Recently though, as related in my post, "The Heart's Embrace." I found that by opening up my heart to embrace all aspects of my being, my perpetual frown has disappeared and been replaced by a smile and the knowledge that I have whatever I need to be at peace and experience happiness inside myself.
And so I am going to restate those basics I realized I need to be happy, with the heart's embrace now added.
First the context. This awareness rests on the foundation of my acceptance of my life as it is and my faith that all will be well regardless what life throws my way because I will always go deep within myself and so return home to my unborn Buddha mind. What I am aware that I need to be happy is:
1. Open my heart to embrace all aspects of my being, including any weaknesses, dark side, or negative perspectives, Embracing myself totally removes all internal struggle and so the power of any negativity is removed. As the ancient Chinese poem, "Affirming Faith in Mind," says "Seek rest and no rest comes instead. When rest and no-rest cease to be ... doubts and confusion disappear, and so true faith pervades our life." When I so embrace myself, I know that I have everything I need inside myself to be at peace and experience happiness.
2. Offer others joy: Whatever I do, do it in a way which offers others joy or helps relieve their suffering. This is my purpose in life. Throughout the day, we have an opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives, even if just in a small way, and thus make a difference in our own lives. In our work, interacting with others in a way that offers them joy brings joy to ourselves. In our daily activities, whether it’s going grocery shopping or anything else, we have the opportunity again to either offer joy or be an anonymous cipher. This is totally within my control, it is my choice, I need no one's cooperation. Even in the most dire of circumstances, I have the opportunity to offer others joy. This is the Five Precepts in action.
3. Be in the company of loved ones and friends - Being in a nurturing environment is one of our Four Basic Needs (see my book, The Self in No Self). It’s an elemental need not just for humans, but indeed for most animals. Regardless of what is happening in the larger world, being able to feel safe and to laugh and love within one's personal circle is critically important. But this need not be in person. There are times when loved ones and friends are not available, but they are always with us in our memory and available to bring us joy.
4. Respect my body : stay physically fit - To have respect for oneself is to have respect for all aspects of oneself, including ones body. Staying physically fit is being respectful of one’s body, as well as taking care of one’s health. This is not to be confused with the current cultural obsession with physical fitness. This is a craving which stems often if not mostly from a lack of equanimity, from a need to be admired and acknowledged; it stems from insecurity. This is an example of a Right desire that can be turned into an unskillful desire and a craving if the origination of the desire is not equanimity.
5. Respect my mind : keep my mind engaged - The motto of the United Negro College Fund is, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Our brain, our ability to think and analyze, is what differentiates humans from their animal ancestors. To have respect for oneself is to use it, to stay mentally fit. But it’s not just keeping our mind engaged that’s important, it’s what it’s engaged in. To engage my mind in something that’s not in keeping with the Five Precepts would not meet this need and indeed would add to my samsara. One has but to read the papers every day to see examples of people whose minds are very engaged, but who are engaged in efforts which are harmful to their fellow man and thus quite unaware increase their samsara.
6. Be in touch with nature - As I explained in my first blog post, “If This Is Practical Buddhism, Why the Pastoral Setting?” in nature we see reflected the essential truths of the Buddha dharma ... that all things are impermanent and changeable, that all things rise and fall, and the oneness of all things. And thus it is in nature that we can find inspiration. This doesn’t necessarily mean living in nature, or surrounded by nature. It does meaning having access to nature and remaining in touch with it. It could be a simple garden oasis in an urban backyard or it could be a nearby nature preserve. Even a prisoner can be in touch with nature. It could be the light coming through the window or whatever bit of nature exists within his area of confinement.
7. Live within my means and thus be financially secure - For most people, being financially secure means capitulating to our culture’s craving for always more money and more things. What I’m talking about here ... living within one’s means ... is a decidedly counter-cultural, almost subversive, perspective. One of the Four Basic Needs is security, and certainly a key aspect of that is financial security. But here I’m not talking about how much money one has, I’m talking about one’s attitude towards money and how one lives one’s life. There are many poor people around the world whose lives are far happier and content than many in our culture with great wealth because they do not crave what they don’t have; they have not yet been infected with the virus of Western capitalism and consumerism. (Granted, the numbers of such people are growing smaller with each year as our culture spreads into further and further corners of the world.)
ALL ELSE IS EGO. Even though I have spent most of my professional life trying with honest intent in some way to make this world a better place and help relieve the suffering of others, almost all of my efforts have been tainted by my ego-mind, by my thinking mind. Everything I have done, regardless of its good intent and its often good results, has been driven equally strongly by my craving to be accepted, to be admired, to be loved. And so regardless of the venue in which I worked, my desires were unskillful desires because of their at least partially unskillful origination in a lack of equanimity.
This statement neither denigrates what I have done nor myself. It is just an honest aware statement that my samsara was a major factor in what I did and therefore I was not at peace or happy, regardless of what I accomplished. When I first wrote this my ego-mind said, “Aha, see, if it wasn’t for my influence you wouldn’t have done these good things.” But I know that that is not the case. If I had been able to ignore my ego-mind, to observe without the intervention of thought, I am quite sure that I would still have undertaken these tasks because they were the Right thing to do.
“But,” the reader may say, “what if one doesn’t have any friends or loved ones, what if one has a physical disability, what if one is retarded, etc.” Regardless of one’s state, one could pursue similar goals with acceptance and equanimity.
For example, if one has no friends or loved ones, it is often because we have, due to our past negative learned experience, distanced ourselves from others. If we can free ourselves from this learned experience, we will be able to achieve human interaction that seemed impossible before. If we are physically disabled, we can treat ourselves with respect and keep that part of our body that is not disabled physically fit. Likewise if we are mentally challenged, there is much we can do that maximizes the use of our mind; the relatively recent transformation in the lives of people with Downs Syndrome is a perfect case in point.
And so it is with all things. It is the attitude of us towards ourselves, which usually means the attitude of others towards us which we have absorbed and internalized, that keeps us down. Regardless of our status in life, we must free ourselves of that learned experience, we must embrace all aspects of our being, in order to be free, at peace, and happy.
So meditate and find the answer for yourself to the question, what do you need to find peace, contentment, and happiness. Even if you cannot be totally free of your thinking mind, your ego, be aware of its impact as much as you can. When it arises, and it surely will, acknowledge it, have compassion towards it and where it's coming from, but say that you are looking deep within yourself for guidance and listen to the voice of your true Buddha nature. (For more on this, see my blog post, "Not Engaging Your Thoughts.")