Happiness is hard to come by for many people. Part of the reason for that is because people don’t often have a strategy to achieve happiness. I was lucky enough to hear Venerable Sumati Marut discuss the idea on Thursday night at the new Diamond Heart yoga and meditation center. The concept that we can systematically work toward happiness strikes me as a fairly radical idea. I mean, isn’t happiness just something that happens when we live right? The problem is that many of us don’t know how not to live wrong.
Ven. Marut is the founder and spiritual leader of Asian Classics Institute, Reno, a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing the teachings of yoga and Mahayana Buddhism. He’s an American monk ordained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition with a doctorate and is a professor emeritus of comparative religions. He’s also a spiritual leader for Diamond Heart.
The monk has a humorous, down-to-earth style of speaking, and the 70-plus people gathered in the small room hung on his every word for the two-hour lecture. His discussion was so wide ranging, there’s no way I’m going to summarize it well in this little article. Suffice it to say, he comes to Reno with fair frequency, and I’d recommend catching him.
There’s an enigma, though. Buddha said that much of life is about suffering: Birth is suffering, sickness is suffering, old age is suffering, death is suffering. If we spend our entire lives careening from disaster to disaster, how do we create happy lives?
“Bodhi,” the monk said. “Wake up … recognize the truth. The goal of religion is not some cartoon fairyland; the goal of religion is to recognize reality.”
In other words, he said, with a clear understanding that life is suffering, it’s childish to think things can protect us from it. It’s too late to prepare for suffering when you’re in a crisis.
A fundamental problem is that consumer capitalism is not working to make normal people happy. The new iPod or Blu-ray player or car creates a vicious cycle in that we want it, but once we gain it, it’s the momentary appearance of happiness, and then its possession disappoints, so we move onto the next acquisition.
“The secret to happiness is to stop thinking about ourselves and to think about other people.” Again, it’s a cycle. If we think about other people and do things for them, it makes them happy; their happiness makes us happy. Happy people are interested in the happiness of others.
He imparted a lot of secondary advice in addition to his daily components of a truly happy life: Take responsibility for our own happiness (other people can’t make us happy or sad); forgive everyone; accept the inevitability of our own deaths and don’t waste our lives; be grateful for what we have; blow up the television; and love everybody (including our enemies).
But, if his discussion was radical, his advice is simple. Let me cut to the chase. Here’s his simple plan that people can follow to become happier.
• Every night get a good night’s sleep.
• Every morning, before getting up, loll about in bed for a while thinking about how things are going right in your life, and how this life won’t last forever, and so it is important to be clear about your priorities.
• Meditate for at least 20 minutes.
• Do some kind of physical exercise or movement.
• Keep track of your moral life, all day long.
• Do something for someone else every day.
• At the end of the day, relax with the “couch potato contemplation.”
• Every evening spend some time studying a spiritual text.