Buddhism is a Path of Developing Happiness

Happiness plays a vital role in Buddhist spiritual practice. It is fair to say that Buddhist practice is inseparable from happiness. The Buddhist teachings describe many names for happiness and classify it into various categories and stages, culminating in supreme happiness. Here are some examples of happiness found in the scriptures:

  • Happiness of consumption (paribhoga-sukha; upabhoga-sukha).

  • Happiness of material wealth (bhoga-sukha).

  • Physical pleasure (kāya-sukha; kāyika-sukha).

  • Mental happiness (citta-sukha; cetasika-sukha).

  • Sense pleasure (kāma-sukha).

  • Material happiness (sāmisa-sukha; āmisa-sukha).

  • Immaterial happiness (nirāmisa-sukha).

  • Seasonal happiness (utu-sukha).

  • Happiness resulting from fame (kitti-sukha).

  • Happiness of ordinary people (puthujjana-sukha).

  • Human happiness (manussa-sukha).

  • Celestial happiness (dibba-sukha).

  • Happiness of the multitudes (mahājana-sukha).

  • Happiness of the entire world (sabbaloka-sukha).

  • ’Sweet’ or ’intoxicating’ happiness (madhura-sukha).

  • Wholesome happiness (kusala-sukha).

  • Righteous happiness (dhammika-sukha).

  • Happiness of spiritual development (bhāvanā-sukha).

  • Frequent or constant happiness (nicca-sukha).

  • Happiness of the realm of rebirth (saṁsāra-sukha).

  • Happiness of endeavour (yoga-sukha).

  • Mundane happiness (lokiya-sukha).

  • Transcendent happiness (lokuttara-sukha).

  • Happiness of the round of rebirth (vaṭṭa-sukha).

  • Happiness of the freedom from rebirth (vivaṭṭa-sukha).

  • Coarse pleasure (oḷārika-sukha).

  • Refined happiness (sukhuma-sukha).

  • Happiness of concentration (samādhi-sukha).

  • Happiness of jhāna (jhāna-sukha).

  • Happiness of insight (vipassanā-sukha).

  • Happiness of awakened beings (ariya-sukha).

  • Happiness of unawakened beings (anariya-sukha).

  • Happiness of solitude (viveka-sukha).

  • Happiness of peace (santi-sukha).

  • Happiness of mental liberation (vimokkha-sukha).

  • Happiness of deliverance (vimutti-sukha).

  • Happiness of awakening (sambodhi-sukha).

  • Supreme happiness (parama-sukha).

In terms of beginning stages of practice, the Buddha stated that ’merit is a name for happiness’ (merit = puñña; ’goodness’, ’performing wholesome deeds’).1

Author’s Note

Chapter 23 is new to the Thai edition of Buddhadhamma. Happiness is a subject that is of universal interest, and I have wished for a long time to supplement the original chapter in Buddhadhamma on happiness which is rather complex and full of technical references. On February 24, 2010, I was invited to speak on the occasion of the 80th birthday of Hon. Professor Dr. Sakorn Dhanamitta (advisor to the Educational Project for Developing Health). The content of this talk was published in December of that year, under the title of ’All Aspects of Happiness’, and this chapter is a précis of that book. Note that many of the topics in this chapter have been touched upon in some respects in the original chapter on happiness and in the chapter on desire and motivation (see chapter 10).

[Trans.: this chapter on happiness in the English edition of Buddhadhamma combines the two chapters on happiness from the Thai edition. Although this has been a challenge (chap. 22 is presented in a formal written style, whereas chap. 23 is a transcript from a talk) I have attempted to knit these two chapters together into an integrated whole.]

In terms of meditation, happiness is an important factor giving rise to concentration (samādhi), as confirmed by the Buddha: A happy mind becomes well-established [in concentration].2 In the scriptures, happiness is described as the ’proximate cause’ (padaṭṭhāna) for concentration. When the mind is highly concentrated and one reaches the state of jhāna, happiness (sukha) is one of the jhāna factors (jhānaṅga), present up to the third jhāna.3 Although happiness is technically not a factor of the concentrative attainments (jhāna-samāpatti) higher than the third jhāna, these states are nonetheless considered to be a more refined form of happiness.4

Finally, the highest goal of Buddhism – Nibbāna – is described as a form of happiness, the supreme form of happiness (parama-sukha).5

An important synonym for Nibbāna is nirodha (’cessation’), which is endowed with three key attributes:

  1. The cessation of ignorance (avijjā): this is equivalent to the arising of supreme knowledge and vision (ñāṇa-dassana), to a realization of the truth.

  2. The cessation of mental defilement (kilesa): the elimination of mental impurities; the end of any root factors in the mind causing distress for oneself or others.

  3. The cessation of suffering (dukkha): the end of suffering; the attainment of supreme happiness.

Although this third attribute – the end of suffering – was described to some extent in the chapter on an arahants’s mental self-mastery (bhāvita-citta), there are several more aspects to this attribute that need to be considered.6

Moreover, this highest goal of Buddhism, of awakening (bodhi) or supreme happiness, is to be reached by way of happiness or through a practice comprised of happiness. It is not to be reached by way of suffering or through affliction and torment.7 {1024}

In relation to Dhamma practice, the scriptures describe various kinds of happiness, and at the same time they describe both the advantages and the faults of each kind. They also compare each kind of happiness with other kinds, to point out how one is superior to another. This description of the various kinds of happiness and their comparison to each other is a way of urging people to progress in spiritual practice and to develop superior kinds of happiness. Every person has the potential to progress in these various stages of happiness until he or she reaches supreme happiness.

This comparison of various kinds of happiness indicates that although lower levels of happiness may have favourable aspects, they are still imperfect. They still have both advantages (assāda) and disadvantages (ādīnava). In order to gain a clear understanding and to progress in Dhamma practice, it is essential to recognize these advantages and disadvantages. {1070}

In this context, there is a third factor: one must also have a way out (nissaraṇa), an escape, where one is freed from both the advantages and disadvantages. In short, one reaches a superior or more complete state of happiness.

One should apply these three principles while focusing on a specific level of happiness, by examining it and determining its pros and cons. If the happiness is still endowed with disadvantages, one then asks whether there is a way out, a way to pass beyond this state of incompleteness, a way to reach freedom and security. When one encounters such a way out (nissaraṇa), spiritual practice can progress.

In sum, Buddhism acknowledges many different levels of happiness and teaches that happiness needs to be cultivated. One can define the entirety of Buddhist practice as this cultivation of happiness. Buddhism is a system of developing happiness, and the development of happiness is given great emphasis in Buddhism.

Happiness Is Reached by Happiness

It is often overlooked that Buddhism is a religion of happiness. If one encounters such statements as ’life is suffering’ or ’all is suffering’, one may think that Buddhism is permeated by suffering. When people see that the Four Noble Truths begin with dukkha (’suffering’), or they encounter the Buddha’s words in relation to the Four Noble Truths, ’Both in the past and in the present, I teach only suffering and the end of suffering,’ some people may be convinced that Buddhism is a religion pervaded by suffering.

People need to be constantly reminded that the Buddha accompanied the teaching of the Four Noble Truths with the four ’duties’ (kicca). If one performs these duties incorrectly, then one trips up from the very start; one will not be able to reach the heart of Buddhism. Especially in regard to the first noble truth, one needs to be as accurate as possible. If it helps, one can memorize the Pali phrase: Dukkhaṃ ariyasaccaṃ pariññeyyaṃ (’the noble truth of suffering should be thoroughly understood’).

Our responsibility in the face of suffering is comprehensive understanding; suffering is to be thoroughly understood. Suffering is a matter to be taken up and addressed by wisdom; it is not something to be accumulated in order to torment the heart. If one experiences suffering, use wisdom to deal with it and bring it to an end. This is the beginning of the correct path of practice.

One can look at the life of the Buddha. Before he was awakened, he practised severe austerities and extreme asceticism, which was the custom of renunciants at that time. When he realized that this is a wrong form of practice, he abandoned these austerities and turned to the ’middle way of practice’ (majjhimā-paṭipadā), until he reached awakening. This is a brief summary of events. A close examination of this account from the Tipiṭaka provides a clearer understanding of Buddhism on the whole.

In the Bodhirājakumāra Sutta, the Buddha recounts how before his enlightenment he had this thought: ’Happiness cannot be reached by way of happiness; it can only be reached by way of pain.’ It was for this reason that he went forth into the renunciant way of life.

He then went to live with two meditation masters at their hermitages. Afterwards he undertook extreme ascetic practices with intensity and ardour, experiencing extreme physical pain, but all in vain. He realized that it is not possible to reach the supreme good by way of self-mortification. Note here his words: ’The way to awakening must be otherwise.’ {1071} He remembered an event from his childhood, when he was sitting quietly alone in the shade of a jambolan tree and had attained the first jhāna, distinguished by bliss and joy. He had the insight that this is the path, as confirmed by the words he spoke to himself: ’Here, indeed, is the path to awakening.’8

When he was clear in his mind about this issue he asked himself whether he is afraid of this happiness free from sensual pleasure and free from unwholesome states. This was a way of verifying whether this happiness contains any danger. He answered with confidence that he was without fear. He consequently abandoned the extreme ascetic practices, followed the path of happiness, which is represented by the term ’middle way’ (majjhimā-paṭipadā), and finally reached awakening.

An important distinction is that many of the religious traditions in India at that time claimed that ’happiness cannot be reached by way of happiness; it can only be reached by way of pain.’ Adherents of these traditions thus undertook extreme ascetic practices (tapa). Buddhism, however, teaches that ’happiness can be reached by way of happiness’, and thus encourages practitioners to abandon extreme ascetic practices, which are classified as ’self-mortification’ (atta-kilamathānuyoga) and considered a waste of time.

The most basic form of happiness is derived by coming into contact with external objects, and is dependent on material things, and is thus referred to as ’sense pleasure’ (kāma-sukha). When one has developed and accessed a higher form of happiness, this superior happiness exists in tandem with sense pleasure. Alternatively, one may choose to abandon sense pleasure altogether and only abide in a more refined kind of happiness.

These superior forms of happiness prevent the dangers of a dependence on material things; indeed, they provide a greater degree of independence. One is able to experience happiness without needing to consume things. Note the phrase by the Buddha above: ’Happiness free from sensual pleasure and free from unwholesome states.’ One progresses in unison with wholesome desire (chanda).

A vital factor in this correct practice for promoting independence is wisdom. With wisdom, even if the refined forms of happiness are sustained over a long period of time, they do not overwhelm the mind; one is not intoxicated; one does not forget oneself. True happiness goes hand in hand with freedom, and conversely true freedom is endowed with happiness.

One reason why the birth of Buddhism was so revolutionary, allegedly causing an earthquake and excitement all the way up to the highest Brahma realms, is because it introduced this new perspective and way of life, that happiness can be reached by happiness.

The goal of Buddhism – supreme happiness (parama-sukha) – is accompanied by wisdom, which frees the mind through understanding. This is genuine, independent, and secure happiness; it need not be searched for and it is free from a reliance on external things; it remains constant; wherever one is, one is bright, joyous, and happy. All of us who are aware of this principle of supreme happiness have the opportunity to develop ourselves in order to realize it. {1072}

Formal Teachings on Happiness

What is Happiness?

In order to develop happiness it is important to know the meaning and significance of happiness. In brief, happiness is the fulfilment of one’s desires and needs, or simply a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction. Note that this definition is not all-encompassing, but it covers a broad and basic range of meaning. It is a crucial definition because it comprises the happiness that most people are confined to; most people are not aware of a happiness greater than this.

Wishing to take a shower and having taken a shower, one is happy. Wishing to eat and having eaten, one is happy. A child who wants to play and has finished playing is happy. This is a fulfilment of one’s desire, a meeting of one’s needs.

As a matter of linguistics, it is important here to recognize that some branches of modern academic study make a distinction between ’desire’ and ’needs’, and give these terms different definitions. In this context I am using these two terms interchangeably, with identical meanings. Here the focus is more on ’desire’ than on ’need’ (i.e. a requirement).

By defining happiness as the fulfilment of desires, it is also important to understand the nature of desire. The subject of desire is vast. Note here the Buddha’s principal tenet: ’All things are rooted in desire’ (chanda-mūlakā sabbe dhammā). This means that all things human beings are engaged with are based on desire, have their origin in desire.


  • We must clearly understand the nature of desire.

  • Given that happiness is the fulfilment of desire, it stands to reason that the development of happiness requires a development of desire. Otherwise, the development of happiness is unsuccessful.

In sum, desire must be cultivated. {1073}

Ambiguity and confusion about the nature of desire prevents people from seeing things clearly, from making headway, and from solving problems. This is true for all human activities, including formal study, moral conduct, and spiritual practice. If one fails to understand desire, one will not reach the essence of the matter at hand.

The Nature and Importance of Desire

The technical terms for desire are rather complex. The relevant term in the above quote by the Buddha is chanda, which can be translated here as ’desire’, ’wanting’, or ’wish’.

The term chanda is essentially neutral: it can be used in a positive or negative sense; it can be wholesome or unwholesome. For example, there are terms such as ’sense desire’ (kāma-chanda), ’desire for renunciation’ (nekkhamma-chanda), ’desire to consume’ (paribhoga-chanda), ’desire for the Dhamma’ (dhamma-chanda), etc.

In the scriptures the term chanda is then divided into two kinds:

  1. Desire as craving (taṇhā-chanda): the desire to obtain, to seize, to become, to possess, or to destroy.

  2. Desire as the wish to act (kattukamyatā-chanda): the desire to act, the wish to engage, the wish to create, the desire to improve, the desire to train, the desire to study, the desire to practise.

The former is negative and unwholesome (akusala-chanda); the latter is positive and wholesome (kusala-chanda). This is easy to understand, although these terms are rather long and unwieldy.

Here is where things get complex. When teaching the Dhamma or when communicating in everyday circumstances, it was convenient to use short, concise terms. The result is:

  • When referring to negative, unwholesome desire the single term taṇhā is used (it is not necessary to say taṇhā-chanda).

  • When referring to positive, wholesome desire the single term chanda is used (it is not necessary to say kattukamyatā-chanda, kusala-chanda – ’wholesome desire’, dhamma-chanda, sabhāva-chanda – ’desire for truth’, etc.).

This is a simple, easy-to-understand distinction. The word taṇhā implies a negative form of desire; the word chanda implies a positive form of desire. If this distinction is not clearly understood, things get very confusing. For example one may wonder, by assuming that chanda is a positive term, why kāma-chanda (’sense desire’) is described as negative. {1074}

The commentators selected the neutral word patthanā (’wish’, ’desire’) to combine with the two terms mentioned above, thus creating a similar distinction:

  1. Desire as craving (taṇhā-patthanā): the wish to obtain; the wish to consume.

  2. Desire as wholesome enthusiasm (chanda-patthanā): wholesome desire; the wish to do good.

Many people, especially Buddhists, encounter the word ’desire’ and immediately label it as bad or incorrect. They then go on to encourage others to not have desires, which they see as dangerous and potentially destructive, both for an individual’s spiritual development and for society.

Others go to an opposite extreme and promote desire, encouraging people to acquire things and to increase wealth. Some even advocate greed, urging people to be rich, famous, and influential. They claim this hunger for things is required for society to develop. This is not true development, however; rather it leads eventually to conflict and destruction. The best people can achieve by such efforts is to reach an unstable form of development, both politically and economically.

These people represent two extremes, but they share the common factor of a lack of understanding. They do not understand the nature of desire and do not deal with it correctly. Therefore, it is essential to understand and distinguish between different kinds of desire. This will lead to greater clarity.

Having provided a rough outline of the distinction between the two kinds of desire, let us now focus on some of their essential characteristics:

  1. Craving (taṇhā): desire catering to selfish needs, e.g.: a wish to acquire something for oneself; the search for self-gratification; the wish to personally consume, obtain, become, or avoid something.

  2. Wholesome enthusiasm (chanda): desire focusing on the inherent nature of the object involved; a search for the wellness, virtue, and completeness of an object.

Take, for instance, the natural surroundings of a monastery. People enter the forested area of a monastery and see squirrels bounding in the trees. Some people will rejoice in the charm and nimbleness of the squirrels. They may think: ’What a delightful sight. May these squirrels be healthy and strong. May this beautiful and refreshing place prosper.’ In this way they desire for the completeness of the thing in question. They possess a wholesome desire.

Other people will see the same squirrels and think: ’These squirrels are plump and meaty. If only I could catch one and cook it for my evening soup.’ Here, the desire is for self-gratification; it is an unwholesome form of desire, based on craving.

Another example is the consideration by certain students who have finished their secondary eduction to go on and study medicine. Some students want to be doctors in order to get rich and to gain honour and prestige. This is a selfish, unwholesome form of desire. {1075} Other students wish to study medicine because they want others to be free from illness, to be healthy, to be free from affliction, to live safely and at ease. This desire aims for the completeness of the conditions at hand – in this case the health of the nation’s people – which is the express purpose of the medical profession. This is a wholesome desire.

When people’s needs and desires are fulfilled they experience happiness. For this reason, happiness among people varies according to their desires. When those who wish for the squirrels to be well and healthy see them bounding through the trees, their desire is fulfilled and they will immediately experience happiness. Those who wish to eat the squirrels for the sake of their palates must hunt the squirrels, kill them, and cook them in order to prepare them as a meal; only then will their desire be satisfied and will they experience happiness.

From a wider perspective, those people with wholesome desire (chanda) like to create the causes for prosperity, while those full of craving simply wait to enjoy the fruits of prosperity. Those with wholesome desire are creators; those with craving are consumers. The former experience happiness in creating; the latter experience happiness in consuming.

In a society with people of such different inclinations, it is too much to expect that the current of craving will dry up on its own or that the way of wholesome desire will prevail. The best one can do is to balance these two forces, to prevent the floods of craving from washing people into the abyss, and to support the fulfilment of wholesome desire. As long as there are people dedicated to fulfilling wholesome desire, human society can progress. Moreover, supporting the spiritual development of people simultaneously increases the happiness for all.

Delight and Happiness

It was mentioned above that happiness is the fulfilment of needs, the satisfaction of desires. Another way of describing this fulfilment and satisfaction is to say that desires have been stilled, similar to slaking thirst or alleviating hunger. When thirst or hunger is allayed, one experiences happiness. According to this definition, happiness is the abating of desire; happiness is peace.

In this process, before the mind reaches that peace constituting happiness, one may experience various forms of delight and pleasure. In particular, one may experience pīti (’delight’, ’rapture’, ’bliss’), which in Pali is often paired with happiness as pīti-sukha. Discerning these various stages of delight and fulfilment provides a clearer understanding of how happiness is equal to peace. Moreover, one realizes the nature and value of such peace. {1076}

In regard to these two aforementioned terms, the pleasure derived from obtaining a desired object is considered to be pīti, while the actual enjoyment of experiencing that object is sukha. For example, a person who is travelling through a desert, who is parched and exhausted, will experience rapture when he sees water or hears from another that water is nearby. When he reaches the shade of the oasis, and drinks from and bathes in the pool, he experiences happiness.

The commentaries provide an example for clarification.9 A man has travelled a long distance through a barren wilderness. He is soaked in sweat, famished and thirsty. At one point he meets someone travelling the other way and asks whether there is any drinking water ahead. He is told that not far ahead is a large pond with a wooded grove. When he hears this news he is exceedingly glad and elated.

When he walks further and sees the lotus petals, leaves, and stalks scattered on the path he is even more delighted. He walks on and sees people with wet clothes and wet hair, and hears the cry of forest chickens and peacocks. And as he approaches the pond and sees the lush woodland grove and the lotuses growing in the clear, clean water he grows increasingly exultant.

Finally he steps into the water, providing a great sense of refreshment. The exhilaration he felt earlier is replaced by calm. He bathes and drinks to his heart’s content, dispelling all anxiety, and he eats the roots and young leaves of the lotuses until he is full. He then climbs onto the bank and lies down in the cool shade of the trees, caressed by a gentle breeze, and says to himself: ’Ah, such happiness.’

According to this example one can see that:

  • The delight and elation the man experiences from the moment he hears about the pond and wooded grove until he sees it with his own eyes constitutes pīti, which is a preliminary joy and pleasure in the object about to be experienced.

  • His bathing in the water, slaking his thirst, satisfying his hunger, and resting in the shade of the trees constitute sukha: actually experiencing the desired object.

Pīti has the characteristics of elation, euphoria, exuberance, exultation, radiance, and suffusion, which are all extremely positive qualities. Yet however positive this delight and rapture may be, it is not yet complete; it has not yet reached its goal. In the end it must conclude and culminate in happiness, which is precisely inner peace. If this delight is not yet peaceful it is not yet complete; it reaches completion and perfection at peace, which is referred to as ’happiness’ (sukha).

In fact, a detailed and thorough analysis reveals that there is another important state of mind existing between pīti and sukha. Above, we looked only at the gratification of desire, which is an aspect of acquisition. But a closer analysis also requires a look at the actual nature of desire.

Desire possesses the attributes of compulsion and disturbance. If it becomes intense it manifests as anxiety, stress, restlessness, and even turmoil. Despite the heightening of delight (pīti), as one reaches the stage of fulfilment of desire, the anxiety, stress, and restlessness, which are attributes of desire and have an impact on the body and mind, ease and subside. Agitation is reduced; one becomes even and calm. This state is referred to as ’tranquillity’ (passaddhi). {1077}

Tranquillity (passaddhi) is the direct antecedent to happiness (sukha). Therefore, when making a more detailed distinction, the scriptures describe the ordered progression as: pītipassaddhisukha.

Desire based on craving is full of agitation, anxiety, and stress, because it rests on a foundation of delusion and is fed by the attachment to a sense of self. Desire based on wholesome enthusiasm, however, is naturally accompanied by wisdom, which prevents or corrects these mental afflictions.

Note that besides a stilling of desire by way of gratification, there is also a stilling of desire by way of non-gratification, which is an opposite form of intentional action.

One must be careful though. If one tries to still desire by obstructing, resisting, suppressing, or controlling it, the repercussions are even more serious than when seeking gratification. The agitation and turmoil increases and one may vent one’s frustration or explode, causing extra suffering to oneself and endangering others. This then leads to retaliation and reprisals. This inner suppression is merely a form of coercion; it is not true peace.

At the beginning of spiritual practice, the very awareness of training helps in part to deal with desire. Although, to some degree, one may be acting against one’s will and choosing a path of non-gratification, the benefits of training include a feeling of self-development and a joy in having tested one’s strength and resolve.

There are additional tools for working with desire:

First, to empower wholesome mental qualities. One ensures that wholesome desire (chanda), which longs for knowledge, is stronger than craving (taṇhā), which longs for indulgence. Such wholesome desire, for instance, prevents one from skipping work in order to go off drinking with one’s friends.

Second, negative qualities are replaced by positive qualities. For example, Paul covets John’s money and wants to steal it, but he considers how difficult it was for John to acquire this money. John has enough problems; why create more for him? This thought gives rise to compassion, and the craving dries up and is stilled.

In respect to wisdom, take for example a person who sees gold for sale at an extremely cheap price. His eyes widen and he desires this gold, but once he discovers that the gold is fake his desire vanishes instantly. This recognition, however, is only a basic or counterfeit form of wisdom; it deals only with immediate problems.

Disciples endowed with genuine wisdom discern that gold, silver, jewels, indeed all material wealth, does not make up the true purpose of life. Material wealth does not truly belong to anyone; it is unable to provide true happiness or distinction to one’s life; both the wealth itself and all living beings are subject to the laws of nature: of impermanence, dukkha, and nonself. To benefit from material things one must gain insight into their true nature, so that they do not create harm. When one has opened oneself up to true freedom and happiness, these things can be renounced without hesitation. Such wisdom prevents craving from gaining any footing and leads to true peace.

Regardless of whether one stills desire by way of gratification or one abstains from gratifying unhealthy desires by empowering wholesome qualities and applying wisdom, the resulting stillness and peace (santi) itself constitutes happiness. Happiness is peace.10 {1078}

Dual Pathways to Happiness

Most people are endowed with a ’starting capital’ of both craving and wholesome enthusiasm. Those leaders in society or those who act as mentors (kalyāṇamitta; ’virtuous friends’) should understand this fact and help others to both promote wholesome desire and to regulate or subdue craving. At the very least, people should prevent the undercurrent of craving from becoming an overwhelming force.

In regard to basic wholesome desire (chanda), most people wish for their environment to be well-ordered, tidy and clean. When they encounter a beautiful natural setting they rejoice. They want their surroundings to be in a state of completeness; they want people, animals, trees, and plants to be healthy and vibrant. In the same vein, people want their own bodies to be healthy, strong, and clean, and to exist in a state of completeness. (These are useful examples for distinguishing between chanda and taṇhā).

At the same time most people wish to gratify their desires by way of contact with appealing and agreeable visual forms, fragrances, sounds, tastes, and tactile objects. These are collectively referred to as ’material objects’ (āmisa) or ’sense objects’ (kāma). Because these sense objects rely on a coarse form of contact and often involve strong stimulation, they can be very seductive. Developing a thorough understanding so as not to be led astray by these enticements requires repeated emphasis.

Let us compare these two kinds of desire in more depth:

As mentioned above, wholesome enthusiasm (chanda) begins with a pleasure and contentment in seeing things exist in a state of wellbeing and completeness. If the object or person in question is not yet in a state of completeness, or is in a state of only partial completeness, one wishes to act in order to fulfil this completeness. It is at this stage of wanting to act that one reaches the true essence of chanda, which is referred to as ’desire as the wish to act’ (kattukamyatā-chanda).

The unwholesome form of desire – craving, on the other hand, manifests as a lust for the five sense objects in order to achieve gratification by way of consuming things. Craving is the desire for consumption. This is a desire to obtain and to acquire solely for one’s own benefit. Here is where a crucial distinction between these two kinds of desire is evident.

When craving arises, it is by definition accompanied by a presumed ’owner’, ’desirer’, ’claimant’, or ’consumer’, i.e. by someone who acquires, seizes, and consumes, who wants to get things for the sake of this so-called ’owner’ or ’consumer’. This is the birth of a sense of self. {1079}

Wholesome enthusiasm functions differently; it is accompanied by a delight and satisfaction in witnessing the goodness and completeness of an object. This delight arises without needing to do anything. If the object is not yet in a state of completeness there is a desire for it to reach this state. This desire for completeness generates another level of desire, which is the wish to act to bring about completeness.

In the case that one does not know how to bring about such completeness, the natural causal process advocates how to respond. The desire for completeness and the inquiry into how to bring this about leads to a desire for knowledge, a yearning to understand.

The above explanations indicate the breadth of meaning of the term chanda. First, there is a delight in the goodness, beauty, and completeness of an object or person. Second, there is a wish for this thing or person to remain healthy, complete, or happy. Third, in the case that this thing or person has not yet reached such a state of completion, there is a wish to act in order to help bring about this completion. And fourth, there is a desire to gain the necessary knowledge required to help bring about completion.

The first distinction here is that wholesome enthusiasm wishes for something to exist in a natural state of fulfilment and completion. When one encounters something or someone in this state of completion one immediately experiences happiness and satisfaction, for instance when one delights in the beauty of nature. This differs from craving, which must wait for gratification until an object can be consumed.

Another essential distinction is that throughout the process of wholesome enthusiasm there is desire without the birth of ’one who desires’ or the birth of an agent who must act. This differs from the process of craving, which requires a sense of self: of a consumer, an owner, a controller, etc. If while engaging with something by way of wholesome enthusiasm a fixed sense of identity arises, this indicates that defilements associated with self-view have infiltrated the mind. A subtle defilement that tends to arise in this context is ’conceit’ (māna; the wish for self-importance).

The essence of chanda is a desire to act. For this reason this term is defined as kattukamyatā-chanda: desire as a wish to act. A frequent definition of chanda is chandoti kattukamyatā-chando: ’chanda is the aspiration expressed as a desire to act (in order for something to reach a state of virtue or completion)’. This point needs to be reiterated because it is the starting point of human spiritual development.

If we are endowed with wholesome enthusiasm, we will rejoice and feel at ease when we see that our house or monastery is clean and tidy. If it is dirty or messy, we will want to clean it. We will grab a broom and sweep the floor or the grounds. If we do not know how to sweep, we will want to learn and will study the best methods of sweeping. We will become experts at sweeping and experience joy while sweeping. This is an example of spiritual training and of how wholesome enthusiasm is the starting point of spiritual development.

With craving, however, this process of training does not begin. When craving arises, one wishes to obtain something in order to consume it. With consumption, the process ends; one has no wish to improve oneself. {1080}

Wholesome Desire in Relation to Others

So far the discussion on desire has focused on people’s work and activities, as well as touching upon the relationship to one’s environment. For this discussion to be complete, however, one must also look at wholesome desire in relation to other human beings.

As mentioned above, wholesome desire (chanda) is the wish for all things to exist in a state of goodness and completion. This desire extends also to all sentient beings. This well-wishing towards all beings, beginning with one’s human companions, is the desire for others to be well, to flourish, to be healthy and strong, and to experience joy and happiness.

Interaction with other human beings is a vital part of people’s lives. Likewise, wholesome desire in relation to other humans beings, and indeed, to all beings, holds a special significance in people’s lives.

This well-wishing, or desire for goodness, in relation to other people and other living creatures, has exceptional attributes, distinct from the desire for inanimate things to reach a state of wellness and completion. For this reason, there are several terms used to represent chanda in this context, depending on specific circumstances. Instead of using the term chanda to designate wholesome desire vis-à-vis other human beings, the following four terms are used:

  1. Mettā (’lovingkindness’): under normal circumstances, if one has wholesome desire – a sense of well-wishing – towards other people, one wants them to have a bright complexion, be physically healthy and experience happiness. This is a basic, initial form of well-wishing. It is a desire focusing on another person or living creature; it is not tied up with personal concerns. {1096}

  2. Karuṇā (’compassion’): if one encounters another person (or living creature) who is unhealthy, debilitated, anguished, or troubled, or who has fallen on bad times, one wishes for him or her to be free from such suffering, destitution, misery, or illness.

  3. Muditā (’appreciative joy’): if another person prospers, a child grows up to blossom and thrive, someone is healthy, physically beautiful and attractive, someone reaches some form of true success, etc., one rejoices in his or her accomplishments.

  4. Upekkhā (’equanimity’): In some circumstances, another person is able to take self-responsibility, or else it is suitable and appropriate for him or her to take such responsibility. In such cases, one should allow him or her to remain independent, without interference. For example, two parents may be watching their toddler learn how to walk. Wishing for the child to grow and succeed, they watch from a distance without intruding. They do not get caught up with worry and constantly cradle the child. The desire here for a state of wellness is a desire for people’s success, goodness, and rectitude. One wishes for them to abide in uprightness, correctness, and safety, for them to exist in truth and righteousness. To enable this, one refrains in these circumstances from interfering.

Wholesome desire (chanda) is the catalyst for these four mind states. In other words, wholesome desire expresses itself in four different contexts:

  1. A sense of well-wishing when people abide in a normal state of happiness (= mettā).

  2. A sense of well-wishing when people fall on hard times; a wish for them to be released from suffering and to arrive at a state of wellbeing (= karuṇā).

  3. A sense of well-wishing when people reach success and accomplishment; a wish for them to achieve ever greater prosperity (= muditā).

  4. A sense of well-wishing when people have the opportunity to exercise self-responsibility; a wish for them to abide in integrity, uprightness, security, and righteousness (= upekkhā).

Most people only consider the first three kinds of well-wishing, but this is insufficient, because these three factors are still confined to the domain of ’feeling’. Although these feelings, sentiments, or emotions are exalted and highly cultivated, they are not yet complete. Only the fourth factor brings completion.

In brief, if people only possess wholesome sentiments, no matter how elevated or sublime these may be, this is inadequate. These sentiments fulfil personal attributes, but they are not yet linked with truth – with Dhamma. Although these people are ’good’, they may not yet be ’correct’. To realize the truth, to reach true correctness, to dispel suffering, and to realize perfect happiness, one must also possess knowledge.

Technically speaking, completing the cultivation of the mind (citta) is insufficient. Factors of the mind, or the heart, cannot by themselves bring about liberation. One must complete the cultivation of wisdom (paññā), which is the decisive factor for liberation and mental perfection. The first three forms of well-wishing are confined to factors of the mind. The fourth factor involves wisdom, which prompts true application of the mind and leads to liberation. {1097}

In sum, although people may possess positive emotions, they need wisdom to regulate, refine, and elevate these emotions.11 The fourth factor of equanimity constitutes this link with wisdom.

If people lack wisdom, they are unable to solve life’s problems. Even if they are possessed with virtues and wholesome sentiments, they may apply these incorrectly and perform unskilful actions.

Say a thief steals $2,000. From one perspective, he has reached success; he has obtained money and experiences some happiness. How should one respond to this? In accord with the factor of appreciative joy, one rejoices in his happiness. Yet this is incorrect. Here, one runs counter to true Dhamma practice by getting stuck on the level of emotions. Although the emotions are positive, they may lead to trouble. People may then condone stealing, causing all sorts of problems for society.

Here is where wisdom brings about an integration and balance of the mind. The wish here, referred to as equanimity (upekkhā), is for other people to possess rectitude and correctness.

Equanimity as an expression of wholesome desire (chanda) is the wish for others to be well and complete. In order to reach completion, people must align themselves with Dhamma, with righteousness. One abides in a state of equanimity in order to allow correctness and righteousness to proceed according to the laws of nature.

The first three factors, of kindness, compassion, and appreciative joy, protect the individual; the fourth factor of equanimity also safeguards the truth. If someone else commits a breach of truth, then one should uphold and protect the truth, uphold justice and probity.

Fulfilment is reached with equanimity, which is an emotion connected to wisdom. Equanimity acts to balance these four ’divine abidings’ (brahmavihāra). According to the Buddhist teachings, these four factors are indeed divine forces, that is, they represent Brahma (the highest divinity) and protect the world.

Wise Enjoyment of Sense Pleasure

Diverse Grades of Happiness

The Buddha stated that he had realized a sublime happiness independent of sensuality (kāma), and for this reason he could assert that he would not circle back to seek out sense pleasure again. Had he not experienced this sublime happiness, he would not have been able to make such an assertion.

The Buddha then went on to say that even though a noble disciple may clearly discern with right wisdom that sense pleasure has little sweetness and much suffering – much affliction and danger – if he has not yet experienced the sublime bliss and happiness independent of sensuality, then he cannot yet say with confidence that he will not revert back in search of sense pleasure.12

Similarly, he warned the monks in particular that if someone who has gone forth has not yet savoured the sublime bliss and happiness independent of sensual pleasures, it is still possible for various defilements, like covetousness, ill-will, restlessness, laziness, and boredom, to overwhelm the mind.13 Such a person will not delight in the holy life or will not be able to endure living the holy life.

Apart from demonstrating the importance Buddhism gives to happiness, these references also reveal how noble disciples do not abandon sense desire because sensuality is void of pleasure or because Buddhism teaches to abstain from pleasure. Buddhism acknowledges pleasure and happiness as it truly exists; it encourages people to practise in order to achieve happiness and it recognizes that sensuality comprises one form of happiness.14

Noble disciples abandon sense desire because they see that despite the inherent pleasures of sensuality it is still mixed up with a great deal of suffering. And importantly, there is a more profound form of happiness, exceeding that of sense pleasure, exceeding the pleasures derived from consuming the various delightful objects in the world. Noble disciples abandon sense desire because they have savoured this more refined form of happiness.

There are thus different levels of happiness; here we can examine how Buddhism classifies them.

The Duka Nipāta of the Aṅguttara Nikāya separates happiness into various kinds and degrees, providing a long list of pairs, including: the happiness of householders and the happiness of renunciants, the happiness of sensuality and the happiness of renunciation, mundane happiness and transcendent happiness, and the happiness of noble beings and the happiness of ordinary beings.15

A clear and detailed classification of the various levels of happiness is the teaching on the ten levels of happiness which is found in many places in the Tipiṭaka:16

  1. Sense pleasure (kāma): joy and happiness dependent on the five cords of sensuality (kāma-guṇa).17

  2. Happiness of the first jhāna (paṭhamajhāna-sukha): happiness of the first jhāna, which is removed from sensuality and unwholesome states, and is comprised of initial and sustained thought (vitakka and vicāra), bliss (pīti), happiness (sukha), and one-pointedness (ekaggatā).

  3. Happiness of the second jhāna (dutiyajhāna-sukha): happiness of the second jhāna, which is comprised of bliss (pīti), happiness (sukha), and one-pointedness (ekaggatā). {1025}

  4. Happiness of the third jhāna (tatiyajhāna-sukha): happiness of the third jhāna, which is comprised of happiness (sukha) and one-pointedness (ekaggatā).

  5. Happiness of the fourth jhāna (catutthajhāna-sukha): happiness of the fourth jhāna, which is comprised of equanimity (upekkhā) and one-pointedness (ekaggatā).

  6. Happiness of the attainment of the sphere of unbounded space (ākāsānañcāyatanasamāpatti-sukha); in this concentrative attainment one transcends the perception of form (rūpa-saññā) and the perception of repulsion (paṭigha-saññā), and one pays no attention to the perception of diversity (nānatta-saññā); one directs attention solely on the infinity of space.

  7. Happiness of the attainment of the sphere of unbounded consciousness (viññāṇañcāyatanasamāpatti-sukha); in this concentrative attainment one meditates on the infinity of consciousness as one’s object of attention.

  8. Happiness of the attainment of the sphere of nothingness (ākiñcaññāyatanasamāpatti-sukha); in this concentrative attainment one meditates on the state of nothingness as one’s object of attention.

  9. Happiness of the attainment of the sphere of neither-perception-nor-nonperception (nevasaññānāsaññāyatanasamāpatti-sukha).

  10. Happiness associated with the attainment of the cessation of perception and feeling (saññāvedayitanirodhasamāpatti-sukha).

It is possible to abbreviate these ten kinds of happiness into three levels:18

  1. Happiness associated with sensuality (kāma-sukha).

  2. Happiness associated with jhāna (jhāna-sukha), or happiness associated with the eight concentrative attainments (aṭṭhasamāpatti-sukha), which can be further divided into two sub-categories:

    1. Happiness associated with the four fine-material jhānas.

    2. Happiness associated with the four formless jhānas.

  3. Happiness associated with the attainment of cessation (nirodha-samāpatti).

All of these aforementioned kinds of happiness are acknowledged as constituting happiness, but they are seen as representing gradually more refined and superior forms of happiness. The initial kinds of happiness still contain harmful aspects and are tied up with suffering. The higher forms of happiness are more refined and pure.

The scriptures teach to recognize these kinds of happiness as they truly are, both their pleasurable aspects and those aspects tied up with suffering, both their advantages (assāda; positive aspect) and disadvantages (ādīnava; negative aspect), both their merits and dangers. Moreover, they reveal the way out, the escape (nissaraṇa), or the freedom from all conditioned states of happiness which is independent of both the advantages and disadvantages.

When one sees the dangers of coarser forms of happiness, one becomes disenchanted by them and aspires towards more refined happiness. And when one has witnessed for oneself refined forms of happiness, one abandons the coarser forms and seeks ever more sublime happiness. At the very least one will not be overly engrossed in coarse pleasures.

Whenever people are liberated in a decisive way and the bonds of mental defilement have been utterly severed, they will never return to seek out coarser forms of happiness.19 They will experience only the refined happiness corresponding to a liberated mind. Experiencing these gradually more refined forms of happiness is one attribute of making progress in Dhamma practice. {1026}

Sense Pleasure and Superior Forms of Happiness

Following are some teachings that help to clarify the aforementioned subject material:

Monks, there are these five cords of sense pleasure (kāma-guṇa): forms cognizable by the eye … sounds cognizable by the ear … odours cognizable by the nose … tastes cognizable by the tongue … tangibles cognizable by the body that are desirable, alluring, likeable and agreeable, attractive and provocative of lust. These are the five cords of sense pleasure. Now the happiness and joy that arises dependent on these five cords of sense pleasure is the gratification (assāda) in the case of sense pleasures….

M. I. 85.

The happiness and joy … is called sensual pleasure (kāma-sukha).

M. II. 42-3; S. IV. 225; A. IV. 415-16; Nd. II. 66-7.

The term ’kāma’ refers to two things: alluring material objects (vatthu-kāma; desirable objects), and desire as mental impurity (kilesa-kāma; mental defilement that breeds desire).

What are alluring material objects? Pleasing visual forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangibles; rugs, blankets, female and male servants, goats, sheep, chickens, pigs, elephants, cows, horses, donkeys, rice paddies, land, silver, gold, houses, villages, royal towns, states, countries, armies, and royal treasuries – whatever material objects are the basis for attachment are called alluring material objects. Furthermore, all objects of desire existing in the past, present, and future; existing internally, externally, or both internally and externally; those that are base, middling, and superior; those belonging to beings in unhappy states of existence, belonging to human beings, and belonging to the celestial realms; those that are immediately at hand (paccupaṭṭhitā), those that are self-created (nimmitā), and those that are created by others (paranimmitā); those owned and those not owned; those coveted and those not coveted; those that belong entirely to the sense sphere (kāmāvacara), those that belong entirely to the fine-material sphere (rūpāvacara), and those that belong entirely to the formless sphere (arūpāvacara) – which are the basis for craving, the objects of craving; they are called objects of desire on account of being a basis for desire, on account of being a basis for infatuation. All of these are called alluring material objects.

And what is desire as mental impurity? Delight is desire, lust is desire, lustful attachment is desire; purpose (saṅkappa) is desire … lustful preoccupation is desire; sensual desire (kāma-chanda), sensual lust (kāma-rāga), sensual delight (kāma-nandi), sensual craving (kāma-taṇhā), sensual attachment (kāma-sineha), passion for sensual pleasure, infatuation for sensual pleasure, obsession with sensual pleasure, sense desire engulfing the mind, sense desire binding the mind, grasping to sensual pleasure, the hindrance of sensual desire, sense desire in the phrase: ’Look here, sense desire, I see your origin – you arise from intention. I will no longer be preoccupied with you; by doing this you will remain no longer’ – all these are called desire as mental impurity.

Nd. I. 1-2, 28.

Monks, the conception of an embryo in a womb takes place through the union of three things. When there is the union of the mother and father, and it is the mother’s season, and the being to be reborn is present, through the union of these three things the conception of an embryo in a womb takes place. The mother then carries the embryo in her womb for nine or ten months with great risk to her life, as a heavy burden. Then, at the end of nine or ten months, the mother gives birth with great risk to her life, as a heavy burden. She then nourishes the newborn child with her own blood; for the mother’s breast-milk is called ’blood’ in the noble ones’ tradition.20 {1027}

M. I. 265-6.

’A young infant child, lying on his back, plays [even] with his own urine and faeces. What do you think, isn’t that completely amusing for that infant child?

’Yes, venerable sir.’

’Sometime later, when that child grows up and his faculties mature, he plays the games that are typical for children – games with toy ploughs, stick games, somersaults, games with pinwheels, game with measures made of sand, games with toy chariots, games with toy bows. What do you think, isn’t this amusement superior and more refined than the former kind?’

’Yes, venerable sir.’

’At a still later time, as that boy continues to grow up and his faculties mature still further, he enjoys himself furnished and endowed with the five objects of sensual pleasure: with forms … sounds … odours … tastes … tangibles that are are desirable, alluring, likeable and appealing, attractive and provocative of lust. What do you think, isn’t this amusement superior and more refined than the former kind?’

’Yes, venerable sir.’21

A. V. 203.

Among householders the most exalted person is a universal emperor (cakkavatti; ’wheel-turning monarch’), who wields supreme power and is replete with material wealth. According to Buddhism such a person is also endowed with superior virtue. A universal emperor is thus considered to have the greatest amount of happiness, greater than that generally experienced by other human beings. The Buddha referred to the happiness of a universal monarch in order to describe the most complete form of (ordinary) human happiness, and to compare it with various other levels and degrees of happiness, revealing their relative subtlety and profundity.

According to the ideal depiction, a universal emperor possesses seven treasures (ratana) and four kinds of success (iddhi). The seven treasures are as follows:

  1. A precious wheel, signifying righteous and legitimate sovereignty. It enables the emperor to extend his empire of peace across the entire continent, reaching the oceans in all four directions, by using righteous methods and sustained by the delight of those who accept his rule.

  2. A precious elephant, which is able to transport the emperor across the entire continent quickly in order to inspect the royal domain.

  3. A precious horse, which is likewise able to transport the emperor across the entire continent quickly in order to inspect the royal domain.

  4. A precious and powerful gem, which radiates light across great distances, enabling the emperor to move his troops at night or to have citizens of the land work at night as if it were daytime.

  5. A precious queen, who besides having a beautiful body and complexion surpassing that of all other women also possesses a marvellous touch, described as ’gentle and soft as cotton or down’. When cold, her body warms; when hot, her body cools. Her fragrance is as sweet as sandalwood; her breath like the scent of a lotus. Moreover, she speaks pleasing words and knows how to minister to all the wishes of the emperor.

  6. A precious treasurer, who possesses the divine eye; he is able to spot sources of wealth in all places and is able to find as much gold and silver as the emperor desires.

  7. A precious advisor, who possesses exceptional talent at rulership. Apart from offering correct counsel on official matters, he is able to direct all sorts of work projects and issue royal decrees in place of the emperor. {1028}

The emperor’s four kinds of success are as follows:

  1. his outward appearance is more handsome and majestic than that of all other men;

  2. his lifespan is longer than that of all other people;

  3. he is healthy and strong, with few illnesses;

  4. his subjects are loyal to him; they love him like children love their parents, and he loves them as a father loves his children. When he travels outside of the palace the people receive him and wish to spend as much time as possible with him; he too wishes to spend time with them.

The happiness and pleasure of such an emperor is superior to that of other people, including the young man referred to in the previous quotation. Nevertheless, the Buddha said that however great is the happiness of a universal emperor, it is paltry – even inconsequential – when compared to the happiness of the celestial realms. It is similar to comparing a small stone the size of one’s palm to the towering Himalayas.22

Although divine happiness (dibba-sukha) is an elevated form of sensual pleasure, greatly exceeding the sense pleasure of human beings, there exists a happiness more sublime than this. Such a latter form of sublime happiness is independent of sensuality and of external objects of gratification. Those who have experienced it feel no envy or desire when they see someone else who is enjoying abundant sense pleasure. This is similar to celestial beings, who feel no envy or delight in the inferior happiness of human beings. Moreover, these individuals have no yearning even for divine happiness, because they have experienced a superior form of happiness.

In this context, the Buddha recounted his own experiences:23

’So too, Māgandiya, formerly when I lived the home life, I enjoyed myself, provided and endowed with the five cords of sensual pleasure: with forms … sounds … fragrances … tastes … tangibles that are are desirable, alluring, likeable and appeal-ing, attractive and provocative of lust. I had three palaces, one for the rainy season, one for the winter, and one for the summer. I lived in the rains’ palace for the four months of the rainy season, enjoying myself with musicians who were all female, and I did not have to step out of the palace for four months.

’On a later occasion, having understood as they actually are the origin, the transience, the gratification, the danger, and the escape in the case of sensual pleasures, I abandoned craving for sensual pleasures, I dispelled the fever for sensual pleasures, and I abide without thirst, with a mind inwardly at peace.

’I see other beings who are not free from lust for sensual pleasures being devoured by craving for sensual pleasures, burning with fever for sensual pleasures, indulging in sensual pleasures, and I do not envy them nor do I delight therein. Why is that? Because I delight in the happiness apart from sensual pleasures, apart from unwholesome states. Therefore I do not envy what is inferior, nor do I delight therein. {1029}

’Suppose, Māgandiya, a householder or a householder’s son was rich, with great wealth and property, and being provided and endowed with the five cords of sensual pleasure, he might enjoy himself…. Having conducted himself well … he might reappear in a happy destination, in the heavenly world in the retinue of the gods of the Thirty-Three; and there, surrounded by a group of nymphs in the Nandana Grove, he would enjoy himself, provided and endowed with the five cords of divine sensual pleasure. Suppose he saw a householder or a householder’s son enjoying himself, provided and endowed with the five cords of sensual pleasure. What do you think? Would that young god … envy the householder or the householder’s son for the five cords of sensual pleasure, delight in the five cords of human sensual pleasure, or be nostalgic for human sensual pleasures?’

’No, Master Gotama. Why not? Because heavenly sensual pleasures are more excellent and sublime than human sensual pleasures.’

’So too, Māgandiya…. I do not envy them nor do I delight therein … because I delight in the happiness apart from sensual pleasures, apart from unwholesome states, which surpasses divine bliss. Therefore I do not envy an inferior happiness, nor do I delight therein.’

M. I. 505-506.

Dangers and Drawbacks of Sense Pleasure

What is kāma? As indicated in the quotation above, the term kāma has two definitions. First, in can mean ’desire’, ’affection’, ’lust’, or ’yearning’. Second, it can mean ’object of desire’, ’object of affection’, ’object of lust’, ’object of yearning’, ’object of gratification’, ’something that stimulates pleasure’, ’something that provides comfort’. This second definition refers to any person, living being, material wealth, personal belonging, etc., which people possess or hold on to in order to derive pleasure. In sum, these objects are classified as the five ’strands of sensuality’ (kāma-guṇa): sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangibles that are desirable, that provide sense pleasure (kāma-sukha). Sense pleasure is dependent on the five senses and dependent on material things; it can also be referred to as ’carnal pleasure’ or as ’material happiness’ (sāmisa-sukha or āmisa-sukha).

There are many kinds and degrees of sense pleasure, including exalted and divine kinds of pleasure, all of which are recognized as forms of happiness. Here, we shall focus on the flaws of sense pleasure and the advantages of supreme happiness. We may ask why those people who have experienced more refined happiness claim that it is superior to sense pleasure and even relinquish sense pleasure altogether.

The dangers and drawbacks of kāma (here, both definitions of this term are combined, i.e. desire and objects of desire) can be looked at from three angles: in relation to an individual, in relation to kāma itself, and in relation to the social behaviour of people indulging in sensuality.

In terms of the individual, one can witness how people, through an improper relationship to sense objects, generate suffering within themselves. By behaving incorrectly in relation to the world around them, they make things into objects of desire and cause themselves misery.

In terms of kāma itself, one can discern the flaws of those things sought after by people, and one can discern the flaws inherent in the enjoyment and gratification derived from these things.

In terms of people’s behaviour, one can see how those people who seek out and indulge in sense pleasure act in relation to society.

Note that although these three aspects can be distinguished, they are in fact interconnected.

The individual

Here the focus is on the process of creating suffering in line with Dependent Origination (paṭiccasamuppāda). This begins with cognition of various sense objects, followed by an erroneous mental attitude towards these things. A person continually allows the stream of events to follow the path of ignorance and craving until this process becomes habitual. One can call this a habitual predilection for suffering or a propensity for causing problems. The Buddha mentioned this process in his description of human development, beginning with conception in the womb until a person grows up as an adult. A part of this development was quoted above; here, we continue this description: {1030}

When that child grows up and his faculties mature still further, he enjoys himself provided and endowed with the five cords of sensual pleasure…. On seeing a form with the eye, he lusts after it if it is pleasing; he dislikes it if it is displeasing…. On hearing a sound … on smelling an odour … on tasting a flavour … on touching a tangible object … on cognizing a mind object, he lusts after it if it is pleasing; he dislikes it if it is displeasing. He abides with mindfulness of body unestablished, with a limited mind, and he does not understand as it actually is the deliverance of mind and deliverance by wisdom wherein those evil unwholesome states already arisen cease without remainder.

Engaged as he is in pleasure and aversion, whatever feeling he feels – whether pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant – he is engrossed in that feeling, devoted to it, and preoccupied by it. As he does so, delight (nandi; craving) arises in him. Now delight in feelings [transforms into] clinging. With this clinging as condition, there is becoming; with becoming as condition, birth; with birth as condition, aging and death; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair all come to be. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.24

M. I. 266.

Kāma itself

Here one focuses on the flaws of sense desire and on the objects of sense desire. The Buddha frequently used the following analogies to demonstrate how kāma provides relatively little satisfaction; instead it creates much affliction and danger:

  • Sense desire is similar to an exhausted and starving dog who is thrown a bone covered with blood. It will gnaw on the bone until it is tired and weak, without real satisfaction or fulfilment.

  • Sense desire is similar to a vulture or hawk with a piece of meat in its mouth; other raptors will swoop down as a mob and snatch the meat away. People have no absolute ownership over material things; others can snatch them away. Many different people desire the same object, giving rise to rivalry, conflict, oppression, and even killing. If one does not know how to relate responsibly towards sense objects one will experience distress and torment.

  • Sense desire is similar to a person holding a flaming grass torch and walking upwind. Before long he will have to throw the torch down or else his hands, arms and body will be burned, leading to severe injuries or even death.

  • Sense desire is similar to a blazing pit of coals. Someone who cherishes his life knows that if he falls in he will die or be severely injured. He does not want to fall in, but a strong man grabs him by the arms and gradually drags him towards the pit.

  • Sense objects are similar to a radiant and beautiful dream. Before long the images fade and disappear; upon waking one sees nothing and is left with a feeling of anguish.

  • Sense objects are similar to borrowed possessions, which a person shows off in order to appear fancy and smart. Other people will admire them, but one will only be able to possess them temporarily and with a sense of doubt; one has no true ownership over them. Whenever the true owner (i.e. nature) asks for them back, one must return them; there is no compromise. All that a person is left with is his or her body-and-mind, which is constantly subject to rising and passing away. {1031}

  • Sense objects are similar to a tree at the edge of the forest bearing abundant fruit; those people who pass by and desire the fruit will use whatever means at their disposal to acquire it. Those who are able will climb the tree to gather the fruit, while those who cannot will use other means; if they are foolish or evil-minded, they will cut the entire tree down. If those people up in the tree do not get down in time, the tree will fall on them, leading to injury or even death.25

  • Sense objects are similar to a chopping block. Meddling with them is tantamount to risking losing one’s life by being chopped or slashed.

  • Sense objects are similar to a spear or lance; they tend to stab and pierce, wounding one and causing injury.

  • Sense objects are similar to the head of a snake; if one is exposed to it, one must always live in distrust; one is unable to truly feel secure or be at ease. The snake can strike at any time, placing one in a constant state of danger.26

The disadvantages or flaws of kāma can be summarized as follows: objects of sense pleasure are only able to provide a desirable sweetness, delectability, and enjoyment for the short duration that one is experiencing them, but these objects, when they are related to incorrectly, end up inflicting acute pain and distress for a long time. Moreover, the fading and passing away of the enjoyment may cause sadness and torment, leading to longstanding grief.

Social behaviour

Here, an examination of the disadvantages of sense desire begins with the suffering, hardship, and adversity inherent in earning a livelihood and seeking material objects to use and consume. Everyone must endure the hardships of climate and of physical and mental fatigue in earning a living. Some people are so impoverished that they lose their lives in the search for material things; other people make great effort in their work, struggling with obstacles and exhaustion, but are unsuccessful; they make no money or they go bankrupt, resulting in grief and anguish. Even when one obtains such things, there is suffering in trying to protect them. Some people experience such misfortunes as having their possessions stolen by thieves or incinerated by fire, causing them additional distress.

When ignorant people obtain material possessions they get enslaved by them. Proud of their possessions – which are ultimately illusory and have no inherent lasting existence – they look down on others, thus increasing the woes of society. Some people are jealous of other people’s possessions, leading to disputes, competition, and various forms of oppression.

This interpersonal conflict is illustrated in this passage from the Pali Canon: ’Kings dispute with kings, nobles dispute with nobles, brahmins dispute with brahmins, merchants dispute with merchants, mothers dispute with their children, children dispute with their mothers, fathers dispute with their children, children dispute with their fathers, brothers dispute with their brothers, sisters dispute with their brothers, brothers dispute with their sisters, friends dispute with friends.’ This conflict can spill out into physical fighting and even murder.

Spurred on by various personal interests and fuelled by sense desire, people take up arms and engage in war: shooting, stabbing, and bombing one another. {1032} Likewise, they engage in various forms of immoral behaviour, like theft, burglary, adultery, and rape. When they are caught they receive various kinds of punishments. And when they die they must experience further torment in planes of misery, bad destinations, lower worlds, and hell. All of these actions and results are due to sense desire.27

Those who discern the aforementioned disadvantages and dangers of sense desire (kāma), and who have experienced a superior kind of happiness, to the point of no longer hankering after objects of sensual enjoyment, also see into the true nature of sense pleasure (kāma-sukha). The Buddha explained this matter by using another analogy, as follows:

Imagine a person with leprosy, whose body is deeply infected by the disease and covered with lesions. He uses his fingernails to scratch at the scabs and for relief he burns his flesh over a charcoal pit. At a later time a doctor cures him of this illness, enabling him to live at ease and to move about as he wishes. He sees other people suffering from leprosy who scratch their wounds, cauterize their flesh, and take medicine for their illness, but he feels no delight or gladness in respect to these people. This is similar to those who formerly indulged in objects of sense pleasure. When they later abandon craving for sense pleasure and experience an internal peace and happiness that is independent of sensuality and superior even to divine pleasures, they feel no delight or hankering when they see others indulging in sense pleasures.

If a strong person were to grab someone who has recovered from leprosy and drag him towards a fire pit, he would struggle to escape, because of the heat of the fire. The contact with the fire is now considered painful, whereas formerly, when he had leprosy, he would seek out the same hot fire voluntarily to grill his flesh, and he considered the contact pleasurable. This is because a person afflicted with leprosy has damaged faculties, leading to inverted or perverse perceptions (saññā-viparīta) in the face of fire, experiencing pain as pleasure. So too it is with sensuality.

In truth, all forms of sensuality entail painful contact and are marked by burning and agitation. People are ordinarily infected by craving for sensuality, however, and possess damaged and faulty faculties, giving rise to warped perceptions about sensuality, experiencing the actual pain as pleasure.28

The more a leper scratches and burns his lesions, the dirtier and more putrid they become. His happiness and delight stems from scratching his wounds, or exists at the point of the wound that is being scratched. As long as he is not cured from this itch, he will be unable to know a superior kind of happiness. He will be caught up in scratching – how can one introduce him to a happiness that does not involve scratching the itch? But when he is cured of this illness and is healthy, he will be able to know a superior form of happiness, and from then on he will not desire the pleasure derived by scratching an itch.

The same is true in respect to sense pleasure. When those people marred by craving for sensuality experience sense pleasure, their craving intensifies. Moreover, their happiness and delight is derived from and limited to the five objects of sense pleasure. If they are still not cured from the infection and inflammation of craving for sensuality, it will not be possible for them to know a superior, more refined kind of happiness. In this agitated state, how can one get them to experience an internal happiness independent of external sense objects? {1033}

But when craving for sensuality no longer gnaws away at them, and they are freed from the provocations of sense desire, they will be able to experience a sublime, internal happiness. This is referred to as a freedom from disease, an absence of mental disturbance, or perfect mental health, which is one of the definitions for Nibbāna.29

In the Sakka Sutta the Buddha converses with a group of Sakyan householders.30 After being questioned, the Sakyans acknowledge that someone who makes his living righteously and abstains from anything unwholesome, and who as a result earns half a coin, a single coin, two coins – all the way up to five hundred coins – per day, is worthy to be called an enterprising person.

Yet even if such an enterprising person were to save up his earnings for one hundred years, amassing a large quantity of wealth, this wealth would not be able to provide him with pure, uninterrupted happiness for a single day or even a half a day. This is because objects of sense pleasure are impermanent, insubstantial, without any lasting reality, subject to disappearance and decay. This differs from those who practise according to the Buddha’s teachings and who attain the fruit enabling them to abide in pure, unadulterated happiness for long periods of time.

Happiness from Scratching an Itch and Happiness from the Itch Being Cured

To help review the Buddhist perspective on happiness, let us examine once more the passages in the Māgaṇḍiya Sutta. This teaching outlines the development of happiness, beginning with the pleasures experienced by infants up to the supreme happiness of Nibbāna. In this sutta the Buddha describes the pursuit and experience of various kinds of happiness in people’s lives:

To begin with, a newly-born infant, lying in its cradle, may giggle and find delight by smearing its own urine and excrement.

A few years later, this child no longer finds pleasure in such activity. Rather, he or she likes to play in a sandbox or in the dirt, and enjoys playing with toys, like dolls or miniature cars, trains, or airplanes. Children find tremendous delight in toys, cherishing and clinging to them. Some children have a favourite blanket, and no matter how ragged or soiled it is, they cherish it intensely. If someone acts to take it away from them, they will scream as if their life depended on it. {1100}

Children then develop into young adults at which time these toys are no longer considered amusing; they provide them with no pleasure or satisfaction. Instead, people derive another level of pleasure from enjoyment by way of sense contact, by way of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangible objects.

From here happiness can be developed further. Yet if people fail to develop higher forms of happiness and stop at the level of sense pleasure, before long they will experience an inevitable despair, or at the very least they will no longer be able to enjoy these pleasures, and will encounter great suffering and affliction.

Those people who develop higher forms of happiness experience a refined joy independent of pleasurable sense objects. They reach a free, unconstrained happiness and become truly liberated.

When these liberated individuals observe others who indulge in sense pleasure, they no longer consider this enjoyment of sense pleasure as a form of satisfaction. Their attitude towards sense pleasure has changed, similar to how an adult looks at children delighting in their toys. Although they understand this delight, they look upon it with humour or sympathy.

As mentioned earlier, the Buddha used the metaphor of a leper to describe this development of happiness. Lepers feel extreme itchiness due to the disease. As a result they scratch at their lesions, yet this scratching only intensifies the itch. The more they scratch the more they itch; the more they itch the more they scratch. Moreover, they derive a sense of pleasure from scratching. Because of the discomfort they also seek relief by burning their lesions by a fire. They find happiness and satisfaction by burning themselves, which ordinary people would find intolerable.

The Buddha once asked a brahmin what would happen if a leper met a doctor with an effective medicine, resulting in the cure of this illness. Would this person cured of leprosy still seek happiness from scratching or desire to burn himself with a flame? The brahmin answered that just the opposite would occur. If someone were to grab this man and pull him towards a flame, he would struggle desperately to escape. The Buddha pointed out how the development of happiness is similar. Someone who has experienced a happiness superior to sense pleasure no longer considers the enjoyment of sense objects as a source of satisfaction.

One can say that a significant percentage of human beings derive happiness from scratching an itch. Those people who have developed themselves to another level derive happiness from a freedom from itching. Consider which of these kinds of happiness is superior.

Does a healthy person free from illness consider this state of health, this state of wellbeing, to be happiness? Is not such freedom from illness, freedom from affliction, freedom from chafing, itching, and physical pain a true state of happiness?31 {1101} The state of physical health, free from weakness and irritation, in which all of one’s organs function well, is an inherent state of happiness. Indeed, such health, such freedom from affliction, is a basic, primary form of happiness aspired to by all people.

No matter what sort of happiness people aim for and no matter how abundant are their material possessions, if they are deprived of physical health, their objects of sense pleasure gradually lose importance. Regardless of how bountiful are their objects of sense pleasure, if people are impaired or ravaged by physical illness, these things lose all of their value. Moreover, if their happiness was invested in these things, the illness will only intensify suffering and lead to a sickness of heart.

Let us turn our attention to the mind. A mind that is satisfied, spacious, joyous, and bright, free from vexation and disturbance, is inherently complete. Such a state of mind is in itself happiness, in the same way as physical health is a form of happiness. In fact this happiness is even greater than that of physical health, but because of the mind’s refinement most people have difficulty gaining an insight into it.

Take the example of someone in rude health. If he is in great mental distress, no amount of material comforts can provide him with happiness. In contrast, people whose minds are bright, cheerful, and free are happy even when nothing is happening and when they abide in the most ordinary and routine circumstances.

Enjoyment of Sense Pleasures without Affliction

Normally speaking, sense pleasure and more refined kinds of happiness are incompatible. This is because sense pleasure is tied up with arousing and stimulating sense objects, accompanied by agitation and anxiety, and dependent on external things for gratification. Refined happiness, on the other hand, begins with peace of mind. The happiness of jhāna, for example, arises when the mind is first secluded from sensuality and secluded from unwholesome states.

Therefore, it is difficult for ordinary people to enjoy both sense pleasures and more refined forms of happiness, especially the happiness of jhāna, because whatever they delight in they also tend to attach to and indulge in. When they are agitated and confused by the power of sense desire, it is difficult for them to enter into the happiness of jhāna. There are many stories of hermits and renunciants falling away from jhāna because of an infatuation for sense pleasure. Only when one is a noble being, beginning with stream-entry, can one enjoy sense pleasures safely. For this reason the Buddha repeatedly encouraged people to develop wisdom and have a proper relationship to sense pleasure; only then can one escape from its power and influence.

In the Pāsarāsi Sutta the Buddha compares the five objects of sense pleasure to a hunter’s snare. This teaching pertains to three groups of ascetics and brahmins:32

  1. First Group: those ascetics and brahmins who enjoy the five cords of sensuality (kāma-guṇa) with attachment, infatuation, and indulgence, without a discernment of their dangers and without liberating wisdom. They are similar to a deer captured in a snare; they will meet with downfall and destruction, slaughtered by the hunter – evil-minded Māra. {1036}

  2. Second Group: those ascetics and brahmins who enjoy the five cords of sensuality without attachment, infatuation, and indulgence, with a discernment of their dangers and with liberating wisdom. They are similar to a deer lying on top of the snare but not caught in it. They do not meet with downfall and destruction, and are not subject to being carried off by the hunter.

  3. Third Group: those bhikkhus who are secluded from sensuality, secluded from unwholesome states, who have attained a level of fine-material and immaterial jhāna, along with the cessation of perception and feeling (saññāvedayita-nirodha), and who have brought the mental taints to an end (i.e. who have experienced supreme happiness). They are called those who have blinded Māra, who consequently cannot see any trace of them. They are similar to deer who wander freely and at ease in a great forest, undetected by the hunter.

From this sutta one can see that the Buddha did not simply teach to abandon an involvement with objects of sensual pleasure. He also taught a proper engagement to these things, by maintaining an independence in relation to them. One thus does not become enslaved by them, and one does not permit them to cause harm and to create suffering.

The involvement with sense objects belonging to the second group of ascetics and brahmins above is the way of practice most emphasized for general Dhamma practitioners. The key principle in this way of practice is encapsulated in the term ’with liberating wisdom’, which is a translation of the Pali nissaraṇa-paññā. It refers to wisdom that knows how to lead one to freedom. It can also be defined as ’wisdom escaping the enticements by craving’ or ’wisdom preventing entrapment by craving’.

The commentaries generally define nissaraṇa-paññā as an ability to reflect when using the four requisites, by focusing on the true purpose, benefit, or value of these things.33 For example, one uses clothing primarily to ward off cold, heat, wind, and biting insects, and to cover one’s private parts, not for boasting or for show. One eats food in order to keep the body strong and at ease and so that one can perform one’s activities, not for amusement, intoxication, or a sign of extravagance.

The application of such wise reflection fosters inner independence, prevents enslavement to material objects, and helps to avoid the dangers and suffering stemming from spinning around in the vortex of moodiness, of joy and sorrow, pleasure and disappointment. Moreover, it generates a balanced use of the requisites, which is a boon for one’s life. Practice endowed with liberating wisdom (nissaraṇa-paññā) is thus referred to as ’knowledge of moderation’.34

Someone who relates properly to sense pleasure will find it easy to access more refined forms of happiness, as such happiness is dependent on wholesome states of mind. When one has experienced refined happiness, this happiness then helps in turn to guide one’s search for and partaking of sense pleasure, keeping it within correct boundaries. This is because one appreciates the value of more refined happiness. And when one reaches higher states of realization, comprised of ever more profound forms of happiness, one will not return to seek out sense pleasure again. {1037}

Liberated Enjoyment of Sense Pleasure

Noble disciples (ariya-sāvaka) are endowed with liberating wisdom (nissaraṇa-paññā). They enjoy sensual or material pleasure with a thorough understanding, preserving an inner freedom and avoiding enslavement by material things. They use and consume things by recognizing both their benefits as well as their potential harm. They are able to manage things and manage affairs in a way that leads to the wellbeing of themselves, their families, their companions, their dependants, their coworkers, their community, and indeed of their entire society. Moreover, they are aware, both in regard to themselves and to others, of how to progress and develop on the noble path (ariya-magga).35

In reference to monks or monastic residents, who aim for higher forms of happiness and freedom, the Buddha taught to abandon sensual desire and to pass beyond material things. But in reference to householders, he did not emphasize the abstinence from sensuality.36 Instead, he emphasized managing the consumption of material things and dwelling in contentment in a way that is safe from ill-effects and conducive to the greatest blessings for oneself and others.

Of course, liberating wisdom is also a key element for householders or laypeople, both in respect to enjoying sense objects (kāma-bhoga) safely – in a way conducive to benefit and free from affliction – and to guiding one to greater levels of wellbeing. The Buddha thus emphasized the constant application of such wisdom in the engagement with all things, by clearly recognizing three principal factors: the benefits, the dangers, and the escape, or in other words: the advantages, the drawbacks or faults, and the point of deliverance and freedom, which constitutes a state of completion, transcending both the advantages and disadvantages that are still inseparably bound by one another.

When teaching laypeople, who had either no understanding or only a basic understanding of the Buddhist teachings, and who did not yet aspire to renounce the household life, the Buddha usually began with basic levels of practice followed by more refined levels. This teaching by the Buddha is called the ’progressive instruction’ or ’gradual instruction’ (anupubbikathā).

The gradual instruction is comprised of five factors (three expositions – kathā – and two related subjects). (See Note Expositions) The three expositions are as follows:

  1. Dāna-kathā: exposition on giving, renunciation, charity, and generosity.

  2. Sīla-kathā: exposition on moral conduct, on refraining from exploitation of others, and on refraining from causing social conflict and enmity.

  3. Sagga-kathā: exposition on ’heaven’, i.e. a virtuous, wholesome life, which is endowed with happiness derived from sense objects (kāma-vatthu). This exposition highlights those individuals, including celestial beings, who live an upright life and enjoy various levels of sense pleasure. This third factor is the result of generosity and moral conduct. It points to a sense of responsibility in creating a wholesome life and society, and to experiencing a healthy form of sensual happiness.

This gradual teaching introduced those laypeople in the audience to the highest goal that they were struggling to find. They were able to recognize that when one lives one’s life in accord with the first two principles of generosity and virtuous conduct, one will experience a faultless form of happiness and enjoy abundant sense pleasures, as described in the third factor, and one thus achieves one’s wishes. {1038}


In the Tipiṭaka and other scriptural texts only three ’expositions’ (kathā) are mentioned: dāna-kathā, sīla-kathā, and sagga-kathā. The following two factors, ’disadvantages of sensual pleasures’ (kāmādīnava) and ’benefits of renouncing sensual pleasures’ (nekkhammānisaṁsa), are not followed by the word kathā. They are related teachings describing the gist of the first three factors, especially of sagga-kathā, and point out the way to reaching more refined kinds of happiness. Later texts, however, added the word kathā to these two factors. Even in some of the Pali Tipiṭaka editions (the Burmese editions), commentaries, and sub-commentaries, the term kāmādīnava-kathā was created and inserted into the text (unlike the term nekkhammānisaṁsakathā, which is only found in later texts).

If the listener was prepared the Buddha would then continue by describing the disadvantages of sense pleasures (kāmādīnava). He would explain that, however great the pleasure dependent on material objects may be, it still has a drawback or deficiency, paving the way to suffering and loss. When the listener understood this fourth factor well and wished for a way out, the Buddha would describe the benefits of renouncing sense pleasures (nekkhammānisaṁsa), i.e. he would point out a life of freedom, of independence from material things, and of unconstrained happiness, which becomes a constant inner quality. The listener would then become receptive and aspire to reach a happiness independent of objects of sensuality (nirāmisa-sukha). This was how the Buddha would develop a receptivity and readiness in people. He would prepare their minds gradually, in a way epitomized by the expression of old: ’cleansing and purifying a person’s disposition.’

The Tipiṭaka states that when the Buddha knew that the minds of his listeners were receptive, malleable, unclouded, joyous and bright – similar to a spotless cloth ready to receive dye – he would teach the Four Noble Truths. When their minds were open, he would impart wisdom, enabling them to arrive at the truth (sacca-dhamma), to be a personal witness to truth, until there arose the ’eye of Dhamma’ (dhamma-cakkhu) and they would enter the community of the noble ones (ariya-puggala), from stream-enterers upwards.

Most of these awakened individuals with the ’eye of Dhamma’ continue to live as householders.37 They still enjoy sensuality, but it is a sensual happiness integrated with the happiness independent of material things (nirāmisa-sukha), which acts as a guarantee, preventing sensuality from causing harm and indeed generating blessings and virtue. These noble beings act as pillars and exemplars, exercising authority in their communities. And they advance without fail, without decline, on the noble path.

In sum, however delicious, sparkling, refreshing, remarkable, or desirable sense pleasure (kāma-sukha) or material happiness (sāmisa-sukha) may be, it still depends on external objects – it is not yet free and independent. It still involves some form of personal attachment and possession.

Furthermore, in the insatiable search for sense gratification, other people are bent on pursuing the same objects of pleasure, of which the finest and most desirable are of a limited and inadequate number. People vying for these things treat each other with distrust, giving rise to disagreements, conflicts, zealous guarding of possessions, and oppression. If people do not know how to control their desires, this oppression intensifies, leading to increased distress and unbounded destruction.

Even if one does own these material things to one’s heart’s content, they may disappear. And even if they do not disappear, they may lose their appeal, either by undergoing change themselves or as a result of a change in the individual. In any case they must eventually decline and disintegrate – they cannot be sustained in that desirable condition forever – and one must be separated from these things in the end.

Hand-in-hand with sense pleasure comes worry and anxiety. Although people may experience sensual happiness to fulfilment, apart from people’s innate insatiability causing problems, that happiness itself is neither secure, reliable, nor replete. It is as if one is plagued by an imbedded and infected splinter or barb that causes irritation and annoyance. The pleasure is mixed up with suffering. The future is full of fear and anticipation, the past full of sorrow and regrets. It is not a pure, faultless, spacious, and complete form of happiness. {1039}

Although more refined forms of happiness are internal, independent, pure, and harmless, if one’s enjoyment of this happiness is still mixed with mental defilement, one may succumb to indulgence, giving rise to heedlessness and neglect; one’s responsibilities and the wellbeing of one’s community will be undermined. Moreover, one may fall back to indulging in material pleasures and forget to put effort into spiritual practice in order to eliminate residual mental impurities, which are the root of suffering. One’s practice will thus be faulty and compromised.

Therefore, both sensual happiness and happiness independent of material things experienced by those who still have mental defilements is not yet truly free or complete, because these people harbour a sense of self that gets caught up with things; they have not yet eradicated the root of suffering. They must engage in spiritual cultivation until they arrive at the destruction of the taints (āsavakkhaya) – the state free from suffering, by which one does not grasp at anything, and nothing ’sticks’ to the mind, just as water does not stick to a lotus leaf. A person’s body lives in the world, but the mind transcends the world. One passes beyond both suffering and the happiness dependent on sensation (vedanā), including refined sensations generated in the mind, and one reaches supreme happiness, which does not involve ’feeding on’ sensation. This happiness is completely satisfying and it is complete in itself. It can be compared to perfect physical health. Nothing disturbs or irritates the mind; it is clear, calm, pure, bright, and at ease.

When one has reached utter and total freedom, and there is no ’self’ to get entangled in anything, one is happy in every situation and nothing remains to be done in respect to personal desires. If one seeks out happiness this is done for the sake of the world, for the wellbeing and happiness of all beings. This is the supreme happiness of freedom from suffering; it lies beyond the reach of affliction, and it constitutes the highest goal of every human being.

Despite the drawbacks and disadvantages of sense pleasure, it is still one form of happiness, which has a bearing on the majority of people. Because of its potential for causing suffering, both for individuals and for society, it is very important to guard against and to rectify any harm it creates. In sum, sense pleasure must be managed carefully, and people ought to be encouraged to develop themselves in order to experience higher forms of happiness.

The skilful management of sense pleasure is a necessary asset at beginning stages of practice. Although sense pleasure contains defects it can still benefit one’s life and help lead to a peaceful coexistence with others. Moreover, it is a basis from which people can develop themselves and discover greater blessings. For this reason, in systematic presentations of happiness, well-managed sense pleasure is classified as a basic benefit (attha) which is to be aspired to and reached. It is referred to as a ’present benefit’ (diṭṭhadhammikattha): a visible, obvious, and immediate benefit. The benefit here refers precisely to the happiness derived from material things.

’Present benefit’ (diṭṭhadhammikattha) refers to happiness on the material level (rūpa-dhamma). It is tied up with material things (vatthu), with objects of gratification and consumable things. Moreover, it pertains to communal living, to creating wholesome, supportive interpersonal relationships. In sum, this benefit involves:

  • Diligence in performing one’s work and in earning one’s living, in order to obtain enough material wealth to look after oneself, one’s family, and one’s dependants, so that everyone is at ease.

  • Maintaining wholesome social relationships and communal harmony; having a respectable position in society, in addition to receiving honour and prestige and having a supportive retinue or staff.

  • Sustaining one’s family in comfort; establishing one’s family as a respectable model for others and in a way conducive to the wellbeing of society.

  • Taking care of one’s body, for instance by exercising and showing moderation in eating, so that one lives without illness and remains healthy. {1040}

In regard to more refined happiness, which is internal and independent of material things (nirāmisa-sukha), it too is a benefit and aspiration for life, referred to as samparāyikattha: ’future benefit’, ’spiritual benefit’, ’profound benefit’, or ’inconspicuous benefit’.

In terms of ’present benefit’, the happiness resulting from having abundant consumable goods is obvious for all to see. But in terms of ’spiritual benefit’, helping another person to escape from suffering leads to even greater rejoicing and delight. Similarly, feeling deeply moved and inspired by truth and goodness, with an accompanying joy and peace, is a spiritual happiness not clearly visible to others. Moreover, such happiness connected to virtue bears results in future lives, which are also inconspicuous. For these reasons it is referred to as samparāyikattha: ’inconspicuous benefit’ or ’future benefit’.

The meaning of the term samparāyikattha includes all forms of internal, refined forms of happiness, beginning with the joy derived from faith (saddhā), from living a virtuous life (sīla), from concentration (samādhi), and from jhāna, all the way up to the happiness of Nibbāna (nibbāna-sukha). For this reason, in most suttas only two kinds of benefit are mentioned: ’present benefit’ and ’future benefit’. This is suitable when teaching people in general; it describes the happiness that they are familiar with in their everyday lives, and it introduces higher forms of happiness in a way that is easy to understand.

As mentioned earlier, much of the happiness classified as ’independent’ or ’non-material’ (nirāmisa-sukha) is not yet complete; it is still subject to reversal and potentially mixed up with attachment and heedlessness. Therefore, in relation to those people who have a good basis of understanding, it is sometimes necessary to make a more detailed distinction. In this case the true happiness of the extinction of the taints (āsavakkhaya) – the happiness of the arahants or the happiness of Nibbāna – is distinguished from samparāyikattha, and given the name ’supreme benefit’ (paramattha).

In sum, this term attha, which refers to the purpose or objective of life, can be divided simply into two kinds: visible benefit and inconspicuous (i.e. spiritual) benefit (including the supreme benefit). A more detailed division, however, is into three kinds:38

  1. Visible benefit (diṭṭhadhammikattha) emphasizes physical health, material possessions, honour, friendship, and a happy home.

  2. Inconspicuous benefit (samparāyikattha) emphasizes having a wholesome, refined, and happy mind by way of spiritual development.

  3. Supreme benefit (paramattha) refers to having comprehensive wisdom, leading to true purity, clarity, happiness, and liberation.

Besides encouraging people to gradually reach these three kinds of benefit, the Buddha also taught to broaden one’s perspective, so that one develops these benefits not only for oneself but also for the sake of others. There is thus a second group of three benefits:39

  1. Self-benefit (attattha): to generate the above three kinds of benefit for oneself; to develop oneself in order to reach these three benefits.

  2. Benefit of others (parattha): to assist others in reaching the three above benefits by supporting them in spiritual self-development.

  3. Mutual benefit (ubhayattha): the shared benefits and assets of a community or society (including the shared environment), which should be nurtured and cared for in order to support oneself and others in reaching the three aforementioned benefits. {1041}

Due to the importance of how sense pleasure is managed and engaged with, the Buddha gave teachings to householders on spiritual qualities leading to ’present benefit’, for example on how to deal with material possessions in a correct and supportive manner. These teachings are scattered throughout the Tipiṭaka.

When providing teachings on visible benefit, besides emphasizing liberating wisdom (nissaraṇa-paññā), the Buddha also combined teachings on qualities conducive to spiritual benefit (samparāyikattha). This is because the qualities accompanying refined happiness act as a guarantee both for preventing sense pleasure from harming oneself and for preventing it from harming others or society. Instead, people will be able to apply their enjoyment of sense pleasure to assist others and provide for their wellbeing. Moreover, these teachings remind people to make the effort in developing more refined forms of happiness.

There are various names for the factors conducive to the development by householders in spiritual benefit (including the supreme benefit) which help to regulate people’s relationship to sense pleasure. The chief of these terms is ariyā vaḍḍhi: ’noble growth’. There are five such factors:40

  1. Faith (saddhā): firm confidence in the blessings of the Triple Gem, the gist of which lies with faith in the Tathāgata’s awakening (tathāgatabodhi-saddhā) – faith in the wisdom of the Buddha which enables people to be awakened themselves. This is equivalent to confidence in human nature, which can be trained to the point of excellence, of comprehensive wisdom and liberation. This confidence is considered the starting point of spiritual development.

  2. Virtuous conduct (sīla): to conduct one’s life in a harmless way, by upholding the five precepts, which may be developed into the eight precepts.

  3. Learning (suta): to listen to, reflect on, and analyze teachings in order to gain an essential understanding of them, especially those teachings conducive to spiritual growth.

  4. Generosity (cāga): charity; relinquishment; to lead the household life without being miserly; being receptive to the suffering of others and ready to share what one has and to offer assistance.

  5. Wisdom (paññā): to gain a comprehensive understanding of the truth; to have insight into arising and dissolution; to extricate oneself from unwholesome qualities; to reach a state where mental defilements find no footing; to be able to bring suffering to cessation.

Of these five factors, the four essential factors are faith, virtuous conduct, generosity, and wisdom; learning here is considered expedient but optional. Of course it is favourable to have learning, especially to be one of great learning (bahussuta), but technically this factor is dispensable. Wisdom is the paramount factor. When wisdom is present there is less reliance on formal learning. By the same token, no matter how much one has learned, if one lacks wisdom one cannot reach true success. In any case, these five factors are considered assets to one’s life.

Of the various teachings in the Tipiṭaka on managing sense pleasure there is one long teaching comprising the Siṅgālaka Sutta, which describes a system for conducting one’s life as a householder, in reference to one’s immediate family, to one’s community, and to society in general. The commentators say that this sutta constitutes a ’discipline for laypeople’ (gihi-vinaya) or a ’code of living for noble beings’.41 {1042}

At the start of the Siṅgālaka Sutta the Buddha refers to this code of living as a ’noble discipline’ (ariya-vinaya). And at the end of the sutta he speaks a verse describing the principles for building social stability and harmony, which are called the four ’bases of social solidarity’ (saṅgaha-vatthu):42

Giving gifts, kindly speech,
Wholesome deeds, and impartiality in all things:
Towards those worthy of such support,
One should practise [these four things] properly.

These four things are people’s mainstay in the world,
Similar to the axle-pin of a moving chariot.
If they did not exist, no mother from her son
Would receive honour or respect, nor father either.

Since the wise uphold these favourable qualities,
They attain to a state of distinction,
And are rightly praised by all.

Both the teachings on ’noble growth’ and on the four ’bases of social solidarity’ pertain to a refined form of sensual happiness, which acts as a link between ’material benefit’ and ’spiritual benefit’. In shorter teachings by the Buddha, however, ’material benefit’ or ’present benefit’ (diṭṭhadhammikattha) usually refers to material wealth, because economic factors are of such central importance to the life of householders and they incorporate almost all facets of a layperson’s life. When looking at only these select suttas, it is thus easy to get the impression that ’present benefit’ refers exclusively to material wealth.

Below are some additional teachings by the Buddha on ’present benefit’. Some of these emphasize material wealth, while others act as a bridge to realizing ’spiritual benefit’.

To begin with, however, let us look at a sutta in which ’present benefit’ refers to another aspect of sense pleasure not tied up with material wealth. Here, the emphasis is on attending to one’s physical health:

The Buddha was residing at Sāvatthī…. On that occasion King Pasenadi of Kosala had eaten a pot-measure of rice with delicacies. Then when he had finished eating, cramped and discomforted, the king approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, and sat down to one side.

Then the Blessed One, having understood that King Pasenadi had eaten and was cramped and discomforted, on that occasion recited this verse:

’When a man is always mindful,
Knowing moderation in the food he eats,
 His ailments duly diminish,
He ages slowly, and he lives long.’

Now on that occasion the brahmin youth Sudassana was standing behind King Pasenadi of Kosala. The king then addressed him thus: ’Come now, dear Sudassana, learn this verse from the Blessed One and recite it to me whenever I am taking my meal. I will then present you daily with a hundred kahāpaṇas as a cost for the meal.’

’Yes, sire’, the brahmin youth Sudassana replied. Having learned this verse from the Blessed One, whenever King Pasenadi was taking his meal the brahmin youth Sudassana recited [it].

Then King Pasenadi of Kosala gradually restrained himself until his intake of food was at most a small-pot measure of boiled rice. {1043} At a later time when his body had become energetic and spry, King Pasenadi of Kosala stroked his limbs with his hand and on that occasion uttered this inspired utterance:

’The Blessed One showed compassion towards me in regard to both kinds of good – the present good (diṭṭhadhammikattha) and the higher good (samparāyikattha).’

Doṇapāka Sutta: S. I. 81.

The following sutta on present benefit describes a proper engagement with sense pleasure and emphasizes the relationship to material wealth, but it too provides a link to higher, spiritual benefit. Note that this sutta was given to the wealthy merchant Anāthapiṇḍika, who was a stream-enterer. Note also that in regard to the first three kinds of happiness below, the term ’clansman’ (kula-putta) is used, while in regard to the fourth kind of happiness the term ’noble disciple’ (ariya-sāvaka) is used (indicating a rise to higher, spiritual benefit):

Then the householder Anāthapiṇḍika approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, and sat down to one side. The Blessed One said to him:

’Householder, there are these four kinds of happiness that may be regularly achieved by a layperson who enjoys sensual pleasures…. What four? The happiness of owning wealth (atthi-sukha), the happiness of spending wealth for consumption (bhoga-sukha), the happiness of freedom from debt (anaṇa-sukha), and the happiness of blameless actions (anavajja-sukha).

’And what, householder, is the happiness of ownership? Here, a clansman has acquired wealth by energetic striving, amassed by the strength of his arms, earned by the sweat of his brow, righteous wealth righteously gained. When he thinks, “I have acquired wealth by energetic striving … righteously gained”, he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of ownership.

’And what is the happiness of consumption? Here, with wealth acquired by energetic striving, amassed by the strength of his arms, earned by the sweat of his brow, righteous wealth righteously gained, a clansman enjoys his wealth and does meritorious deeds. When he thinks, “With wealth acquired by energetic striving … righteously gained, I enjoy my wealth and do meritorious deeds”, he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of consumption.

’And what is the happiness of freedom from debt? Here, a clansman has no debts to anyone, whether large or small. When he thinks, “I have no debts to anyone, whether large or small”, he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of freedom from debt.

’And what is the happiness of blamelessness? Here, householder, a noble disciple is endowed with blameless bodily, verbal and mental action. When he thinks, “I am endowed with blameless bodily, verbal and mental action”, he experiences happiness and joy. This is called the happiness of blamelessness.

’Having realized the happiness of freedom from debt,
One should recall the happiness of ownership.
While spending one’s wealth,
One sees clearly the happiness of material wealth (bhoga-sukha).
When seeing things clearly, the wise one
Knows both kinds of happiness, [and sees that]
The other three are not worth a sixteenth part
Of the bliss of blamelessness.’43 {1044}

A. II. 69.

The following sutta makes a clear distinction between present benefit and spiritual benefit, the latter acting as both a support and a constraint for the former:

On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling among the Koliyans44 near the Koliyan town named Kakkarapatta. There the young Koliyan Dīghajāṇu approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, sat down to one side, and said:

’Venerable sir, we are laymen enjoying sensual pleasures, living at home in a house full of children. We use sandalwood from Kāsi; we wear garlands, scents, and unguents; we welcome gold and silver. Let the Blessed One teach us the Dhamma in a way that will lead to our welfare and happiness in this present life and in the future.’

’There are, Byagghapajja,45 these four things that lead to the welfare and happiness of a clansman in this present life. What four? Accomplishment in diligence, accomplishment in protection, good friendship, and balanced living.

’And what is accomplishment in diligence? Here, whatever may be the means by which a clansman earns his living – whether by farming, trade, raising cattle, military service, government service, or some other craft – he is skilful and diligent; he possesses sound judgment in order to carry out and arrange it properly. This is called accomplishment in diligence.

’And what is accomplishment in protection? Here, a clansman sets up protection and guard over the wealth he has acquired through perseverance, amassed by the strength of his arms, earned by the sweat of his brow, righteous wealth righteously gained, thinking: ’How can I prevent kings from confiscating it, thieves from stealing it, fire from burning it, floods from sweeping it off, and displeasing heirs from squandering it?’ This is called accomplishment in protection.

’And what is good friendship? Here, in whatever village or town a clansman lives, he associates with householders or their sons – both young and old who are of mature conduct – who are endowed with faith, virtuous behaviour, generosity, and wisdom; he converses with them and consults with them. Insofar as they are accomplished in faith, he emulates them with respect to their accomplishment in faith; insofar as they are accomplished in virtuous behaviour, he emulates them with respect to their accomplishment in virtuous behaviour; insofar as they are accomplished in generosity, he emulates them with respect to their accomplishment in generosity; insofar as they are accomplished in wisdom, he emulates them with respect to their accomplishment in wisdom. This is called good friendship.

’And what is balanced living? Here, a clansman leads a balanced life, living neither too extravagantly nor too frugally. He knows the way his wealth increases and declines, [aware]: ’In this way my income will exceed my expenditures rather than the reverse.’ Just as an appraiser or his apprentice, holding up a scale, knows: “By so much it has dipped down, by so much it has has gone up….” If this clansman has a small income but lives luxuriously, others would say of him: “This clansman eats his wealth just like an eater of figs.” (See Note Ripe Figs) And if he has a large income but lives austerely, others would say of him: “This clansman may even die as a pauper.” But it is called balanced living when a clansman leads a balanced life…. {1045}

’See here, Byagghapajja, the wealth thus righteously gained has four pathways to ruin (apāya-mukha): womanizing, drunkenness, gambling, and bad friendship, bad companionship, bad comradeship. Just as if there were a large reservoir with four inlets and four outlets, and a man would close the inlets and open the outlets, and sufficient rain does not fall, one could expect the water in the reservoir to decrease rather than increase….

’The wealth thus righteously acquired has four pathways to gain: one avoids womanizing, drunkenness, and gambling, and cultivates good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship. Just as if there were a large reservoir with four inlets and four outlets, and a man would open the inlets and close the outlets, and sufficient rain falls, one could expect the water in the reservoir to increase rather than decrease….

’These are the four things that lead to the welfare and happiness of a clansman in this very life.

’There are, Byagghapajja, these four things that lead to the welfare and happiness of a clansman in the future. What four? Accomplishment in faith, accomplishment in virtuous behaviour, accomplishment in generosity, and accomplishment in wisdom.

’And what is accomplishment in faith? Here, a clansman is endowed with faith. He places faith in the awakening of the Tathāgata thus: “The Blessed One is an arahant … the Enlightened One, the Exalted One.’46 This is called accomplishment in faith.

’And what is accomplishment in virtuous conduct? Here, a clansman abstains from the destruction of life … from intoxicants, that is, spirits and alcoholic beverages, which are the basis for heedlessness. This is called accomplishment in virtuous conduct.

’And what is accomplishment in generosity? Here, a clansman dwells at home with a heart devoid of the stain of miserliness, freely generous, openhanded, delighting in relinquishment, one devoted to charity, delighting in giving and sharing. This is called accomplishment in generosity.

’And what is accomplishment in wisdom? Here, a clansman is wise; he possesses the wisdom that discerns arising and passing away, which is noble and penetrative and leads to the complete destruction of suffering. This is called accomplishment in wisdom.

’See here, Byagghapajja, these are the four things that lead to the welfare and happiness of a clansman in the future.’

Enterprising in his occupations,
Heedful in his management,
Balanced in his way of living,
He safeguards the wealth he earns.
Endowed with faith, accomplished in virtue,
Charitable and devoid of miserliness,
He constantly purifies the path
That leads to safety in the future.

Thus these eight qualities
Of the faithful householder
Are said by the Truthful One
To lead to happiness in both ways:
To good and welfare in this very life,
And to happiness in the future.
Thus for those dwelling at home,
Their generosity and merit increase.47

A. IV. 281.

Although still enjoying sense pleasures, when laypeople are able to engage with this enjoyment in a way that generates present benefits and they gain a familiarity with more refined spiritual benefits, it can be expected that they will prosper and experience a reliable, harmless form of happiness. Moreover, they will help to generate lasting social wellbeing and prosperity. {1046}

Ripe Figs

Trans.: Bhikkhu Bodhi in ’The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Aṅguttara Nikāya’ © 2012 quotes the Manorathapūraṇī: ’One wishing to eat figs might shake a ripe fig tree and with one effort knock down many fruits. He would eat the ripe fruits and depart, leaving behind the rest; just so, one who spends the greater part of his earnings enjoys his wealth by dissipating it, so it is said: “This clansman eats his wealth just like an eater of figs”.’ See also the description of the mayhaka bird in the fig tree in the section titled ’General Principles on Right Livelihood’ in chapter 17.

Comparison of Different Kinds of Happiness

When compared with more refined kinds of happiness it is normal that sense pleasure will be reduced in value. In comparison to the happiness of jhāna, for example, sense pleasure is described as: ’ordinary happiness’ (puthujjana-sukha; the happiness of unawakened people); ’contaminated (or festering) happiness’ (mīḷha-sukha);48 and ’inferior happiness’ (anariya-sukha). Furthermore, it is described as consisting of suffering, affliction, and obstruction, and constituting the wrong way of practice (micchā-paṭipadā).

In contrast, the happiness of jhāna, or ’internal happiness’ (ajjhatta-sukha), is described as: ’happiness free from sensuality’ (nekkhamma-sukha); ’happiness based on seclusion’ (paviveka-sukha); ’happiness conducive to peace (and to realizing Nibbāna)’ (upasama-sukha); and ’happiness conducive to awakening’ (sambodhi-sukha). It is free from suffering, distress and affliction, and it constitutes correct spiritual practice (sammā-paṭipadā), which leads to liberation, to Nibbāna.49

Although the Buddha frequently denigrates and points out the dangers of sense pleasure, this does not mean that he was set on condemning or despising it. {1035} From one perspective, the Buddha was simply trying to point out the truth behind sense pleasure. Ordinary people, however, who are often ensnared by mental defilements, often view his teachings as excessively severe. Moreover, by comparing sensual happiness cherished by most people with a more refined form of happiness, he devalued the former in order to elevate the latter.

Most importantly, however, sense pleasure is an unyielding and tenacious snare in which most people are caught up and from which it is difficult to escape. The Buddha thus heavily criticized sense pleasure, along with praising more refined forms of happiness, in order to urge people to make haste in their spiritual practice, to avoid complacency, and to experience supreme happiness.

Not all people who realize more refined kinds of happiness immediately abandon sensual happiness. Many people continue to live their lives by enjoying both kinds or both levels of happiness. In these circumstances such people have more options or have a greater advantage in regard to experiencing happiness.

In sum, the Buddha emphasized heedfulness and an awareness that, whether one abandons sensual pleasure or not, it is imperative to realize more refined forms of happiness within oneself and to develop these until one reaches supreme happiness.

Freedom to Choose from Various Forms of Happiness

Some people fear that if they reach Nibbāna they will no longer be able to enjoy sense pleasure. In response, one can say: ’Fear not. If you reach Nibbāna you will experience abundant happiness, greater than any happiness you now know. You will have many kinds of happiness to choose from. If you wish to enjoy sense pleasures, you may, and you will enjoy them more than you do now, because nothing in the mind will exist to spoil their sweetness.’ But by answering in this way other people may protest: ’How is it possible that someone who has realized Nibbāna would return to enjoy sense pleasures?’

These are not matters one need worry about; they resolve themselves naturally and automatically. Those people who have realized Nibbāna are optimally suited to enjoy all kinds of happiness. Which level of happiness they choose to experience is up to their own discretion. (For example, it is well documented that those individuals who have experienced the happiness of Nibbāna access the four jhānas as an ’abiding at ease in the present’ – diṭṭhadhamma-sukhavihāra.)

Having said this, it occurs naturally by itself that those persons who realize Nibbāna do not seek out sense pleasures. This is not because they are unable to enjoy such pleasures, but rather they have no inclination to do so. They have no mental defilements which would prompt them to indulge in sensuality, and they have experienced superior states and thus no longer see pleasurable sense objects as worthy of involvement.

This is similar to some people’s speculation that arahants, having clearly discerned the characteristic of nonself – the truth that human beings are comprised simply of a convergence of elements and possess no fixed, lasting identity – may be able to kill others blamelessly. But this clear knowledge and vision of nonself only occurs when the defilement of hatred prompting one to kill has been eradicated. It is therefore impossible for arahants to kill.

A comparison to awakened beings not seeking out sense pleasure is that of a person who was previously imprisoned. While in prison the prisoner relied on certain activities or objects for amusement and entertainment, as a way to forget about his discomfort and confinement. Later, when there is an opportunity to escape from prison, some people are so attached to the sources of entertainment that they refuse to leave, while others get caught in worry and indecision. Those who truly recognize and appreciate their freedom, however, will gradually disengage from those pleasurable activities, leave the prison, and soon let go of all longing for that state of incarceration.

The Buddha himself earlier delighted in sense pleasure and then later became familiar with more refined forms of happiness, both the happiness of jhāna and the happiness of Nibbāna. He thus knew all forms of happiness. His teachings were shaped by his own direct experience, acting as a solid confirmation of the validity of these teachings.

Let us review some of the disadvantages and flaws of sense pleasure, when one compares it to more refined forms of happiness, in particular the happiness of Nibbāna:

A. It creates a dependency on, even an enslavement to, external things; it is not free and independent. We can easily be deceived into thinking that we possess and control material things, but the greater is our attachment to them, the weaker is our power and the stronger is the enslavement.

There are two stages to this enslavement or dependency: {1054}

  • Before obtaining sense objects, craving for sense pleasure dictates one’s actions, so that one chases after things in order to experience pleasant sensations. If the desire is very strong, one will dedicate one’s life to such a pursuit.

  • When one has obtained these objects, they cause one to fret further by generating adoration, hate, greed, aversion, and delusion. One’s behaviour is then shaped by these defilements. Craving prompts the search for sensation; sensation then reinforces craving. This cycle goes on perpetually.

Moreover, the inevitable, natural change and alteration of things is oppressive for people who harbour such craving, leading to grief and distress.

Internal, non-material happiness, on the other hand, is free and independent. It prevents people from indulging in sense pleasure, safeguards a safe engagement with sense pleasure, and averts the suffering arising due to the change inherent in conditioned things.

B. Because sense pleasure depends on external sense objects – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangibles – those people who indulge in sense pleasure effectively entrust their happiness, along with their entire fate, to these things. These external things are subject to myriad causes and conditions, which people have no control over. For this reason those people who entrust their happiness to these unreliable things open themselves up to disappointment and various difficulties. The more one fails to understand this dynamic, the greater is one’s suffering.

C. Life tied up with sense pleasure revolves entirely around contact with the outside world, around contact between sense faculties and sense objects; this is an external, superficial dimension of life. Moreover, the endless search for sense pleasure is tiring and tedious. Internal, refined forms of happiness help to free people from this cycle of sense contact; they free people from an excessive reliance on the sense faculties. At the very least, they offer people a respite and rest, and introduce them to more profound aspects of their lives.

D. Because sense pleasure relies on external things, it requires sense objects to pass through the various sense bases in order to supply fuel for craving. If one does not obtain these desired things as fuel, one suffers. Internal, refined forms of happiness, however, do not rely on external things. Those people who are endowed with such happiness, although deprived of gratifying sense objects, still abide happily.

Furthermore, because of this reliance on external things, those persons indulging in sense pleasure are unable to dwell unoccupied. If they are idle, they feels restless and feverish for things to experience. This restlessness and fever are true expressions of suffering. People who suffer this yearning and fever tend to deceive themselves by overlooking and ignoring this situation and instead focus exclusively on whatever gratification they have been able to acquire.

In addition, when people have found gratification, even if this involves highly agreeable objects, they are unable to enjoy this experience for long. If the experience becomes too prolonged, it becomes a form of endurance and the happiness transforms into suffering. Sense pleasure thus relies on a continual change and variation of sense objects, and for this reason the scriptures state that movement (iriyāpatha) conceals suffering.50 Those who have accessed more refined forms of happiness are not tormented by the fever of yearning. They are able to abide in a particular state of happiness for long periods of time, according to their wishes, as illustrated in the story of the Buddha and King Bimbisāra (see below). {1055}

E. Sense pleasure is shaped by and subject to craving, that is, it is related to one’s habitually accumulated likes and dislikes, preferences and aversions. These likes and dislikes can fluctuate and are erratic. The same object or action may be liked by one person and disliked by another; one person may see it as a source of pleasure, another as a source of displeasure.51

This fluctuation is true even for a single individual – on one occasion one sees or hears something and is pleased, while on another occasion the same thing causes displeasure. And in the case that two people encounter the same object and both like it, this may lead to mutual aversion, since they both desire the same thing. These situations can cause conflict within an individual and animosity between people. They are the source of all sorts of trouble and affliction.

Sense pleasure or material happiness is thus the opposite to internal, non-material happiness, which is available on any occasion. This latter happiness is invariably a boon; it bestows a sense of wellbeing and contentment to the person experiencing it and it is beneficial to everyone who is involved. The greater the number of people who experience it the better. Each individual enhances the happiness of others, because there is nothing to vie for. It therefore leads to peace and to the end of problems.

F. Sense pleasure is the result of the gratification of craving (taṇhā). If craving arises but is left unsatisfied and unappeased, problems arise immediately. These problems, or this state of dissatisfaction, is referred to as ’suffering’ (dukkha). Suffering leaves harmful effects in its wake. These harmful effects either get locked up within an individual or the person vents them outwards, or both.

The harmful effects locked up inside refer to anxiety, despair, and other forms of mental distress. They can be collectively referred to as mental derangement or even as madness.

The harmful effects seeking an expression outwards may be given vent in a mild way, say by seeking out different forms of guidance and help. One may seek out guidance in ways that accord with wisdom and virtue, or one may seek help from sacred objects and supernatural powers. Some people try to cover over their suffering by indulging in coarse or increasingly passionate forms of sense pleasure. The harmful effects can also be expressed in violent ways, say by causing conflict and persecuting others or by causing destruction to one’s environment. Alternatively, one may breed self-hatred and undergo severe austerities or cause injury to oneself.

The following words by the Buddha are relevant here:

And what, monks, is the source and origin of suffering? Craving is its source and origin (nidāna-sambhava).

And what is the result of suffering?…. Suffering, I say, results either in mental derangement or in an outward search for relief. {1056}

A. III. 415-6.

The search for happiness through the gratification of craving causes problems at all stages, not only when one is denied gratification. Problems may also arise during the search for pleasing objects and after one has acquired such objects. While searching for objects one may injure or exploit others, causing them suffering and affliction. And after one has acquired the desired objects, one may become infatuated by them, increasing one’s thirst and craving, thus causing additional problems. For this reason conscientious unawakened people must use discernment and apply virtuous qualities to guide their behaviour, in order to mitigate the hazards of craving.

One very useful method for safely enjoying sense pleasures is for people to have some access to non-material happiness, which acts as an escape (nissaraṇa). This escape is very effective for refining one’s behaviour generated by craving, or it helps to keep this behaviour within wholesome boundaries. Happiness independent of material things stands in direct contrast to craving; it manifests when one is released from craving and it exists without relying on craving. Anyone who dwells in this kind of happiness is immediately freed from the perils of craving.

Because sense pleasure is flawed, can cause a great deal of harm, and is both cherished by and compelling for people, it need not be promoted. Therefore, the Buddha did not support the pursuit of sense pleasure and he discouraged people from setting it as the goal of life.

In Buddhism, the essential aim of performing wholesome deeds or making merit – whether this be through generosity (dāna), moral conduct (sīla), or cultivating the mind (bhāvanā) – is not to receive a reward in the form of sense pleasure, say of wealth, fame, respect, an entourage of followers, or rebirth in a heavenly realm. The true purpose of wholesome actions is to support spiritual development and to access true, lasting happiness, which leads to a reduction of mental defilement, a disengagement from evil, and an elimination of craving – the source of suffering. The person engaging in good actions thus experiences deeper, more refined forms of happiness – up to the happiness of Nibbāna – which bring peace and wellbeing to the individual and to society:

Not for happiness tarnished by defilement, not for future birth, does a sage give gifts. Indeed, a sage gives gifts for the end of defilement, for the absence of future birth.

Not for happiness tarnished by defilement, not for future birth, does a sage develop the jhānas. Indeed, a sage develops the jhānas for the end of defilement, for the absence of future birth.

Aiming for the state of peace (i.e. Nibbāna), inclining in this direction, devoted to this state, a sage gifts gifts. Sages set Nibbāna as the goal, just as rivers head for the heart of the ocean. {1057}

Nd. I. 424-5.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Happiness

As mentioned earlier, the Buddha examined the advantages and disadvantages of all things. In the case that something still possesses both advantages and disadvantages, he would then describe how one may pass beyond them, that is, he would explain how further development is possible.

Looking at things in this way enables a continual development. When one reaches a particular point, one acknowledges both its advantages (assāda) and disadvantages (ādīnava). One then looks for the way out (nissaraṇa) leading to the next stage and one develops the necessary conditions to move on. In whatever work or activity one is engaged, the examination of these three factors leads to ongoing development. One does not get lost in thinking that one has reached completion; one does not stop making effort and become passive, negligent, and heedless, which results in missed opportunities.

Let us now look at the advantages and disadvantages of happiness. Rather than go into a detailed analysis of the many different kinds and stages of happiness, here the discussion will focus on some primary features of happiness that are related to other spiritual qualities and that pertain to people’s everyday life.

One such spiritual quality, which is relevant to everyone and is connected to meditation, to spiritual practice, and to every aspect of learning, is concentration (samādhi). Happiness is expressly valuable to concentration. The Pali Canon states: sukhapadaṭṭhāno samādhi: happiness is a basis and criterion for concentration; it is a proximate cause for concentration.

The literal meaning of sukha (’happiness’) is ’convenient’ or ’easy’. One is free from pressure, obstruction, affliction, struggle, agitation, and anxiety. In other words, one is peaceful; happiness leads to peace. When the mind is peaceful, concentration arises easily. A happy and tranquil mind is prepared for concentration.

Happiness is a characteristic of a high quality of life. Arahants, for example, when they are not engaged in a specific activity, dwell in the state of mind referred to as ’abiding at ease in the present’ (diṭṭhadhamma-sukhavihāra), which is most often a state of jhāna.

There are many disadvantages of happiness. In particular, happiness may lead to carelessness, infatuation, obsession, indulgence, procrastination, indifference, or laziness. {1127} Concentration, which is based on happiness, has similar disadvantages. In Pali, concentration is sometimes referred to as belonging to the ’same faction as laziness’ (kosajja-pakkha).

At the same time, however, concentration belongs to the thirty-seven factors of enlightenment (bodhipakkhiya-dhamma): concentration is directly associated with awakening; it lies ’alongside’ awakening. Awakening is dependent on concentration.

Here, simply note that concentration is a factor of enlightenment, but that it is also associated with laziness. When one examines spiritual qualities, do not only look at their advantages; also acknowledge their disadvantages. Be careful – if one develops concentration incorrectly, one will give rise to laziness.

The Buddha in this case encouraged the application of mindfulness, for inspection and caution. When one attains concentration, one asks: ’Has this concentration deviated towards idleness and inertia? Has it become an impediment?’ The heedless indulgence in the pleasure of concentration is harmful. One must be careful and know how to apply concentration. Do not fall into heedlessness.

When people experience happiness, especially sense pleasure, it is very likely that they will become carried away, infatuated, and enchanted by it, resulting in heedlessness. When experiencing happiness, they lose a sense of urgency and do not wish to do anything else. Although there remain things to be done, they become negligent, indifferent, and indolent, resulting in a weak character.

For this reason, those people who have experienced happiness and yet remain unmindful, who are indulgent, apathetic, and heedless, become weak and corrupted. They may even meet with calamity and ruin. Many individuals, communities, nations, and even civilizations throughout history have fallen into this cycle of decline.

When looking at these disadvantages, it may appear that happiness is of very low value. But happiness is simply happiness; it is the corrupted and defiled human beings themselves who deal with happiness incorrectly and thus end up experiencing harmful effects.

Here, we must return to the subject of sense pleasure, which has a bearing on almost everyone’s life. Although we have discussed sense pleasure already, here we will focus on it directly in relation to spiritual practice.

The dangers or disadvantages of sense pleasure – of happiness dependent on material things and serving personal gratification – are extensive, and people thus require the supervision or protection by way of the five precepts. This points to a basic drawback or weakness of sense pleasure: it is a cause for competition and exploitation among human beings.

The things providing gratification are external, and they are insufficient in number to fulfil the desires of everyone. Because each person desires things for himself, and wishes to obtain the maximum amount of these things, they see each other as adversaries. People thus conflict and compete with one another. This is followed by deception, dishonesty, and deceit, a search for followers and a pursuit of power, and various forms of persecution and abuse.

The pursuit of sense pleasure is the source of conflict and oppression between people and between nations. It is the source of war, leading to all kinds of suffering and affliction. People then search without end for a solution: their voices call for peace, but their hands brandish swords. This is the first danger of sense pleasure. {1128}

Social oppression, which spreads suffering outwards, has its root in the mind, i.e. an insatiable desire, which is a common characteristic of craving (taṇhā). Moreover, this insatiability, which conforms to a voracious hunger for things and an inability to feel one has enough, creates suffering within an individual.

The more people get, the more they want. A specific degree or amount of things that once provided happiness is eventually no longer satisfactory. The feeling of joy and excitement is replaced by indifference, apathy, and a sense of ennui. Once boredom sets in, those things that at one time seemed indispensable now must simply be endured. Those things that once provided happiness are now a cause for suffering. The nature of desire has changed; now one may wish for the object to go away, to disappear. This is one form of affliction.

At one time one may have been penniless. If one obtains $30 one is over the moon, and when one earns a wage of $30 a day one is exceedingly happy. Eventually one wishes to earn $3000 a day. One imagines that with such a wage all of one’s desires will be fulfilled and one will experience delight. Indeed, if it happens that one earns such a wage, at first one is blissful and content.

A closer look at this dynamic reveals the gradual expansion of craving in two ways:

First, when one obtains a regular wage of $3000 per day, if one day one only obtains $30, an amount that had at one time provided a great sense of joy, one is unhappy. The same thing that once provided happiness now causes suffering.

Second, although one may have been convinced that by earning a wage of $3000 per day one wouldn’t wish for anything more, eventually one feels apathy and boredom. One then thinks that one needs to earn a wage of $30,000 per day in order to feel satisfied. This target will increase without end.

The Buddha stated that even if one were to turn a mountain into gold, it would still not gratify the desire of one individual, because this desire is insatiable, as mentioned above. The Buddha emphasized this subject repeatedly, so that his disciples would recognize that human desire is limitless; craving is endless. This desire creates oppression and affliction in society, and it also creates layers of suffering within an individual. One aspect to this suffering is the feeling of boredom and apathy.

Nature Provides Happiness

Let us examine some of the different kinds of happiness. So far the discussion has covered the happiness derived from sense enjoyment, from contact with desirable sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangible objects. This is a matter connected with the gratification of craving (taṇhā), with sense pleasure (kāma-sukha), and with material happiness (sāmisa-sukha). We also discussed wholesome desire (chanda), which is associated with spiritual development, and leads to study, creativity, understanding, and an increase in happiness.

In terms of wholesome desire, it was mentioned earlier how a person experiences happiness both while engaged in work and while engaged in learning. There are more aspects, however, to this discussion of happiness derived from wholesome desire.

This increased happiness includes happiness on a social level: the joy of friendship; the joy of living with others with a heart of kindness and compassion; and the joy in families and communities of living together with mutual goodwill, care, and love, of rejoicing in harmony, and of being united in the virtues conducive to communal life (sārāṇīya-dhamma).52 {1094}

There is also the happiness related to nature: the joy of living in nature; the contact with the peace and beauty of nature, including the trees, the wind, mountains, bodies of water, and the sky; the delight one experiences in flowering plants and in the sounds of the wilderness, for instance the calls of birds, the cries of wild animals, and the rumble of thundering skies.

Both the happiness in relation to society and the happiness in relation to nature are emphasized and praised in Buddhism. They are sometimes combined in a single teaching, of living together with kindness and in harmony even while residing in the forest, as is documented in the Gosiṅgasāla Sutta:

The Buddha went to visit three monks in the Gosiṅgasāla wood. He asked them:

How, Anuruddha, do you live in concord, with mutual appreciation, without disputing, blending like milk and water, viewing each other with kindly eyes?

M. I. 206.

In that same wood, on another occasion, Ven. Sāriputta asked the following question from other great disciples:

The Gosiṅga Sāla-tree Wood is delightful, the night is clear and bright, the sāla trees are all in blossom, giving forth fragrant scents in all directions, similar to the scents of heaven. What kind of bhikkhu, friend … could grace the Gosiṅga Sāla-tree Wood?

M. I. 212-13.

There are numerous poetic verses in the Tipiṭaka eulogizing nature. Take for example the following verses from the Mahāvessantara Jātaka:

Near those lotus ponds, flocks of cuckoos drunk on fruit call out captivating, melodious cries, filling the forest with reverberating sound. When the bushes bloom in season, a sweetness like honey drips from the blossoms, resting on the lotus leaves….

The breeze wafts myriad fragrances, drifting through the forest, as if inviting visitors to find delight in the perfumed flowers and branches. Swarms of bumblebees relish the scent of the blossoms, their buzzing echoing throughout.

J. VI. 530.

When Ven. Kāḷudāyī invited the Buddha to travel to Kapilavatthu in order to visit his father, he spoke approximately sixty verses praising the beauty of nature found in the regions along the path to be travelled. In the end, the Buddha accepted the invitation.

Here are two of these verses:

Fanned by breezes, the champaka trees, orchids, and laurel send out their fragrance. The crown of the trees, filled with blossoms, send down their colourful branches, as if thoughtfully extending their arms and paying respects with their scent. Venerable sir, the Victorious One, now is the right time to go.

Splendid parakeets and magpies, with sweet-sounding voices, fly and throng among the treetops, twittering and calling out on both sides of the path. Now is the time for the Lord to see his father. {1095}

ApA. 532-7.

In sum, the Buddha and the arahants, whose hearts are purified, find delight in the peace and beauty of nature, and abide happily in natural surroundings. Trainees (sekha) and unawakened persons find in nature a tranquil and refreshing environment, conducive to meditation and the development of wisdom.

In reference to the development of ethics, one can see here how virtue is developed along with happiness, how happiness is an important part of developing one’s life, and how people are able to generate happiness within themselves. Wholesome desire is the catalyst behind this development, and an education or training based on such desire automatically helps to cultivate a strong ethical foundation.

Finally, there is the supreme happiness – the happiness of wisdom – which belongs to the stage of independent happiness.

Wisdom is a liberating factor. If one faces a stumbling block or obstruction, and one doesn’t know how to respond, the situation is immediately clarified and resolved with the dawn of wisdom. When faced with confusion, not knowing which way to turn and where safety lies, the heart feels oppressed and stifled. But with the arising of wise understanding, the sense of oppression and affliction disappears. When encountering a problem and no solution is apparent, one may suffer greatly, but when wisdom provides an answer one is freed from suffering. Wisdom gradually provides freedom on many levels of one’s life. When one is able to untangle the nexus of suffering, one reaches final and complete liberation, which is also perfect happiness.

Higher Forms of Happiness

Timeless Happiness

As mentioned earlier, a definition for happiness is the fulfilment of desire, yet this definition is not comprehensive. Technically speaking, this definition covers only mundane (lokiya) reality. A supreme, transcendent (lokuttara) form of happiness also exists. To some, this explanation may appear abstruse. To clarify this matter it is useful to illustrate the different levels of happiness. Earlier, happiness was divided according to two distinct kinds of desire, but here it necessary to introduce the concept of ’non-desire’.

This new classification results in two main levels of happiness, and three sublevels: {1098}

  1. Happiness as the fulfilment of desire:

    1. Happiness as the gratification of craving – taṇhā (the fulfilment of unwholesome desire).

    2. Happiness as the fulfilment of wholesome enthusiasm (chanda).

  2. Happiness independent of the fulfilment of desire (= (C) ever-present happiness).

The second main kind of happiness is independent of both the fulfilment of craving and the fulfilment of wholesome desire. It is independent, unconstrained, and free because it is an internal attribute, it exists inherent in people’s hearts, and it is ever-present. It is not dependent on obtaining or doing anything.

If one needs to satisfy the needs of some form of desire in order to experience happiness, this indicates that the happiness is not yet present. One must then wait for fulfilment, by pursuing or creating something. An independent kind of happiness, however, already exists within a person; therefore, it is free from the gratification of desire. It needs neither to be pursued nor to be created.

Here someone may ask the question: ’Are those people endowed with such happiness free from all desire: free from both craving and from wholesome desire?’ Indeed, such people are fully endowed with wholesome desire. Yet their happiness does not rely on the fulfilment or gratification of this wholesome desire. Although they are replete in wholesome desire, their happiness is independent of all forms of desire; they are fully accomplished in the cultivation of happiness.

To reach this accomplishment, one is first brimful of wholesome desire, and then one transcends even this desire. Take for example the Buddha, who, as described in one particular passage, was endowed with eighteen attributes (buddha-dhamma). The relevant attribute here is that he possessed ’unremitting wholesome enthusiasm’ (natthi chandassa hāni).

We see here the magnitude of the Buddha’s commitment to perform beneficent deeds, which was prompted by his wholesome enthusiasm in the form of compassion. The Buddha worked tirelessly after his awakening, for the remaining forty-five years of his life. He worked day and night, undergoing many hardships, for the wellbeing of all human beings.

The Buddha and the arahants are filled with wholesome desire, but their happiness is independent of fulfilling this desire. Their normal, constant state is one of happiness.

Another way of describing the three levels of happiness is as follows: {1099}

  1. Happiness requiring a pursuit (happiness gratifying craving).

  2. Happiness created by oneself (happiness fulfilling wholesome desire).

  3. Inherent, ever-present happiness (happiness independent of fulfilling desire).

The first kind of happiness requires a pursuit, because those objects of enjoyment that satisfy craving are external, material things. They must be sought after and consumed; one must seize these external things and have them make contact with one’s senses.

The second kind of happiness is self-generated, because, in order to fulfil the desire to learn, the desire to know, the desire to study, the desire to perform a wholesome deed, the appreciation of nature, etc., one relies on one’s own dedication and commitment. This happiness can be created without relying on external things.

The third kind of happiness is ever-present, for when happiness exists as an internal attribute – as an ordinary and natural state of mind – then it is constantly present. One need not seek or do anything to obtain such happiness.

One may wonder how to become a person who is able to enjoy all three kinds of happiness: the pleasure of seeking sense objects, self-generated happiness, and abiding, ever-present happiness. Wouldn’t such a person be proficient? Indeed, stream-enterers are those individuals able to enjoy these three kinds of happiness.

It turns out that those persons who are truly accomplished in all three levels of happiness, i.e. the arahants, are fully satisfied by independent, unconstrained happiness. Although, if they wanted to, they could enjoy all three kinds of happiness, they are no longer interested in the first kind of happiness dependent on material objects. This will be discussed at more length below.

Ideal Happiness

Happiness can be grouped or classified in many different ways. Let us examine the Buddha’s classification of happiness into thirteen pairs.53

Here are some simple examples from this classification:

  • Physical happiness (kāyika-sukha) and mental happiness (cetasika-sukha).

  • Material happiness (sāmisa-sukha; happiness dependent on material things) and independent happiness (nirāmisa-sukha; happiness independent of material things).

  • Householders’ happiness (gihi-sukha) and the happiness of renunciants (pabbajita-sukha).

  • Sense pleasure (kāma-sukha; happiness derived from desirable and alluring sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangibles; happiness from acquisition and consumption) and happiness secluded from sensuality (nekkhamma-sukha; happiness free from sensuality, free from sensual allurements and enticements; the happiness of renunciation; happiness not tied up with acquisition.) {1102}

The Buddha gave this teaching to distinguish between the many different kinds of happiness. Moreover, through a familiarity with this teaching one understands the relationship between different kinds of happiness.

On a related subject, knowledge of the various kinds of happiness enables one to outline the ideal forms of happiness. Here, a recognition that happiness is the goal of spiritual training is connected to the teaching on the different planes of existence (or different states of mind), which a person can reach through spiritual cultivation.

The universe is traditionally divided into three planes of existence (tebhūmaka): the realm of sensuality (kāma-bhūmi, where beings are still tied up in sense pleasure), the realm of fine-material form (rūpa-bhūmi; the plane of fine-material Brahmas – rūpa-brahma), and the immaterial realm (arūpa-bhūmi; the plane of immaterial Brahmas – arūpa-brahma). Another plane – the transcendent plane (lokuttara-bhūmi) – exists surpassing the threefold plane of existence.

In relation to the threefold plane of existence, the term bhūmi refers to a specific ’world’ (loka) or sphere of existence occupied by beings native to that plane or realm. Alternatively, it refers to the particular state of mind developed by beings to reach such a plane.

This second definition, referring to one’s state of mind, can also be applied in relation to the transcendent plane. What this means is that a percentage of beings dwelling in a specific plane of existence, in particular some human beings in this world, may have developed various states of mind, and in effect have reached various planes, including the transcendent plane.

These planes (bhūmi) can be grouped as follows:

  1. Sensual plane (kāma-bhūmi).

  2. Fine-material form plane (rūpa-bhūmi) and the immaterial plane (arūpa-bhūmi); these constitute the realm of the Brahma gods.

  3. Transcendent plane (lokuttara-bhūmi).

In relation to happiness, these three planes can be described thus:

  1. Sensual plane, endowed with sense pleasure (kāma-sukha): the ideal is to be a divine being (deva) or to be born in heaven (sagga); here, one has developed oneself and reached the supreme kind of sense pleasure. Although one is still endowed with the suffering (dukkha) of unawakened beings, one is free from oppression and punishment.

  2. Brahma plane, endowed with the happiness of jhāna (jhāna-sukha): here, the ideal is to be born as a Brahma god.

  3. Transcendent plane, endowed with the happiness of Nibbāna (nibbāna-sukha): here, the ideal is the fruit of arahantship.

Buddhism is a system of training for the spiritual development of human beings. It follows the principle that every individual should continually cultivate him- or herself and reach more refined forms of happiness. Moreover, at any one time different people exist at different stages of development. For this reason, the world should be a conducive place for each individual to make progress, according to which stage he or she is at.

Setting happiness to be the goal of spiritual training, human beings should develop themselves in the three planes mentioned above, in order to reach successively more refined levels of happiness.

Through moral training one develops physical actions in order to create a beneficial relationship to one’s environment, and one cultivates morality in order to support others and to live together happily. In short, by developing generosity and virtuous conduct one attains the delights of heaven. {1103}

Through mental training, while abiding in such a conducive environment, one develops the mind in virtuous qualities, in particular the four divine abidings (brahmavihāra). Established in concentration, one’s mind is steady, poised, and happy. One develops happiness of mind until one reaches the happiness of jhāna.

Through wisdom training, by relying on the accomplishments of mind development, one cultivates wisdom and insight. One sees things clearly according to the truth; one discerns conditionality; one knows how to successfully reach the goal; one is able to solve problems and dispel suffering; and one frees the mind and reaches the happiness of Nibbāna.

Heavenly beings amuse themselves with sensual objects and activities. Brahma gods are satisfied by a refined happiness of mind, including the happiness of jhāna. Arahants, having transcended the bonds of sense pleasure, fully realize the happiness of Nibbāna. Stream-enterers access the happiness of all three planes – of sense pleasure, happiness of the higher mind (adhicitta-sukha), and transcendent happiness (lokuttara-sukha) – having not yet abandoned any of these.

Supreme Happiness of the Buddha

The Buddha asserted that he had realized a happiness surpassing the happiness of a great monarch, whose happiness is considered by most ordinary people as being supreme.

On one occasion the Buddha met with members of the Nigaṇṭhā order who were practising various forms of asceticism and self-mortification, and he spoke with them about the religious practices they undertook for reaching their desired goal.

The Nigaṇṭhā followers practised severe austerities because they believed that happiness cannot be achieved by way of happiness; it can only be achieved by way of pain. In order to support this belief they compared King Bimbisāra with the Buddha, saying that if one were able to achieve (supreme) happiness – the highest goal of religious practice – by way of pleasure, then King Bimbisāra would surely have attained this achievement, since his happiness and comfort exceeds that of the Buddha.

The Nigaṇṭhā said this because they held the common belief that, since King Bimbisāra possesses lavish wealth and great power, his ease and comfort must be greater than the Buddha’s, who had relinquished his worldly possessions, wandered about in remote mountains and forests, and observed various religious practices; surely the Buddha suffered similar pain and difficulty as the Nigaṇṭhā themselves.

The Buddha, however, rejected their claim and proved their premise false by saying that King Bimbisāra does not have more happiness than the Buddha. On the contrary, the Buddha experiences greater happiness than the king. {1034}

From the perspective of ordinary people it was difficult to judge whether the Buddha had more happiness than King Bimbisāra, because most people, including the Nigaṇṭhā in this story, take as a measurement abundance at the external level, for example the amount of one’s wealth, power, prestige, personal retinue, etc., all of which the Buddha had relinquished. In fact, it is impossible to use such external things as a gauge for someone’s true, internal happiness, and therefore the Buddha did not submit these things as proof.

Indeed, measuring a person’s internal happiness, which is invisible, is difficult to do. The Buddha thus used other criteria, which are clearly discernible to others, as a decisive way to determine a person’s internal happiness. He did this by asking whether King Bimbisāra would be able to sit still for seven days – or even one day – without moving or speaking and experience uninterrupted happiness. The answer was ’no’. The Buddha went on to say that he himself is able to sit still and experience such uninterrupted happiness for two, three, even seven days. The Nigaṇṭhā thus conceded that the Buddha has more happiness than King Bimbisāra.54

The Buddha compared the pleasure derived from the five sense objects to a fire made from straw and twigs. Although it is bright, it is not resplendent because it is clouded by smoke. The happiness and bliss independent of material sense objects and free from unwholesome states, on the other hand, is like a fire burning without using grass and twigs as fuel. Its light is pure and brilliant, devoid of any stain.55

Path to Supreme Happiness

Developing More Refined Forms of Happiness

Before describing more refined forms of happiness, it is helpful here to describe a basic form of happiness (sukha) and suffering (dukkha), that has a bearing on all other forms of happiness. The following definition was given by Ven. Sāriputta after he was asked by a wandering ascetic the following question:

’Friend Sāriputta, what is happiness in this Dhamma and Discipline, and what is suffering?’

’Dissatisfaction, friend, is suffering in this Dhamma and Discipline. Satisfaction is happiness.

’When there is dissatisfaction (anabhirati), friend, this suffering is to be expected: when walking, one does not find happiness or contentment, when standing still … when sitting … when lying down … when in a village … when in the forest … when at the foot of a tree … when in an empty hut … when in the open air … when among a group of monks, one does not find happiness or contentment. When there is dissatisfaction, this suffering is to be expected.

’[But] when there is satisfaction (abhirati), this happiness is to be expected: when walking, one finds happiness and contentment, when standing still … when sitting … when lying down … when in a village … when in the forest … when at the foot of a tree … when in an empty hut … when in the open air … when among a group of monks, one finds happiness and contentment. When there is satisfaction, this happiness is to be expected.’

A. V. 121-2.

Following is a list of analogies for the happiness inherent in the various stages of meditative absorption (jhāna). The last step before the attainment of jhāna is the abandonment of the five hindrances (nīvaraṇa): sensual desire (kāma-chanda), ill-will (byāpāda), sloth and torpor (thīna-middha), restlessness and worry (uddhacca-kukkucca), and doubt (vicikicchā). When one abandons the five hindrances one experiences peace and contentment, which is the basis for experiencing the happiness of jhāna. There are five similes for this initial peace and contentment:

  1. Similar to the joy and delight of a person who has borrowed money from a creditor, achieved success in his work, and paid off his debts, with money to spare for supporting his family.

  2. Similar to the joy and delight of a person who has recovered from a serious illness, and regains his appetite and physical strength.

  3. Similar to the joy and delight of a person who has been released from imprisonment, is able to travel about freely, and does not incur a fine.

  4. Similar to the joy and delight of a person who has been emancipated from slavery, gains freedom and independence, and is able to move about as he pleases.

  5. Similar to the joy and delight of a wealthy person who has carried his wealth across a long, dangerous, and remote area and arrived safely at his destination.

From here one experiences the increasingly refined forms of happiness inherent in the four (fine-material) jhānas:

In the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied attention (vitakka), sustained attention (vicāra), bliss (pīti), joy (sukha), and one-pointedness (ekaggatā), a practitioner’s body is permeated and suffused with bliss and joy; no part of the body is left untouched by this bliss and joy. This is similar to someone who in the morning sprinkles water on bath powder contained in a bronze basin. By evening the moisture has pervaded it inside and out so that none of the powder is dispersed. {1047}

In the second jhāna, which is accompanied by bliss, joy, and one-pointedness, a practitioner’s body is thoroughly permeated and suffused with the bliss and happiness born of concentration. This is similar to a deep lake whose waters spring entirely from below, with no other inflow including rainfall from above. The cool fount of water welling up would drench, steep, and pervade every part of the lake.

In the third jhāna, which is accompanied by joy and one-pointedness, a practitioner’s body is thoroughly permeated and suffused with joy divested of bliss. This is similar to a lotus plant growing in the water, immersed in water, and nourished by water. The cool water drenches, steeps, and pervades every part of the plant, from its tip to its roots.

In the fourth jhāna, which is accompanied by equanimity (upekkhā) and one-pointedness, a practitioner pervades the entire body with a pure bright mind. This is similar to a person who is completely covered from the head down with an immaculate white cloth.56

Following on from the happiness of the four fine-material jhānas is the happiness of the four formless jhānas, which similarly becomes increasingly more refined.

Although the happiness of jhāna is superior and more profound than sense pleasure, it has defects and flaws; it is not yet perfect happiness.

The Buddha stated that in the noble discipline (ariya-vinaya) the five strands of sensual pleasure (kāma-guṇa) are called the ’world’ (loka); in other words, the ’world’ is equivalent to the five sense pleasures. One who is attached to sense pleasure is still bound up in the world. One who has attained fine-material jhāna or formless jhāna, is described as one who has reached and dwells in the zenith or limit of the world. He or she is still connected to the world, however, and has not yet escaped or transcended it.

A person who passes beyond the last formless jhāna, who attains the cessation of perception and feeling (saññāvedayita-nirodha), and is free from the mental taints through discerning the truth with wisdom, is described as one who has reached the end of the world and has transcended the bonds that bind beings to the world.57

The ultimate and complete form of happiness belongs to someone whose mind is liberated – the happiness of one who has realized Nibbāna. This happiness includes the happiness associated with the cessation of perception and feeling, which is the tenth kind of happiness mentioned in the list above (see the earlier section on diverse grades of happiness).

The most notable defects of the happiness of jhāna are the following:

  • The happiness of jhāna is still not completely free; it is still restricted and constrained by perception and other mental factors present in jhāna.58

  • In a specific state of jhāna, it is still possible for mental application connected to perceptions of inferior states of jhāna to well up in the mind; the happiness of jhāna is thus still prone to disturbance or agitation.59

  • Although the happiness of jhāna is a form of non-material happiness, it is still subject to attachment and it may give rise to grasping (upādāna). It can be an impediment for realizing Nibbāna and perfect happiness.60

  • It is inadequate; it must be transcended or abandoned.61

  • It is a conditioned phenomenon; it is fashioned by other mental causes and conditions; it is unstable, its very nature is subject to decline and cessation.62 {1048}

Another important attribute of the happiness of jhāna is that exists on the level of feeling or sensation (vedanā). It arises as a result of cognizing sense objects or of experiencing the pleasure of sense objects.63 From this perspective, the happiness of jhāna shares some attributes with sense pleasure, i.e. it is a form of pleasurable sensation (sukha-vedanā). For this reason, the first nine forms of happiness can all be classified as happiness dependent on the cognition of sense objects.

Happiness Beyond Sensation

The distinctive form of happiness is the tenth and final form, which, although it is classified as happiness (sukha), is not a sensation (vedanā) nor does it require the enjoyment of sense objects. It can thus be called ’happiness beyond sensation’. It refers to the happiness associated with the cessation of perception and feeling (saññāvedayita-nirodha), a concentrative state in which, as the name implies, is free of feeling or sensation.

Some people may question how it can be a form of happiness if there is no sensation, because sukha is technically one form of vedanā. But as confirmed by these words of the Buddha, there is a happiness that is not a sensation:

Here, Ānanda, by completely transcending the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, a monk enters and dwells in the cessation of perception and feeling. This is that other kind of happiness more excellent and sublime than the previous kind of happiness [of the base of neither-perception-nor-nonperception].

Now it is possible that wanderers of other sects might speak thus: ’The ascetic Gotama speaks of the cessation of perception and feeling, and he maintains that it is included in happiness. What is that? How is that?’ When wanderers of other sects speak thus, they should be told: ’The Blessed One, friends, does not describe a state as included in happiness only with reference to pleasant feeling. But rather, friends, wherever happiness is found and in whatever way, the Tathāgata describes that state as included in happiness.’

M. I. 400; S. IV. 228; cf.: MA. III. 115; SA. III. 80.

The cessation of perception and feeling (saññāvedayita-nirodha) is comparable to Nibbāna, and the happiness independent of the enjoyment of sense objects – or happiness free from sensation – in this state is similar to the happiness of Nibbāna (nibbāna-sukha).64

Ven. Sāriputta explains this matter in the Nibbāna Sutta, beginning with the statement: Friends, this Nibbāna is happiness, this Nibbāna is happiness.65 Ven. Udāyī asks him how it is possible to have happiness in a state devoid of an enjoyment of sense objects. Sāriputta replies that Nibbāna, in which there is no enjoyment of sense objects (i.e. there is no sensation – vedanā), is itself happiness. He then goes on to explain in an indirect way by using the various states of concentrative attainment as a comparison. Here he does not simply compare Nibbāna to the cessation of perception and feeling, but he describes the comparable aspects of each jhāna, beginning with the first jhāna, as a way of explaining the happiness of Nibbāna. {1049}

In each level of jhāna it is possible for ’mental application accompanied by perception’ (saññā-manasikāra) associated with the directly subordinate level of jhāna to well up in the mind. For example, it is possible that for someone who has attained the third jhāna, which is divested of bliss and endowed solely with joy and one-pointedness, to have perceptions of bliss well up.

This mental application accompanied by perception is considered a disturbance and affliction for the person dwelling in jhāna. (The Pali term used here for disturbance and affliction is ābādha, which often denotes ’sickness’ or ’illness’.) It is precisely this disturbance, affliction, and lack of ease that is referred to as ’suffering’ (dukkha). This is similar to someone who abides happily; the transition from happiness to unhappiness occurs as a result of some form of disturbance or agitation.

Someone who is not disturbed by mental application accompanied by perception is thus fully absorbed in that state of jhāna. Therefore, even without considering the aspect of sensation, the ordinary, inherent condition of jhāna is recognized as ’happiness’ (sukha). In other words, the inherent happiness of jhāna is discernible when one applies the conditions of disturbance and agitation for comparison.

The spaciousness and ease inherent in each level of jhāna, when there is no disturbance by mental application accompanied by perception, is an effective comparison for explaining the happiness of Nibbāna. The happiness of Nibbāna can thus be described as a state of freedom and fulfilment, in which there is no disturbance or stress.

Ven. Sāriputta here uses a method of explaining happiness by comparing it to suffering. A natural state of completeness, free from stress or agitation, is itself happiness.

Arriving at a freedom from suffering can be described in two ways. First, one may be oppressed and afflicted by something, or there is a sense of impairment and deficiency. To rectify this situation one must escape from the source of oppression or bring an original state of fulfilment back to completion. Second, one may be provoked, inflamed, aroused or stimulated. Similar to a sense of impairment and deficiency, here too one must try and return to an original state of fulfilment.

Ordinary people may refer to this gratification of desire, by rectifying an abnormal or dissonant situation, as a pursuit of happiness or a reaping of happiness. In reality, however, what has occurred is that dukkha (’suffering’, ’stress’) has arisen, and one has alleviated or stilled this dukkha and returned to a normal state of completeness.

This explanation is consistent with the definition of Nibbāna as a state free from illness, a state of perfect mental health. The Buddha said that one may not recognize good health – physical strength and wellbeing, and an ability to move about unrestricted – as happiness, because in that moment one is not necessarily enjoying any sense impressions. But when one compares such health to illness and affliction, one appreciates the paramount importance of good health. In other words, when stricken by disease one clearly sees how good health, or a freedom from illness, is a sublime form of happiness.

Just as an absence of physical illness – a state of complete physical health and freedom from affliction – is genuine happiness, so too, a mind free from blemish, from latent anxiety, and from attachment to sense objects exists in a state of true happiness. It is spacious and expansive; having realized this happiness, one dwells with a ’boundless mind’.66

The happiness, delight, clarity, and spaciousness of a liberated mind is the exclusive and exceptional province of awakened beings. It is difficult for unawakened beings, who have never shared this experience, to fathom or conceive of it. But they can at least have an intuition that it is something truly excellent and noble. {1050}

Perfect Happiness

From the perspective of truth (sabhāva), happiness that is still a sensation (vedanā), or happiness that is dependent on the enjoyment of sense objects, is in fact a form of dukkha (’stress’, ’suffering’). This is because pleasurable sensation (sukha-vedanā) is the same as other forms of sensation – i.e. painful and neutral sensations (dukkha-vedanā and adukkhamasukha-vedanā): they are all conditioned phenomena (saṅkhāra-dhammā).67 All conditioned phenomena are subject to stress (dukkha; this refers to ’dukkha’ in the context of the Three Characteristics), as illustrated in this discussion between the Buddha and one of the bhikkhus:

Bhikkhu: Venerable sir, while I was alone in seclusion, this reflection arose in my mind thus: ’The Blessed One has spoken about three kinds of feeling: pleasant feeling, painful feeling (dukkha-vedanā), neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling…. But the Blessed One has also said: ’Whatever sensing (vedanā) of sense objects is classified as dukkha.’ Now with reference to what was this said by the Blessed One?

Buddha: Good, good, bhikkhu! I have spoken about three kinds of feeling: pleasant feeling, painful feeling, neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling…. And I have also said: ’Whatever sensing of sense objects is classified as dukkha.’ That [latter clause] has been stated by me with reference to the impermanence of formations. That has been stated by me with reference to formations being subject to destruction … subject to dissolution … subject to fading away … subject to cessation … subject to change.68

S. IV. 216-17.

Whenever one truly understands that the three kinds of feeling are impermanent, shaped by causes and conditions, interdependent, and of the nature to decay and cease, and one abandons craving for these feelings, to the extent where the heart is liberated, one is independent of the enjoyment of sense objects.69 One experiences supreme happiness, which is beyond sensation.

Feeling (vedanā) relies on contact (phassa) – on cognition – which arises from the coming together of a sense base (āyatana), e.g. the eye, with a sense object (ārammaṇa), e.g. a visual form; as a result there is ’seeing’, ’hearing’, etc. Feeling is dependent on sense objects; without sense objects feeling cannot arise. For this reason, feeling (vedanā) can be defined as ’experiencing sense objects’ or ’enjoying the flavour (rasa) of sense stimuli’.

Therefore, happiness that is a sensation must rely, as does all sensation, on sense objects. The happiness of jhāna relies exclusively on ’mind objects’ (dhammārammaṇa). Sense pleasure, however, relies on all kinds of sense objects, in particular on the first five objects, which are ’material’ (āmisa) and referred to as the five ’strands of sense pleasure’ (kāma-guṇa).

Unawakened beings live their lives by searching for sensual happiness, which is tantamount to entrusting their wellbeing and happiness to external sense objects. Whenever the five objects of sensual enjoyment are abundant, they amuse themselves and are cheerful. But whenever these objects undergo fluctuation and change, or they are in shortage and unacquirable, these people become discouraged and depressed.

This is in contrast to those individuals who are familiar with more refined forms of happiness, especially the happiness independent of sensation; they do not entrust their wellbeing to sense objects. Even if these things change and disappear they still abide in happiness, as confirmed by these words by the Buddha:

Devas and humans take pleasure in forms, delight in forms, rejoice in forms … rejoice in sounds … rejoice in scents … rejoice in tastes … rejoice in tactile objects … rejoice in mental phenomena. {1051}

With the change, fading away, and cessation of forms … sounds … scents … tastes … tactile objects … mental phenomena, devas and humans abide in suffering.

But the Tathāgata, the Arahant, the Fully Enlightened One, has understood as they really are the origin, the instability, the advantages, the dangers, and the escape in the case of forms … sounds … scents … tastes … tactile objects … mental phenomena, and therefore he does not take pleasure in forms, delight in forms, rejoice in forms … rejoice in mental phenomena. With the change, fading away, and cessation of forms … sounds … scents … tastes … tactile objects … mental phenomena, the Tathāgata dwells happily.

S. IV. 126-8; cf.: M. I. 239; M. III. 285; Sn. 148-9.

The experience of ordinary, unawakened people is limited and confined; they are familiar only with the happiness arising from sense pleasure. When they experience a satisfying degree of pleasurable sensations, they are caught up, infatuated, and beguiled by this pleasure and by the objects of pleasure. And when they experience painful sensations, they become downcast or agitated. They yearn for and pin their hopes on the return of sense pleasure, because they know of no other escape from painful feelings apart from sense pleasure.

Noble disciples, on the other hand, who are familiar with more refined forms of happiness, are not caught up and enslaved by sense objects when experiencing pleasurable sensations. Likewise, when experiencing painful sensations, they are not dispirited or agitated, nor do they seek out sense pleasure as an escape. This is because they know of a superior escape (nissaraṇa) – a freedom independent of sense pleasure. They know of a more expansive form of happiness and they have insight into the true nature of happiness and unhappiness. They know of a happiness free from sensation; they must not always rely on the enjoyment of sense objects.70

It is difficult for ordinary people to understand this happiness independent of sensation, because they have no experience of it and know of nothing comparable to it. Having said this, to get an inkling of it one can point to a basic form of happiness inherent in people’s minds which is separate from the happiness derived from enjoying sense pleasures.

This basic form of happiness is both a happiness in itself and also a support for the enjoyment of sense objects. It can be described as a mental state of clarity and calm, when there is no blemish, disturbance, or lingering anxiety in the mind. It can be called an empty mind, a pure mind, or a peaceful mind. A person endowed with such a state of mind can be considered as dwelling in happiness. Moreover, when a person with such a state of mind experiences sense impressions, whether they be sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or tangible objects, he or she experiences the pleasure of this contact to the full.

This can be illustrated by looking at the opposite situation. Take for example someone eating, whose mind at that time is not calm, who is sad, depressed, or beset by some other form of distress. Even if the food is delicious and of the kind that he normally enjoys, on this occasion he may not find it delicious. He may have to force himself to eat or he may not be able to swallow the food at all. If, however, his mind is cheerful, he will savour the flavour of the food fully. Even if the food is not the best, he may find it delicious.

Another example is someone whose body is dirty, grimy, sweaty, or itchy. Even if she sits and listens to music she won’t feel at ease, or if she tries to do some detailed work she won’t be very effective. But if she takes a shower and cleans her body, she will feel at ease. She will derive the greatest amount of pleasure from sense contact and be able to complete meticulous kinds of work. {1052}

Persons endowed with such internal or basic happiness are also able to enjoy the external happiness derived from sense objects. Besides benefiting from both kinds of happiness, internal and external, their mental capabilities are also enhanced. On the contrary, those people who are deprived of this internal happiness lose out on both counts, both in terms of internal and external happiness. Moreover, their mental capabilities are also compromised.

It is possible to cultivate this basic form of happiness and to make it more pure, prominent, and profound than most people are familiar with. One can get a sense of the happiness of Nibbāna by way of this comparison. In sum, Nibbāna is both a form of happiness itself and it enhances one’s ability to experience happiness.

When people relate properly to sensuality, reduce their infatuation with pleasurable sense objects, no longer entrust their happiness to these objects, and stop indulging in sense pleasure, they are prepared to experience the refined happiness of jhāna. When they have experienced the happiness of jhāna and yet still wish to enjoy sense pleasure, they do so in a way characterized as natural and gentle. Generally speaking, they won’t perform unwholesome deeds for the sake of obtaining sense pleasure, because they see greater value in the happiness of jhāna. In addition, the happiness of jhāna relies on a basis of spiritual virtue.

When one experiences the happiness of jhāna, the mind becomes absorbed in the refined meditative object associated with jhāna, of which there are many levels of gradually increasing profundity. At the final stage it is as if one disappears into this state of extreme subtlety (this can be compared to what people describe as a ’mystical state’). These are supreme meditative attainments which are difficult to reach. Someone who is able to relinquish the attachment to this extremely refined state of absorption in these meditative attainments – who has both uprooted an attachment to sense pleasure and an attachment to jhāna – who has indeed relinquished an attachment to all things, reaches perfect liberation: Nibbāna.

Nibbāna is the opposite of these aforementioned conditions, whether it be sense pleasure or meditative attainment (jhāna-samāpatti). This is because the state of sense enjoyment and the state of jhāna both require an engagement with sense objects, a holding onto sense objects, a merging with sense objects; one is entrusting oneself and subject to sense objects. Nibbāna, on the other hand, is a state of detachment, liberation, and freedom.

Although Nibbāna stands in direct contrast to these other states, a person who realizes Nibbāna is fully prepared to enjoy all levels of happiness, including sense pleasure and the happiness of jhāna. They can enjoy happiness in the most optimum way, without any danger or harm. To sum up, those people who realize Nibbāna, besides experiencing the happiness of Nibbāna itself, are able to enjoy all the preceding kinds of happiness and to savour the enjoyment of these to the fullest.

Those who realize Nibbāna but did not previously pass through the various stages of concentrative attainment are not qualified to experience some of these attainments, but they have still reached Nibbāna and experience the supreme happiness of liberation (vimutti-sukha). There exists no greater happiness than the happiness of liberation.

When one abandons sense pleasure, one is entitled to the happiness of jhāna. When one abandons the happiness of jhāna, one is entitled to the happiness of Nibbāna and the happiness of liberation, which is secure, peaceful, and bright, and one is able to return to enjoy all the previous kinds of happiness. (The fact that awakened beings renounce sexual intercourse and abandon or disengage from concentrative attainments – jhāna-samāpatti – enables them to reach superior forms of spiritual attainments – samāpatti.) In order to reach the freedom of Nibbāna, one must first relinquish everything, including the bliss of jhāna. By relinquishing everything, one obtains all. {1053}

Review of Different Forms of Happiness

Here is a summary of the various stages and kinds of happiness:

  1. Vedayita-sukha: happiness as a sensation; happiness involving the enjoyment of sense objects.

    1. Sense pleasure (kāma-sukha): happiness stemming from the five cords of sensuality (kāma-guṇa); happiness derived from the five forms of sense contact (phassa).

    2. Happiness of jhāna (jhāna-sukha): happiness as the fruit of jhāna:

      • Happiness associated with the four fine-material jhānas.

      • Happiness associated with the four immaterial jhānas.

  2. Avedayita-sukha: happiness that is not a sensation; happiness not involving contact with sense objects:

    1. Nirodhasamāpatti-sukha: happiness connected to the attainment of cessation; i.e. dwelling in the cessation of perception and feeling (saññāvedayita-nirodha).

This above classification of happiness accords with the ten stages of happiness described earlier.

Following is an alternative, threefold classification of happiness, which is similar to the preceding one yet is slightly more flexible or non-specific:71

  1. Sense pleasure (kāma-sukha).

  2. Happiness of jhāna (jhāna-sukha).

  3. Happiness of Nibbāna (nibbāna-sukha).

The individuals who experience these three kinds of happiness are as follows: {1058}

  1. Sense pleasure is enjoyed by unawakened human beings and by awakened beings belonging to the stage of stream-enterers and once-returners.72

  2. Happiness of jhāna is accessed by unawakened human beings and by awakened beings of every stage, from stream-enterers up to arahants, especially those who have previously developed that specific level of jhāna.73

  3. Happiness of Nibbāna is accessed by awakened beings of every stage, from stream-enterers up to arahants. (If one is referring to the happiness of fruition attainment, however, then this is accessible to those individuals who have reached that specific stage of awakening. And if one is referring to the happiness of the ’attainment of cessation’ then this is accessible only to non-returners and arahants who have previously reached the eight concentrative attainments.)

A classification according to different types of individuals appears this way:

  1. Unawakened human beings enjoy sense pleasure and may experience the happiness of jhāna.

  2. Awakened beings at the stage of stream-entry and once-returning experience sense pleasure, the happiness of jhāna, and the happiness of Nibbāna (in the form of happiness of fruition attainment).

  3. Awakened beings at the stage of non-returning and arahantship experience the happiness of jhāna and the happiness of Nibbāna (both in the form of happiness of fruition attainment, and, if they have reached the eight concentrative attainments, in the form of happiness of the attainment of cessation).

Although Buddhism does not encourage people to act solely for the sake of obtaining happiness, it constantly acknowledges the truth that happiness is an essential aspect of human life and gives meaning to Dhamma practice. One can say that it is an anchor and support for Dhamma practice. Regardless of whether one is focusing on Dhamma practice in particular, or on human conduct in general, the happiness meant here is the basic happiness inherent in people’s minds, which they can contact by themselves at any time that they are ready. They need not rely on contact with objects in the outside world. This happiness brings a degree of independence to one’s life.

The vital importance of happiness in Dhamma practice has been explained above. Note in particular that a Dhamma practitioner who has not yet experienced a deeper happiness independent of sense objects cannot yet be assured that he or she won’t return to seek out sense pleasures. Even as a renunciant, if one has not yet experienced this profound, non-material happiness, one is not yet safe. The mental defilements can overwhelm the mind, leading one to relinquish the holy life. The Buddha encouraged unawakened people to develop this internal, non-material happiness. Besides increasing one’s degree of happiness and enhancing the quality of one’s life, this internal happiness provides an escape from the tyranny of craving, which leads to endless agitation and heightened problems, both personal and social.

It is fair to say that if human beings are not willing to take an interest in and get to know this non-material happiness, the unrestrained rush for sense pleasure will create a superficial kind of life, full of distress, anxiety, boredom, grief, and misery. Moreover, it will be accompanied by competitiveness and mutual exploitation, until people lead themselves and the entire world to utter annihilation. {1059}

Given that ordinary, unawakened people who are immersed in the pursuit of sense pleasure need to experience an inner happiness, it is twice as important that those people who determine to distance themselves from or to renounce sense pleasure have access to such happiness. This is even more true for those individuals who go forth as renunciants, who engage in higher spiritual practice, or who devote their lives to some ideal. If they are unable to access such internal happiness, their renunciation or devotion will fail to have a stable protection. It is likely that they will fall away from their ideal and return to an unwholesome mode of living. In short, if one lives a life of renunciation, one must be happy with renunciation; if one devotes oneself to an ideal, one must be happy about a life of devotion.

In a wider context, if we are unsuccessful at helping people to recognize and appreciate this internal happiness, the craving for sense pleasure will overwhelm the human race. It will be the final factor in determining the fate of the world, regardless of the undertakings by religious leaders and moral philosophers.

Happiness and Ethics

Very often when people talk about religion or religious practice they use the expression ’religion and ethics’. The development of happiness is inextricably linked to improving one’s life, to improving society, and to developing other aspects of spiritual practice. In this context it is necessary to state that the development of happiness is equivalent to the development of ethics, and conversely, ethical development is equivalent to the cultivation of happiness. If one can understand this connection then one will understand the true meaning both of ethics and of happiness.

When people hear the word ’ethics’ or ’morality’ they often get the sense of acting against one’s will. For example, when speaking about ethics, people often think of needing to refrain from certain harmful or evil behaviour, which gives the sense of force or constraint.

In truth, ethical development is one aspect of developing happiness. True ethics belongs to the ’ethics of happiness’. If ethics is merely a system of going against one’s will, or is tied up with suffering, then it is not true ethics; it will not lead to true success. This is not to say that ethics does not involve some form of constraint and self-control. It does involve constraint, of which there are two kinds:

  1. Early stages of practice may involve some constraint, in the same way that positive growth may require the removal of negative qualities. Yet when one enters the correct path and one’s ethical conduct is true, growth is unhindered. Negative qualities fall away and one need not spend time removing them. Positive qualities increase to the state of completion, at which point one’s life is fully devoted to sharing goodness with others.

  2. The second form of constraint is related to personal disposition. There are some people, referred to as engaging in ’difficult, arduous practice’ (dukkhā paṭipadā), whose disposition it is to be forceful in practice. Yet their willingness and eagerness for constraint leads to self-discipline. Instead of suffering about constraint, they delight in training. They have the potential to grow and succeed.

Ethics overlaps with spiritual training. According to the Buddha’s teachings, human beings require spiritual training; they only reach excellence and ’nobility’ by way of training. Spiritual training is equivalent to spiritual development. People reach spiritual success by way of training themselves. This is an aspect of human nature; one cannot progress by simply following one’s raw instincts. For this reason one can see that spiritual training is linked to human nature. People can only grow and prosper by engaging in spiritual training.

If spiritual training unfolds correctly, it must be endowed with happiness and it must be a training of happiness. If people are unhappy while engaging in such practice, it can be assumed that they are not training correctly. {1081}

When people engage in spiritual training, their lives undergo development and increase in virtue and wholesomeness. This life of virtue and rectitude is referred to as ’ethical conduct’ (cariya-dhamma).74 Ethics and spiritual training thus must go hand-in-hand. In fact, one need not use the term ’must’ here, because when people practise correctly these two elements naturally proceed in unison. When people engage in correct spiritual training, their lives improve and they experience greater happiness. Spiritual training is thus a cultivation in happiness. Moreover, every aspect of a person’s life will be developed.

It is in this way that these factors are connected: spiritual training is the development of happiness, spiritual training is equivalent to ethical development, development in ethics is the cultivation of happiness, etc. It is as the Buddha said: if one attends to the correct causes and conditions, one need not make an appeal – the dynamics of nature will proceed automatically. When rapture (pīti) arises, the body and mind are refreshed and relaxed. One need not ask for this to happen, or even to have this intention. Relaxation (passaddhi) then follows naturally, according to things being ’just so’.

If a mother hen wishes for chicks to hatch, she incubates the eggs. At the proper time the chicks peck through the eggshell and emerge. Yet if the hen does not sit on the eggs, despite clucking loudly all day in front of the coop, her efforts will be in vain, the eggs will rot, and no chicks will appear.

Soon after the Second World War, technology was not as advanced as it is today, and before people could get in a car and drive away, they would have to use all their strength to turn the hand-crank. Sometimes they would be utterly exhausted by the time the engine turned over. Nowadays, however, one only need to turn one’s fingers an inch on the ignition and the engine starts.

Here we see both the connection and the distinction between human processes and the processes of nature. If we are to benefit from the processes of nature, then we must seek ways for them to complement human activities. The amount of strain and difficulty we experience depends on how well we can link our activities to natural processes and have these take over for us. If people are able to set up their activities effectively and to link them with dynamics of nature, they will abide in joy and at ease. And if people can accomplish this they will not have to act against their will. There will be no need for other people or for the government to exert pressure on them to act. Our responsibility is simply to discern causes and conditions, and to then respond to them correctly. We need neither appeal to things to be a specific way nor to resist them.

There are some people, who rather than resist the processes of nature try to regulate their desires. They wholeheartedly practise self-restraint, and this restraint eventually becomes a form of self-training. This is another natural unfolding.

Spiritual training is a way of developing people in happiness and in other virtuous qualities. When they live a virtuous life they live an ethical life. This is how ethics and training are defined in Buddhism. {1082} Here we use the term ’Buddhism’ simply as a means for communication. If Buddhism teaches the truth then it teaches nature, it teaches how things naturally exist, how things exist according to their own nature. A simple definition for Buddhism is thus a ’teaching of natural truths’.

In sum, for spiritual training or ethical development to be true and effective it must include a cultivation of happiness. Spiritual training and ethical development are synonymous with a development of happiness. If spiritual training is still accompanied by a lack of enthusiasm and resistance, one will be unable to experience happiness. This is not genuine training and its associated ethical discipline will be endowed with force and compulsion. Likewise, this is not true ethical conduct.

Human Regulations and a System of Preconditions

Many people harbour the misunderstanding that by inciting craving and increasing greed people will work harder in order to obtain consumable goods. They claim that such excess will spur the economy and lead to greater wealth for all. At first glance this appears to be true, but these people do not see things correctly and are thus mistaken.

Thinking in this way reveals a certain intelligence in engaging with craving within a system of preconditions. Yet however skilled one is in manipulating craving, it is almost impossible that such a method of thinking will create someone like Albert Einstein. The best it can do is produce technocrats working in business economics (who may create excitement or alarm as a result of their research, which is often not of great consequence. For problems to truly be solved, people need to possess wholesome enthusiasm to match their intelligence).

Take a simple example from everyday life, of looking after one’s physical body. One person endowed with wholesome enthusiasm (chanda; see the earlier section on different kinds of desire) cares for his body, wishing for it to be strong, healthy, and clean. Another person subject to craving is prone to laziness and does not normally show concern for the body; later, when craving kicks in and he wants to appear enticing to someone else he will try to make himself as physically attractive as possible. Which of these two forms of behaviour will be more conducive to the wellbeing of the body?

Now let us turn our attention to the system of preconditions required for engagement with craving. Earlier a distinction between the process of wholesome desire and the process of craving was described. In the process of craving a fixed sense of self or self-identity arises. Now we come to a second distinction. When craving acts as the motivation for action, it creates a system of preconditions that acts as the driving force for society (it is also the mechanism behind ’unsustainable’ development). When craving arises, people want to consume something. But when the object has not yet been obtained, they look for ways to acquire it. Here, things do not unfold according to the process of causes and conditions, but rather they link up with a set of preconditions.

People may object here and say: ’Craving is also a desire for action.’ But this is not so – craving prefers idleness. Craving wishes to consume, to obtain, to acquire. But if the desired object has not yet been obtained, what can one do? Here, one must accord with the stipulation: ’In order to get this, one must do that; one cannot obtain the desired object without acting in this particular way.’ This is how craving prompts activity within a system of preconditions. {1083}

Here, one acts not out of wholesome enthusiasm, but because the action is a prerequisite for obtaining something. As the action is not a response to a true wish to act, the person does not experience happiness. There is not a wholehearted desire to act, and so the action is accompanied by suffering.

Craving only spurs action because of preconditions; if one does not act, one does not obtain the desired object, the consumption of which provides happiness. The act itself, however, is done begrudgingly, and one does not know how long one must wait in order to obtain the object and to fulfil gratification. The entire waiting process is filled with suffering. The long wait in order to obtain an object of gratification produces stress. In the end this process is unsustainable and rather than leading to true development, it leads to stress. Unsustainable development results in a perpetual state of stress.

With wholesome enthusiasm, on the other hand, one wishes to act in order to bring about improvement. One acts with the constant desire to act, and one is thus happy throughout the duration of the deed. One experiences no boredom or stress. This happiness is inherent to this process; it results directly from the existing causes and conditions. This principle applies to one’s studies, one’s work, indeed to all one’s activities: if one acts with wholesome enthusiasm, one will find success and happiness throughout.

Wholesome enthusiasm is essential. The Buddha compared it to the light of the dawn. Just like the golden light of the dawn is the precursor to the rising of the sun, so too, if one is endowed with wholesome enthusiasm, it can be expected that one will flourish in spiritual training and in the Noble Eightfold Path.

The dynamic of wholesome enthusiasm does not require a lengthy explanation, because it follows a natural process, according with causes and conditions. Things become complicated because of an overlapping system of preconditions set up by human beings. Human beings nowadays are almost entirely dependent on a system based on preconditions. They have used their intelligence to establish conventional measures overlapping with natural laws, in order to obtain results based on specific prerequisites.

Natural laws – laws of conditionality – exist inherent in nature. Conventional laws are created and subscribed to by human beings in order to meet and proceed according to specific preconditions. These two overlapping laws play an important role in modern civilization. An example of this pertains to the domain of work.

Imagine a government complex, for example a state university, with spacious grounds and elegant buildings. People wish for this to be a place of delight, to have fresh, green lawns and parks with various species of flowering shrubs. How should one fulfil this desire? Here, people use their intelligence to divide the labour and create a system of agreed-upon standards.

We know that trees, plants, and grass thrive when they receive the proper nourishment and nutriments, including water and fertilizer. This pertains to natural causes and conditions, to fixed laws of nature. Knowing this, people then consider how they can propel or induce these natural causes and conditions. Here is where people establish an overlapping set of rules and criteria. {1084}

Human laws are conventional truths (sammati); they are agreements based on mutual knowledge and recognition. The Pali term sammati refers to a shared understanding combined with a mutual agreement and acknowledgement. Human laws are based on mutual contracts and agreements.

For example, one may hire a person for $250 a month to be a gardener in order to water and prune the plants, work the soil, remove weeds, etc., in order for the park to be a place of beauty and delight. Here, rules, i.e. a set of criteria, have been established. The work as a gardener is a precise and definite cause, producing the effect of receiving a monthly salary. The salary appears to be the clear result of working as a gardner. In fact, there are two overlapping laws at work here:

  1. Laws of nature: the plants will only grow if there is a sufficiency of various factors, like fertilizer and water. These laws are certain and absolute.

  2. Human laws: these are secondary laws established to induce the various factors required for the dynamics of nature. These are conventions, regulations, or laws established to create a position of gardener funded by a monthly salary. These human laws deal with human factors.

The factors pertaining to human laws help to propel the factors inherent in nature, so that they proceed in a way that fulfils the desires of human beings. But as mentioned above, human laws are based on conventional agreements. They are not certain and definite like natural laws; they can be altered, distorted, or subject to manipulation and deceit.

For example, the employer may not honour the agreement and only give the person $200 per month. If the gardener does not consent, he may need to dispute this matter or file a formal complaint. Conversely, the employee may not dedicate himself to the work, and instead go off to sleep or go drinking with his friends. Come the end of the month he demands his salary, but he has not acted in accord with the laws of nature. Here, although he receives $250, or even $300, there is no way for the plants to thrive.

Of these two overlapping sets of laws, human laws are subject to distortion. People may not follow through with their promises and agreements. The result is that people get into arguments and are caught up in the stipulations attached to these conventional laws. Such human conventions can thus potentially cause all sorts of problems; they are not truly reliable. The essence of human laws does not rest with the laws themselves, but rather with people. If one wants these laws to be successful, one needs to train people to be honest. In the end, the essential factor is education; people need to learn to love the truth and to abide in honesty. {1085]

Human laws are based on a system of preconditions. If one works for one month as a gardener one receives $250. This appears to be a clearly defined cause and effect. But what does a closer examination reveal? Working for a month as a gardener cannot in itself produce a salary of $250. The money only comes by way of a proviso. This is an example of a provisional system or a system of preconditions.

Some people will only do the work in order to fulfil the preconditions. One may do the gardening work simply to receive the salary, but in one’s heart one has no desire for the plants to prosper and grow. If the gardener only desires the results of the human stipulations and is not interested in the direct results of the natural laws, he is not endowed with wholesome desire; he is not interested in the welfare of the plants. He is prompted not by wholesome enthusiasm (chanda), but by craving (taṇhā): he only wants the money. Craving is the driving force leading the person to act according to the terms within the agreed-upon conventions. If the gardener has no true desire for the plants to flourish, he will not love his work; rather, he will have to force himself to work. The work will thus be burdened with a sense of suffering.

This is one of the vital problems for people in the present age. As civilization develops, people’s suffering increases. People’s work, activities, and education is beset by suffering because they are caught up in this system of preconditions. They are caught up in a system of craving.

System of Preconditions in Harmony with Natural Laws

Craving is normally accompanied by two other factors. As a group of three these factors are referred to as papañca-dhammā (mental defilements that cause complication, proliferation, and perturbation). Here are simple definitions for these three factors:

  1. Taṇhā: the desire to obtain.

  2. Māna: the desire for prominence.

  3. Diṭṭhi: narrow-mindedness (attachment to personal views and beliefs).

These three defilements focus and centre on one’s sense of self; they are factors of selfishness. They cause problems within a system of preconditions. Whenever they act as the force behind a system of preconditions, they cause all sorts of confusion and turmoil. The problems are not limited to suffering inherent in people’s work and education; every sort of human problem is caused by these defilements, leading to distress and agitation.

An awareness of these three defilements enables one to find a solution to problems. The solution lies in applying one’s intelligence to find ways for human conventional laws to link up with and support natural laws. Clever people establish conventional laws which help lead natural dynamics in a direction producing results consistent with their desires and objectives. If we want a tree to grow then we provide the necessary care, like pruning, watering, and adding fertilizer. Through division of labour one organizes a gardener to devote his time and effort to this task. One reassures this person that in respect to earning a living, he will be provided with an adequate income. The gardener needs not be anxious and can fully devote himself to this work. In this way one establishes a bridge between human conventions and natural laws, enabling people to create optimum causes and conditions aligned with natural dynamics. {1086}

If the gardener possesses wholesome enthusiasm, he wishes to see the plants flourish and he wants to act in order to bring about this state of completion. If he is reassured about sustaining his livelihood, he can devote himself fully to this task. In this way he experiences happiness and receives a salary. The work is successful and the worker is happy. In this way the system of human regulations is coordinated with the causal dynamics of natural laws, so that they proceed effectively in line with the wishes of human beings.

If, however, the gardener is devoid of wholesome enthusiasm acting as the catalyst for natural dynamics, the work will not be successful. If he acts simply from craving, desiring only the results promised by a system of preconditions, he will be unhappy because he will have to force himself to work, and the gardening work itself will be unfruitful.

If this lack of wholesome enthusiasm is prevalent, all human systems and institutions will be distorted, imbalanced, and corrupted. Work will be unsuccessful and people will be unhappy. Moreover, when people are devoid of wholesome enthusiasm and dominated by craving, they do not exert themselves in their work; they avoid their work and are dishonest and deceitful, giving rise to corruption and waste. The consequence is that one must emphasize secondary systems of supervision and control.

When craving takes hold of these systems of supervision, new overlapping systems of control need to be established. The three defilements of perturbation (papañca-dhamma) then cause further turmoil and distress. In the end human society is led to ruin and calamity, as is described in an old Thai poem: ’When the baht is spent, the tiger dies.’ (See Note Poem ’Loka Niti’) For this reason it is important that a system of preconditions does not destroy or crush wholesome enthusiasm. One needs to be alert and use one’s intelligence to ensure that the system of preconditions supports wholesome enthusiasm, which mobilizes desirable natural processes.

In today’s age, which is dominated by systems based on greed, it is still possible for wholesome and virtuous development to occur, because enough people possess an adequate degree of wholesome enthusiasm, even if this is not always obvious. We need to prevent a system of craving from becoming the dominant dynamic, which eclipses wholesome enthusiasm until it gradually recedes and eventually disappears. Instead, we ought to make wholesome enthusiasm the mainstay; although craving may still cause some trouble, people will retain an adequate degree of stability and safety.

It is necessary to acknowledge that human systems of preconditions are the driving force in the world. What are our options when we realize that people exist at different levels of spiritual development, and that most people are still committed to a system based on craving? It is not sustainable for people to simply follow their desires. It is essential that those people responsible for establishing the system of preconditions are endowed with wholesome desire, and that they ensure that wholesome desire is given a prominent role within such a system. Moreover, they should set down decisive measures of heedfulness for all people to use while engaged in developing themselves.

This key subject of desire tends to get overlooked. It is vital that one is able to distinguish between wholesome and unwholesome desire. When one has understood this matter it will be easy to determine how to solve problems, and one will develop happiness with confidence. {1087}

Poem ’Loka Niti’

From the poem ’Loka Niti’ (โลกนิติ). [Trans.: written in 1831. The story goes that a zoo acquires a tiger, for which one baht is allocated each day to keep it well-fed. The keeper responsible for feeding the tiger embezzles 25 satang each day. When the director notices that the tiger is not filled out he sends an inspector to find out what is going on. When the inspector discovers the truth, he demands 25 satang as hush money from the keeper. The tiger gets thinner, prompting the director to send a more senior inspector. He too demands 25 satang as hush money, and the tiger is soon just skin and bones. The director sends the chief inspector, but he demands the remaining 25 satang for himself, causing the tiger to perish.]

Deriving the Greatest Benefit from Systems of Preconditions

A frequently asked question in the modern age is how wholesome desire functions in the domain of work. The term ’chanda’ can be simply translated as ’pleasure’, ’liking’, or ’delight’. Take for example a job interview, during which one is asked: ’Do you like this kind of work?’ The term ’like’ here is ambiguous. One person may answer, ’I like it’, but imply that he likes the good salary or the fact that the work requires little exertion and provides a lot of free time. This is one kind of liking. Another person may reply, ’I like it’, on the grounds that the work conforms to her skills, and that it is beneficial and constructive to society. The terms ’like’ and ’desire’ encompass both ’craving’ (taṇhā) and ’wholesome enthusiasm’ (chanda). For this reason it is important to clarify how one uses these terms.

It requires discernment to understand the real meaning of the question, ’Do you like this kind of work?’ which is: ’Does this work fit your skills and do you see the value of this work?’ It is not a matter of only liking the work because of a high income or an opportunity to be lazy and have lots of time off, which stems from selfishness and craving. If we have wholesome enthusiasm we truly love our work, because we recognize its value; we see how it benefits society and helps develop our nation.

If the social benefit of work is not clearly evident, or if one does not recognize the wider value of one’s work – and yet the work is required – one can generate wholesome enthusiasm with the attitude that the work is valuable for self-development and leads to improvement in our own lives. One aspect of work is that it is a domain for personal growth. Every kind of work or activity, whether it involves a task that we enjoy or not, is an opportunity for personal development. The more difficult is the task, the greater is the opportunity to train, to sharpen skills, and to increase intelligence.

If one can summon wholesome desire and generate a wish to train, one will enjoy even those things previously found unpleasant and one will delight even in difficult work. The more challenging the task, the more one gains. By the time the task is complete, one has passed through an extensive period of self-development.

Our daily work and activities take up the most amount of time in our lives – approximately eight hours, or one third, of each day. The remaining sixteen hours or so are taken up by sleeping or travelling, or of simply being fatigued. For this reason one needs to make the most out of these eight hours of productive activity. If one needs to force oneself to do this work then one is in trouble; these eight hours will be wasted and one’s life will be filled with unhappiness. It is thus vital to generate wholesome desire, to recognize the importance of having love for one’s work. One can tell oneself that by having such love one will develop oneself, develop one’s capabilities, develop one’s ability to solve problems, develop wisdom, and develop the mind. One will grow in endurance, energy, self-restraint, mindfulness, and concentration. This wholesome enthusiasm will bestow meaning to one’s work and will increase one’s happiness.

When engaging in displeasurable work, the mind is stifled, without a sense of relief. This mental constriction and confinement is suffering indeed. The mind then gets caught in a cycle of such suffering. When the mind finds a way out of this impasse, one feels relieved and happy. Therefore, whenever one is experiencing difficulty, one should generate such wholesome desire. Then every activity will be endowed with such zeal, and as mentioned above, one will recognize that at the very least one has a valuable opportunity to develop oneself. {1088}

Most often when working one must encounter other people. If one is not plagued by stifling thoughts or emotions, these encounters are also an opportunity for self-training. One can train for example in speech. What sort of speech is effective, non-offensive, and conducive to friendship and cooperation? All such activities are opportunities for training.

Work may be defined as those tasks necessary to accomplish. Wholesome enthusiasm is the desire to perform these tasks, along with a desire to understand the details of this work. The desire to act is thus inherently an aspect of training and of study. True training is comprised of the desire to know and the desire to act. By generating this desire to know and act, the essence of training has been reached. The desire to train, to learn, and to act is the same as the desire to understand. When willingly engaged in a task, one trains oneself and is engaged in study. Both formal learning and formal work are aspects of training, because in both cases one is improving one’s life. If one practises correctly, one’s entire life will be a form of training, of self-development.

Technically speaking, one can use the term chanda in reference to all activities; it does not simply refer to one’s work. There are two aspects to this term:

  1. Chanda as a desire for a natural state of completion. Here, one wishes for all things with which one is engaged to be well and in good order, and to reach a state of natural completeness and fulfilment.

  2. Chanda as a desire to accord with causes and conditions; one wishes for success directly in accord with causes and conditions. For example, every profession has a natural objective. The objective of the medical profession, for instance, is to cure people from illness; the objective of the teaching profession is to instil goodness and knowledge in children or in pupils.

We should ask ourselves what the direct purpose of our specific individual profession is. Government work and the work by state institutions, for example, requires a clear objective. Before beginning a job, we should clearly investigate its objectives, and we then ask ourselves whether we agree with and approve of them. When we decide to then undertake the task, we can attend accurately to these objectives. And through our enthusiasm and determination we seek to bring about results consistent with these objectives. This is chanda.

As for a salary or financial remuneration, this is a matter belonging to the system of preconditions. With wholesome desire and wisdom, one sees that money is a support for devoting oneself fully to one’s work in order to fulfil its objective, without needing to worry about how one will earn one’s livelihood or to seek some other form of occupation. Although one abides by a system of conventions, one understands and benefits from it.

When people possess wholesome enthusiasm and understand the true purpose of their work and the nature of the agreed-upon terms, the system will not be seen simply as a way to force people to work. One will discern that it aims to promote wholesome desire, so that people can commit themselves fully to their work and be freed from financial worries. If people have wholesome desire, are determined to perform their work in order to fulfil its true purpose, have a love for this form of success, and receive an adequate financial recompense, they and their families will abide in wellbeing.

This correct, virtuous way of practice provides people with two kinds of happiness. First, they derive happiness directly from their work, knowing that they have attended to it correctly. Second, they feel assured by the wages or salary, knowing that it will be a support to further dedicate themselves to their activities. They are pleased that their work progresses well, and they are confident that their enthusiastic efforts lead to results consonant with the work’s true objective, to the wellbeing of an institution or the nation, in a smooth and lasting way. This is how a system based on wholesome desire operates. {1089}

Fun in Learning, Happiness in Training

Now let us turn our attention to education. In the process of learning it is imperative to generate wholesome enthusiasm, for if this does not occur, people will not experience real happiness while learning. The best one can hope for in such a case is to have fun, which is the happiness of someone dedicated to pleasure, similar to the pleasure derived from watching a play or a movie.

If wholesome enthusiasm has been generated, whether one’s learning process is fun or not becomes a minor, insignificant matter. Granted, having fun fosters motivation and interest in students, and it is an instrument for facilitating an understanding of the gist of the subject at hand. Having fun, however, is not the essence of education; it is not an essential part of the true learning process. In connection to the explanation above, having fun is simply a supportive factor, which one must know how to apply in order to aid wholesome desire and to enter the true learning process.

Education begins with wholesome enthusiasm, and it is vital that children possess such desire. Although amusement for children is useful when it successfully helps to generate wholesome desire, without wholesome desire one must rely entirely on having fun, and one must constantly increase this sense of fun. Needing to constantly entertain the children is wearisome for the teachers, who need to come up with new ways of providing the students with fun activities.

It is true that an ability to make learning fun is an admirable skill, but it is important to also instil wholesome enthusiasm. It is necessary to distinguish these two qualities, and to ensure that fun is not simply a way of gratifying the desire for pleasure, which is often the case say by watching a movie. Otherwise, the teacher resembles an actor, and the pleasure derived by having fun is a form of feeding craving.

This feeding of craving, by amusing oneself with sights, sounds, etc., gives rise to problems, which then need to be rectified. The basic problem is an attachment to such enjoyment, along with a sense of apathy and boredom, which requires people to seek increasingly greater amounts and degrees of stimulation.

Using such entertainment in teaching will at first provide much fun for the students, but eventually they will grow accustomed to and bored with it. The next time one must add to the amusement, or introduce new forms of entertainment, thus increasing the stimulation and gratification. This becomes an endless cycle. The teachers become fatigued and the students themselves are at a dead end, spinning around in a vortex of craving. The students become addicted to such entertainment, only seeking amusement. Rather than being fascinated with learning, they wait for the next performance or show. They do not have the desire to learn and to seek knowledge by themselves. In this way the flow of craving is strengthened.

If one is not careful, children will not be interested in learning; instead, they will only delight in the aspects of entertainment. They will not advance to acquiring vital information, and they will not generate wholesome enthusiasm. For this reason, it is essential that one understands the proper role of entertainment and fun in education. Having fun helps to create an initial interest in learning; it is a preliminary and external factor in the true process of learning. It acts as a link to something greater, not as an end goal.

The true purpose of external factors in education is to generate internal factors within an individual. {1090} Teachers are an outside influence (paratoghosa; ’a voice of encouragement and guidance’); ideally they are a positive influence and act as virtuous friends (kalyāṇamitta). They transmit knowledge and promote certain kinds of seeing, listening, and thinking, in order for the pupils to generate their own interest and enthusiasm, which then becomes the driving force in their studies. Besides transmitting specific information, the true success of a teacher thus rests with his or her ability to help generate wholesome enthusiasm (chanda) within the students. If teachers do not have this aim, then all they can do is entertain the students, which eventually leads to apathy and boredom on the part of the students, and fatigue on the part of the teachers.

Teachers, virtuous friends, or other external influences need thus to act as a medium, linking external factors with internal factors, and helping students to generate virtuous qualities within themselves. Otherwise, teachers reinforce in the students the characteristic of being dependent on others. If teachers understand the true responsibility of the teaching profession, they will seeks ways to facilitate an understanding in the students of the subject materials and to induce an interest in learning.

If students develop this wholesome enthusiasm, they can progress in their studies independently. Although the teacher is not present, they will say: ’I have a subject of study to pursue. I want to research this matter. I wish to go to the library and read up on this subject.’ They will derive happiness from this research because it satisfies their interest in learning; it fulfils the desire to gain knowledge. In this way learning will progress naturally and automatically.

If we are able to generate the wholesome desire as the starting point in our studies, our entire way of life and pursuit of happiness will change. And the new kind of happiness that gradually increases throughout this process is exceptional and unexpected. Before, we only relied on craving, seeking to obtain and consume things. We excitedly pursued desirable sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangibles for consumption. When we experienced these things we felt gratification. Yet when we encountered undesirable objects we were displeased, irritated, and distressed. Our happiness and unhappiness was entirely dependent on likes and dislikes subject to craving, and our views on happiness were limited to this dynamic.

When one gives rise to wholesome enthusiasm, one experiences a new form of desire. One wishes to truly learn about things and to act in order to bring about improvement. When one obtains knowledge or does things well, one is happy, and this happiness increases exponentially.

One’s relationship changes even to those things that are unpleasant and were formerly distressing. When one sees that there are aspects to undesirable things that are worthy of study and investigation one wants to understand them. One asks such questions as: ’How is this object bad?’ ’Why is this object undesirable?’ One begins to appreciate unpleasant things because they provide an opportunity for learning. Wholesome enthusiasm leads people to appreciate and even to derive joy from undesirable things and situations. This happiness stems from gaining knowledge and from one’s own skilful actions. {1091}

Note that wholesome enthusiasm (chanda) is associated with and must be accompanied by wisdom (paññā). This is unlike craving (taṇhā), which is accompanied by ignorance (avijjā) and requires no wisdom. Craving can arise at all times, while wholesome desire is only developed with the help of wisdom.

How is wholesome desire accompanied by wisdom? Say one encounters a disagreeable, unpleasant object, which is rejected by craving. Yet when wisdom recognizes that the object is beneficial in some way, wholesome enthusiasm participates in the process. The desire to know and the desire to act are set in motion, and happiness follows along with the fulfilment of this desire.

With the introduction of wholesome enthusiasm, likes and dislikes based on craving lose almost all of their influence and power. Those things previously considered unacceptable by craving – those things which used to be deplorable and cause affliction – now, with the power of wisdom and wholesome desire, are able to provide happiness.

In this way, one who begins a true form of education and training is able to find happiness even from those things that do not offer gratification to craving. This process of learning then develops, whereby preferences and aversions gradually lose their ability to overwhelm and sway the mind. One’s attention, thoughts, and happiness centres around knowledge and skilful action. This is how someone like Albert Einstein comes to be.

On a practical level, if one is able to establish an education system promoting a basic level of wholesome enthusiasm, the nation will have an increased number of ’creators’, who will offset those ’consumers’ who have no desire to act, other than to find ways to satisfy their craving.

In sum, this process involves a delight in the goodness and completion of something. If the object has not yet reached such a state of goodness and completion, one wants to act in order to help bring about this state, and one wants to know what needs to be done to accomplish this (alternatively, the desire to know precedes the desire to act). When one has gained the necessary knowledge, one is able to act according to one’s wishes. When one completes the action and satisfies one’s desire, happiness follows, and this happiness increases the more one accomplishes.

The desire to know and the desire to act function in unison. These aspects of desire lead to and are accompanied by happiness and true learning. If these two aspects of desire are absent, learning will be difficult and students will be unwilling and unhappy. If one is able to generate wholesome enthusiasm, learning will proceed automatically, in the same way as the Buddha stated that with dawn as harbinger, the rising of the sun is guaranteed.

In connection to society, to the relationship with other people, wholesome desire (chanda) can be expanded into four spiritual qualities, referred to as the four ’divine abidings’ (brahmavihāra; literally, ’qualities characteristic of Brahma gods’ or ’supreme spiritual qualities’): lovingkindness (mettā), compassion (karuṇā), sympathetic joy (muditā), and equanimity (upekkhā).

Here, one can see how the development of desire runs parallel to the development of happiness; in fact these two forms of development are identical. As one elevates desire from craving to wholesome enthusiasm, and as one develops this enthusiasm, happiness is expanded and deepened. {1092}

Joy in Learning and Joy from Learning

Although deriving happiness in one’s studies is important as part of the process of learning, it is not enough. Happiness is not simply a stage in learning or in spiritual practice, but rather it is the most essential part and the goal of one’s studies. If one understands the true nature of happiness, one will discern that study or training is in itself a development of happiness in order for the student or practitioner to be truly happy.

The genuine development of happiness requires a fulfilment of spiritual qualities, which are present in those people who are accomplished. I have written several books on this subject of happiness as the goal of education or of spiritual training; let us review some of the material in these books.75

The true purpose of education is to provide people with happiness. It is not enough for people to enjoy their studies; education also needs to lead people to happiness. People then dwell in a normal state of happiness. Moreover, the learning process itself is also endowed with happiness.

Does modern education provide people with happiness, or does it make people simply hunger and yearn for happiness? An incorrect form of education leads people to discontentment; it becomes an instrument for sucking happiness out of people and making them thirst for it.

The further one studies in such a defective system of education, the greater is one’s thirst for true happiness. One is in want of happiness while studying, and one graduates from this system with yearning. One then rushes ahead in order to find personal happiness, competing for it and creating suffering and hardship for others.

When people who are deprived of happiness experience suffering, they vent their frustrations out on others and seize whatever happiness they can find for themselves. If children are taught in such a harmful way, upon completion of their studies they will seek to maximize their own personal happiness. {1093}

In this modern, technically developed age, one sees how people are caught up in the pursuit of happiness, to the extent that they no longer have the time for others. They are in a constant state of want and pursuit of happiness, and they keep expecting it to arrive in the future. The thirst for happiness is rampant throughout the entire society, including in family households, schools, and workplaces. The mind state of happiness deprivation is widespread, apparent throughout society. For this reason we must emphasize that true education makes people happy and teaches people to look for happiness in the correct ways.

Those people who have passed a correct system of education are able to solve problems, dispel suffering, and establish themselves in happiness. They cultivate themselves in order to reach more refined forms of happiness, and they share their happiness with others in a wide-ranging way.

People who suffer from some form of problem often vent their frustration on others, and although this is an attempt on their part to find some kind of ease, their actions cause harm to others and to society. This includes those children who have some kind of difficulty and consequently act out in negative ways. On the contrary, those people who abide in happiness tend to share their joy with others, even when there is no direct intention to do so. Thus, to increase happiness in the world, we need to increase happiness in individuals.

This corresponds with the Buddha’s aim in relation to society: abyāpajjhaṃ sukhaṃ lokaṃ: ’to create and abide in a world that is happy, free from oppression.’ This is our task as human beings: to create a happier world, to reduce oppression, to offer mutual support and assistance, and to abide in collective, lasting happiness.

Despite the Glut of Consumable Objects, Happiness is on the Wane

One of the consequences of the inability to know what is enough and the constant pursuit of happiness is that people develop the characteristic of being prone to suffering and find it increasingly difficult to be happy.

Compare this with children. Most children, from the early days before they could walk, laugh openly, smile with delight, and are easily amused. Little things that they obtain or see give them happiness. But as people grow up, they find it more and more difficult to find happiness. As mentioned above, those things that at one time provided happiness are now considered boring, leading to indifference and a lack of enthusiasm. In order to be happy, things must accord with a long list of desires and preconditions. And yet these people still don’t experience real gratification. They chase after things without ever reaching their destination. It becomes more and more difficult to satisfy them.

When it becomes increasingly difficult for people to be happy, they also become more easily agitated. Before, going without certain things, living with certain inconveniences, and being required to perform certain tasks was not a problem. These situations didn’t cause suffering. {1129} Later on, they may become well-off, own an abundance of things, and be extremely comfortable. They can order others to do their own work – the only muscle in the body that gets exercised is the index finger. But they may become attached to this ease and convenience. If they lack anything, if something doesn’t arrive exactly on time, if they don’t get what they want, or they must do something requiring effort – all of these situations become a source of suffering. They thus become more prone to suffering and they accumulate suffering.

This runs counter to true spiritual development. If one is engaged in proper spiritual development, as one gets older one should be more proficient at being happy, one should be able to increasingly generate internal happiness, and one should find it easier to be happy and be less prone to suffering. Those who are developing spiritually must be simultaneously developing in happiness; their happiness must be increasing. Within the ordinary sphere of human living situations or responsibilities, they should feel confident about experiencing happiness. They can make the claim to others: ’Don’t waste your time trying to make me unhappy; you won’t succeed.’

These days, however, the reverse seems to be occurring. People seem to find it increasingly difficult to discover happiness, and they are unnaturally more prone to suffering. Many children in the IT age seem to have this trait. One cause for this is that the upsurge in technological advances permits a quick gratification of desire in regard to consuming material things, and it increases material comfort. The drawback is that people become more easily jaded, or else they feel they cannot live without these comforts. In order to feel satisfied, they must acquire things as quickly as they desire them.

The real reason, however, is an inadequate and incorrect spiritual practice. The result is that, instead of technological growth helping to promote true happiness, it ends up crippling people’s ability to experience happiness. People then become incapable of experiencing true happiness. This is what happens when people deal with technology incorrectly. They fail to derive the true benefit from it; instead of receiving its positive effects, they receive its negative ones.

The greater the abundance of material things, and the greater the ease and convenience in society, the more important it becomes for people to train their minds and develop the ability to find happiness. If people simply get caught up in pursuing pleasure from external objects, they will find it increasingly difficult to be happy. At the same time, they will neglect the training in an increased capability to experience happiness. Besides squandering an opportunity to develop themselves, they may eventually be incapable of any form of happiness. For this reason, give heed to developing one’s capability to experience happiness.

Otherwise, there will be no end to problems. People’s own search for happiness will be futile and their internal suffering will intensify. Mutual oppression in society will increase, and the world will become a more troubled place. There will be no hope for peace. If one develops happiness correctly, however, all internal dilemmas will be resolved. Various spiritual factors will be activated and set into place, because, in a correct spiritual practice, the vital spiritual factors are naturally linked and integrated. {1130}

Sense desire – the desire for material objects – is thus fraught with danger, and it is the cause for various kinds of wrongdoing. People desire sense pleasure within a ’system of preconditions’. (See the earlier material on this subject, which is linked to the material here.) The result is that the extent and range of immoral conduct is amplified. This is how craving operates within a system of preconditions, in which people seek desirable objects by avoiding, or by half-heartedly conforming to, the direct processes of nature. Our responsibility is thus to help people to develop wholesome desire and to integrate human laws with natural laws.

This gives an outline of the advantages and disadvantages of happiness. The essential point is that one applies ’liberating wisdom’ (nissaraṇa-paññā) in regard to all forms of happiness, beginning with sense pleasure, until one reaches the freedom from mental defilement. While experiencing happiness, be vigilant and know moderation. This way one will remain strong and avoid mental weakness.

Practical Application

Summon Wisdom to Deal With Suffering

In the development of happiness it is important not to neglect the term dukkha (suffering). An acknowledgement is made that suffering exists, and that it is both placed in opposition to and paired alongside happiness. People need to gain a comprehensive and clear perspective of these matters, rather than practise avoidance and leave unresolved issues to fester in the mind.

Moreover, if one is happy yet suffering still exists, then that happiness is not true and reliable. Therefore the development of happiness implies the simultaneous reduction, removal, disappearance, and cessation of suffering. The expression ’development of happiness’ can thus be replaced with the expression ’cessation of suffering’ – these refer to one and the same process. And for this process to be complete, regardless of how much happiness a person may experience, one must reach the stage of the utter cessation of suffering.

Technically speaking, to counter the sense that the development of happiness is open-ended and without a clear end-goal, it is referred to as the ’cessation of suffering’. The term ’cessation’, which is a translation for the Pali term nirodha, carries with it specific linguistic problems, in that its meaning is not altogether clear and it may give rise to misunderstanding. When people hear the phrase ’cessation of suffering’, they may understand that this refers to a gradual yet constant elimination or removal of suffering existing in the heart. In fact, the true meaning of nirodha refers to the non-arising of suffering, or to the complete and utter freedom from suffering. On the highest level, nirodha refers to Nibbāna, a state completely free from suffering.

Occasionally the term anuppāda-nirodha is used, translated as ’cessation by means of non-arising’, that is, absolute or complete cessation. For the sake of convenience, we may thus translate dukkha-nirodha as the ’non-arising of suffering’ or ’freedom from suffering’.

Partly for ease-of-mind of the listeners, when this subject is discussed, the term ’suffering’ is often avoided and instead the process is described as the ’development of happiness’. Note, however, that by doing so one is not neglecting the subject of suffering, and eventually one will need to address it accordingly. The expression ’development of happiness’ necessarily implies the proper management of suffering. {1104}

An essential aspect of suffering is one’s attitude and relationship to it. If one fails to understand the importance of this point, then one will be unable to truly develop in happiness. Here we are referring to the duty or responsibility (kicca) vis-à-vis suffering. If one gets this wrong, then one’s entire spiritual practice will be misdirected and end in failure. People often neglect this essential factor.

As suffering is the first noble truth, let us review the duties or responsibilities pertaining to all four of the noble truths:

  1. Suffering (dukkha): a state of pressure and affliction, acting as a basis for human problems; alternatively, anything that has the capacity to create problems. The associated responsibility here is pariññā: thorough or comprehensive understanding.

  2. Cause of suffering (samudaya). The associated responsibility is pahāna: abandoning, eliminating, or ending.

  3. Cessation of suffering (nirodha). The associated responsibility is sacchikiriyā: realizing, seeing clearly, actualizing, or attaining.

  4. Path (magga): the way leading to the end of suffering. The associated responsibility is bhāvanā: cultivating, developing, practising, or undertaking.

Without going into a lengthy analysis of these four responsibilities here, note however that they are of fundamental importance. They exist inextricably paired with the Four Noble Truths. For if one practises any one of the Four Noble Truths incorrectly, in respect to its associated duty or responsibility, one’s progress in the Dhamma will come to naught and one’s efforts will be in vain; it will be impossible to awaken or to realize the Dhamma.

In respect to the first noble truth, the Pali states: ’With suffering there should be thorough understanding’ (dukkhaṃ pariññeyyaṃ). Suffering must be understood by way of wisdom – suffering is there to be understood. A simple example of this is that before one is able to solve a problem, one must first understand the nature of the problem.

The definition of dukkha is not limited to the general concept of physical and mental pain and discomfort. The term also refers to everything that has the potential to create a sense of oppression when one fails to respond to it correctly. For this reason the subject of suffering requires comprehensive understanding. In sum, suffering is a matter to be taken up and dealt with by wisdom. It is not something to be stored up and accumulated in the heart, until it oozes out or goes rancid and one loses one’s radiance and joy.

If one encounters suffering, welcome it with wisdom. Don’t allow the mind to get caught up with it, or as people informally say, ’Don’t obsess over your emotions.’ Don’t burden or oppress the mind with suffering. And if the mind has already allowed it entry, don’t let it smoulder. Hasten to send it on to wisdom. If one simply stores up suffering within the heart, one suffers in vain; one does not dispel it and one’s life becomes stuck. Yet if one allows wisdom to deal with it, besides finding solutions to end it, one’s whole life moves forward.

It is not the mind’s responsibility to deal with suffering; this responsibility rests with wisdom. The mind’s task is not to bear suffering, but rather to apply wisdom. The principal agent in this matter is wisdom, which solves problems and dispels suffering. Wisdom brings suffering to an end, and at the same time generates happiness.

The mind’s responsibility is to witness happiness. One should develop the mind’s proficiency for experiencing happiness, and develop wisdom’s ability to solve problems and dispel suffering. A healthy mind is endowed with happiness; and healthy wisdom is capable of dispelling suffering. For the mind to be truly healthy and happy, wisdom must completely dispel suffering. {1105}

Spiritual practice needs to be accurate, by attending to the duty corresponding to each of the Four Noble Truths. If one oppresses oneself by accumulating suffering – causing internal distress, frustration, and depression – one is responding to suffering incorrectly. Instead, one needs to change course and summon wisdom to help.

Happiness is classified as part of the third noble truth – cessation (nirodha). It is recognized that there are relative degrees of happiness which need to be developed until one reaches supreme happiness. The responsibility here is sacchikiriyā: to realize, actualize, or perfect happiness. This development of happiness should be attended to as a regular and constant part of one’s life. The ability to be happy is the starting point of spiritual practice. For this reason one needs to establish oneself correctly from the outset, so that one goes in the right direction and proceeds with confidence.

Practice Being Free From Suffering

The spiritual journey begins with an understanding of happiness. As one progresses along the journey, there is another key principle that directly benefits one’s practice. This principle has to do with how one relates to happiness, and it also pertains inherently to one’s relationship to suffering.

In the Devadaha Sutta the Buddha outlines this method of practice in regard to happiness. It contains four factors:76

  1. To refrain from creating extra suffering for oneself.

  2. To not forsake righteous happiness.

  3. To not indulge in any sort of happiness, even righteous happiness.

  4. To strive in order to bring an end to the cause of suffering (i.e. to strive in order to realize higher forms of happiness, all the way to supreme happiness).

1. It is common for people to create unnecessary suffering for themselves. They may be abiding in a state of wellbeing, free from distress, yet still inflict suffering on themselves. Examples of this are those people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol or indulge in addictive drugs. Many of them start out healthy, yet still consume these things, even though they clearly know that they are harmful, both physically and mentally. Although they possess this knowledge, they create suffering and problems.

On a more subtle level, people often gather and accumulate various sense impressions, like sights or sounds, that are slightly bothersome or annoying. Trivial things done or said by others – things that are part of the past – are stored up in people’s minds. Later, when they are alone, they dig these things up and proliferate over them, causing misery and unhappiness. This is another example of piling suffering onto oneself.

In respect to householders, it is not considered blameworthy to have some degree of mental proliferation – to elaborate on one’s experiences – but the encouragement is to think in positive rather than negative ways. Negative mental proliferations are called ’unwholesome formations’ (apuññābhisaṅkhāra), which are marked by greed, hatred, and delusion, and which generate suffering. {1106}

Mindfulness (sati) should be applied here as a restraint, in order to cease thinking in negative ways. Instead, one thinks in wholesome ways and creates positive mental formations (puññābhisaṅkhāra), beginning with joy (pāmojja). Joy is then followed by bliss (pīti) and tranquillity (passaddhi). This is the way to solve problems and to generate happiness.

The Buddha described the ascetic practices of the Nigaṇṭhā (Jains), who clearly inflicted suffering on themselves. Instead of using a blade to shave their heads, they used tweezers to pull out each hair, one at a time. They devised all sorts of strategies to increase suffering. They would drive in nails or thorns to their sleeping platforms and lie on these; they would abstain from food and water for long periods; in the cold season they would immerse in chilly rivers; in the hot season they would stand out in the blazing sun.

The Buddha described these practices of self-mortification as examples of self-inflicted suffering. These are examples from history. The reader can think of comparable ways in which modern people unnecessarily pile suffering onto themselves.

2. Righteous happiness can be found in everyday situations. Take for example those laypeople who earn their living honestly. They use their money for enjoyment and to support their families and dependants, according to the teaching on the four kinds of happiness for householders (gihi-sukha): the happiness of having wealth; the happiness of spending wealth; the happiness of being free from debt; and the happiness of performing virtuous and blameless deeds – of performing good deeds by way of body, speech, and mind – happiness that causes no harm to anyone. This kind of righteous happiness should not be neglected or forsaken.

There are numerous kinds of righteous happiness. There is the happiness stemming from generosity (dāna), moral conduct (sīla), and cultivation of the mind (bhāvanā). There is the elevated happiness of developing tranquillity meditation (samatha-bhāvanā) and insight meditation (vipassanā-bhāvanā). Alternatively, there is the happiness of lovingkindness and compassion, or the happiness of the four principles of service (saṅgaha-vatthu; see below).

In sum, these kinds of happiness should not be renounced or objected to (those people who adhere to a doctrine of extreme asceticism aim to inflict more suffering on themselves, and they thus shun happiness).

3. Non-indulgence in any form of happiness is a vital factor and indicates an advanced level of spiritual development. Experiencing righteous forms of happiness is already an excellent step in spiritual practice. But problems can arise due to such happiness, namely, people may get attached to or blindly absorbed in it. This attachment or indulgence leads to laziness, heedlessness, and decline. One who is able to escape from this pitfall has reached an important stage in practice.

When one has reached this stage, happiness is unable to dominate the mind:

  • First, one does not fall into heedlessness. Happiness does not become a harmful influence.

  • Second, one does not lose one’s independence; one is not enslaved by happiness.

  • Third, one has the opportunity to develop higher forms of happiness.

4. The effort to bring an end to the cause of suffering leads to perfect happiness. As long as the source or seed of suffering remains, there is still the potential for suffering to resurface; suffering is still latent. At this stage happiness is still imperfect; here, the cause of suffering must be completely eliminated.

This final factor explains why the term ’cessation of suffering’ is so widely used. It points clearly and definitively to the necessary task. As stated earlier, the expression ’development of happiness’ is useful, but it is open-ended; it does not clearly indicate the final goal of practice. {1107} Although this process can be described in both a positive and a negating way, only a negating description is decisive and clear: suffering is completely removed, with perfect happiness remaining.

The expression ’to strive in order to bring an end to…’ indicates how the elimination of the cause of suffering goes hand in hand with effort. The causes for suffering do not necessarily vanish immediately. Rather, one gradually reduces greed (lobha), hatred (dosa) and delusion (moha), and weakens craving (taṇhā), conceit (māna) and fixed views (diṭṭhi). In this way, one practises according to the Path, by developing virtuous conduct, concentration and wisdom. Mental defilements diminish and ignorance decreases. Relatively speaking, this is the same as gradually increasing happiness.

This fourth factor can thus be paraphrased as the ’development of happiness’, but for the sake of clarity, one adds the qualification: ’to develop happiness to perfection’. This is why the earlier definition in parentheses states: to strive in order to realize higher forms of happiness, all the way to supreme happiness (parama-sukha).

For this fourth factor to be fulfilled, one must link it with the third factor, of not indulging in any form of happiness – of not getting stuck, acting heedlessly, abandoning oneself to some form of pleasure, or ceasing to make effort. The fulfilment of the third factor enables one to reach the fourth factor and to reach spiritual perfection.

Another way of describing the proper relationship to happiness is to focus on four main factors of spiritual practice:

  1. Heedfulness: this factor applies to everyone. It is an important reminder, because happiness induces fascination, captivation, procrastination, inertia, laziness, and carelessness. One thus needs to take care not to fall into heedlessness. History shows us that almost every successful person, family, society, nation, or even civilization, having reached a level of prosperity and growth, tends to become indulgent and careless, and eventually falls into ruin and destruction.

    This is a crucial issue for families, and parents must take great care. Even the supreme virtue of lovingkindness can be excessive, in the case when parents pamper and pander to their children, and do not apply equanimity (upekkhā) as a balancing force. Eventually their children become weak, careless, indulgent, emotionally stunted, and unable to face the challenges of life. The family will consequently be undermined and ruined.

    This is true also for individuals. At first one may strive to establish oneself in the world, yet when one is wealthy and happy, one may become indulgent and heedless, eventually falling into decline. In sum, one should beware against carelessness in regard to states of happiness.

  2. Taking favourable opportunities: when one encounters suffering, one generally feels oppressed, stifled, and obstructed. Everything one does feels difficult, and great effort is required. The advantage to this sense of obstruction and difficulty, however, is precisely because of the need for increased effort in the face of suffering. As a result there is learning, training, and development. When one acts appropriately in response to suffering, one grows and reaches great success.

    The Pali term sukha (’happiness’) can also be translated as ’fluent’, ’smooth’, ’convenient’, or ’easy’.77 When things are convenient, smooth, and easy, one should hasten to accomplish necessary deeds. When one experiences happiness, one should use this valuable opportunity for getting things done. {1108}

    Using this opportunity to act is better than allowing happiness to lure one into a trap of enchantment and fixation, which only leads to indulgence and heedlessness. With the assistance by firmly established wisdom, one goes in the opposite direction, of using the opportunity provided by happiness to strive to get things done. This generates even greater spiritual growth and development.

    One who has developed in this way is able to derive benefit from both happiness and suffering. Indeed, the term ’Dhamma practitioner’ implies the ability to use wise reflection and to discern the advantages in every situation, to think in such ways:

    • ’There is happiness. Good. Conditions are easy, convenient, smooth. This provides an opportunity to accomplish things to the utmost.’

    • ’There is suffering. Good. Conditions are challenging. I need to make great effort. Bring them on. I will proceed undaunted.’

  3. Independence: independence, or freedom, is the goal of Buddhism. True independence is founded on freedom of the heart – mental freedom. A prominent feature of this mental freedom is freedom in relation to happiness.

    Independence follows on from the first factor, of heedfulness – of not being dominated and led astray by happiness. The first factor, however, is one of negation – of countering the urge to indulge – whereas this fourth factor passes beyond, to a level of inner freedom.

    Those who are spiritually developed are endowed with happiness, but they remain unattached to this happiness. Those who are fully developed experience free, independent happiness, yet are in no way bound or reliant on this happiness. For those individuals still in training, establishing this independence permits them to develop further.

  4. Further development: this refers to the recognition that one still needs to make progress in one’s spiritual practice.

    These four factors work together in harmony. They lead to supreme happiness and to the complete removal of the source of suffering. One both abides in happiness and develops happiness; and one experiences happiness throughout this entire process of spiritual development.

Happiness in the Household

For the sake of practical application, it is useful to look at three aspects of happiness that the Buddha often mentioned: sense pleasure (kāma-sukha), happiness in society, and happiness in spiritual development.

The Buddha spoke at length on the subject of sense pleasure, because it pertains to everyone in the world. Sense pleasure stems from contact by way of the sense doors; it relies on sense engagement and is dependent on material things. It is the happiness of obtaining something for one’s own personal consumption. The improper response to and mismanagement of sense pleasure is the source of myriad problems in the world, both personal and social, including interpersonal conflict, competition, and persecution. If one is to solve human problems effectively, one must address this issue; one must encourage people to develop wisdom in order to manage sense desire and sense pleasure correctly. At the very least, the advantages of engagement with sense pleasure should outweigh the harm. In any case, the subject of sense pleasure has been covered at length earlier in this chapter. Here, let it suffice simply to mention it as one aspect of happiness highlighted by the Buddha. {1109}

The second kind of happiness – happiness in society – is derived from friendship, goodwill, and living together with kindness and compassion. The two primary sets of principles pertaining to this form of happiness are the four ’divine abidings’ (brahmavihāra) and the four ’bases of social solidarity’ (saṅgaha-vatthu). Moreover, if one wishes for society or a democracy to be truly stable, one needs to foster the six ’virtues conducive to communal life’ (sārāṇīya-dhamma; see below).

The primary emphasis for this kind of happiness focuses on the divine abidings, which have been explained above. Here, for the sake of practical application, we can look at the key example of how these mental states exist in family situations, beginning with the happiness of parents when they witness the wellbeing and happiness of their children.

Parents are often used as an example when explaining the four divine abidings of lovingkindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity, because it is in their nature for parents to possess these qualities. Mothers, in particular, epitomize these qualities, and are thus used as a standard in scriptural explanations. Mothers wish for their children to be happy, healthy, and content, free from pain and illness. To see her child happy fulfils a basic wish of a mother, which in turn makes her happy. This wish for the child to be happy and healthy is called lovingkindness (mettā).

If their child falls ill, parents will be anxious and concerned. They will strive to treat the illness, find a cure, and restore the child to good health. They will not feel happy until the child is cured. When the child completely recovers from the illness, the parents are satisfied; their wishes have been fulfilled and they experience happiness. This wish for the child to be free from suffering and to recover a state of wellbeing is called compassion (karuṇā).

If the child grows up well, is physically attractive and graceful, excels in his or her studies, finds good work and is promoted to a good position, i.e. the child prospers and thrives, the parents are delighted and the wish for their child to blossom and succeed is fulfilled. This wish for the child to thrive and discover ever greater happiness, and the shared rejoicing when this wish is fulfilled, is called appreciative joy (muditā).

According to most people, the parents are now fully endowed with virtuous qualities. But according to the four divine abidings, completion has not yet been reached. The parents can comfort their children, but they have not yet truly helped them grow. The children are not yet truly mature, or one can even say that the children are not grown up – they will remain dependent on their parents for emotional support.

One needs to remember the fourth factor of equanimity (upekkhā). In the case that children need to learn how to take responsibility for their lives and their actions, parents must let go and refrain from acting on behalf of their children. Instead, they should stand back and watch their children lead their own lives, in their own fashion. The parents do not interfere and meddle in their children’s lives. This equanimity begins already when the children first learn how to stand, all the way up to the time they leave the home, get married, and look after their own families.

At this time when children leave home and start their own families, parents are discouraged from barging into their children’s new homes and interfering in their affairs. They should refrain from trying to organize and rearrange their children’s lives. Otherwise they become a source of suffering for their children, creating conflict and discomfort for them and their spouses. {1110}

When one recognizes that one’s children are growing up and that the time has come for them to look after themselves, one steps back and observes. If one sees that they require some help or support, one provides assistance – one doesn’t abandon them. One can still offer guidance and advice, but one refrains from interfering too much.

This wish for the child to abide in a correct and purposeful way, to not behave in a faulty or errant manner, and to live righteously – while the parents maintain dispassion, objectivity, and impartiality – is called equanimity (upekkhā). This factor of equanimity needs to be emphasized, because many people misunderstand it and thus do not know how to apply it effectively. Equanimity (upekkhā) is the link between emotions and knowledge. It is the balancing point between love and insight, the meeting point between the mind (citta) and wisdom (paññā).

In regard to the first three divine abidings, it is recommended to combine these with wisdom so that they lead to beneficial results. But in everyday life, it is not always certain that wisdom will play a participatory role. For example, it is possible to love without being wise. Equanimity, however, stems directly from wisdom – it can only arise accompanied by wisdom. (Equanimity without wisdom is a counterfeit equanimity and may be referred to as ’stupid indifference’.)

With the balancing influence of equanimity, the practice by parents of the first three divine abidings helps children to develop emotionally and promotes mental health. The children will be able to feel love, goodwill, and compassion. But if things are imbalanced by the absence of equanimity, parents simply coddle their children, which makes them weak and dependent on others. If the parents are strongly prejudiced in favour of their children, the children will become demanding and spoiled. They will expect others to please them, and they will be unable to sympathize with other people. Indeed, equanimity is the driving force in spiritual development, particularly in regard to intelligence, fortitude, skill, and a sense of responsibility.

Although it is both normal and necessary for parents to apply equanimity when raising their children, they are often not aware of this quality and do not know how to benefit from it in the maximum way. Take for example a mother who loves her infant son dearly and nurses and feeds him. Yet in order for the child to grow up, it is appropriate for him to learn how to use a spoon, a fork, a bowl, etc., and to be able to look after himself. One day the mother knows that it is time for the child to learn how to feed himself. She teaches him how to use a spoon and lets him learn from trial and error. She lets go and observes his progress. She repeats a similar lesson for peeling a banana or peeling an apple. This is equanimity.

Parents then ask themselves: ’What should our children be able to do? What skills should they master?’ They continue to apply equanimity, by presenting their children with tasks or challenges and offering advice. They then let go, observing how their children stand on their own feet. Eventually, the children become proficient in many areas.

If parents only express kindness and compassion, their children will tend to remain passive; if they combine these qualities with equanimity, their children will become observant and industrious. {1111} When parents express only kindness and compassion, they experience the immediate and temporary satisfaction of seeing their children happy, but if they can also apply equanimity, their happiness will be long-lasting, because they will witness their children’s ongoing progress and success. Parenting is a model example of how to develop happiness on a social level. Parents, and other leaders and guides in society, need to cultivate these four divine abidings, in particular the factor of equanimity.

Equanimity calls for truth and correctness. It encompasses a desire for our loved ones to be established in rectitude, righteousness, and impeccability. This is a supreme form of desire, and when this desire is fulfilled, one experiences a profound and abiding happiness. When individual homes and families live happily and are established in righteous principles, they act as core units for helping to create prosperous, happy, and civilized societies.

Developing Sense Desire: from Competition to Cooperation

In regard to sense desire, which is tied up with selfishness, when people develop the four divine abidings and their minds begin to radiate these qualities outward, their selfishness is reduced. They will not be exclusively caught up in trying to obtain things in order to seek personal gratification. Now, they also begin to consider the happiness of others. This wholesome desire – along with the happiness of seeing others possess attractive physical features, good health, contentment, etc. – acts as a counterbalance to selfish impulses.

The wish for others to be happy is a form of lovingkindness (mettā), a form of friendship (mitta). The wish for them to be free from suffering is compassion (karuṇā). Sharing in happiness when others succeed is appreciative joy (muditā). And when others have the potential to make mistakes, one wishes for them to abide in righteousness and correctness; one thus adopts equanimity (upekkhā) in order to safeguard and maintain the truth – the Dhamma. When people are endowed with these four qualities, their minds are radiant and expansive, deserving of the title brahma (’divine’, ’elevated’, ’sublime’). Their happiness will increase, and, importantly, this happiness will be shared by others.

If one simply remains at the level of sense desire, one’s happiness will surely be competitive. If I win something, you must lose, or you must do without. If you seize something, I go without. If I derive happiness, he derives none, or else he suffers, and vice versa. In sum, one vies for happiness; one does not share one’s happiness.

This is one crucial disadvantage of sensual or material pleasure. The reason the world is so troubled, so full of oppression, brutality, and killing, is because of this scramble for sense pleasure. As a response, people need to develop themselves in order to reduce the dangers of sense pleasure and increase the blessings of higher forms of happiness.

The happiness of the four divine abidings is shared. When others experience happiness, we too are happy. A mother is not happy until her children are happy; once they are happy, she too is happy. This is a shared, collective happiness. {1112} Here, one has developed happiness to another level, to social happiness. One has graduated from a competitive form of happiness, where everyone simply fends for himself and vies for limited objects, to a shared, collective happiness. This is also a crucial stage for ethics, helping to promote true peace in the world.

The Buddha gave great emphasis to developing social happiness, especially in the context of the four divine abidings. The four divine abidings help in developing the quality of one’s mind, but for real success one needs to also practise the four ’bases of social solidarity’ (saṅgaha-vatthu) and the six ’virtues conducive to communal life’ (sārāṇīya-dhamma).

Because the management of sense desire is linked to the development of social happiness, it needs to be included in this discussion. The Buddha encouraged people to manage sense desire in a correct, righteous fashion, free from harm. At the very least one should minimize the dangers of sense desire, and use it in positive, beneficial ways.

The Buddha acknowledged that sense pleasure is a form of happiness. He went on to say that it has advantages (assāda) and disadvantages (ādīnava), and that there exists a way out (nissaraṇa) or a solution to sense pleasure (i.e. a way to escape from its disadvantages). Indeed, the escape from sense desire is precisely the development of higher forms of happiness, beginning with the development of social happiness. There is no problem here if one still delights in sense pleasure. Along with the restraint of keeping the five precepts, the cultivation of social happiness prevents people from getting overly caught up with themselves and from competing with others. Instead, there will be more mutual assistance and cooperation. At the same time, people will experience another form of happiness which is more stable and enduring than sense pleasure.

Many people are unaware that the habitual pursuit of personal gratification eventually leads to being more susceptible to suffering. And this susceptibility to suffering fosters an inclination to suffer.

Let us return to the subject of shared happiness. To begin with, when one sees others happy and well, one shares in their happiness, a feeling referred to as lovingkindness (mettā). Next, one wishes for others to be free from suffering and cured from illness, and one shares in their happiness when they escape from these problems; this is referred to as compassion (karuṇā). Compassion has other, additional benefits.

Imagine that one falls ill and experiences great discomfort. If one is preoccupied with one’s own problems, thinking, ’Why must this happen to me?’ the suffering will be even more intense. Some may even think, ’Let others suffer from this disease instead – why does it have to be me?’ These kinds of thoughts only increase the suffering.

If one is endowed with compassion, when facing illness, one will not brood over one’s own problems. Rather, one will consider other human beings, thinking: ’Here I am faced with this illness and experience great discomfort. Yet there are other people in the world who are poor and destitute, who have no friends or relatives, who have no money to buy medicine or nurses to care for them. What must it be like for them? Yes, it’s true that I am very ill, but I have friends and relatives to care for me, and doctors who are attending on me. At least I have adequate food and shelter. Think of the suffering for those people who are ill and who lack all these things?’ By thinking in this way the severity of one’s own illness is reduced. The fact that one is sick will lessen in importance. It may even happen that one does not feel the discomfort any longer. {1113}

When one is able to further develop compassionate thoughts, one’s illness becomes a reminder; one thinks: ’Were I not to have this illness, I probably would have forgotten to take into consideration those other people who suffer from illness. Now that I am reminded, how can I offer them assistance?’ This is how illness reminds us to help those numerous people who are destitute and hardpressed, who have no friends or relatives, or people to care for them. They need our help to be freed from affliction. Illness is an impetus for compassion. Besides spurring us to look for ways to help others, our own suffering will be abated and sometimes even disappear. One’s own illness will lose its significance.

The divine abidings are vital. They do not simply remain as passive emotions in the mind, but actively bear fruit in far-reaching ways. The Buddha stressed their cultivation, and the source or root of this spiritual development is wholesome desire (chanda). In this chapter the focus has been on wholesome desire in a social context, as one way of describing the importance of this spiritual factor.

Besides teaching people how to manage sense desire, which has the potential to create intense suffering, one also needs to encourage people to develop social happiness, by having them cultivate wholesome desire in respect to others through kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. In this way people will share their happiness with others, and they will be impelled to offer mutual assistance. At the very least, it will help to offset and reduce the harmful effects of sense desire.

Joy Leads to Spiritual Growth

The third kind of happiness referred to above is the happiness in spiritual development. This kind of happiness is generated from within an individual. It arises simultaneously with the overall development of one’s life, and it accompanies progress in Dhamma practice. The development of the body, moral conduct, the mind, and wisdom may be referred to as spiritual cultivation or Dhamma practice. When this development progresses, one experiences this spiritual happiness.

The Buddha gave a teaching on five factors of happiness in spiritual development, which are collectively given the unusual name of ’concentration of the Dhamma’ (dhamma-samādhi). Although this group is not exclusively referred to as ’happiness’ (sukha), happiness is one of the factors. Moreover, all of the other factors are attributes of happiness and are connected with happiness. Since our present discussion is on happiness, we can thus refer to this group as ’factors of happiness’.

The five factors contained in this group refer to specific mind states, which can be called ’happy mind states’ (sukha-bhāva). The Buddha repeatedly stressed that someone whose Dhamma practice bears fruit will grow in these five qualities. Conversely, if someone practises the Dhamma, yet these five qualities fail to arise, there will be no hope of true success. {1114} One example the Buddha gave is of someone who listens to the Dhamma and then investigates it. If he or she practises correctly, wisdom deepens and these five mind states arise.

Similar to social happiness, these five factors of happiness in spiritual development are based on wholesome enthusiasm (chanda), and they unfold in an ordered sequence. But they are not expressed outwardly; they exist as direct and immediate attributes of the mind. These factors are as follows:

  1. Joy (pāmojja): cheerfulness; gladness. This is a fundamental attribute of the mind, which people should sustain at all times. In the Dhammapada it states:

    Full of joy,
    confident in the Buddha’s teaching,
    A bhikkhu will attain the peaceful state,
    The stilling of formations, the bliss [supreme].

    Pāmojjabahulo bhikkhu pasanno buddhasāsane adhigacche padaṃ santaṃ saṅkhārūpasamaṃ sukhaṃ.

    Dh. verse 381.

    Another verse describes a monk who has practised well and correctly, and ends:

    Full of joy,
    He will make an end of suffering.

    Tato pāmojjabahulo dukkhassantaṃ karissati.

    Dh. verse 376.

    Joy is a vital innate quality, indicating that one is progressing in spiritual practice and has the potential to develop further. When one is full of joy, it is possible to realize Nibbāna, or one is close to Nibbāna.

  2. Delight (pīti): bliss; rapture. With joy, there is delight.

  3. Tranquillity (passaddhi): serenity; calm; physical and mental relaxation. This factor acts as the link between the body and mind. If the body is tense, the mind is tense; if the mind is stressed, the body is stressed. With delight, there is tranquillity and relaxation.

  4. Happiness (sukha): sense of mental refreshment; ease; absence of affliction and stress. With the arising of tranquillity, there is happiness.

  5. Concentration (samādhi): one-pointedness of mind; steadiness of mind; absence of mental disturbance; attention rests on a chosen object as desired. With the arising of happiness, there is the potential for concentration.

Concentration acts as the link to wisdom; it prepares the mind for the effective application of wisdom. And when wisdom is developed, every other aspect of spiritual development is optimized and progresses smoothly. The presence of these five factors is crucial to the spiritual development of human beings. When people are endowed with these factors their education and work proceeds effectively, and their entire Dhamma practice is steady and reliable.

If people practise incorrectly, the opposite qualities, like trouble and stress, arise. There is then an absence of joy, delight, tranquillity, and happiness, and the mind remains scattered. One then experiences inner disturbance and obstruction. The mind is imbalanced and ill-at-ease. The result is a lack of progress or success. {1115}

If one possesses these five complementary factors, they will automatically be integrated with spiritual qualities connected to society, in particular the four divine abidings. When one generates lovingkindness towards others, one engages in self-development. The performing of benevolent deeds is simultaneously a way to practise the Dhamma within oneself. By acting kindly, one develops spiritually. At the same time, by radiating a sense of lovingkindness, joy arises within. Joy is then followed by the other qualities, for example of delight.

Similarly, when one compassionately aids someone who is suffering, once that person is healthy and at ease, one experiences delight, which is then followed by other qualities, including happiness.

If one is continually cheerful, relaxed, and calm, wherever one goes one enhances one’s social environment. Whomever one meets and speaks to feels at ease, and shares in one’s happiness. One thus induces happiness and engenders spiritual qualities in others. One supports others’ spiritual development.

When one walks on the correct path, these positive factors arise in a natural sequence; they are all interconnected; they are all aspects of happiness.

A simple method of Dhamma practice is thus to maintain one’s mind in a state of cheerfulness. Ideally, one combines this with lovingkindness. Although it may not be one’s intention, one’s complexion will appear pleasing and attractive to others. One will have many cooperative and helpful friends, one will live with others in peace, one’s community will prosper, and one’s work will reach success.

Here, let us compare these three kinds of happiness: sense pleasure, social happiness, and happiness of spiritual development.

Sense pleasure is derived from external, material things, obtained for one’s own personal benefit. Each separate individual desires or covets these things, and thus sense desire breeds competition and conflict. It therefore requires caution and constraint. The purpose of the five precepts is to regulate sense desire, to manage the pursuit and consumption of material things, and to prevent people from creating an excessive amount of trouble and oppression for each other. However much people consume or contest for material things, one can wish that it does not reach the extent that the world becomes engulfed in flames. The five precepts exist as a reminder that sense desire requires supervision and restraint.

Social happiness is generated by providing happiness to others and to society. It stems from a heart of lovingkindness and compassion – the desire to see others at ease – and is thus a shared, mutual happiness. The five happiness factors of spiritual development, beginning with joy, arise from within a person and have no negative effects on others. They may arise by doing good to others, and they are the starting point of spreading goodness outwards. So although it is an internal, personal happiness, it brings about a connection with others. It fosters virtue and mutual assistance.

The latter two kinds of happiness cause no harm. Rather, they are supportive to both the individual and to society. They help people to mitigate the harm from pursuing sense pleasure, and they introduce people to a way of enjoying sense pleasure promoting mutual wellbeing. Moreover, they bring a refinement to people’s lives, and provide people with a way out leading to higher levels of spiritual development. These two kinds of happiness should thus be given great emphasis. {1116}

A Cultivated Mind Is Easily Content

As mentioned earlier, sense pleasure is the most important matter for ordinary human beings. But, because it involves vying with other people, one must manage it well and practise restraint. The five precepts were established in order to ensure that the pursuit of sense pleasure and consumption of desirable objects remains within proper boundaries. However much one seeks pleasure and competes with others, don’t let it be a cause for severe trouble, to the extent that the world enters an era of oppression.

When human beings are established in the five precepts, society is relatively stable, but this is no guarantee that people will be very happy. To improve the life of individuals and society, people must develop themselves further. This is the purpose of the eight precepts.

After one has sought pleasure by relying on external material things for seven or eight days, one sets aside one day in order to live more simply and to reduce one’s dependency on these things. The time one normally uses to gratify one’s own desires, one uses for other objectives, by keeping the eight precepts on the observance day (uposatha), which falls on either the eighth or fifteenth day of the waxing moon, or the eighth, fourteenth, or fifteenth day of the waning moon, i.e. about four times per month.

The five precepts focus on the non-harming of other people. In the eight precepts, the third precept is changed to abstaining from sexual activity, and three additional precepts are added. Both the variation on the third precept and the additional three precepts are matters concerning the individual; they do not directly pertain to other people. The three additional precepts are:

  • 6th precept: to refrain from eating at the ’improper time’, that is, after midday; on this day one need not pander to the tongue.

  • 7th precept: to refrain from singing, dancing, music, and various forms of entertainment that please the eye and ear.

  • 8th precept: to abstain from indulging in the pleasures of tactile sensation derived from lying on soft and luxuriant mattresses.

One day each week is reserved for self-training. It is an easy method of developing happiness independent of external things.

Although the Buddha acknowledged that seeking pleasure from material things is a personal matter, he said that if people are not careful, their happiness will become dependent on these things. Eventually, no amount of these things will suffice to provide them with happiness. They will keep trying to acquire more until they end up oppressing others. To maintain one’s independence, one thus needs to train oneself.

One may have pampered oneself with good food and delicious flavours for seven days. On the eighth day, one practises by applying the sixth precept, in order to see whether one can still be happy without following the desires of the palate. {1131} Instead of delicious tastes, one now emphasizes physical health and quality of life. Rather than following the desires of the palate, one eats just enough to sustain the body.

The same goes for the eyes and ears. For seven days one entertains oneself by way of sights and sounds. On the eighth day one applies the seventh precept and learns to live without these amusements. One uses one’s time instead for other purposes, for instance by practising meditation, assisting other people, or benefiting society.

One may normally sleep on a thick and comfortable mattress. On the eighth day one experiments by sleeping on a thin mat, to see if one can be happy without relying on these comforts.

By keeping these precepts, people are more vigilant and avoid an over-dependence on and indulgence in material things. Such a training in virtuous conduct makes people easily happy, not prone to suffering, and mentally strong. It is conducive to the further development of happiness; it is the link to mental development and wisdom development.

One may wish to verify or determine to what extent one’s happiness is independent of material things. To do this, consider the following kinds of people:

Many people abandon themselves to the pursuit of sense pleasure. They must eat delicious food, entertain themselves with various amusements, e.g. television, and sleep in luxurious beds. And they are continually in search of more of these things and more exceptional things. Eventually their happiness becomes dependent on these things, which become indispensable. They are not able to live contentedly by themselves, because the only channel for accessing happiness is by way of these material things.

Some people’s happiness is completely tied up with these gratifying sense objects. If they have to do without, they become agitated, thinking: ’I must have these things; otherwise I’ll die.’ In this case, they have utterly lost their independence.

Those people who train themselves by way of the eight precepts, however, are able to live simply and find it easier to access happiness. They gradually become more self-reliant and flexible, and thus maintain their independence. In regard to gratifying sense objects, they will say: ’I can take them or leave them. If I have them I’m comfortable, but I can live without them. Even if I must lay on a mat or on a wooden floor, I can sleep.’ Moreover, they are less likely to suffer chronic back pain. (Some people with chronic back pain are ordered by their doctors to sleep on the floor!)

Later, one may gain a new level of proficiency. One will recognize that these fancy and extravagant things are unnecessary. {1132} In reference to these things, one will say, ’I can take them or leave them’, or even, ’If I have them it’s okay, but it’s fine not to have them, because I’ll have more freedom and independence.’

Already an initial training in these matters will bring about greater independence, enabling us to use our time more beneficially and to find it easier to experience happiness. We will be able to derive an adequate and ample value from sense objects; we won’t be driven to increase the quantity or degree of these things, while our level of happiness remains the same.

While dwelling alone one is able to experience happiness. If one encounters pleasurable sense objects, one engages with them with wise discernment. They may supplement one’s already existing happiness. Simply beware that these things do not become essential for one’s happiness, otherwise one will lose one’s independence.

In reference to the observance days (uposatha), the Buddha encouraged people to use the time they would normally be seeking pleasurable sense experiences to engage in beneficial activities (anavajja-kamma). When one is not devoted to ministering to one’s own personal pleasures, one is left with a lot of free time. On the observance days one can use this spare time for wholesome purposes, say by seeking knowledge, reading Dhamma books, teaching children, meditating, helping orphans, or visiting the elderly.

This is another stage of spiritual practice. When you have the opportunity, try and keep the Uposatha precepts once every eight days. They are not that difficult and their benefits are great. They help maintain one’s independence, enable one to live happily with few material possessions, are conducive to meditation and good health, enhance the quality of one’s life, and provide one with extra time to engage in wholesome activities.

Happiness of Giving Leads to Peace in Society

As mentioned earlier, the Buddha gave great importance to social happiness. The focus so far has been on internal spiritual qualities, by demonstrating how people’s wholesome mind states are connected to and have an effect on social happiness. The discussion has shown how people’s happiness has many aspects, one of which is happiness on a social level. To complete this discussion, we need to also look at those principles pertaining to a more active engagement in society.

We can begin by asking the question: ’When someone feels kindness and wishes to make others happy, or feels compassion and wishes for others to be freed from suffering, what is the most fundamental expression of these wholesome mind states?’ This is connected to a related question: ’What quality did the Buddha most often speak about in relation to householders?’ The answer is ’giving’ (dāna), that is, generosity.

Buddhism begins with generosity. The Buddha presented a threefold practice for laypeople called the three bases of meritorious action (puññakiriyā-vatthu),78 which is paired with the threefold training of the monastic community. Simply speaking, the threefold training (tisso sikkhā) is the practice for the monks and nuns, while the three bases of meritorious action – of generosity (dāna), moral conduct (sīla), and spiritual cultivation (bhāvanā) – comprise the practice for laypeople.

The first factor of meritorious action is generosity (dāna). In all the important groups taught by the Buddha of spiritual qualities pertaining to the general public, generosity is always the first factor. What does this term ’giving’ (dāna) imply? It implies that, generally speaking for the average person, the pursuit, possession, division, and consumption of material things are the most predominant activities, the main issues in people’s lives. Of all these activities dealing with material things, they merge at the activity of consumption.

What is the basic line of thinking, the basic mental preoccupation, for most people? Due to the pressure of wanting to survive, people struggle to obtain things for themselves. This repeated thought pattern of trying to get things, to obtain things, eventually becomes habitual; it becomes an underlying tendency of the mind. Yet the pursuit, acquisition, and accumulation of things is relentless; people generally do not know what is enough. Moreover, material things are limited in number, giving rise to competition and oppression, which escalates until the whole world is in conflict.

The solution to this problem begins with giving, with generosity. At the very least generosity should be used to offset acquisitive tendencies, but if possible, one should embed this quality as a habit, as a natural disposition of the mind. If one only thinks about acquiring things, one will end up exploiting others and one will experience inner turmoil. To balance the act of acquisition it is thus essential to also practise generosity. {1117} Sharing with others is thus paired with the pursuit, acquisition, and consumption of things for one’s own personal benefit. It is considered the fundamental spiritual quality for laypeople and for the wellbeing of human society.

Generosity acts as a foundation for developing higher spiritual qualities. The three bases of meritorious action (puññakiriyā-vatthu) provide a broad outline of such development, as generosity, moral conduct, and cultivation of the mind. When the Buddha taught laypeople whose knowledge of Dhamma was still at a beginning level, he would generally lay a gradual foundation by teaching what is referred to as the fivefold ’progressive instruction’ (anupubbikathā). This teaching begins with generosity (dāna), which is then followed by talk on morality (sīla-kathā), talk on heavenly pleasures (sagga-kathā), the disadvantages of sensual pleasures (kāmādīnava), and the benefits of renunciation (nekkhammānisaṁsa).

Generosity is part of the four ’principles of service’ (saṅgaha-vatthu), the virtues making for social integration: generosity (dāna), kindly speech (piya-vācā), acts of service (atthacariyā), and even and equal treatment of others (samānattatā).

Generosity is the first factor in the ten royal virtues (dasarāja-dhamma; virtues of a ruler): generosity (dāna), moral conduct (sīla), self-sacrifice (pariccāga), integrity (ājjava), gentleness (maddava), self-control (tapa), non-anger (akkodha), non-violence (avihiṁsā), patience (khanti), and conformity to righteousness (avirodhana).

Generosity is even the first factor in the ten perfections (pāramī), the virtues perfected by bodhisattas: generosity (dāna), moral conduct (sīla), renunciation (nekkhamma), wisdom (paññā), effort (viriya), patience (khanti), honesty (sacca), determination (adhiṭṭhāna), lovingkindness (mettā), and equanimity (upekkhā). Generosity is the first factor in several other groups of spiritual qualities. Its importance is obvious. Even if one is starving and close to death, it is generosity that may save one’s life.

Generosity helps to alleviate suffering and generates happiness in societies that are competitive or oppressive due to the pursuit of personal pleasures. Besides its own inherent benefits, generosity is also a supporting factor for other qualities, including moral conduct (sīla). The sharing of material things makes it easier for people to maintain virtuous conduct. On a basic level, when people receive things from others, they are less likely to try and seize them through unlawful means.

People have varying degrees of moral steadfastness. Some people will not steal from others if they are not truly in need, but if they are destitute they may revert to stealing as a way to survive. Generosity, say in the form of charity, can help this situation. (Of course, there are some people who have a very weak immunity to immoral behaviour and will try to seize things from others whenever they feel the slightest need. In such cases, one may need to come up with other ways to address this problem.) In any case, when there is mutual sharing and caring, the incidents involving theft and violation of others’ property will diminish. Generosity thus helps to protect moral standards in society.

Generosity is also a support for the cultivation of the mind. Even those practitioners who develop tranquillity and insight meditation (samatha-vipassanā) prize the value of generosity. The Buddha stated how, in the context of tranquillity and insight meditation, generosity is both an ’adornment of the mind’ (cittālaṅkāra) and an ’embellishment of the mind’ (citta-parikkhāra). {1118}

The practice of generosity and self-sacrifice helps to enhance and beautify the mind. It makes the mind receptive, obliging, and intent on goodness. It fortifies the mind, integrates wholesome intentions, and prepares the mind for relinquishment. It makes the mind clear, spacious, relaxed, and bright. It is conducive to concentration, to mental purification, and to higher spiritual states. The delight and happiness of generosity alone is greatly beneficial to one’s meditation, to the development of tranquillity and insight. For this reason, laypeople who have reached a level of awakening are still dedicated to the act of giving and sharing.

The term dāna encompasses a wide range of meanings, including: ’generosity’, ’charity’, ’liberality’, ’open-handedness’, and ’hospitality’. As mentioned earlier, it is the basis for a happy, harmonious society. Generosity is of key significance in Buddhism, both in the Buddhist teachings and in Buddhist history. Here, in the Buddhist country of Thailand, one can observe that Thai people give easily, relinquish things easily, and are charitable by nature.

Giving needs to be done correctly and carefully, however. It needs to be accompanied by wise reflection, by taking precautions against harmful side effects. Moreover, it needs to be integrated with other aspects of spiritual practice. One shouldn’t think: ’I have reached the stage of meditation; I no longer need to participate in giving.’ This is incorrect. Generosity supports meditation practice. As mentioned above, it acts as an adornment for the mind, enabling one’s tranquillity and insight meditation to bear fruit.

Sharing of Material Gains within the Monastic Community

So far the emphasis has been on the lay community; let us turn our attention to the monastic community. Do not believe that the life of the monastic community, of the monks, revolves only around formal meditation practice.79 The terms ’meditation’ or ’Dhamma practice’ can either be given a too narrow definition, or else their definitions are vague and ambiguous, to the point that one sometimes needs to avoid these terms or to use them with care. In fact, every valid activity of a monk can be described as ’Dhamma practice’, and anyone – monk or layperson – who engages in proper ’giving’ (dāna) need accord with this principle of Dhamma practice.

By examining the monks’ life in relation to the formal discipline (Vinaya), one sees how this life is communal, and one also sees how it is distinguished from lay-life. The communal life of a monk, which is guided by the formal discipline, is at heart connected to essential Dhamma principles, because the gist of the Vinaya corresponds to the Dhamma – to principles or teachings of truth. Yet this connection needs to be discerned accurately. The communal life of the monks is based on harmony, which is generated and sustained by way of the formal discipline. As soon as we focus here on harmony, we have immediately linked up with the Dhamma. At this point we can look at those principles which act as a foundation for harmony.

A repeated teaching in both the Suttanta Piṭaka and the Vinaya Piṭika is that on the six virtues conducive to communal life (sārāṇīya-dhamma), which are applied directly for sustaining the stability of the monastic community. {1119} This is a teaching for practical application. For example, one accesses the internal spiritual virtue of lovingkindness and expresses it outwardly in daily life. These six virtues are given great importance in the context of monastic community life. Let us review these factors:

  1. Physical acts of lovingkindness (mettā-kāyakamma): acting out of mutual consideration and cooperation.

  2. Verbal acts of lovingkindness (mettā-vacīkamma): speaking out of kindness and well-wishing. For example, one advises and offers instruction by using polite and courteous speech.

  3. Thinking of others with lovingkindness (mettā-manokamma): maintaining thoughts of well-wishing and concern for others; remaining in good spirits.

  4. The sharing of gains (sādhāraṇabhogī or sādhāraṇabhogitā): sharing one’s material gains, say of requisites or food, with others so that everyone can partake of them. (Sādhāraṇabhogī literally means eating or consuming things as public, common goods, for the benefit of all.)

  5. Keeping equal moral standards (sīla-sāmaññatā): keeping equal standards in light of the formal rules of conduct (Vinaya); refraining from making oneself objectionable or disagreeable to one’s community.

  6. Being endowed with right views along with one’s companions (diṭṭhi-sāmaññatā).

To return to the subject of generosity, one may ask, since monks do not earn a livelihood, do not seek or accumulate material things, and do not own wealth or property, how are they able to give? Here, we won’t discuss the ’gift of Dhamma’ (dhamma-dāna), which in reference to monks is often paired with the material gifts (vatthu-dāna; āmisa-dāna) by laypeople. In regard to monks and material things, generosity or the act of giving is represented by the fourth factor of the virtues conducive to communal life above, namely, the sharing of gains (sādhāraṇabhogī).

If one overlooks a study of the formal discipline (Vinaya), one will not appreciate the importance that Buddhism gives to people’s relationship to material things. In the context of monastic life, the Buddha gave great emphasis to the sharing of material requisites. The Vinaya contains key principles and guidelines for sharing gains in a righteous and thorough way. Besides focusing on these matters of material gain, the Vinaya also addresses a system of communal living. Indeed, the sharing of gains is an aspect of communal life. And as stated earlier, the Vinaya is linked with the Dhamma at the principle of social harmony (sāmaggī), which ensures social stability and happiness.

If one is to truly understand Buddhism, one’s focus should not simply be on the Dhamma teachings, which emphasize spiritual qualities. Buddhism is not merely a collection of Dhamma teachings. It also includes the Vinaya, which address social issues and material concerns. By having a more comprehensive overview, one will get to the heart of the term ’Dhammavinaya’. {1120}

Goodness in People’s Hearts Actively Supports Society

Both in respect to the monastic community and to the lay community, the basic foundation for social happiness rests with the same group of spiritual qualities: lovingkindness (mettā), compassion (karuṇā), sympathetic joy (muditā), and equanimity (upekkhā) – the four divine abidings (brahmavihāra). But when establishing a system of practice in social situations, another set of factors must be defined – based on the foundation of spiritual qualities above – which can be applied in the domain of conventional reality.

The six virtues conducive to communal life (sārāṇīya-dhamma) practised by the monks are based on the four divine abidings. But it is difficult to establish this same set of six virtues in the context of lay-life. Take for example the fourth factor, of equally distributing material gains. This is realistic and achievable in the monastic community, but very difficult to implement in everyday society. Generally, the best people can do in this context is to defer to this principle of sharing everything with others, or else they sidestep the issue altogether. For this reason, another group of factors was established as a practical guideline for lay society. If asked what these factors are, I wonder how many Buddhists are able to answer.

As an aside, I have observed that lay Buddhists are generally not able to properly distinguish between internal, spiritual factors and practical principles applied in external, social circumstances. For example, many people refer to spiritual qualities like lovingkindness and compassion, and talk about them as if they are principles for practical application in society. This causes confusion and misunderstanding for the speaker as well as for others. (See Note Misunderstanding the Principles)

Misunderstanding the Principles

Take for example the case of Dr. Joseph L. Sutton from Indiana University who in 1962 came to work in Thailand. During the time that the Graduate School of Public Administration was founded at the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), Dr. Sutton wrote an analysis of Thai society in regard to Buddhism and development in his book ’Problems of Politics and Administration in Thailand’ (Bloomington: Institute of Training for Public Service, Department of Government, Indiana University, 1962).

He cited a passage by Albert Schweitzer stating that in Buddhist societies benevolent acts do not require any real action at all, because, according to the Buddhist teachings, all one needs to do is stay at home and spread thoughts of lovingkindness (here, I am simply paraphrasing the passage).

Thai people are probably at fault here, by practising incorrectly and giving Dr. Sutton the impression expressed in this passage. It thus behooves the Thai people to understand the Buddhist teachings correctly and to redeem themselves.

As mentioned above, the six virtues conducive to communal life are based on the four divine abidings. Yet it is obvious that in this teaching, lovingkindness is not simply an emotion stored in the heart; rather, it is applied outwardly as physical acts of lovingkindness (mettā-kāyakamma; enthusiastic assistance of others), verbal acts of lovingkindness (mettā-vacīkamma), and thoughts of lovingkindness (mettā-manokamma). In the context of lay society, the four divine abidings are expressed as principles of practical application in the teaching of the four bases of social solidarity (saṅgaha-vatthu).

Earlier we discussed generosity (dāna) in the context of inner development, as part of the three bases of meritorious action (puññakiriyā-vatthu). Here, we will discuss generosity in the context of practical application for householders, as part of the four bases of social solidarity. {1121}

The four bases of social solidarity (saṅgaha-vatthu; also referred to as ’principles of service’ or ’virtues making for group integration’) are applied to external, social situations; they are paired with the internal, spiritual factors of the four divine abidings:

  1. Generosity (dāna):

    1. One gives to others in an ordinary situation, in order to express one’s love and well-wishing, one’s kindness and consideration. This is giving with lovingkindness.

    2. One gives to others who are distressed or sick, in order to offer assistance. This is giving with compassion.

    3. One gives to others who have performed a benefit to society, for example to a skilled inventor, in order to offer support and encouragement. This is giving with appreciative joy.

  2. Kindly speech (piya-vācā):

    1. One speaks kind, polite, and courteous words in ordinary situations. This is speech with lovingkindness.

    2. One speaks comforting words and offers wise advice when others are confronted with difficulty. This is speech with compassion.

    3. One speaks words of rejoicing and admiration when others perform good deeds and engage in meritorious, wholesome acts. This is speech with appreciative joy.

  3. Acts of service (atthacariyā):

    1. One helps others and provides support, by wishing them well. These are acts of service with lovingkindness.

    2. One helps others, by way of one’s physical efforts or by way of one’s wisdom and proficiency, to escape from difficulty when they are faced with hardship and affliction, say from floods and fires, or a workload exceeding their strength. These are acts of service with compassion.

    3. One helps others when they perform beneficial actions, for example when they organize an almsgiving ceremony in a monastery, by lending a hand and encouraging their acts of goodness. These are acts of service with appreciative joy.

  4. Even and equal treatment (samānattatā): fair and just treatment of others. This factor corresponds with equanimity (upekkhā). Equanimity is expressed by way of this even and equal treatment, by non-favouritism, by non-discrimination, by refraining from disparaging or exploiting others, by just behaviour, and by integrating oneself and living in harmony with others.

When one reaches the stage of practical application, one needs to engage on this level of the four principles of service. One should not simply recite the four divine abidings in a vague and ambiguous way. Otherwise, the criticisms, say by the Western author mentioned in the last footnote, are justified. Rather than condemn the critics, we should explain to them the truth of the matter.

By practising in accord with these four principles, one fosters happiness and harmony in one’s community. One helps to create an environment conducive to each individual’s wellbeing, success, and development. Moreover, acting in order to benefit society is inherently a form of self-development. For this reason it is said that serving others is a form of spiritual practice. By acting in order to benefit others one automatically benefits and develops oneself. {1122}

Take for example a bodhisatta, who engages in Dhamma practice and develops the perfections (pāramī) by helping others. Indeed, the very act of helping others constitutes his or her Dhamma practice. In order to effectively help others, one must apply wisdom and skill, and be cultivating an advanced stage of spiritual practice.

By successfully helping others, we ourselves undergo a spiritual transformation. Our wisdom faculty and other spiritual capabilities are strengthened. In order to practise the Dhamma correctly, one must thus accord with two teachings by the Buddha:

  • First, the Buddha presented the pair of factors consisting of non-harming of oneself and non-harming of others.

  • Second, he taught the pair of factors: attending to personal wellbeing (attattha) and attending to the wellbeing of others (parattha). This second teaching less commonly consists of three factors: self-benefit (attattha), benefit of others (parattha), and mutual benefit (ubhayattha). These two factors, of attending to one’s own personal matters and attending to the concerns of others, are always paired with one another.

Mutual Assistance Benefits Everyone

In terms of the monastic community, apart from emphasizing the sharing of material gains, the Buddha also gave great emphasis to communal harmony (sāmaggī). This harmony stands in contrast to a schism in the sangha (saṅgha-bheda), which if created intentionally counts as one of the five ’crimes bringing about immediate results’ (anantariya-kamma), the most severe form of evil deed. This reveals the prime importance the Buddha gave to communal harmony. For the lay community, the Buddha also emphasized the importance of unity and concord, by maintaining the four bases of social solidarity (saṅgaha-vatthu).

Of all the Buddha’s male lay disciples who were praised as being preeminent (etadagga), there are two who stand out as supreme: the householder Citta, who was foremost at preaching the Dhamma, and Hatthaka,80 who was foremost at uniting other people.

Hatthaka was proficient at creating communal harmony by way of the four bases of social solidarity. As a leader he was able to use these four factors to bring about a firm and stable harmony amongst his community. The Buddha praised these two individuals as being the standard-bearers of the Buddhist male lay community. (The female lay community also contained a pair of supreme disciples who acted as standard-bearers: Khujjuttarā, who was foremost in great knowledge, and Nandamātā, foremost in meditative proficiency.)

The reason why I am emphasizing this subject is that contemporary Buddhists seem to view Buddhism as a matter dealing almost exclusively with the individual.81 They do not seem to realize the importance the Buddha gave to communal and social issues. I believe Buddhists need to establish a more balanced perspective.

In sum, in relation to the monastic community, the Buddha emphasized the principle of harmony (sāmaggī), while in relation to the lay community he emphasized the four bases of social solidarity (saṅgaha-vatthu). In both cases, the focal point is communal harmony. In the case of the monks and nuns the Buddha spoke in a more general, abstract sense, whereas in regard to the laity he spoke about material possessions. Buddhism thus gives great emphasis to communal and social issues, which are intimately connected to personal issues.

Granted, personal issues are an essential aspect of spiritual practice. For people to develop spiritually, things must proceed according to laws of nature pertaining to the individual. {1123} Even on the level of the body, after swallowing food we must digest it ourselves; no one can help us to do this. If we are unable to swim, no amount of strident instructions by another, or even divine intervention, will enable us to swim. If we are unable to do multiplication, our friends cannot calculate the answer and beam it into our brains. If we are suffering, no matter how much others love us, they won’t be able to imbue us with happiness. And if we lack wisdom, others are unable to infuse us with it. For this reason, one must be able to rely on oneself; one must train oneself and cultivate the necessary natural conditions oneself.

Having said this, Buddhism recognizes the well-wishing, support, and encouragement by others as an essential external condition for people’s spiritual development. As guides and teachers, wise and well-meaning people are able to apply social systems to act as a catalyst initiating natural dynamics within an individual (most notably wise reflection). Once these dynamics set in, the process of development reaches fulfilment.

This is how other people are able to help. To begin with they express kindness and well-wishing, and then they actively assist as an external influence. For example, a teacher provides instruction to foster wisdom in his or her pupils, but if the pupils do not wish to learn, the teaching is in vain. The teacher is unable to automatically transfer knowledge into the pupils’ minds. The pupils need to combine this teaching with internal factors. When one knows how to investigate, is determined to listen, and possesses skilful reflection (yoniso-manasikāra), the information one has learned (referred to as suta) is transformed into wisdom. The teacher is unable to inject this wisdom into the student.

I have often pointed out how laypeople go to monks and ask for moral conduct. They chant: Mayaṃ bhante tisaraṇena saha pañca sīlāni yācāma: ’We request the five precepts.’ Yet the monks reply: ’We are unable to confer on you moral conduct – this is something you must develop yourself.’ So what is to be done? The monks know that moral rectitude arises from proper spiritual practice; it is not something that one person can give to another. They thus tell the laypeople: ’After reciting these precepts, go and keep them, go and follow them; true morality will then arise within you.’

The laypeople ask for morality (sīla) and the monks give them precepts or training rules (sikkhāpada). They recite: Pāṇātipāta veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi: ’I undertake the precept of refraining from harming living creatures,’ etc. By keeping the precepts, morality arises within the individual. Laypeople may ask for concentration from the monks, who will reply in a similar way, saying: ’This is not something I can bestow on you; you must develop it yourself. But I can teach you meditation techniques for you to practise. By developing these you will generate concentration.’ The same goes for wisdom. The monks will reply: ’I can’t give you wisdom, but I can share information and teachings for you to reflect on and investigate. In this way you will generate wisdom within yourselves.’

  • When laypeople ask for morality, the monks give them precepts to undertake.

  • When laypeople ask for concentration, the monks give them meditation techniques to develop.

  • When laypeople ask for wisdom, the monks give them teachings to examine. {1124}

To sum up, spiritual practice vis-à-vis society – acts of service for one’s community or society – bears two important fruits on the personal level:

  • First, when one acts for the benefit of society, say by offering assistance to others, these very actions constitute spiritual practice – they are an exceptional opportunity for spiritual practice.

  • Second, by acting in this way one creates a conducive environment for spiritual practice, which benefits everyone, including oneself.

This second factor is very important. If society is filled with turmoil and oppression, how is one able to practise the Dhamma? Studying, seeking out books, sitting in meditation – all of these activities are obstructed. In the monastic community it is essential that the monks foster peace, harmony, and cooperation, creating a conducive atmosphere for each individual to engage in Dhamma practice and perform regular duties conveniently and at ease. A peaceful community enables people to increase their acts of service for others, which in turn increases the personal benefits mentioned above, strengthening a wholesome cycle.

Buddhism gives great emphasis to society. When examining Buddhism, one should not look solely at the Dhamma teachings; rather, one should also investigate the formal discipline – the Vinaya. Moreover, there are distinct spiritual factors which help to bridge the Dhamma and the Vinaya, and which are highlighted in regard to one’s relationship to society and to the material world.

When one performs good deeds for society with a mind of kindness and compassion, one experiences joy and delight. One thus obtains a vital spiritual factor. When one witnesses someone become freed from suffering, one’s joy increases. By helping others, one’s society becomes more joyous and one’s own happiness grows, which is conducive to other spiritual factors.

In this context, bear in mind these two groups of factors:

  • In relation to society, one applies the four bases of social solidarity (saṅgaha-vatthu), which are based on the four divine abidings of lovingkindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. The four bases of solidarity create a collective happiness.

  • In relation to the individual, one is endowed with the five factors constituting ’concentration of the Dhamma’ (dhamma-samādhi): joy, delight, tranquillity, happiness, and concentration. These factors facilitate spiritual practice and act as internal ’assets’ or a personal ’capital’. In particular, one should try and foster the first factor of pāmojja: joy, cheerfulness, gladness.

Awakened beings, including stream-enterers, act as exemplars in this context. The Buddha described how noble beings maintain both personal happiness and social happiness. He compared stream-enterers, who diligently attend to both their individual practice and to communal activities and helping others, with a mother cow, who while grazing looks over her shoulder to look after her calf, checking to see that it is getting enough to eat:

Monks, just as a cow with a young calf, while she grazes watches her calf, so too, that is the character of a person who is accomplished in right view (i.e. a stream-enterer). Indeed, a noble disciple attends earnestly to those necessary affairs concerning his companions in the holy life, yet he is [also] ardently attentive to the training in higher morality, the training in higher mind, and the training in higher wisdom.

M. I. 324.

The Buddha wished for people to behave in a similar way as these stream-enterers. {1125}

The Wise Learn from Suffering

It is now time to reiterate the advantages and disadvantages of happiness. But before we do, let me say some more about suffering, because one must pass beyond suffering in order to reach happiness, and suffering too has advantages and disadvantages.

People dislike suffering because it is oppressive, stifling, troubling, and frustrating. This is the very definition of suffering, and so it’s normal that people find it displeasurable. A person endowed with wise reflection (yoniso-manasikāra), however, is able to benefit from suffering. How so? When people are oppressed by suffering and feel frustrated, they struggle to escape. If they know how to strive correctly, however, besides increasing the likelihood of successfully escaping the suffering, the very endeavour makes them strong, provides them with valuable life experiences, and is conducive to spiritual growth on many levels. If people are able to reflect wisely and develop the proper relationship to suffering, they will prosper. But if they deal with suffering incorrectly, besides remaining caught up in it, they will aggravate the situation.

Take for example someone who is born poor or destitute. If he is unable to reflect on his situation wisely, but instead sits around miserable, depressed, and despairing, he simply exacerbates the suffering and sinks deeper into misfortune. If he responds to the situation correctly, however, strives to rectify it, and reflects wisely, he is able to overcome that suffering and may even reach great success.

Occasionally, the struggle to escape from suffering becomes established as a social system. Take for example the system of market-economy competition which is spreading from the West and becoming the dominant worldwide economic system, as part of what we call ’globalization’. This system of competition compels people to struggle with the pressures of suffering. It is strongly connected to the doctrine of ’every man for himself’ or the system of individualism. As one struggles, without being able to rely on anyone else for help, one must be fiercely determined and generate energy. This makes people strong, proactive, and constantly ambitious.

A certain diligence and vigilance is required to succeed in this system, which results in progress. A deeper analysis of how desirable this progress is, or what pros and cons this system of competition has, will have to wait for another time. In any case, the diligence arising from the pressure of this competitive system is not true diligence, because it is simply a reaction and struggle against a feeling of coercion. It is not diligence stemming from wisdom, and it leaves many problems in its wake, both personal, e.g. stress, and social, e.g. the absence of relationships based on friendliness and goodwill. Many of these problems consequently require great effort to solve. Having said this, a diligent and vigilant person is still better than someone wallowing in heedlessness and indulgence.

Occasionally, leaders in society must apply, or even generate, this kind of pseudo-diligence in order to rouse people from their slumber. This is better than allowing them to sink into heedlessness, curl up in depression, or be at a complete loss over what to do.

People should learn how to benefit from suffering. When afflicted by suffering, they will then make effort and grow strong. And they will look for skilful ways to solve problems, to free themselves from suffering. The attempt to free oneself from suffering is an opportunity to develop oneself spiritually. First and foremost, one develops wisdom. By the time one has solved a problem and passed beyond it, one’s wisdom is sharper. All aspects of one’s life will be developed and become more proficient, including one’s physical behaviour, speech, and mind. Moreover, one will become more mentally strong, for example one’s mindfulness and concentration will be improved. {1126} One can thus learn how to benefit from suffering. For this reason the Buddha stated that a wise person can be happy even while encountering difficulty. One is able to be happy even amidst suffering. Suffering can thus be a boon if one is able to benefit from it.


Happiness Is Reached by Happiness

In order to clarify the Buddhist viewpoint on happiness let us return to the passage cited at the beginning of this chapter, stating that the highest goal of Buddhism is to be reached by way of happiness, or by way of a practice endowed with happiness. It is not to be reached through suffering, or by way of a practice of pain.

On one occasion Prince Bodhi had the following conversation with the Buddha:

Prince Bodhi: Venerable sir, I believe thus: ’Happiness is not to be gained through happiness; happiness is to be gained through pain.’

Buddha: Prince, before my awakening, while I was still only an unenlightened bodhisatta, I too thought thus: ’Happiness is not to be gained through happiness; happiness is to be gained through pain.’

The Buddha went on to say that due to this thinking he went forth as a renunciant and studied with both Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta, until he had gained the same knowledge as these two eminent teachers. He then travelled further until he arrived at Senānigama near Uruvelā, and undertook extreme ascetic practices, tormenting himself in various ways and fasting, until his body was emaciated:

Because of eating so little my limbs became like the jointed segments of eighty-stem vines or black-stem vines … my haunches became like a camel’s hoof … the projections on my spine stood forth like corded beads82 … my ribs jutted out as gaunt as the rafters of an old roofless barn … my eyes sank far down in their sockets, looking like the reflection of stars in a deep well … my scalp shrivelled and withered as a freshly cut bitter gourd shrivels and withers in the wind and sun … my belly skin adhered to my backbone; thus if I rubbed my belly skin I touched my backbone and if I rubbed my backbone I touched my belly skin … if I urinated or defecated, I staggered and fell over there. Because of eating so little, if I tried to ease my body by rubbing my limbs with my hands, the hair, rotted at its roots, fell from my body as I rubbed. {1060}

In the end, the Bodhisatta reflected:

Whatever recluses or brahmins in the past … in the future … in the present have experienced painful, racking, piercing feelings due to exertion, this is the utmost, there is none beyond this. But by this racking practice of austerities I have not attained any superhuman states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones. Could there be another path to awakening?

I considered: ’I clearly recall that during the ploughing ceremony of my father the Sakyan king, I was sitting in the cool shade of a jambolan tree, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, and I entered upon and abided in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. Could that be the path to awakening?’ Then, following on that memory, came the realization: ’That is the path to awakening.’ I asked myself: ’Am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensual pleasures and unwholesome states?’ And I thought: ’I am not afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensual pleasures and unwholesome states.’

M. II. 93.

The Bodhisatta then ate solid food, restoring his strength. He practised the jhānas up to the fourth jhāna and subsequently was fully awakened.83

The Buddhist practice for reaching the highest goal incorporates happiness. The caveat here, however, is that a practitioner must not get caught up in the happiness, nor allow it to overwhelm the mind. The mind remains independent, allowing the person to progress to higher states and to eventually realize complete deliverance. Having reached this liberation, one is able to enjoy all levels of happiness without it dominating the mind or leading to infatuation and difficulty.84

On some occasions, when drawing a comparison or when playing on words, the Buddha referred to the assiduous practice of the four jhānas as an ’indulgence’ in happiness (sukhallikānuyoga), but it is a beneficial indulgence, conducive to awakening.

The reason the Buddha defended the practice of the jhānas is that renunciants at that time tended to undertake severe practices of self-mortification. In comparison, the Buddhist monastic practices appeared easy and comfortable. Members of other religious traditions frequently criticized the Buddhist monks for being lax, as is seen in this passage:

It may be, Cunda, that wanderers of other sects might say: ’The ascetics, the sons of the Sakyan, are preoccupied by and devoted to pleasure, indulge in pleasure. If so, they should be asked: ’What kind of devotion to pleasure (sukhallikānuyoga; ’indulgence in pleasure’)? For this devotion in pleasure can take many different forms.’ {1061}

There are, Cunda, four kinds of devotion to pleasure which are low, vulgar, worldly, ignoble, and not conducive to welfare, not leading to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to tranquillity, to realization, to awakening, to Nibbāna. What are they? Firstly, a foolish person takes pleasure and delight in killing living beings … takes pleasure and delight in taking that which is not given … takes pleasure and delight in telling lies … gives himself up to the indulgence in and enjoyment of the pleasures of the five senses….

There are, Cunda, four kinds of devotion to pleasure which are entirely conducive to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to tranquillity, to realization, to awakening, to Nibbāna. What are they? Here, a monk, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, enters upon and abides in the first jhāna … the second jhāna … the third jhāna … the fourth jhāna.

D. III. 130-32.

Proper Attitude Towards Happiness

There are three chief principles in Buddhism pertaining to a proper attitude towards happiness, as confirmed by this teaching of the Buddha:

Monks, how is exertion fruitful, how is striving fruitful? Here, a monk in this Dhamma and Discipline:

  1. Does not create suffering for himself when he is not beset by suffering.

  2. Does not forsake genuine happiness.

  3. Does not become infatuated with that happiness (i.e. even with genuine happiness).85

M. II. 222-3.

The Buddha did not end the teaching here. He went on to describe another vital stage of practice, which can be classified as a fourth principle, that is, to strive in order to completely eradicate the cause of suffering. This fourth factor is the decisive criterion for reaching the final goal of Buddhism, because in order to realize the highest truth one must first completely remove the causes for suffering.

From the perspective of gradual Dhamma practice, this fourth principle can be expressed in another way: to strive in order to realize higher forms of happiness, until one reaches the supreme happiness, which is utterly free from suffering. One can thus outline the practice in regard to happiness – the set of criteria for Buddhists in their relationship to happiness – as fourfold:

  1. To not create suffering for oneself in times without suffering.

  2. To not abandon genuine happiness.

  3. To not indulge even in this genuine happiness.

  4. To strive to put an end to the causes of suffering (to strive to realize supreme happiness). {1062}

Although these principles of practice in relation to happiness exist, the subtlety and depth of understanding vis-à-vis happiness differs between people, which is a factor that needs to be taken into consideration. For example, the practice of someone who sees the danger in sense pleasure, who is disillusioned by it and seeks more refined forms of happiness, may involve stages that are arduous, and this practice is viewed by those people who are still attached to sense pleasure as a form of self-inflicted suffering.

In such circumstances, for those practitioners who are prepared, who are disenchanted with sense pleasure and for whom sense pleasure has become a form of hardship, or even for those people who are not yet fully prepared, but who see the danger in sense pleasure and who see the value of and aspire to more refined, independent forms of happiness, these arduous forms of practice become a means for training themselves. If these people had acted voluntarily and they did not fall into the extreme of self-mortification, the Buddha consented to this practice as a form of spiritual training.

Moreover, some aspects of the lives of those who have experienced more refined forms of happiness are viewed by those people attached to sense pleasure as miserable or painful. The reverse is also true: those people who have experienced more refined forms of happiness see aspects of the lives of those caught up in sense pleasure as suffering. In any case, those people who have experienced higher forms of happiness know this happiness for themselves. Therefore, the question of whether Buddhism ultimately prizes pleasure or prizes pain – whether it is a hedonistic or an extreme asceticist or masochistic teaching – can be cast aside, for it is neither of these.

The question that remains here pertains to the evaluation or significance of different kinds of happiness, that is, one faces a choice between sense pleasure (which depends on external things) and more refined kinds of happiness (which are internal, self-generated, and independent). In the scriptures, refined happiness is determined as more important.

In sum, one should access refined forms of happiness, or at the very least one should experience both sense pleasure and refined happiness. That is, one should at least match the realization of stream-enterers and once-returners, who still enjoy sense pleasure, yet have reached an unfettered, internal happiness as well.

A general principle for advancing from sense pleasure to more refined happiness – from the pleasure of consuming to an independent happiness – is spiritual preparedness and discipline. A corresponding principle is that all people should experience righteous forms of happiness that are appropriate to their standing in life or that result from their individual perseverance and self-discipline.

Those people who are in want of both kinds of advantageous happiness, that is, they are deprived of sense pleasure and they have not made the effort to reach higher forms of happiness, are considered misdirected and incompetent. In this sense, those bhikkhus who have renounced sense pleasure yet do not make the effort to reach more refined forms of happiness, or whose practice is fruitless, are dissolute. They miss a valuable opportunity and are considered more unfortunate and pitiable than laypeople who indulge in sense pleasure. The Buddha said:

It is in such a way, monks, that a clansman has gone forth. Yet he is covetous, inflamed by lust for sensual pleasures, with a mind full of ill-will, with evil intentions, muddle-minded, lacking clear comprehension, unconcentrated, scatterbrained, unrestrained in his sense faculties. Just as a stick of wood from a funeral pyre, burning at both ends and smeared with excrement in the middle, cannot be used as timber either in the village or in the forest, in just such a way do I speak about this person: he has missed out on the enjoyments of a householder, yet he does not fulfil the goal of a life of renunciation. {1063}

S. III. 93; It. 89-90.

Spiritual Practice in Relation to Happiness

Using sense pleasure as a guideline, one can summarize the Buddhist attitude towards happiness in the following way:

Enjoyment of Sense Pleasure

A. Stage of excellence: to enjoy sense pleasures while at the same time being familiar with more refined kinds of happiness. This refined happiness acts as a safeguard and guarantee, keeping the enjoyment of sense pleasures within wholesome and virtuous limits, preventing the creation of problems for oneself and others, and generating benefits to all. Here, one discerns the dangers and drawbacks of sense pleasure, one knows moderation, and one avoids heedlessness. For example, in terms of sexual relations, married people are content with their spouse (sadāra-santosa) and live together righteously, by being faithful to one another and encouraging each other to grow in virtue and reach higher forms of happiness, as is seen in the case of the awakened disciples Nakulapitā and Nakulamātā.86

B. Wholesome stage: although one enjoys sense pleasure in a morally upright way, one is still cut off from more refined forms of happiness. This enjoyment resembles the stage of excellence above: one sees the dangers in sense pleasure and acknowledges that sense pleasure is inevitably accompanied by a certain degree of suffering. One tries to minimize the harm created by sense pleasure, one is moderate and abstains from indulgence, and one tries to be of benefit to both oneself and others. But because one lacks the way out and the surety of more refined happiness, one is still at risk of being enticed by things and falling knee-deep into sense indulgence. One is not yet safe.

C. Inferior stage: to be caught up in sense pleasure; to be obsessed with the pursuit of sense pleasure and personal gratification. For example, in regard to eating or sexual relations, one is impelled to feel arousal, excitement, and agitation that exceeds what can be called the requirements of nature vis-à-vis eating and reproduction. One may devise methods and means for stimulating this excitement and agitation, by using one’s natural urges simply as a fuel to light the fire. One then increases the passion, making it frequent or continual, even to the extent of perversion.

In such circumstances, eating food which does not necessarily nourish the body, or having sex removed from the act of reproduction, will be accentuated until the person entirely forgets the original purpose of these actions. These activities will be pursued solely to satisfy craving; it will be an indulgence in sense pleasure for its own sake. One’s life will be entirely dedicated to consuming things.

On a social level, when people go beyond the simple relief of natural urges and inclinations to the deliberate creation of excitement and agitation, to the extent that this becomes rampant, that society exists as if in a constant state of warfare, which one can call the battlefield of sense desire.

In times of literal war, people are incited to feel hatred and resentment over and above the natural feelings people have of anger and indignation. Eventually, people are prepared to slaughter and destroy each other, and there is even an expressed admiration and satisfaction in such destruction. {1064}

This escalation of people’s feelings by sense desire is similar. Incitement and stimulation generates lust and a fixation on consuming things, exceeding the natural desire inherent in people.

This intensified desire is a partner to and the origin of the battle of hatred. People who normally live at ease and act in positive ways become provoked by sense desire, giving rise to stress and agitation; they can no longer bear to live at ease. They are then incited to feel anger and discontentment, until the only satisfaction they can find is through destruction.

When this battle of sense desire is protracted, and there are added factors like stimulating and provocative advertisements, people will have a proclivity to not see others as human companions, or even as human. Instead they will see others as prey, as objects to consume or as objects of enjoyment. They will expect to derive pleasure from other people, and if others do not provide this expected pleasure they will view them as rivals or impediments, or as offensive, useless, loathsome, and irritating.

When people are engrossed in the pursuit of sense pleasure, it will be difficult for them to generate a wholesome enthusiasm for their work. They will lack a love for their work, and lack determination and one-pointedness of mind. Wholesome enthusiasm will be replaced by craving. People will simply wait for an opportunity to indulge in sense pleasure, and perform activities in order to gain some personal advantage. The performing of work in order to achieve true success and excellence will vanish. People will work simply to complete the task, or to create a semblance of completion. Moreover, they will seek sense pleasure by taking shortcuts, which do not require any effort and lead to immoral behaviour and crime.

When people begin to see each other as prey and as competitors, and are preoccupied with the pursuit of sense pleasure and zealously guard the objects they have seized, mutual mistrust, envy, and abuse will spread. In this state of affairs, it will be difficult for people to experience refined forms of happiness, even the simple pleasures of appreciating friendship and mutual kindness or the delight and peace stemming from opening oneself up to the beauty of nature. People will be unfamiliar with the refreshing sense of ease that accompanies inner dignity and virtue.

When people lack this refreshing sense of ease, their mental health will drop to a critical level. This is because sense pleasure on its own, devoid of such refined and wholesome mental qualities like love, compassion, and generosity, inflames the mind and is not conducive to mental health. If people associate with one another spurred on by lust, each party will be seeking to get something from the other. Although they may experience pleasure, it is likely to be detrimental to their mental health.

Furthermore, relating to other people in order to obtain a personal advantage, working not for the sake of the work but in order to get a reward,87 and struggling to compete with others leads to disappointment, mistrust, vexation, and enmity, all of which blight the heart and damage mental health. Although a society may be materially prosperous, if it has fallen into such a state of indulgence its citizens will not experience true happiness. Rather, they will be subject to severe forms of suffering, including feelings of desolation, fragility, and meaninglessness. {1065}

In a society deprived of individuals who are familiar with deeper forms of peace and happiness, there is no source of such happiness even for those people who are in extreme need of it. In a society inclined towards sensual indulgence there will be many people who have either been disappointed by their experiences connected to sense pleasure or they have been impacted negatively in some other way. These people will respond by feeling disillusioned by sense pleasure, or they will go to an opposite extreme and feel hatred towards sense pleasure. They will add to the ranks of those people, for example the old and invalid, who no longer have the capacity to enjoy sense pleasures to the full.

These individuals are either unable to fully enjoy sense pleasure or else they have an aversion to sense pleasure. If they have no access to an internal happiness, they will experience serious mental difficulties. If they still have adequate physical strength they may seek an escape by using intoxicants or addictive substances, creating additional problems for society. When the flood of sense craving overflows the banks and people do not reform themselves in time, the corrupted society will waste away and devour itself, and the civilization will collapse.

Abandonment of Sense Pleasure

A. Stage of excellence: to experience a genuine internal, independent, and refined kind of happiness, which is complete in itself. Here, a person has gone beyond a desire for sense pleasure. He or she will automatically and naturally refrain from inclining or circling back towards a pursuit of sense pleasure. Such a person is utterly free from the problems arising from sense desire.

B. Wholesome stage: the abandonment of sense pleasure of those who aspire to and practise in order to reach more refined forms of happiness. This abandonment is suitable for those who are disenchanted with sense pleasure and are prepared to train in order to reach higher forms of happiness, or even for those who may not have reached the stage of disenchantment but who see the danger in sensuality, recognize the value of and wish to experience more independent kinds of happiness, and voluntarily take up a spiritual practice for this sake. This willingness for and self-awareness in practice helps to prevent the ill effects resulting from repression or overly forceful effort.

Whenever one no longer wishes to train, or when the faith for training is truly depleted, one should acknowledge defeat and stop, for example if one has been ordained as a bhikkhu one voluntarily gives up the monastic training.

Although repeatedly being ordained and disrobing is not recommended, if someone does this with sincerity it can still help to foster spiritual preparedness, and can be considered a valid part of training, as is seen in the example of Ven. Cittahatthisāriputta, who was ordained and disrobed seven times before he finally reached the fruit of arahantship.88

C. Inferior stage: to abandon sense pleasure out of reactivity and resistance, and to subsequently fall into an opposite extreme. Here one undertakes severe and punishing ascetic practices, piling up suffering for oneself, by targeting one’s body or life in one’s loathing for sense pleasure. This self-torment or exaggerated reaction, which lacks the understanding and self-awareness described in the previous stage (B), creates additional forms of mental problems. {1066}

Bear in mind that Buddhism considers the non-harming of oneself to be a vital principle, and equally a form of Dhamma practice as refraining from harming others.89 Those people who have been overly forceful in practice or who have reacted to sense pleasure by extreme forms of behaviour should switch to the training described in the previous stage (B).

Buddhism teaches to discern and acknowledge things as they truly are, and to train oneself in order to progressively develop in the Dhamma. Although Dhamma practitioners have different degrees of maturity and are at different stages of development, they live together harmoniously and support one another, promoting genuine wellbeing and encouraging each person’s spiritual growth. They do not bully or disparage each other. Together they build an environment of peace, friendliness, dignity, prosperity, and happiness. {1067}

Perfect Happiness

Here we arrive at the highest happiness, which in Buddhism is succinctly described as: nibbānaṃ paramaṃ sukhaṃ: Nibbāna is the supreme happiness.

When one has made initial contact with supreme happiness, or even when simply referring to it, one should be familiar with its main attributes, so that one can check whether one’s own happiness is going in the right direction and how it can be improved – how its advantages may be increased and its disadvantages lessened.

There are three main attributes to this supreme or perfect happiness:

  1. It is constant: it need not be searched for; it is an inherent quality of the heart.

  2. It is free: it is not dependent on anything else; for example, it is not reliant on sense objects.

  3. It is pure: it is complete; there remains no latent or lingering suffering.

Supreme happiness is constant because it has become an inherent feature of one’s life. For this reason one need not search for it. {1133} The Buddha, for example, was always happy wherever he went – when he journeyed into forests and mountains, when he was with other people, and when he was alone – because happiness was an indwelling quality in his heart.

Supreme happiness is independent and free. This differs altogether from sense pleasure, which is completely dependent on external, material things. Sense pleasure requires the pursuit and appropriation of things. One must look after and guard these things zealously. One loses one’s own independence, and one vies with others, leading to conflict and oppression. By developing independent happiness, one is inwardly free and one need not compete with anyone else.

Supreme happiness is pure and complete. No disturbances or irritations remain in the mind. Many people claim that they are happy, but deep down there still remains suffering or the causes for suffering. For example, they may still have latent anxiety, fear, distrust, melancholy, boredom, or loneliness. Their purported happiness is not spacious, clear, and full.

When all the causes for suffering have been removed from the mind, happiness is replete. There remains no latent suffering that could disturb the mind. If one wishes to experience other forms of happiness, one can do this fully. One is inherently happy and one is prepared to experience all forms of happiness to the utmost satisfaction. Take arahants for example, who are endowed with this inherent and complete happiness at all times. Besides abiding in this complete happiness, they are also able to experience other forms of happiness according to their wishes, and they experience these forms of happiness to the fullest measure.

When arahants have free time and are not engaged in other activities, they may enter the four jhānas and enjoy the bliss of jhāna (jhāna-sukha). They use the jhānas to ’abide at ease in the present’ (diṭṭhadhamma-sukhavihāra). And they derive the utmost joy from these states of jhāna, because no latent irritations or annoyances remain in the mind. This stands in contrast to those unawakened human beings who may be able to access jhāna, but who still have the root or seeds of suffering lingering in their minds. Their joy is not truly spacious and free.

In the Māgaṇḍiya Sutta, mentioned earlier, the Buddha states that if one has not yet realized this profound happiness, there is no guarantee that one will not fall back and seek out sense pleasure once more. But if one does have this realization, there is no way that one will consider seeking gratification by way of sense pleasure.

This is similar to adults who observe children playing and pretending to be shopkeepers. They won’t feel that behaving in this way themselves will provide happiness. This is not because they cannot engage in this activity, but because they have experienced higher forms of happiness. Within the natural development of happiness, the mind will automatically respond in this way. {1134}

To sum up, arahants are endowed with an inner happiness that is present at all time, and they are able to enjoy other forms of happiness fully, according to their desire. If it so happens that they do not take pleasure in other forms of happiness, this is because they have passed beyond the associated desire and have access to a higher happiness.

Acting for the Happiness of All

Because their happiness is complete and spacious, arahants are able to immediately derive delight from wholesome things. For example, when they come into contact with nature, say by ascending a mountain or entering a forest, their delight is spontaneous and instant, free from any inner obstruction or impediment.

This is in contrast to people who still harbour the seeds of suffering. When they arrive at a delightful place, myriad thoughts and emotions disturb their minds, like worry, anxiety, unease, and thoughts of rivalry, commerce, politics, etc. This prevents them from being happy, and even if they are happy, their happiness is limited.

Arahants, on the other hand, find happiness wherever they go; even unfavourable environments become a source of delight. This happiness does not extend only to themselves; other people who live in their company experience ease and comfort in places that previously caused disquiet and turmoil. Note the verse in the Dhammapada:

Whether in village or in forest, on hill or in dale, wherever arahants dwell – delightful, indeed, is that spot.

Gāme vā yadi vāraññe ninne vā yadi vā thale yattha arahanto viharanti taṃ bhūmirāmaṇeyyakaṃ.

Dh. verse 98.

Wherever arahants dwell, they themselves are joyous and people surrounding them are delighted. Arahants are able to view offensive and disagreeable things as pleasant and agreeable, because they have mastery over their perceptions (they have developed the sense faculties – bhāvitindriya). This demonstrates the human potential for happiness corresponding to spiritual development.

If one practises the Dhamma correctly, happiness gradually increases in this way. And when happiness is complete, all other spiritual qualities are complete. This follows a natural process, like a hen incubating an egg. If the conditions are present, the chick will hatch with certainty; there is no room for doubt.

As mentioned earlier, it is valid to describe Buddhism as a system of developing happiness or as a process of eliminating suffering. Or one may use any other description that is in line with Dhamma and accords with nature. They all refer to the same thing.

Before we finish, there is one more subject to touch upon. Complete and perfect happiness has attributes that are expressed outwardly. {1135} Arahants have completed their spiritual training and brought happiness to perfection. Indeed, all of their spiritual qualities are fulfilled, converging at wisdom – the supreme knowledge of awakening – which leads to deliverance. They relate to things in a correct and balanced way. Arahants are given the epithet kata karaṇīya: those who have done what had to be done. Nothing remains to be done in order to bring about a state of completion, or in order to make themselves happy. Nothing is left unfinished in their spiritual training and development. Their spiritual development is complete. They are adepts (asekha); they are fully developed (bhāvita).

What does one do when there remains no personal business to attend to – nothing to be done in order to be happy or to develop oneself spiritually? One is still alive, one is consummate in virtuous conduct, mental proficiency, and wisdom, and one is brimful of extraordinary experience. The answer is one uses all of one’s remaining energy to foster the wellbeing of the manyfolk. It is a Buddhist principle that someone who realizes Nibbāna acts for the welfare of the world.

As mentioned above, wisdom leads to the liberation of the mind. Liberated individuals are fully prepared to respond to those people who are still afflicted by suffering. They generate genuine compassion and devote themselves to alleviating the suffering of others. This is the essential task of arahants.

It is normal for people to vent their suffering outwards. If they use their speech carefully to express their suffering, it can ease the tension and there is a good possibility that this will help to solve their difficulties. But if they are heedless with speech, the expression of suffering may escalate into physical gestures of violence, causing much trouble and turmoil for others.

Happiness, too, can be radiated outwards. And those individuals who are replete in happiness and whose minds are liberated wish to facilitate the mental emancipation of others. Arahants are similar to people who have freed themselves from shackles and chains. When all personal distress and affliction has been quelled, they feel compassion for others who are still bound and they want to offer assistance. They then spend the majority of their time trying to help others be free. {1136}

When the Buddha was sending the first group of sixty arahants out to proclaim the Buddhist teachings, he said that both he and they were similar in being liberated from all snares and bonds, both human and divine. He went on to say: ’Bhikkhus, wander forth for the welfare and happiness of the manyfolk, for the compassionate assistance of the world’ (caratha bhikkhave cārikaṃ bahujanahitāya bahujanasukhāya lokānukampāya). This the motto of all arahants. Having completed all personal affairs and duties, they dedicate their lives for the good of the world, just as the Buddha did.

From the very beginning, spiritual practice is twofold: it involves both self-discipline and assisting others. Occasionally, as in the case of bodhisattas, an increased emphasis is given to the latter, of helping others. These two aspects of practice are intimately connected, for helping others is one way to promote self-development.

All aspects of spiritual practice, whether one focuses on personal training or one focuses on helping others, are a part of one’s spiritual development. As long as one has not finished what has to be done, both aspects of practice are part of this personal development. When one has brought spiritual development to completion and accomplished all of one’s spiritual responsibilities, one’s entire life is devoted to others. As mentioned above, those who realize Nibbāna act for the welfare of the world. Here, the complete and perfect happiness inherent in an individual radiates outward and becomes the happiness of all.

The core Buddhist teaching on happiness as the highest goal of spiritual practice, and the other core teaching on happiness as the highest aim of fulfilling one’s responsibility towards others as a Buddhist, are united. The teaching, ’Nibbāna is the supreme happiness’, is integrated with the teaching, ’For the welfare and happiness of the manyfolk, for the compassionate assistance of the world.’ The highest reality of ’supreme happiness’ (parama-sukha) yields the ’happiness of the manyfolk’ (bahujana-sukha). In sum, Buddhism is a system of developing happiness; it is a religion of happiness.

Appendix 1: Paired Sets of Happiness

These paired sets of happiness are presented in the Aṅguttara Nikāya:90

  1. Happiness of householders (gihi-sukha; happiness of laypeople) and happiness of renunciants (pabbajita-sukha = pabbajjā-sukha, happiness of the renunciant life).

  2. Sense pleasure (kāma-sukha) and happiness of renunciation (nekkhamma-sukha; happiness resulting from a freedom from sensuality and an absence of greed).

  3. Happiness adulterated by suffering (upadhi-sukha; happiness in the three planes of existence – tebhūmaka = mundane happiness – lokiya-sukha) and happiness unadulterated by suffering (nirupadhi-sukha = transcendent happiness – lokuttara-sukha).

  4. Happiness leading to mental taints (sāsava-sukha) and happiness not leading to mental taints (anāsava-sukha; happiness free from mental taints).

  5. Material happiness (sāmisa-sukha; happiness dependent on enticements and on consumable objects; carnal pleasure) and non-material happiness (nirāmisa-sukha; happiness independent of things to consume).

  6. Happiness of the noble ones (ariya-sukha) and happiness of ordinary, unawakened people (anariya-sukha).

  7. Physical pleasure (kāyika-sukha) and mental pleasure (cetasika-sukha).

  8. Happiness combined with bliss (sappītika-sukha; happiness in the first and second jhāna) and happiness not combined with bliss (nippītika-sukha; happiness in the third and fourth jhāna).

  9. Delightful happiness (sāta-sukha; the commentaries state that this refers to the happiness in the first three jhānas) and happiness resulting from equanimity (upekkhā-sukha; happiness when the mind is in a complete state of balance, is neutral and objective, ready to discern the truth, and discriminates correctly, just as a wise person would observe events from a distance; the commentaries state that this refers to the happiness in the fourth jhāna).91

  10. Happiness resulting from concentration (samādhi-sukha; either access or attainment concentration) and happiness without concentration (asamādhi-sukha).

  11. Happiness arising for one who contemplates the first two jhānas comprised of bliss (sappītikārammaṇa-sukha) and happiness arising for one who contemplates the third and fourth jhānas divested of bliss (nippītikārammaṇa-sukha).

  12. Happiness arising for one who contemplates the first three jhānas comprised of pleasure (sātārammaṇa-sukha) and happiness arising for one who contemplates the fourth jhāna comprised of equanimity (upekkhārammaṇa-sukha).

  13. Happiness with materiality as its foundation (rūpārammaṇa-sukha; happiness with the fine-material jhānas as its foundation) and happiness with immateriality as its foundation (arūpārammaṇa-sukha; happiness with the formless jhānas as its foundation).

After each of these pairs there is the statement that the latter kind of happiness is superior or more excellent than the former.

Appendix 2: Threefold Happiness (alternative model)

The Saṁyutta Nikāya contains another classification of happiness that is very similar to the one discussed at the beginning of this chapter (kāma-sukha, jhāna-sukha, and nirodhasamāpatti-sukha). This is likewise a threefold division:92

  1. Happiness dependent on material things (sāmisa-sukha); this is equivalent to sense pleasure (kāma-sukha).

  2. Non-material happiness (nirāmisa-sukha); this refers to the happiness of the first three jhānas.

  3. Happiness exceeding and transcending non-material happiness (nirāmisatara-sukha); this refers to the happiness and joy experienced by one whose mind is free from mental taints (khīṇāsava), who reflects on the mind liberated from greed, hatred and delusion.

The commentaries claim that, although the third kind of happiness is technically mundane (lokiya) – it can be described as the happiness resulting from an arahant’s knowledge of reviewing (paccavekkhaṇa-ñāṇa) – it is superior to the second kind of happiness, which may be either mundane or transcendent (lokuttara; it is transcendent when it refers to the jhāna of an awakened person).93 {1068}

These two classifications of happiness are almost the same because they have a similarity in scope:

  • Sāmisa-sukha is equivalent to kāma-sukha.

  • Nirāmisa-sukha is part of the domain of jhāna-sukha.

  • Nirāmisatara-sukha goes beyond or transcends jhāna-sukha.

The important difference between these two classifications is that the first group (kāma-sukha, jhāna-sukha, and nirodhasamāpatti-sukha) encompasses all forms of happiness, both that which is a sensation (vedanā) and that which is not. The factors of the second group (sāmisa-sukha, nirāmisa-sukha, and nirāmisatara-sukha), however, are all included in happiness that is a sensation.

Therefore, the highest form of non-material happiness (nirāmisa-sukha), which is part of the third jhāna, does not cover all forms of jhāna-sukha. In reference to the fourth jhāna the distinctive term nirāmisa-upekkhā is used; at S. IV. 237 this term is also used in reference to the formless jhānas (arūpa-jhāna), because technically they are part of the fourth jhāna.

A clear distinction can be made between nirodhasamāpatti-sukha and nirāmisatara-sukha. Although nirodhasamāpatti-sukha goes beyond jhāna, it still pertains to a meditative attainment (samāpatti), and it is only accessible by those arahants and non-returners proficient in the eight jhānas. Nirāmisatara-sukha here refers to the happiness resulting from the knowledge of reviewing; it refers only to arahants, who can either be those liberated both ways (ubhatobhāga-vimutta) or those liberated by wisdom (paññā-vimutta; i.e. they have not reached the eight concentrative attainments). In any case, by focusing on the literal meaning of the term, nirodhasamāpatti-sukha should in some respects also be classified as a happiness exceeding non-material happiness.

Appendix 3: Threefold Happiness: Sense Pleasure, Divine Happiness, and the Happiness of the Destruction of Craving

Sense pleasure has already been described at length. Divine happiness is defined in the commentaries as the happiness of jhāna (specifically the happiness of mundane concentrative absorption – lokiyajhāna-sukha).94 The commentaries equate divine happiness with jhānic happiness, because they determine jhāna to be a ’divine abiding’ (dibba-vihāra), in accord with a teaching in the Dīgha Nikāya.95 The commentary to the Dīgha Nikāya states that divine happiness refers to the eight concentrative attainments.96 The ordinary celestial pleasures of divine beings is already included in the factor of sense pleasure. Happiness of the destruction of craving (taṇhakkhaya-sukha) refers to the happiness of Nibbāna (nibbāna-sukha) – as the term taṇhakkhaya is a synonym for Nibbāna.

The commentary of the Udāna, however, interprets taṇhakkhaya-sukha to be the happiness of fruition attainment (phalasamāpatti-sukha), which is accessible to all awakened beings from stream-enterers upwards, through establishing Nibbāna as one’s object of attention. Here, I use the term taṇhakkhaya-sukha in a broad sense, encompassing the happiness of fruition attainment, the happiness of the attainment of cessation (nirodha-samāpatti, a state resembling Nibbāna), and the happiness of liberation (vimutti-sukha) which is frequently referred to in the scriptures (vimutti-sukha refers to the highest fruition attainment – phala-samāpatti – which is the domain of arahants).97

This classification is similar to the tenfold classification of happiness above.

The most detailed classification of happiness in the commentaries is found in the commentary to the Aṅguttara Nikāya, which divides happiness into seven levels: human happiness (manussa-sukha), divine happiness (divya-sukha), jhānic happiness, the happiness of insight (vipassanā-sukha), the happiness of the Path (magga-sukha), fruition happiness (phala-sukha), and the happiness of Nibbāna.98 These seven kinds of happiness can be condensed into four:

  • Sense pleasure (kāma-sukha), including human happiness and divine happiness (the latter referring specifically to the pleasure experienced by celestial beings or the happiness of heaven).

  • Happiness of jhāna (jhāna-sukha): the happiness of mundane concentrative attainments (lokiyajhāna-sukha; lokiyasamāpatti-sukha). In some places this is referred to as divine happiness (divya-sukha), in the sense of being a divine abiding (dibba-vihāra).

  • Happiness of insight meditation (vipassanā-sukha). This appears clearly as one of the ten imperfections of insight (vipassanūpakilesa).99

  • Transcendent happiness (lokuttara-sukha): Path happiness (magga-sukha), fruition happiness (phala-sukha), and the happiness of Nibbāna.100 The term phala-sukha includes phalasamāpatti-sukha, which itself incorporates vimutti-sukha as well.101

Appendix 4: Temporary Ordination

In Thailand there is a custom referred to as ’ordination for study’ (buat rian; บวชเรียน). Besides providing an opportunity to those who are prepared to train themselves in order to experience more refined forms of happiness, this kind of ordination is a way of providing an education to the wider population, by offering a training to young people in the areas of academic knowledge, ethics, and cultural traditions. It is a rite of passage – a means for preparing people to enter society as adults.

Most of these individuals are ordained while still young (in the case of novice monks, they are still children) and do so because of the wishes of their guardians. After they have been ordained and received an adequate level of training, they can voluntary decide by themselves whether to continue as monks or to return to the householder’s life with the full acceptance by the wider society.

During the time of being ordained these individuals are aware that they have entered a system of training. If they are not really dedicated to this way of life they can train for a short period of time and then stop. This way they can accept the conditions for what they are. Some of these individuals who are not prepared for a longterm commitment to the renunciant life may devote themselves earnestly to the training for a fixed period of time.

Training with this kind of acceptance can lead to good results. It prevents the harm of feeling that one is subject to compulsion or confinement, which would lead to a struggle against the form. If there are disadvantages to this kind of training, they are minimized.

If one wishes to preserve this kind of ’ordination for study’ then one must give people the freedom and liberty to disrobe when they wish. This is fair treatment to those individuals and it will benefit the wider society.


It. 15; A. IV. 89.


E.g.: D. III. 288; S. V. 69, 332; Ps. I. 86.


E.g.: D. III. 222; M. 40-41.


This subject will be discussed at more length below.


M. I. 508-509; Dh. verse 204. This subject was discussed in the section on the state of mind of those who have realized Nibbāna; see chapter 7.


Trans.: see Chapter 7.


See: M. I. 246-7; M. II. 93. These are references by the Buddha pertaining to his own practice. The word dukkha in this context refers to suffering as a result of self-mortification (dukkara-kiriyā). This should not be confused with the terms dukkha-paṭipadā and sukha-paṭipadā, of which the former simply refers to difficult, arduous practice (A. II. 149-52). The Nigaṇṭhā (Jains) had the belief that: ’Happiness cannot be reached by happiness; it can only be reached by pain.’ For this reason they practised severe austerities and self-mortification (atta-kilamathānuyoga) – M. I. 93-4. Before the Buddha’s awakening he had the same understanding and thus practised extreme austerities in vain for a long time (M. II. 93).


Eseva maggo bodhiyā. E.g.: M. II. 93.


DhsA. [166].


In Pali this happiness is represented by the term santi-sukha (’the happiness of peace’).


It was mentioned earlier how chanda can be translated as ’desire’, but in relation to Dhamma it is valid to use the term ’love’. Chanda is love of truth, love of the good. In regard to lovingkindness (mettā) and compassion (karuṇā), chanda is the love of fellow living beings. Love of Dhamma, love of truth, love of justice, and love of righteousness then invokes wisdom, and one reaches the stage of equanimity (upekkhā).


M. I. 91-92.


M. I. 463-4.


Trans.: note that the Pali word sukha can be translated as both ’happiness’ and ’pleasure’, according to the context.


For more on these pairs, see Appendix 1.


Cf.: M. I. 398; S. IV. 225.


Note that the word kāma is not restricted to the narrow, commonly understood definition of sexual desire. Objects of sensuality (kāma-guṇa) refer to all beautiful sights, melodious sounds, fragrant odours, delicious tastes, and delightful tangible objects (e.g. a soft, silky bed), without exception. They include all things providing material pleasure (āmisa-sukha). Therefore, even renunciants may be caught up in enjoying objects of sensual pleasure.


For another classification of stages of happiness, see: Appendix 2.


There are many examples of people who have obtained the happiness of jhāna returning to seek out sensual pleasures, and likewise there are many householders who have obtained the happiness of jhāna and who thus enjoy both kinds of happiness. Whatever the case may be, both of these kinds of individuals are better prepared than others to relinquish sense pleasures and progress in Dhamma practice.


A being to be reborn = gandhabba (the commentaries give a strange explanation for this term: MA. II. 310).


Similar in part to M. I. 266.


M. III. 172-7. For more on the glory of a universal monarch, see: Mahāsudassana Sutta, D. II. 169-99; Mandhāturāja Jātaka, JA. [4/47].


Here, the terms kāma, kāma-guṇa, and kāma-sukha need to be understood in their broad definitions according to the Pali language.


Note the Buddha’s words: ’The pretty things in the world are not sense desire (kāma); rather, a person’s lustful intent is sense desire. The pretty things in the world exist just as they are [according to their nature]; therefore the wise remove [only] the craving (taṇhā-chanda) for them.’ (I.e. the wise do not eliminate the pretty things in the world); A. III. 411.


Another way of interpreting this analogy is as follows: sense objects are like the fruit of a tree, the trunk of which is being cut by impermanence and instability. Decay and death, for instance, are constantly eating away at the trunk, wearing it away and leading to its eventual collapse. A person indulging in sense desire is constantly threatened by fear and apprehension resulting from this instability and uncertainty. The more a person is obsessed with sensuality and is unable to renounce it, the greater the risk there is of being severely injured by the falling tree.


There is a description of the first seven of these analogies at: M. I. 364-7; other references simply give a list of the ten analogies, e.g.: Vin. II. 25-6; Vin. IV. 134; M. I. 130; A. III. 96-7. Brief explanations of these analogies are provided at: Nd. I. 6-7, 19; Nd. II. 67; VinA. IV. 869; AA. III. 269; NdA. I. 32; VinṬ.: Sappāṇakavaggo, Ariṭṭhasikkhāpadavaṇṇanā; some aspects of these analogies are described at: S. IV. 189.


Cf.: M. I. 85-6.


It is worthy to consider the degree and frequency of pleasure and pain resulting from contact by way of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body.


This is a summary and explanation of a section contained in the Māgandiya Sutta: M. I. 506-509. In this sutta the focus on different forms of happiness begins with sense pleasure and moves directly to the state of Nibbāna; there is no explicit mention of the happiness of jhāna (jhāna-sukha). The state of jhāna, however, is described as Nibbāna ’indirectly’ or ’in some respects’ (pariyāya), i.e. it has some similar characteristics. For more on this subject see chapter 6 on Nibbāna.


A. V. 83-4.


The Pali word roga (’illness’, ’disease’) literally means to ’break’, ’crush’, or ’pierce’; the word ābādha (’affliction’, ’illness’, ’disease’) literally means ’oppression’.


M. I. 173-4.


E.g.: DA. III. 1013; MA. III. 50; SA. II. 163; AA. II. 373; AA. III. 52; NdA. 464; NdA. II. 123. ’An ability to reflect’ corresponds to the terms paṭisaṅkhā yoniso and yoniso paṭisaṅkhā, which are synonyms for yoniso-manasikāra.


See: Nd. I. 495; in some passages nissaraṇa-paññā is described as the elimination of mental taints by way of using (the requisites) – see: M. I. 10; D. III. 130. Knowing moderation in eating is called bhojane-mattaññutā (mentioned frequently, e.g.: M. I. 355; M. III. 2. These references were cited earlier in chapter 10 on desire and motivation.


Trans.: as mentioned in chapter 7 on awakened beings, the term ’learned noble disciple’ (sutavā ariya-sāvaka) can in some cases refer to an ’unawakened virtuous person’ (kalyāṇa-puthujjana); moreover the term ’noble disciple’ (ariya-sāvaka) refers in some cases to a ’disciple of the Buddha, the Noble One’, rather than to a ’disciple who is a noble one’.


There are many Pali terms for householders or laypeople, including: gahaṭṭha, gihi, kāma-bhogī, sāgāra, āgārika, agārika, gehavāsī, gharamesī, gharavāsī.


For an example of how awakened beings live the lay life and safely enjoy sense pleasures, see: Vin. I. 180-81.


The division into three kinds is found at: Nd. I. 168-9, 178, 357; Nd. II. 57.


E.g.: S. II. 29; S. V. 121-2; A. I. 9; A. III. 63-4.


A. III. 80; A. IV. 220-21. The literal translation for vaḍḍhi is ’profit’, ’gain’. A. V. 137 describes noble disciples who grow in ten kinds of ariyā vaḍḍhi; five of these factors are material benefits (diṭṭhadhammikattha; i.e. they grow in cultivated land, in wealth and grain, in wives and children, in servants, workers and labourers, and in livestock), which are protected by five factors classified as spiritual benefits (samparāyikattha; i.e. faith, moral conduct, learning, generosity, and wisdom).


D. III. 180-93. The commentarial reference to this sutta as a discipline for laypeople: DA. [3/151]. For a systematized analysis of the Siṅgālaka Sutta, see the book ’The Buddhist’s Discipline’ (P. A. Payutto, © 2000, trans. by Dr. Somseen Chanawangsa). [Trans.: note that this sutta is also referred to as the Sigālaka Sutta.]


Trans.: also known as the ’principles of service’: generosity (dāna), kindly speech (piya-vācā), acts of service (atthacariyā), and even and equal treatment of others (samānattatā).


Examples of blameless action (anavajja) include keeping the Uposatha observances, assisting and serving others, establishing public parks, planting woodlands, and building bridges (KhA. [123]; SnA. [2/96]).


Trans.: the author uses the spelling ’Koḷiyans’.


This was Dīghajāṇu’s traditional name.


Trans. the author uses the alternative meaning of bhagavā here, as one who ’analyzes the Dhamma’. Another epithet for the Buddha is thus the ’Analyst’.


There are similar teachings at: A. IV. 285-6, 322-3.


Trans.: the author uses the spelling miḷha-sukha.


M. III. 233, 236. These descriptions are also found at: M. I. 454; M. III. 110-11 = Nd. II. 64; A. III. 30-31, 342; A. IV. 341-2. ’Internal happiness’ (ajjhatta-sukha), also called ’blameless happiness’ (anavajja-sukha), in fact refers to any form of happiness beginning with the joy derived from virtuous conduct upwards; it is mentioned in many passages, including: D. I. 70; M. I. 180-81, 268-9, 346; M. III. 34-5; A. II. 210; A. V. 205-206.


Continuity (santati) conceals the characteristic of impermanence (anicca), movement (iriyāpatha) conceals the characteristic of dukkha (’suffering’, ’pressure’), and solidity (ghana) conceals the characteristic of nonself (anattā): Vism. 640.


There was once a debate over which of the five cords of sensuality is the best; the Buddha replied that it depends on one’s likes and preferences (S. I. 79-80).


Also spelled: sāraṇīya-dhammā (see the section below: ’Sharing of Material Gains within the Monastic Community’.)


Occasionally this classification is into ten pairs.


M. I. 93-4.


M. II. 203-204. In this sutta a fire not created from straw or wood (i.e. a fire without any smoke) is hypothetical; it could not be created at that time in history unless someone did so by way of psychic powers. These days, however, there are modern scientific achievements enabling such a fire.


D. I. 71-6, 207; M. I. 275; M. II. 15; M. III. 92-3; A. III. 25.


See: A. IV. 430. ’The bonds that bind one to the world’ is a translation of visattikā, which is usually equated with taṇhā (’craving’); it is sometimes translated as the ’shackle of craving’.


It contains sambādha (’limitation’, ’confinement’); see: A. IV. 449-50.


It contains ābādha (’affliction’); see: A. IV. 439-40.


See: M. II. 237, 265.


See: M. I. 455-6; M. II. 255-6.


See: M. I. 352; A. V. 343.


Sensations (vedanā) in jhāna are free from stress and are thus considered to be the most positive or favourable forms of sensation (M. I. 89-90).


See: Vism. 705; VismṬ.: Paññābhāvanānisaṁsaniddesavaṇṇanā, Nirodhasamāpattikathāvaṇṇanā; see also the Burmese edition of the sub-commentary to the Majjhima Nikāya: [2/184].


A. IV. 415.


A ’boundless mind’ (vimariyādikatena cetasā); this term occurs in many passages, e.g.: M. III. 26; S. II. 173; A. I. 260.


’Conditioned phenomena’ here refers to ’compounded things’ (saṅkhata-dhammā), which encompasses all five aggregates (khandha); it does not exclusively refer to ’volitional formations’ (saṅkhāra), the fourth aggregate.


The classification of sukha-vedanā (along with dukkha-vedanā and adukkhamasukha-vedanā) as dukkha is also discussed at: S. IV. 205; It. 47; Sn. 143-4.


M. I. 500. Feelings are impermanent, dukkha, and subject to change. This is the disadvantage (ādīnava) of feelings (M. I. 90).


See: S. IV. 205-209.


This classification accords with the Buddha’s words at Ud. 11, where he describes three kinds of happiness: sense pleasure (kāma-sukha), divine happiness (divya-sukha), and happiness of the destruction of craving (taṇhakkhaya-sukha). For more on this threefold happiness see Appendix 3.


And including the devas of the six sense-sphere celestial abodes (kāmāvacara-sagga).


And including all Brahma gods (the sixteen kinds of fine-material Brahmas and the four kinds of immaterial Brahmas).


Trans. the term cariya-dhamma is only found in the Thai language. For more on this term, see the section ’The Path as the Holy Life’ in chapter 12 on the Middle Way.


Some of these books were written as long as twenty-five years ago, and in some cases I can no longer find a copy; all that remains is the title along with a basic outline of the text. These texts include: ’Education: a Tool for Development’ (การศึกษา: เครื่องมือพัฒนาที่ยังต้องพัฒนา; 2530 BE); ’Reflections on Reforming Education’ (a talk given on the 44th anniversary of the establishment of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction Development); and ’Peace Comes from Freedom and Happiness’ (2537 BE).


M. II. 226-28.


Trans.: note Sir Monier Monier-Williams’s definition of sukha in ’A Sanskrit-English Dictionary’: ’Said to be from su + kha and to mean originally “having a good axle-hole”; running swiftly and easily….’


They are sometimes referred to as the ten bases of meritorious action.


Trans.: note that the term ’monk’ here can be interpreted as genderless, referring to both monks and nuns.


Trans.: the author spells his name as Hatthakāḷavaka.


Trans.: the author is making this observation in relation to Thai Buddhists, but I think it is a valid observation in relation to Buddhists worldwide.


Trans.: I use Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation here; the author simply presents the Pali: vaṭṭanāvallī (although the spelling in Thai is rendered vaṭṭanāvaḷī).


Members of the Nigaṇṭhā order believed that happiness can only be attained by way of pain and therefore undertook various forms of extreme ascetic practices; see: M. I. 94.


See: M. I. 246-9.


The Buddha gave this teaching in order to show the distinction between Buddhism and the Nigaṇṭhā doctrine, which taught extreme asceticism (atta-kilamathānuyoga).


A. II. 61-2.


To work for the sake of the work here is not the same as ’working for work’s sake’, but rather to aim for the benefit and welfare of all human beings and to strive for the merit and excellence which is the true purpose of that specific activity.


A. III. 392-99; although he had attained the higher abidings of concentrative attainment (vihāra-samāpatti) he still disrobed. This matter is referred to at: AA. III. 402; DhA. I. 305; JA. I. 310. [Trans.: the author uses the spelling Cittahatthasārīputta.] On the custom of temporary ordination in Thailand see Appendix 4.


E.g.: D. III. 232-2; M. III. 23; A. II. 179. Note, however, that ’not harming oneself’ here is not the same as well-warranted self-surrender or renunciation, which is another form of Dhamma practice.


A. I. 80-82. The explanations here accord with AA. II. 152.


Note that ’equanimity’ (upekkhā) in these paired sets of happiness is not the same as ’neutral sensation’ (upekkhā-vedanā).


S. IV. 236.


SA. III. 84.


UdA. 107.


D. III. 220.


DA. 1006.


See: VinA. V. 953; UdA. 32, [46]; VinT. [4/421].


AA. I. 53 = AA. III. 2.


See: Cūḷaniddesa Aṭṭhakathā 106; Vism. 636-7; VinṬ.: Tatiyapārājikaṃ, Ānāpānassatisamādhikathāvaṇṇanā.


SnA. I. 331.


According to UdA. 34, PsA. 268, and Vism. 700, phalasamāpatti-sukha is a form of transcendent happiness.