The Basis of Happiness: Confronting the Authority Within

There’s no doubt that each of us wants to be happy, but happiness doesn’t come on demand. Not many people actually believe that “happiness is freedom from the suffering that our mind creates.”Even though we may want it, we won’t get this kind of happiness or peace on demand, by willing it or trying to arrange conditions of life from the outside. If things worked that way, then why are people who have the perfect conditions not happy, not at peace all the time? Why haven’t they achieved their goal?

I feel that peace or happiness doesn’t come just because you wish for it or because you demand it. First, whether or not you demand that the phenomenal world creates the perfect conditions to make your mind peaceful and happy, it’s very difficult to achieve such a perfect arrangement with phenomena. Secondly, even if you are somehow karmically able to achieve that, the result will still be inconsistent with what you’ve wished.

And if you demand that people make you happy, it’s even worse! It’s really just a set-up to make yourself miserable because at least the phenomenal world—its circumstances and conditions will not talk back to you.  But people will talk back and will not simply stay as beautifully still as this flower arrangement on my table. The scenario gets worse if we just make a bunch of wishes to be happy, command ourselves to be happy, or require that phenomena or people make us happy. I have been there and I think you all have been there too. You know this doesn’t work. So what does work?

If we analyze this verse from Shantideva in the Bodhisattvacharyavatara, I think it hits the nail on the head perfectly: “All miseries and sufferings in the world come from wishing happiness for yourself.” Are we ready to accept this statement? This is something we have to really think about. We say, “Yeah, yeah,” but we don’t pay deep attention to this statement because there is someone inside of you who picks and chooses what you want to be the cause of your suffering rather than being able to see the cause of suffering as it is. When it fits the scenario of what you want to be the cause of your suffering, then you are able to accept that. But when that one who makes the choices, the one who actually picks and rejects, itself is the cause of your suffering, it’s not ready to let go of that. When that one who makes the choices and picks and rejects is an absolute“authority,” then who’s going to analyze and examine this authority? Who’s going to be the one who will raid the authority itself.

When there is no one who will analyze, examine, and raid this authority, then this authority is free to decide the cause of your suffering—and it always looks outwardly to others and circumstances as the cause of your suffering. It never self-reflects. It has no ability to self-reflect because that authority itself is the epitome of stupidity. [Laughter] If this authority begins to self-reflect, it has to have some kind of wisdom. Yet it’s in a fundamental position of being the epitome of stupidity, and that authority that is the epitome of stupidity doesn’t welcome self- reflection very easily.

When you’re being honest with yourself, exactly what aspect is “honest?” Is it the authority—this epitome of stupidity—or is it the continuum of your mind which has the innate intelligence to see its own suffering? Which one is actually “being honest?” It is the mind that is suffering—which has innate intelligence built into it—that is being honest and questioning this authority. By not letting this authority get its way all the time, by examining the authority, things become very clear. Right away it becomes very clear that when this authorityis less powerful, less stubborn, less pushy, less reactive, then life becomes more peaceful— guaranteed. But when that authority has absolute power and you don’t question it, then anything it gains—more suffering, more pain, more confusion—can actually lead to the physiological feeling that this authority is enlarging or shrinking inside of you. So you can actually identify what you’re doing based upon the amount of tension that builds up in your mind and body. You are either questioning the authority or you are surrendering to it.

If we want peace and happiness, peace from suffering, peace from conflicting, torn, disturbing emotions, no other solution works to provide peace and freedom than that of honestly questioning the authority with the mind’s built-in intelligence of awareness and its ability to sincerely examine experience with this awareness. I don’t see another solution as a real means of findin peace in the world. There are temporary patches, but I don’t  see a genuine healing from pain and suffering and conflicting, disturbing states of mind. I have not found anything else in the Buddha’s teachings either—other than questioning this sense of self that we take so seriously, this epitome of stupidity. We are not talking about our minds here. We are talking about this sense of self. Mind is much bigger than the sense of self.

So some struggle and pain is productive, like struggling to achieve something for the good of others, for your ow evolution of mind, for your own improved relations with others, and struggling in service to make things better. There will be some feeling of pain in how limited you still are, compared to what you could be—not really guilt, but some pain in recognition of the self or in the limits of your ability. These struggles are very productive because if you persist with this kind of struggle and pain, you’ll see results, if not this year, then next. And by next year, you’ll have moved on: the result of peace and resolution.

So you can tell I’m not someone who suggests that “all struggle is bad” or “all pain is bad.” Throughout history, when there is a vision for what the struggle and pain can achieve, it’s usually been positive for human beings. To struggle, to have some pain because of your limitations, and then to become self-aware and work on it, means the next year can be different. It feels really wonderful to have achieved peace by resolving pain through struggle. But there is no point to struggling without vision, of going through the painful process only to become a slave to this epitome of stupidity, the authority of ego that you cater to so whimsically. In the pain of struggle without vision, I don’t see any changes over time.I don’t see a change in twenty years,sometimes, let alone week-to-week or month-to-month. The struggling is the same thing from day one, or maybe it gets worse! Therefore, this kind of struggle and this kind of pain really is unproductive. What can we do to stop this pointless struggle and pain?

I pray for myself sometimes when I am caught up in this kind of struggle and the pain of spinelessly surrendering to the authority and stupidity of my own ego, helping it get larger and larger, while hoping for a turnaround. You can’t just pray and expect things to change; your prayer must have some vision, too. When I analyze how to change, it is through questioning and examining the authority. Without such questioning, examining, analyzing, and raiding the authority—its misdeeds toward you and others—I don’t see how it could ever change because we are talking about our own mind-state. No miracle can arise from outside. That is unnoticeable. And if it is unnoticeable, how could it be experienced? If it is noticeable, then there is some awareness, and if there is some awareness, you should come to know how it has changed.

That’s the only solution I have come to, and I believe thiis the only solution for all of you too. You may not find this very sophisticated or intellectual enough.You may think of a thousand things to disprove it, but then who is the one disproving this? Who is too uncomfortable to hear it plainly and reflect upon it? Who is not even open to taking this as food for thought because it’s beneath you? See? There is somebody there who just won’t be questioned at all. It comes back to that point again and again.

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