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"In Search of Happiness" by Lama Surya Das

18 March 2010

In the Himalayan mountains of Nepal, decades ago, a wise old Lama told me a Tibetan Teaching Tale about a dishonest man who passes an enlightened master one day on a lonely mountain path.

He looks at the spiritual master, sees his smiling face and feels his peaceful sense of well being and happiness—and wants what he has. He demands of the master “I want what you have. Now, give me your most valuable jewels!” The master happily hands all the jewels in his bag over to the poor fool and says: “Shiny jewels are useful, but what you really seek and need is within. And no one can give it to you.”

Several months go by and the jewels are sold and gone. The thief starts looking everywhere in order to find the smiling Buddhist master. Finding him eventually, he bows respectfully to the monk and says: “Master, now I understand what you said: that it’s not material goods and jewels that make you happy. Please, give me what you have – your inner peace and wisdom. Please teach me!” The master teaches him the peaceful way of mindful meditation and how to awaken from mistaken thoughts and illusions. Within a few years, he becomes enlightened; an entire village is educated and helped by the reformed thief’s unselfish wisdom.

I believe that we each will find our true joy-path and lasting happiness when we Do something for the world, both for others and for ourselves.

The teacher renowned in India as the Compassionate Buddha 2500 years ago became enlightened through meditation practice and loving kindness applied to all creatures, human and otherwise. He exhorted his followers to each plant one tree each year, to replenish the earth’s resources. Throughout the ages, his teachings have served to help millions of others who have followed in his footsteps to find their own way to lasting happiness, harmony, fulfillment and truth. You see, each of us has within us what we call the “Buddha Nature” – we are born with this innate Buddhaness – a good heart which naturally cares for others, loves both ourselves and others, and leads to happiness, moderation, serenity and balance in our lives. Buddha taught us there are four things that we might call Heart Attitudes: loving kindness, compassion (or caring for others), joy, and living a life of calm balance. He taught us that our own true happiness and inner peace comes only when we think less about ourselves and what we have, and more about others and how we might be able to share with and help them.

Tibetan teaching tales have been passed down as oral tales for centuries and centuries. Many of these teachings have not been written down until very recently, but instead have been whispered from great teacher or master to young disciples and students. I think that this might be a good Teaching Tale for us today, to help us think and reflect more deeply about spirit and materialism. Man cannot live by clothes, looks, money, food and sleep alone. Take my word for it, my dear friends, I’ve tried!

Each of us has good-hearted gifts of spirit to offer to those in the world around us; it’s up to each of us to find these inner treasures and share them. Each of us has good-hearted gifts of spirit to offer to those in the world around us; it’s up to each of us to find these inner treasures and share them. They could be gifts of creativity like art or music, or athletic ability, of helpfulness, of listening; there are all sorts of gifts that we each have just waiting there to be shared! Don’t overlook these treasures. Like breathing in and out, the more we give the more we get back, as ‘tis said. What goes around, comes around; this is simply the universal law of karma, or cause and effect.

As I write this I think of my friend Beth, who at the age of 12 read all about tropical deforestation and the diminishing population of rare hardwood trees, including rosewood and mahogany. This made a significant impression on her, and as she went shopping with her parents to buy new living room furniture, she convinced them not to buy the beautiful mahogany table they spotted and explained why. I think of my friend Nina who since the time she was 10 realized that she did not want to eat meat. She was of such a gentle nature that she has always been kind to insects and all animals. To this day, six years later, Nina wears only shoes made from man-made products rather than leather, and continues her diet as a vegetarian. (As a responsible person, she also met with her doctor to make certain that physically she would grow just fine with a tofu-filled vegetarian diet.) Each of us can find ways to make a difference in the world—finding a balance between spirit and materialism—by paying attention to what I think of as the inner teacher—our own wisdom and noble heart—that is helping each of us to live a life that is full, beautiful and radiant. We might wonder what is wisdom? Wisdom is a just sense of fair play and of what is right and wrong, and an uncommon common sense that helps us recognize that we are connected to all.

© Lama Surya Das. Originally appeared in Kid Spirit, Vol. I No. 1, Fall 2008

Lama Surya Das is a Buddhist teacher and authorized Dzogchen lineage holder in the Tibetan tradition. He is the bestselling author of many books; founder of the Western Buddhist Teachers Network with the Dalai Lama; a poet and translator; and has twice completed the traditional three year meditation retreat. Spiritual Director of the Dzogchen Center in Massachusetts and Austin, Texas, he leads retreats and seminars year round and has long been active in charitable third world causes. His websites are www.surya.org and www.dzogchen.org.


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