Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The freedom of unhappiness

I have come to a realization about happiness. You can't fake it. It seems obvious, but if you think about it, that is what so many in the spiritual and self-help community advise.

Count your blessings. Be happy, be grateful, be content -no matter what.

While there are certainly many things to be grateful for, let's face it, some things just suck

But I've come to realize that it's okay to admit it. 

From the Buddhist perspective, the way to true contentment is to let go of our selfish desires and the myopic focus on ourselves. But on the other hand, contentment also comes from accepting things as they are. Reflecting on my own experience, for so long I have tried to be 'accepting' and 'content' no matter how bad, stressful, irritating, or painful something was. I'd say to myself things like, "I should just be grateful."  "But such-and-such has it so much worse", "think of all those who are suffering," or "instead just think of how lucky I am".

I've realized that doing this is wrong for two reasons. First of all, comparing myself to others. This is not empathy, but comparative misery at best- and straight up pity at worst. In this context, such thoughts do not solve anything, or increase compassion for myself or other people. Second, the truth about what I was really doing, which was shaming myself into happiness. Sounds absurd, right? But that's essentially what's been going on for I don't know how long. (I may be wrong, but I suspect that others do the same.)

I realize now that accepting how things are doesn't mean I have to be happy about it. In fact, I find that I can even feel pretty pissed off, as long as I let the emotion pass and don't hang on to it. And you know what? This has lifted a huge burden- one that I didn't even know was there. True acceptance doesn't dictate what emotion you "should" feel, or anything really. Things just are as they are.

For those of us who, try as we might, have not yet let go of this notion of "self" and the desires that come with it, being open to the emotions we truly feel in challenging situations can help minimize our pride and denial - which are probably pretty big obstacles to acceptance. Once we do that, we can look at our circumstances more realistically, understand why they are painful or unpleasant, then work towards true change in a way that is compassionate and beneficial to ourselves and others. Moreover, acknowledging the tough parts of our lives can freshen our perspective towards the things that are good.

Maybe if we do this, we can have a better chance of cultivating true gratitude and freedom - and maybe even happiness. �� 

*****
Have you experienced this type of frustration with denial and 'forcing' happiness? What helped you step out of that mindset?

May all beings be happy!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Buddhism in Uganda

A while back I was curious to see whether there is a Buddhist following in Africa. My search led me to the Uganda Buddhist Centre, located near the capital of Kampala. UBC was founded in 2005 by Ven. Buddharakkhita, a monk who has been ordained in the Theravada Buddhist tradition. Being the first and only Buddhist center in Uganda, there are many reasons why UBC is special, but another is that the nun at the center and Uganda's first Buddhist, Dhammakami, is the mother of Buddharakkhita, ordained by the Venerable himself.

I hope you enjoy listening to the Venerable's life story and spiritual journey. The last video is a slide show recounting Ven. Buddharakkhita's experience as a monk living in a tent and teaching Dharma from a mobile temple, and the series of events that led to the building of the UBC in 2007.

May all beings be happy!





Saturday, March 29, 2014

10 things that surprised me most about Buddhism

After first encountering basic Buddhist concepts and then learning more and more about them, I often found myself surprised, even awed, by what I learned. I don't know if it the Western 'pop-culture' view or my own Judeo-Christian background were the sources of my initial views of Buddhism, but the more I learned, the more I realized how much my initial impressions of Buddhist ideology differed greatly from the actual teachings and culture. I also remember some of my fellow Buddhists (who grew up in Southeast Asia, and had been born into a Buddhist culture) being surprised when they learned that I did not initially know some of these things about Buddhism (especially numbers 9 and 10), but were understanding about my lack of knowledge once I told them where I was coming from.

Here is my 'top ten' list of the things that surprised me most about Buddhism, from the mundane (and perhaps even silly) to the profound:

1. Many Buddhists are not vegetarians.
2. To be Buddhist, one doesn't have to renounce all one's material belongings (or shave your head!).
3. Buddhists are not necessarily pacifists.
4. Many Buddhists do not meditate regularly- in lotus position no less!
5. 'Fat Buddha' is different from Shakyamuni (i.e. the historical) Buddha.
6. Buddhism has a tradition, even a foundation, of questioning and challenging beliefs.
7. Buddhism and science can harmoniously coexist.
8. Buddhism is not possessive, anyone can incorporate Buddhist principles into their life without 'becoming' Buddhist. 
9. Buddha was not a god, but a mortal human being who suffered as we do. The difference was that he found the way to end this suffering.
10. Buddhism is 'equal opportunity'. Every being in the universe has Buddha-nature, or the potential to become a Buddha. 

If you are a 'new' Buddhist like me, were you surprised by any of these characteristics of Buddhism? Do you have any to add? I would love to hear your thoughts!

*****
May all beings be happy!