The thing called ‘happiness’ is actually suffering – but how to see it?

Based on part of a talk by Luang Por Boontham

We have to know both ‘heedfulness’ and ‘heedlessness.’’ Or we might say ‘care’ and ‘carelessness,’ Where are care and carelessness? In what kind of practice is there proper heedfulness? What kind of ‘mindfulness’ is the right one? 

These are important questions to consider. Do we know which is the right practice and which is the wrong one – and if so, how do we know? We must have some rules, a reference point to make sure it is correct. Then if the practice does not meet the standard, it will never be correct and there will be no developing the path. (In saying ‘rules’ here, it must not be understood as any arbitrary system of rules that somebody gives us and we follow. Only with wisdom is it possible to have a reference point for what the rules should be. It implies the ability to see where ‘right’ ends and ‘wrong’ begins.)

The Buddha has said that ‘the one who is heedful’ is the one who guards his six senses and is capable of seeing the profound truth of dhamma at any moment: that is, whenever he sees a sight with his eyes, hears a sound with his ears, smells an odour with the nose, tastes a flavour with the tongue, senses a sensation on the body or knows a thought with the mind. 

For example, we must be mindful and aware whenever we see an object. What kind of awareness? 

If there is no awareness, the mind will be pleased whenever it meets any agreeable object through any of the senses. Yet that kind of agreeable feeling does not consist of any true happiness. Due to the craving to get the agreeable object, or the craving to keep it, there is no true happiness, joy or peace – this is suffering. It is when the mind is entirely distracted, entirely without concentration. This is called heedlessness in the Buddha’s teaching.

So the awareness we are talking of here is not just any awareness; it is one based on virtue that has been developed within the mind, applied to every thought, word or action; and it is the awareness that is capable of seeing the suffering in pleasant things. Only by being aware in this way, rooted in the base of virtue, can the mind become concentrated at that moment, rather than distracted, confused, dull or agitated. With a concentrated mind, “Yatha bhuta dassana” – seeing reality as it actually exists – will arise. For example, seeing wrong as wrong and right as right, cause of suffering being seen as the cause of suffering, cause of the end of suffering seen as the cause of the end of suffering. See things as they really are. We will see the arising of the Dhamma within us at that very moment. 

 How so? First, I will ask you questions. 

When we see something, what are we thinking? In what way do we see it, what does our mind think of it? How do we look for reality at the moment of seeing? How to correct it, how to solve it when we have an agreeable feeling? 

Whenever we meet with an agreeable object – for example suppose we get a huge amount of money – how is our mind right at that moment? Look at the real experience and learn from it.

What kind of mind arises in regard to that object? 

What do we think about that pleasant object? 

And what do we think if we are not careless? 

We should look not only at this specific case, but at the general attitudes of our mind which give rise to different reactions based on different objects. The object is not the important thing, but how is our mind in regard to it. Whether we see tasty-looking food; hear words of praise; lie down on a soft mattress; receive a delightful gift –  whatever the contact with whatever agreeable object, what are we going to do, how can we use careful attention to let go of carelessness at that moment? 

We should realise that the first condition is how we think – our attitude, our view – what comes second is the tasty-looking food or any pleasant object – and third is when we crave for the pleasant object. So how do we deal with these things?

Where is carelessness, and where do we find heedfulness? 

(I am asking questions instead of only giving answers, because I want you to think and see. We have to search for the reality of the experience. Only knowing the words does not work.  So try to find the answer in yourselves. Learn to solve the problem of our lives – since our lives have been entangled with wrongdoing and unwholesomeness from our childhood until now, and we don’t even realise to what extent that we have been entangled with unwholesomeness. It’s time enough now to disentangle ourselves and bring heedfulness to perfection. )

Supposedly when there is contact with an agreeable object, our mind is happy right? Happy with that object. But when we really observe it, how it really is: is it really happiness, or is it false happiness? 

It is said that we have to observe it thoroughly and carefully until the happiness is revealed as suffering. When there is contact with an agreeable object, the mind bends towards that object, hooked by it. When we manage the great task of becoming aware, we will be able to observe our own mind right at that moment. And how is it, is it pleasant, is it happiness? We agree that getting hold of the object in the mind is being changed into a feeling of happiness, right? Yet it is said to be suffering. And when we go for this again and again, we do so because we think it is happiness; yet the Buddha said that it was suffering. Equally, when we try to get away from unpleasant objects again and again, it’s because we think we are escaping from suffering, but the Buddha said that we are not; we are just running around and entangling ourselves in more and more suffering. 

So what is the reason for this contradiction? Who is more trustworthy, our mind, or the Buddha? If we decide that the Buddha is more trustworthy, then we have to investigate and watch our mind as a criminal; not to be trusted. 

So what is this so-called happiness with the touch of a pleasant object? 

We have to realise that our mind is like the ocean. When there is no wind, it is calm without waves. When our mind is stable, steady and secure, only then does it deserve the name of happiness. But in the case of the touch of an agreeable object, our mind is as if it is being blown by the wind and the wave heaves upon it. The more attractive the object; the bigger the wave. This is what is truly called suffering; when there can be no calm, no peace, when the mind is like a stormy ocean, pulled by the craving for the agreeable object – the craving to get it, craving to keep it, craving to have more of it. What’s actually good about it? If we remain blinded by careless attention; looking only at the outside object and its pleasantness, then how can we see the suffering of this stormy mind – and how can we let go of it? 

If we are seeing it rightly, we should see it like an arrow piercing our heart: not that we think mechanically ‘this is an arrow’ – but that we practice to truly see it in that way. Continue observing until seeing correctly that it is an arrow, in order to drop it.

Yet now, we cannot see it. Why? This Dhamma, this truth, has always been there, only we lack heedfulness and self-composure. We cannot be calm within ourselves, because we do not have the necessary discipline, based upon which calm would develop.  Most of us are very careless, unknowingly careless. Even when we feel neither happiness nor pain – we are indifferent to something – this is the territory of delusion; moha – it is when we are in total ignorance; not even taking note of the object, the contact or the indifference. In regard to this, we have to wake up and realise that it is ignorance – that’s how to let go of ignorance, with knowledge. 

And so, our task is to develop heedfulness regarding the six senses and their objects – and stop allowing them to drive us. We must learn to be mature in our dealings with these. Only when we are no longer heedless, then wisdom arises at the moment of contact with an object of awareness. 

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