. They behave like assholes because they are suffering.
- Everything in life is cause —> effect, according to Buddhism. So create good causes!
You are responsible for your own happiness. When you want a specific result, you need to create a specific cause. This sounds (and is) very logic (unless you say ‘if you kill a mosquito you will create bad karma and be unhappy’, like some fanatics would say). I would say it is more common sense, like this… When you want to be surrounded by happy, healthy people, you need to have a happy and healthy attitude, otherwise you won’t attract these people. When you kill, lie, gossip, you will attract people who do the same and as a result, be unhappy. (This is not exactly the Buddhist explanation, more my own point of view and experience).
When you are angry at someone, who suffers from the anger? Not, in particular, the other person. It’s you who feels the anger, who has a high heart rate, who feels like shit, right?
- Nothing is permanent
For Buddhists, it’s important to acknowledge the impermanence of things. When you realise that everything is impermanent, you have a totally different mindset. Everything is subject to change and alteration. For example.. A stranger is just a stranger, right? You don’t particularly care about that person. But when he does something nice for you, you suddenly like this person and maybe you even care. So your relationship to this person changes, sometimes very quickly. It also works the other way around. When your friend does many things you don’t like, you will, at some point, start to dislike that person. It’s not your friend anymore. Same happens in relationships. When you realise that nothing is permanent, you won’t be attached to things and feel more happy and free. This is a very complicated subject which I am still trying to understand better.
- Friendships and relationships are more important than pride
Many people, whether it’s couples or friends, argue about small stuff. Why do we always want to be right about everything? When you have an issue with a friend, partner or family member, think about what’s more important to you. Is it you being right, or your friendship/relationship? You may feel that you loose, when you ‘give in’ to an argument, but in the end you win (the relationship/friendship). Breathe in, breath out, and think about what’s really important. This can be really helpful.
- Humour is very important in Buddhism
Geshela (the Tibetan monk who’s living at the centre) was smiling and laughing all the time. It’s important to have a ‘light mind’, he said. Focus on love, joy, compassion, enthusiasm, and you’re life will be easier. Have fun, cut the crap. It can be that simple. You need to train your mind though. To develop this state of mind doesn’t ‘happen’ overnight.
- You are not alone: everybody suffers
Suffering is part of being human. Fear, jealousy, sadness, anger.. everybody has experienced it. Some more than others, depending on the causes you create of have created in the past, according to the Buddhists (I’m not sure what to think about this). Again, when you realise that everybody suffers, it’s easier to feel compassion. For example, for that homeless man on the street who looks angry, drunk and worthless to you. Or even for your friend, who doesn’t call you often enough. They also want to be happy and they suffer. Again, they don’t behave like assholes because they are happy. It’s always a reaction caused by some kind of suffering, according to Buddhism.
- Thinking of others makes you happy
Every morning, we did a meditation to set a positive motivation for the day. The main focus was this sentence: ‘May all my actions today, of my body and my speech, be only for the benefits of others’. This one is still a little tricky for me. During my burnout, I learned to put myself first, instead of others. I struggled with this sentence the first weeks. ‘How is it possible to benefit others, when you don’t take care of yourself?’, I thought. I misunderstood the concept. The focus of this sentence should be on ‘only for the benefit’, so it means not harming or disbenefit others. Buddhists see all sentient beings as the same. ’Others’ also includes yourself. So your actions (body & speech) should be positive, towards others and yourself. When doing this, you will feel happier. Trust me, I tried.
Last week I went to the library, which was located next to a school. I got the last parking spot, but when I saw a mother with three kids in the back, I asked her if she would like to have my spot. I could park on the street and walk a little, right? She was happy, and I was happy. I can’t exactly explain why, but it’s nice to put a smile on someones face. It didn’t cost me anything, except 5 minutes of walking.
- Less self-cherishing, less wanting too much
Geshela, the Tibetan Monk, kept repeating these two points. When you cherish yourself less, and when you want less, you’re going to be a happier person, is the Buddhist perspective. You will experience less suffering. Why? Because if you want too much, you suffer when you don’t get it. Whether you can’t afford it, or that person you’re in love with doesn’t love you back, you suffer when you don’t get what you want. Or you suffer when something breaks down, or when it gets stolen, when your relationship ends.
- Everything you buy (own) is heavy on your shoulders
Geshela said: ‘everything you buy.. that nice car, expensive watch, big house.. is something else that’s heavy on your shoulder.’. It makes sense.. When you have a big house, you have to pay for the mortgage. You have to work hard every day, and you might not even like your job. When you loose your job, you feel stressed, because you cannot pay for the house anymore. You can’t have the lifestyle you are used to anymore. When you use an expensive camera, and it starts to rain when you’re using it, you have stress because it might break down. When you have less, you have less stress. Now that I lived a minimalistic lifestyle in my van of a while, I can speak from experience, this is true. Having less will make you happier.
Are you convinced yet, that Buddhism can help us Westerners? 😉
It’s a lot to take in, I get it. But believe me, when you even start to understand a glimpse of the Buddhist philosophy, you will become a happier, lighter person. Who doesn’t want a life without feelings like greed, jealousy, fear, and anger?
Do you have to become a Buddhist to become happy?
Of course not, you silly! I’m not a Jehovah witnesses. And I think Buddhists will never try to convert you. It’s not like Christianity. But you can learn a lot from Buddhist, like I did.
So I would stay, when you’re convinced that this may help you to feel happier… Read a Buddhist book or visit a Buddhist place some time. Or start reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I promise this will be the best money you’ll ever spend. Don’t read it ones, put it on your bedside table and read it again and again. I can promise you that it will help. You don’t have to become a Buddhist. I’m not a Buddhist. But I definitely benefit from what I’ve learned.
I can also highly recommend this Buddhist book, based on neuroscience:
Do not take my words too seriously. I’m not a Buddhist. I just write from my experience. If you would like to know more, as I said, start reading, or go to a Buddhist Centre. Nevertheless.. Comments are more then welcome!
Let me know what you think, and I hope to see you back here 🙂
(Many thanks to Chandrakirti.. mostly to Youdon, Geshela, Philippa and everyone I met there. You are the best. :))
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