Bangkok Post - Sunday December 30, 2007: Outlook >>
The Practice of Happiness
Phra Paisan Visalo suggests practical ways to cultivate happiness
in our lives this coming year
Everybody wishes for happiness. Whatever we wish for, be it good health, luck,
wealth, love, success or not facing difficult situations, they are all manifestations of
Unfortunately, we usually find happiness short-lived and rare to come by. So we come
to another wish. How can we find happiness forever?
Phra Paisan Visalo said the irony is that the more and harder we strive for happiness,
the less and further we are from it. To attain genuine happiness, we need to stop and
have time for ourselves to take an inward journey to discover the spring of joy, the
monk said. The keys to happiness, he believes, are already in our hands.
"Happiness is intrinsically natural for us. It dwells in
our heart. We can't realise it because we spare very
little or no time at all to contemplate on life. With life
in the fast lane, we hardly see who we are, what is
essential for our living, what we truly want in life,"
said Phra Paisan at the launch of Kam Kor Tee Ying
Yai, which he co-wrote with Arthit Yam Chao.
"Our view that happiness is out there to be found
from people, material goods, fame, positions or
awards blinds us from seeing the truth," he added.
"Happiness is not about earning or maintaining the
status quo. It is about feeling and being happy."
The first step may be cultivating the view that
happiness is not everlasting. "Like everything else in
nature, happiness changes and subsides. If we can accept this law of impermanence,
we will be permanently happy."
Happiness cannot be bought or consumed, said Phra Paisan. It comes to us when we
learn to let go of our selfishness, cravings and desire to own things, including
happiness. "When we stop demanding that nature, people and things will be as we
please, then we will be able to taste the sweetness of joy."
Attachment is the root of our sufferings, said Phra Paisan. "We hold on to the 'me' and
'mine' so much that we are enslaved by whatever we cling to. For example, when
someone stains or scratches 'my' car, it feels like 'I' am stained and scratched. In this
sense, 'I' have become the car.
"If we ease up our grasp on 'my' car, yes, the car is ruined, but our mind will not be,"
The degree of our suffering is relative to the size of our "self". The bigger our ego, the
more our suffering, Phra Paisan said.
While Buddhism teaches us to be "nobody", consumerist society encourages us to be
"somebody", driving us to go after money, fame, rank, wealth and power.
"The 'big' ego becomes an easy target where suffering can hit without a miss. For
example, one may go to a restaurant and feel upset for not being waited on instantly.
Or if you thought that you were 'someone', you would not like to have to line up for
"When we are angry or arrogant, we are separating ourselves from the others. It is
this separation that blocks us from the flow of happiness."
In short, Phra Paisan said what we need to do to realise happiness is to scrape off our
ego, which brings about selfishness and separation. He urges us to be "an empty
boat", which is not affected by low or high tides. "Ultimately, supreme happiness
comes when there is no 'one' who is attached to sufferings or happiness."
To this end, the monk offered some practical advice.
Say 'I'm sorry' and 'never mind'
We are not angels. As human beings it is natural
for us to be imperfect and prone to make
mistakes, said Phra Paisan. But these days, he
went on, we say sorry too little and too late.
Consequently, we are relentlessly living in feuds
at home, at work and in broader society.
For example, "Sorry" from doctors could prevent
doctor-patient relationships coming before the
courts. "Sorry" from the government may help
heal the wounded hearts of Muslims in the South
who feel justice is not being served. An apology
might have stopped the situation from becoming
so violent. "Sorry" said by parents may prevent
children from ending up in juvenile detention
"Sorry," said Phra Paisan, seems to be the hardest word because we associate it with
failures, mistakes, incompetence and weakness, which we feel we must not show to
"When we say sorry, we are not losing face. We are losing delusion. It is a noble act. It
shows one's humility and compassion to feel others' sufferings," said the monk.
It needs understanding and courage to make an apology, he added. "One needs to
take off many heavy hats we are wearing, like education, seniority, experience,
ranking, social status, and just relate to one another as human fellows."
The sooner one says sorry, the quicker one can mend conflicts and restore
relationships. Most importantly, Phra Paisan emphasized, it is a perfect tool to scrub
off one's ego.
"When we sincerely feel and say sorry, our mind will be light and liberated. But if we
remain headstrong, resisting our mistakes, we are harming ourselves. Our heart
becomes hard and cold, our ego gets stronger, and thus our sufferings are deepened."
Like giving an apology, forgiveness also sets our heart free from anger, grudges or
sorrow that weighs us down. At times, it cannot be helped that people hurt us with
their deeds and words. It is thus crucial that we learn to cultivate a forgiving mind,
said Phra Paisan. "We can all make mistakes, thus we all need forgiving."
The sooner one forgives, he said, the sooner one will be happy.
Say 'thank you' and offer compliments
"Thank you," he said, is not merely a social courtesy. When uttered from the heart it
can promote our happiness, too. How? Because it takes optimism and humility to say.
Those who are hard to please or see themselves as above others may find it difficult to
appreciate or see others' contributions and goodness, said Phra Paisan. They may see
only flaws and give complaints and criticism rather than compliments. In this manner,
one is likely to feel upset, dissatisfied, frustrated and far from happy.
To be able to thank someone or something needs both truthful and positive
perspectives. This outlook can be cultivated and trained, said Phra Paisan. Appreciating
the little things in life, the small things people do or say to us, will bring joy and make
Most importantly, Phra Paisan said our sharpened positive outlook will help us through
difficult times. "This inclination can help us see the bright side of suffering and make
our plight manageable and not so miserable."
Learn from suffering
Phra Paisan urges us to take the bull by the horns: "Be happy when suffering comes as
it provides us a chance to shake off our ego," he said.
We suffer because we cling to suffering, he added.
There are two main kinds of situations that make us suffer, explained the monk. The
first is losing what we love and desire. When we lose people, things, positions, or
circumstances we prefer, we become miserable and angry.
The second situation that makes us suffer is facing what we hate, be it people we don't
like, physical or emotional pain, criticism, failure or disappointment.
"When faced with these situations, do not try to push or bury them away. When you
suffer, try to see that it is not 'you' but the 'self', the 'delusions' that is suffering. You
need to allow these delusions to suffer so as to tame them. Things won't appear as we
please, accept it as it comes with humility."
Set time to oneself
It is impossible to be truly happy when one is always on the run. To realise happiness,
Phra Paisan says we need to slow down and give ourselves more time in solitude. He
advises us to take time off each day to install happiness in our bodies and minds.
Sadly, people are always running out of time, both for themselves and for others. Our
attention can be scattered between many things - schedules, meetings, work and
other activities - making it difficult for us to focus on really important issues in life
such as what truly constitutes happiness.
Ultimately, Phra Paisan wishes that we will be aloof from being "someone" who feels
happiness or suffering. "Then, you will attain permanent happiness."