As human beings we have achieved a level of material progress we would not have even dreamed of barely a century ago. The marvels of modern technology have given us enormous power over the forces of nature. We have conquered many disasters but the ultimate question is: ‘Are we happier than our ancestors were in the past?’ The answer is: ‘No’.
The abuse of women, children and the underprivileged religious and racial discrimination, color bar, and caste distinction continue on unabated.
Perhaps those who enjoy material comforts suffer more acutely than their ‘poor’ fellow beings. Mental illnesses, stress and loneliness are some of the serious problems we now face in our modern society. But the vital question is: Who is responsible for all the evils that haunt the world today?’
There are many who are quite eager to take the credit for the progress that mankind has achieved. Religionists, scientists, politicians and economists- are all quick to claim that humanity is indebted to them for progress. But who must share the blame? I believe that everyone is equally responsible. Let us turn the spotlight on ourselves and ask ourselves to declare in all honesty if we also have been responsible for failing to bring peace and happiness to our fellow beings.
All of us are responsible for some of the horrors taking place in our midst today because we are too afraid to tell the truth. Let us take for example the exploitation of man’s desire for sensual gratification. Greed for money and power has led some unscrupulous people to develop a multi-million dollar industry, to providing sensual pleasures in every possible way and young children are being trapped and victimized in the process.
Never before in the history of the world, has the human race been in such great need to be free from conflict, ill-feeling, selfishness, decent and strife. We are in dire need of peace nor only in our personal life at home and work, but also at the global level. The tension, anxiety and fear arising from the conflict are not only disruptive but continue to exert a constant drain on our well-being, mentally and physically. In their desire to completely dominate everything around them, humans have become the most violent beings in this world. They have succeeded, to some extent, but in so doing have paid a terrible price. They have sacrificed peace of mind for material comfort and power.
The basic problem we face today is moral degeneration and misused intelligence. In spite of all the advances made by science and technology, the world is far from being safe and peaceful. Science and technology have indeed made human life more insecure than ever before. If there is no spiritual improvement in the way we handle our problems then humanity itself is in danger of being wiped out.
GOING BEYOND WORLDLY PLEASURES
The religions of the world have always maintained that human happiness does not depend merely upon the satisfaction of physical appetites and passions, or upon the acquisition of material wealth and power. Even if we have all the worldly pleasures, we still cannot be happy and peaceful if our minds are constantly obsessed with anxiety and hatred arising from ignorance with regard to the true nature of existence.
Genuine happiness cannot be defined solely in terms of wealth, power, children , fume or inventions. These no doubt bring some temporary physical and mental comfort but they cannot provide lasting happiness in the ultimate sense. This is particularly true when possessions are unjustly acquired or obtained through misappropriation. They become a source of pain, guilt and sorrow rather than bring happiness to the possessor.
Too often we are made to believe that pleasing the five senses can guarantee happiness. Fascinating sights, enchanting music, fragrant scents, delicious tastes and enticing body contact mislead and deceive us, only to make us slaves to worldly pleasures. While no one will deny that there is momentary happiness in the anticipation of pleasure as well as during the gratification of the senses, such pleasures are fleeting. When one views these pleasures objectively, one will truly understand the fleeting and unsatisfactory nature of such pleasures. One will thus gain a better understanding of realty: what this existence really means and how true happiness can be gained!
We can develop and maintain inner peace only by turning our thoughts inwards instead outwards. We must be aware of the dangers and pitfalls of the destructive forces of greed, hatred and delusion. We must learn to cultivate and sustain the benevolent forces of kindness, love and harmony. The battle-ground is within us and is not fought with weapons or with any other sources but only with our mental awareness of all negative and positive forces within our minds.
Mindfulness makes a full man. A full man speaks with an open mind. And like a parachute, the mind works better when it is fully opened. This awareness is the key to unlock the door from conflict and strife as well as wholesome thoughts emerge.
The mind is the ultimate source of all happiness and misery. For there to be happiness in the world, the mind of an individual must first be at peace and happy. Individual happiness is conducive to the happiness of society, while the happiness of society means happiness of the nation. It is on the happiness of nations that the happiness of this world is built. Here we must use the image of a net. Imagine the whole universe as an immense net and each being as a single knot in this net. If we disturb one knot, the whole net is shaken. So each individual must be happy to keep the world happy.
From the lessons of life, it is clear that real victory is never gained by strife. Success is be never achieved by conflict. Happiness is never experienced through ill-feeling. Peace is never achieved by accumulating more wealth or gaining worldly power. Peace is gained only by letting go of our selfishness and helping the world with acts of love. Peace in the heart conquers all opposing forces. It also helps us maintain a healthy mind and live a rich and fulfilling life of happiness and contentment. ‘Since it is in the minds of men that wars are fought, it is in the minds of men that the fortresses of peace must be built’.
Today, especially in many so-called affluent societies, people are facing more problems, dissatisfaction and mental derangement than in under-developed societies. This is because men have become slaves in their sensual pleasures and crave for worldly enjoyment without proper moral and spiritual development. Their tensions, fears, anxieties, and insecurity disturb their minds. This state of affairs has become the biggest problem in many countries. Since people in developed societies have not learnt to maintain contentment in their lives hence naturally they will experience unsatisfactoriness.
There are four areas where man is trying to find the aim of life:
- Material or physical level;
- Likes and dislikes or pleasant or unpleasant feeling;
- Studying and reasoning;
- Sympathetic understanding, based on pure justice and fair dealing,
The last one is the realistic and lasting method which never creates disappointment. Today, people need more wealth, not only for their living and to fulfill their obligations, but because their craving for accumulation has increased. It has become a sort of competition.
In experience worldly pleasure there must be an external object or partner but to gain mental happiness it is not necessary to such have an external object.
Many young people have lost confidence in themselves and have to face difficulty in dealing what to do with their lives. The main cause of this mental attitude is excessive ambition and anxieties created by competition, jealousy and insecurity. Such problems naturally create a very bad atmosphere for others who want to live peacefully. It is a fact that when one individual creates a problem, his behavior in turn effects the well being of others.
Animal never experience happiness but pleasure. Happiness is not based on the arbitrary satisfaction of one’s own self but in the sacrifice of one’s pleasure for the well-being of others.
USING WEALTH PROPERLY
To most people a wealthy person, community or nation is one that is ‘rich’ in the sense of possessing assets or money which constitute material gain. The word ‘wealth’ originally meant state of well-being (weal). The word ‘commonwealth’ carries this meaning. But it is now used to refer to property which generally promotes material well-being rather than the mental state of being well.
Of course we cannot deny that desire for wealth is a valuable adjunct to success if held within proper bounds. Desire , in itself, is not evil. Unrestrained, however, desire leads to restless discontentment, envy, greed, fear and cruelty to fellow beings. The accumulation of money may aid in the achievement of a kind of happiness to some extent, but does not in itself bring total satisfaction. Where most men of vast means fail is when they confuse the means with the end. They do not understand the nature, meaning and proper function of wealth, that is merely a ‘means’ by which one can gain the ‘end’ of supreme happiness. But one can be happy without being rich. An old Chinese tale will illustrate this.
Once there was a king who wanted to know how to be truly happy. One of his ministers advised him that to be happy he would have to wear the shirt of a man who was truly happy. After a long time he found such a man, but the happy man had no shirt to give the king. That was why he was happy!
Wealth should be used well and wisely. It should be used for one’s welfare as well as that of others. If a person spends his time clinging to his property, without fulfilling his obligations toward his country, people and religion, he will lead an empty life plague with worries. Too many people are obsessed with material gain, to the point that they forget their responsibilities to their families and fellow beings. Happiness is a strange thing. The more you share it, the more you get satisfaction.
If one is selfish, when the time comes for one to leave the world, one will realize too late that one had not made full use of his or her wealth. No one, even a wealthy person, will have really benefited from the riches so painstakingly accumulated.
ACCUMULATION OF WEALTH
Some people think that by accumulation more and more wealth, they can overcome their problems. So they try to become billionaires, working hard, but after becoming billionaires, they have to face many more unexpected problems – insecurity, unrest, enemies and difficulty in maintaining their wealth. This, clearly shows that the accumulation of wealth alone is not the solution for human problems. Wealth no doubt can help to overcome certain problems but not all the world’s happiness can be gained through money. Money cannot eradicate natural problems.
Philosophers, great thinkers and rationalists have pointed out the nature of human weaknesses and how to overcome them. However, many people regard them as mere theories and not as solutions to their problems. Sometimes the intellect actually creates more problems because it increases our egoistic opinions about ourselves.
THE BUDDHA’S ADVICE FOR EARNING
Contrary to misconceptions held by certain quarters that Buddhism, with its spirit of tolerance and particularly in its practice of meditation, does not encourage its followers to work hard and to be industrious. The Buddha, in his many discourses, in fact strongly encouraged his followers not to be idle and indolent but to work hard and to be industrious so as to accumulate wealth through righteous means to maintain economic stability. Whilst encouraging the accumulation of wealth, the Buddha incidentally warned his followers not to violate any ethical or religious principles in so doing. He also advised that man should not become a slave to the mere accumulation of wealth just for accumulation for sake but to protect it without neglect and waste. He advised that wealth should serve as an adequate means of livelihood for the family, should be utilized to assist relatives and friends where necessary, and to help the poor and needy as charitable acts.
In his discourse on various types of happiness in relation to wealth, the Buddha gave four practical classifications of happiness as follows:
- Happiness in the possession of wealth through righteous and legitimate means
- Happiness through the proper and correct usage of accumulated wealth;
- Happiness in the knowledge free from indebtedness to anyone;
- Happiness in the knowledge that no illicit or illegitimate means had been employed in the course of accumulating wealth and that no one had been harmed or injured in so doing.
~ Venerable K. Sri Dhammanada