While it feels very nice, outer happiness is usually fleeting, dependent as it is on something outside you. It is something over which we have no control. Even if it’s your spouse or children.
If our happiness is dependent on such occurrences or people, we will in all likelihood experience extended periods of unhappiness or frustration. Nothing is constantly rosy or supportive. Compounding these feelings will be a craving to find the things that bring us happiness or, if it’s something or someone we already have, an anxiety about losing that person/thing, which of course results in frustration, anxiety, and suffering.
From a Buddhist perspective, the only true happiness is thus inner happiness because it comes from within you and is dependent on nothing (I say “nothing” knowing full well how difficult it is) other than being present, aware of the emptiness of all 5 skandhas and the suffering caused by the skandhas, letting all attachment to them go, and thus being at one with all things, and experiencing all things directly … with dispassion, free of labels, knowing that things are the way they are because it’s just the way it is.
While this is certainly not an easy matter, it is something that is dependent on nothing other than ourselves, on the discipline with which we walk the Buddhist path. We, each of us, have a choice to make each day and each moment of each day … do we want to be at peace and find happiness in each moment?
Note that even though you ask yourself this question, do not “seek” peace. Because if you actively seek peace, it is virtually guaranteed that you will find just the opposite. As the poem, “Affirming Faith in Mind,” says, “Seek rest and no-rest comes instead,”
Instead, the way to find peace is to remove the things that pull you away from your natural peaceful state … yes, peace is a natural state … thus allowing yourself to experience peace. And so we need to walk the path of the Buddha as best we can and allow ourselves to experience peace by having the courage not to be drawn into the vortex of our ego-mind which brings only anxiety, fear, frustration, and suffering.
Why do I say “courage?” Because everything we know of the world is housed in our ego-mind; that is our learned experience. The feelings and perceptions we have are how we have known ourselves; they have defined us. So walking away from the pull of our ego-mind feels like walking away from ourselves, from everything we know.
Even if we are well aware of all the suffering our ego-mind causes us, it still takes courage to face the unknown. For seeing ourselves and the world through the eyes of our true Buddha nature is the unknown for us.
The other reason why we need courage is that our fears and anxieties are usually well-grounded in the facts of life. The culture we live in is often hostile and scary. Whether it’s growing old and infirm or losing one’s job and becoming poor, for example, our culture does not provide much comfort or support.
We may trust our true Buddha nature and know deep down that regardless what life throws our way we have nothing to fear, all will be well, for we will always return to our true Buddha nature and be at peace and happy. But out ego-mind will scream at us, “Are you crazy? Think of what will happen to you if you don’t have enough money!” Not giving in to that fear requires great courage and faith.