|The Dali Buddha (Shannock Boy, Ted Buchanan/flickr.com)|
The Baited Hook
...Though seldom stated in so many words, a cherished belief of all human beings is that happiness lies in the satisfaction of our desires.
All our actions are usually based on this seemingly self-evident fact. We are devoted to obtaining the objects of our desire; we consider it our right, our duty, and indeed our highest aspiration [the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness] to get what we want, to obtain what we think will bring us enjoyment, satisfaction, and/or "fulfillment."
We are accustomed to asking one another, "What do you want out of life?" believing that if we can settle on some clear vision of happiness, and go after it, then all will be well.
|"Earthlings are easy" - Mara Devaputra|
Unfortunately, experience has a way of overturning our theories. Those manifold objects we yearn for prove troublesome to capture; when captured they yield less pleasure than expected; when held onto they decay and cause us grief.
Then we are driven to turn for relief toward other enticements and thereby renew the cycle. Somehow we believe that if only this search for gratification is conducted correctly, if only the right objects are selected, if only we can have a little luck to add to our efforts, then we can certainly attain that permanent happiness that now eludes us. Badly thumped by fortune, we doggedly tell ourselves, "Yes, it's worth all the pain," and turn a swollen eye toward fresh delights.
But is it worth all the pain?
|I was doing what I was told to do.|
Consider a succulent worm bobbing just below the surface of a pond, attracting the attention of a hungry fish. In a flash the fish swallows the worm, only to discover the hidden hook, the barb that rips into its innards and causes it terror, suffering, and untimely death.
The worm is attractive, but it delivers little satisfaction to the fish. Such is the nature of sense-pleasures.
Those objects of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind that we find so alluring are more likely to cause us misery than happiness, and the surprising truth is that it is not so much our choice of objects that is at fault, but the mere act of choosing in the first place, since all phenomena of this world are in reality flawed, connected to suffering, and unreliable.
Happiness - How To
According to the Buddha, true happiness is not to be found in the deceptive sense-pleasures of the world -- not in wine, wealth, or wo/men. No matter how hard we try, we can never reach security as long as we persist in wrong views about the desirability of this or that sensual object.
Without a clear understanding of the nature of phenomena our search is doomed from the outset.
Our first task must be to confront the facts that the universe does not exist for our amusement and that such pleasures as we customarily derive from it are false, impermanent, and unworthy of our interest.
While the Buddha knows the existence of enjoyment in the world, which he himself indulged in to an nth degree as a Shakyan prince, he points out that all worldly pleasure is bound up with disappointment (dukkha, dissatisfaction, "suffering," instability, and unreliability), inseparable from disappointment, and sure to give way to disappointment.
|Yin-yang with amethyst (Joe Temmel/flickr)|
Therefore, in embracing the pleasant we cannot help but simultaneously embrace the unpleasant -- like yin-yang. Our craving prevents us from realizing these facts by continually projecting a false appearance on the world, convincing us that the tempting objects around us can actually be possessed and squeezed dry of some satisfying essence.
Without the intervention of wisdom, craving will keep us running from one disappointment to another. Though we have many times taken the bait of sense-pleasure and suffered the inevitable pull of the hook, each new worm that comes wiggling through the water excites the heedless person.
|But I don't want it, I don't want it!|
The Buddha teaches that the solution to the terrible union of pleasure and pain is not to struggle hopelessly to split them apart, but to view the whole contaminated mass with detachment.
All phenomena share the same Three Characteristics of Existence: instability, unsatisfactoriness, and unsubstantiality. So it is futile to single out some objects for liking and others for loathing.
The whole cast of mind that sees things in terms of liking-and-loathing must be abandoned in favor of the detached observation called "mindfulness." Clearly, if the bait hides a hook we do best to curb our appetites.