The Quest for Happiness - the Good, the Beautiful, and the True

by Bhikkhu Bodhi

All human beings, by their very nature, seek to be free from suffering and to find happiness. This aim, however, proves so elusive because our desire for happiness does not automatically entail knowledge of how to find it. If the knowledge of how to attain happiness automatically came along with the desire to be happy, there would be no need for a Buddha to arise in the world. We would all be able to achieve perfect happiness entirely on our own.

We need the guidance of a Buddha because, though we naturally wish to avoid suffering and to attain happiness, we have no clear conception of the path that can bring this desire to fulfilment. The root of our problem is thus one of knowledge, of clear comprehension. Despite our confidence in our own powers of understanding, our minds are in reality not reliable instruments of knowledge, but are subject to innate distortions that prevent us from gaining the type of knowledge we require. These distortions prevent us from understanding what we must avoid to overcome suffering, and what we must undertake to find true happiness and peace.

This lack of clear understanding is what the Buddhist texts call avijjaa, ignorance or delusion. On account of ignorance we become victims of craving, of obsessive desire, and thus habitually engage in types of behaviour that are superficially pleasant but eventually bring discontent and suffering. There are other types of behaviour that seem to us difficult, painful, and challenging. These courses of action, we sense, might lead to stable happiness, but because they clash with our natural inclinations, because they involve effort, struggle, and inner change, we do not feel attracted to them. In short, we adhere to familiar ways of behaviour that bring immediate pleasure even when they are ultimately self-destructive; and we shun new, wholesome courses of behaviour even though, if we understood them properly, we would see that they ultimately lead to our benefit....(continued)

Click here and then scroll down four paragraphs to read the complete Part 1 article, "The Quest for Happiness," in the December 2008 Newsletter. Click here and scroll down to read Part 2, "The Good, the Beautiful, and the True," from the January 2009 Newsletter. On this site, if interested, you can subscribe to this monthly newsletter, and you can enroll in an excellent online 90-day course in Buddhist meditation taught by Andrew Quernmore, an experienced meditation teacher based in England.