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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 11 34 think they would be much happier if they won the lottery, but research indicates the opposite: winners are often plagued by demanding family, friends, strangers, and scam artists. within a year, they return to their baseline level of (un)happiness. Just look to hollywood if you think money, fame, and adulation buys happiness. Just before his death, the Buddha taught the eight truths of an enlightened being. The first is “having few desires.” The second is “to be easily satisfied.” These are simple but potent directions on how to unlock the prison of hungry ghosts. we start by studying desire. we watch how desire arises, exists for a while and then disappears. i don’t like doughnuts, but a few years ago i was given a Krispy Kreme. it was deli- cious! a window of desire would open in my mind several times a day, especially when i was uncomfortable, proclaiming “Krispy Kremes!” But because i didn’t do anything with the desire except observe it (admittedly, it helped that the nearest source of Krispy Kremes was ninety minutes away), the mind window eventually closed, and the desire disappeared. we have to cultivate restraint in the face of desire. we’ve all had the experience of intense desire for something—an antique in a store window or an electronic device in an ad. if we can’t fulfill that desire, if we don’t feed it any mental energy, we may look back on it a week later with indifference and think, “why was i so caught up with that?” Postponing the fulfillment of desire can be revealing and empowering. we also have to study satisfaction. simple satisfaction. Try sitting down and becoming aware of your body breathing, letting your mind settle, for thirty minutes. Then ask, “what more do i need at this moment?” we can also cultivate satisfaction. several times a day pause and ask, “what is satisfying right now?” or ask, “what am i grateful for right now?” studies show that people who keep a log of what they are grateful for each day grow measur- ably happier, so much so that they keep up the log after the research is done. i suspect that we americans will have to make a perma- nent adjustment to a lower standard of living than many of us have become accustomed to in the last few decades. The forces of economic downturn seem to be mating with the growing concern about how our consumption affects the earth and its other inhabitants, and this is producing people who are thriftier and more interested in a simpler lifestyle. Bud- dhist practice gives us the tools to develop a heart–mind that contains few desires and is easily satisfied. Then, regardless of what happens to the Dow Jones or the overall economic index, we will experience ourselves daily as among the richest people in the world. • all our citizens. we don’t provide good pay for people who teach our children. we don’t have good public transportation so people can get to their jobs, doctors, and schools. we don’t even have good food. we are poor in the essentials and rich in the nonessentials. we have second snowmobiles, third cars, a freezer full of häagen-Dazs and a TV in every room, including the bathrooms of our McMansions. But we don’t have happiness. why? The Buddha found that the source of human suffering is craving, based upon the delusion that we will be happy only if we can possess or get rid of someone or something. You can test his discovery for yourself. Pick any source of trouble in the world and see if you can trace it back to desire or crav- ing. war? it starts with desire, desire to force others to give up their land, resources, religion, or lives. Global warming? That’s easy—desire for unlimited energy. robbery? Political assassinations? factory farming of animals? Child sex traf- ficking? obesity epidemic? all clearly related to our drive to get more of something. The irony is that more money or stuff does not make us more content. we humans have basic desires—for food, clean water, shel- ter, clothing, transportation, heat, and light. once these basic desires are satisfied, extra money does not buy extra happiness. Most people Jan Chozen Bays Roshi is co-abbot of Great Vow zen Monastery in Clatskanie, oregon. she is a pediatrician and author of Mindful Eating and Jizo Bodhisattva. Desire seems to beget desire. I wanted an iPhone. I got an iPhone. Now I want a newer iPhone. JenniferBrinkman