Part 1: Contentment day course, Sydney

This Sunday was my centre’s day course on Contentment. The following are some notes I took – I hope the words inspire you to change to a happier you!

This course resonated with me profoundly especially since I am reading the 2nd book called Affluenza (When too much is never enough) by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss. From this book I learnt a new word:  ” downshifter” someone who voluntarily reduces their income.

A few of my favourite lines from the book:

  • “in the coming decade most of our income growth will be spent on consumer products the craving for which has yet to be created by advertisers
  • “the 1960s and 1970s saw a flood of literature predicting a future in which technological progress would allow us to work only a few hours a week and our main problem would be how best to enjoy our leisure… a society able to devote itself to activities that are truly fulfilling”
  • “instead of our growing wealth freeing us of our materialist preoccupations, it seems to have had the opposite effect”
  • “people in affluent countries are now even more obsessed with money and material acquisition, and the richer they are the more this seems to be the case”
  • “no matter how much money people have they feel they need more”
  • “striving to become richer even at the expense of their own happiness and that of their families”
  • “most people cling to the belief that more money means more happiness”
  • “raising the threshold of desire creates an endless cycle of self deception”
  • “hedonic treadmill”
  • “the only way to win is to stop playing the game”
  • “Australia is in a collective psychological disorder – we indulge in the illusion that we are deprived”
  • “we complete ourselves symbolically by acquiring things that compensate for our perceived shortcomings… marketers understand much better than we do how we want to create an ideal self”
  • “increasing levels of materialism that characterises affluent societies has been shown to be associated with declining well-being and a rise in pathological behaviours”
  • the famous anon quote “in rich countries today, consumption consists of people spending money they don’t have to buy goods they don’t need to impress people they don’t like”
  • “Big houses serve to keep family members apart because there is less need to be together”
The teachings:
We all long for happiness and to be free from suffering. But we make the mistake of believing happiness is outside ourself; this belief causes us to create so much suffering.
Our mind has been mis-programmed! We crave for things and objects of desire. We need to rectify this mistake. Even if we can decrease this attachment just a little we will experience some freedom and liberation. Try to decrease attachment a little, which is more realistic than complete renunciation!
Our craving mind is a source of discontent. We must develop a determination to decrease that mind! It will be enough at first to decrease the excess attachment. Craving minds finally will not arise. We have a mind of desirous attachment.
We need a multi-pronged attack on our delusions. With 2 motivations:
  1. aversion to experience suffering and
  2. to pursue happiness.
Contemplating these ways, how to overcome our mind of discontent we experience results that make a difference in our minds.
The basic human wish is to be happy and free from suffering – it is an innate wish. The question is not if we want to be happy the question is where does happiness come from?  We are not experiencing the happiness we long for, we work so hard to achieve it! We turn to various objects: relationships, our career, people, friends, family, material possessions, homes etc
The satisfaction is what we desire but it seems like whatever our circumstances are, it eludes us …. sometimes short lived pleasure arises eg a new relationship but it wears off .. we don’t experience the same satisfaction we thought we would. We have a restless discontented mind that jumps from 1 situation to another hoping to find satisfaction but eventually we want something better. We get the desired object but we don’t get the satisfaction we thought we would. This is the tragedy of the discontented mind. We are human beings with limitation but we have spiritual potential which is capable of freeing the mind from limitation. We need to train the mind to be free from obstructions and faults until one awakens. Practice Buddha’s teachings to improve your life even if you do not want to be enlightened. When we start a relationship we are happy and excited and after a while we get bored; we say we chose the wrong person! I chose wrong house .. I should have waited for a better one, with better view !
We believe problem lies outside ourselves, that we we are innocent victims that we are surrounded with wrong objects. We look at our clothes in wardrobe and can’t find anything nice to wear … I need to buy more clothes.
Wrong mind – relationship between subject (mind) and object (world) is of a dreamlike nature; emptiness.
What the situation is for us depends on our mind, if it is a restless mind it is coloured by our mind, objects we perceive by this mind appear imperfect, not right, because nature of mind craving … we don’t have capacity, a mental muscle we never used. We need an intensive mental boot-camp on contentment. Wake up to the truth! we have a restless mind and this can be proved. Look at your own mind, situations in your past, objects you acquired, life changes, pursuit of happiness. But why don’t we experience contentment : I have enough, I have what I need, I can relax, I am at peace, settled. We won’t reach that point with the mind we have now, even if we are close to conditions we deem ‘perfect’ because of our discontented mind. Mind doesn’t let us recognise this. You can transform your life, give yourself ability to enjoy life instead of “this is not enough”. We always want something … we say “when I pay off debts I will be happy” … we manage to pay off and more may arise! We are anxious and dissatisfied. To do lists …. if we fulfill wishes we buy home etc then it is not long before we want something more. Temporary cessation of previous sufferings.
The late Sir James Goldsmith, on marrying his mistress, Lady Annabel Birley, declared, “When you marry your mistress, you create a job vacancy.”
You fulfil 1 desire you automatically have more unless you oppose the desirous mind. We know this from our life; we change goalposts for ourselves. We say when we make $1 million we will be happy … that is the nature of the mind. Basic contradiction in seeking happiness: we create causes of suffering.
We experience a life of desire and with it experience associated problems – attachment, anger…..
We develop negative minds when anything arises between us and our desire; we hurt other people in the process. the strong desire to fulfil our wishes causes us to experience anger towards anything that arises to stop us. We manifest  anger and aversion towards what stands between us and our wish. We end up feeling bad, regret, fracture in relationships. This arises due to strong attachment to the result – negative karma. WE WILL ALWAYS WANT
Buddha said we are “desire realm beings; beings of the unforgettable world” : we have inability to forget object of desire even for a moment.
Dust is covering our eyes – we can’t see the truth: humans always want. It is not a problem to desire happiness, it is wanting it from outside ourselves that is the problem. My human condition is to WANT.
Geshe-La, on seeing some cows in a field during an ordination ceremony at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre, Ulverston, UK, said
 “see those cows? they have more contentment than you!”.
We want so many things! Unlike cows who want and need shelter, food and to reproduce. We want gadgets,  jewellery, fancy cars, reputations, status etc we have ENDLESS DESIRES: it is exhausting. Animals are more content. We have to learn to SEE this mind. We are like a thirsty man in the desert.
Atisha said “Friends, there is no satisfaction in the things you desire. It is like drinking sea water to satisfy thirst. Therefore be content.”
Practice contentment. Drinking sea water makes you thirstier. we search for the satisfaction  to fill the gap we feel inside us but we turn to the wrong things! We think: he/she will complete me! But they can’t! The gap is in our mind of discontent. We need to identify mind of discontent to stop searching for things outside ourselves. Whatever we have externally doesn’t matter. It is important to remember and share with others.
We know of examples of famous, wealthy people committing suicide. They think: “I’m not capable of being happy”. Because they have everything money can buy and still do not feel happy they despair.
Living with a mind of discontent is having a life characterised by a state of waiting. The mind of dissatisfaction and discontent: life hasn’t started! We desire something and if we get what we want, then we find something else to want. DESIRE BREEDS DESIRE.
Obtaining our wishes never leads to end of desire. In getting 1 thing we create conditions for more desire e.g. we get a bigger home and we have more rooms to fill and decorate ….Nature of desire: like gremlins, they multiply. Life becomes hard, overwhelming. The more we have the more we want.
When you are content with what you have and you know this is enough,, then you can focus on what is REALLY IMPORTANT … it doesn’t matter if you are single, unemployed etc as this cannot complete me. So we have a healthy focus – turn within: meditation.
Novelty wears off eg a new girlfirend ,after a while you realise you cannot chase other girls now, you have to be faithful…Doesn’t matter what we have, what we get.
We can enjoy life no matter what situation we are in; instead of desperately searching for happiness. Life becomes balanced and healthy and we have a healthy relationship to external objects as we know they don’t make a difference. As contentment is in my own mind. We get the external  object but don’t derive feeling of satisfaction FROM IT. We are after feeling of satisfaction. With our mistaken view we think this object is equivalent to satisfaction but it weans off. We are left with desire. Satisfaction is an INNER EXPERIENCE. An external object cannot give rise to feeling of satisfaction. Cause and effect. Pure and positive feelings from the mind are not external. Concentrate on love and patience. Internal not external : don’t fool yourself. Fundamental mistake. External objects can’t make a difference to your internal feeling. Western civilisation was founded on this! Rise above these impurities/mistakes of society.
Practice contentment to be rich!
Recognise within your life that all unpleasant things arise from the mind of discontent.  We are always convinced the grass is greener. Things WILL go wrong!
Make changes in your life with wisdom and realistic expectations. LEARN from situations – E.g. you buy something you do not really need or afford and then you get a massive credit-card bill – say “look what mind of discontent has brought me to!” Bad habits, addictions, war : instead of enjoying life.

Dharma teaching @ Bondi Junction : Inner Strength, week 1

This week’s Dharma teaching

There is only one way to achieve happiness and that is to start to control and purify our mind. We cannot control others, the weather, our employees, our employer etc.
We achieve inner strength by focussing on the quality of patience and thus develop a mind of inner strength.

Our basic human desire is to experience happiness. Consciously or unconsciously we have this thought: I want to be happy and free from suffering. Whatever we do is a manifestation of this wish/need. When we awake everyday we hope that today is the day we will experience only happiness; we have an expectation not a hope as when suffering arises we don’t accept it! When things go wrong in life we get disappointed! We are perpetualy overwhelmed, disappointed so we have unrealistic expectations. We expect people to cherish us, to never let us down, that everything goes according to our wishes and desires …. How do we react to what happens? By accepting that difficulties are a part of life it gives us freedom to take control of our happiness and well-being. Difficulties are a part of life it is useless suppressing them. for e.g. when someone is doing something we don’t like, we tell them to change (if we
feel it is socially acceptable for e.g if we know the person well) or resent them. Has it worked? Controlling our external world is exhausting… our homes,possessions, partner… manipulating externals is unproductive and unsatisfying and ends up by creating more problems. Suffering arises from our mind. Looking outside of ourselves is doomed to fail. It is easier to wear leather shoes than to cover whole ground with leather! By relying on a mind of patience, contentment, love….. we will always find a place where we  are comforted becasue we are controlling our inner environment – well-balanced and positive. We do not feel overwhelmed and stressed and we feel we want to run away from the situation.

Transform life’s difficulties to a practice.

Meditation works by familiarising and acquainting our mind with virtue which is a cause of happiness. Suffering arises from negative minds of anger, selfishness, jealousy etc. Meditation is a method to abandon these thought patterns, delusions and negative minds and replace with positive, virtuous minds.
If our own mind is acquainted with love and patience instead of anger, aversion etc we are able to find happiness even in difficult circumstances. Meditation is a potent medicine: 10-15 minutes/day of meditation on a positive quality is like a medicinal. The nature of meditation is concentration, single pointedly placed on a virtuous object e.g. contentment, patience… We transform our mind by holding a feeling. Mixing our mind with the virtuous object. You talk yourself into it and allow the feeling to arise e.g. thinking how much patience would benefit us, talking yourself into a mind of patience, when
an accepting mind arises, fully and happily – we stop thinking of reasons and we stay with that feeling of patience: this is meditation. In contrast to negative thoughts – the mind stream (the mind is a formless continuum) of thoughts – if the thoughts are dark and bad – like a stream bubbling away – if you pour in some dirt it gets murky without the dirt the stream is clean and pure, undefiled. The mind is like this when it is free from delusions. Negative minds are not our actual nature, just like the stream, it is not intrinsically weak, impure or disturbed but only when we allow ourselves to foucs on the negative does it become impure. Meditation re-trains the mind … quality of life depends on the quality of our mind. No better gift to give yourself and to others! You become a source of strength to others. We can deal with our own problems and others’ as we are strong inside ourselves.

A mind of patience helps us develop inner strength. If we only can be happy when things are going well we will never be happy! A set of conditions – perfect home, partner, job, based on things will go well for us, it is not the nature of life things will still go wrong. How often does everything all come together? There’s always something going on. Inner strength is a  mind that is happy when things go well or badly! If we realise life is characterised by suffering – mental pain usually more than happiness arises – learn to accept difficulties in the same way as we accept wordly enjoyments. Our mind is impure due to
delusions, so we create an impure world. Mindset of creating our happiness not happiness for all! We need to learn to accept happy mind when difficulties arise. We think suffering arising for eg from difficult boss or happiness arises from new job but it is all a state of mind not in external things. Practice of patience decreases all our sufferings.Suffering is an internal phenomenon, part of our mind, a feeling, an internal experience for eg when you are sick, when you have a nightmare boss but these are external; our own suffering is a feeling, an internal problem so they are different. If you don’t allow situations to trigger in your mind negative feelings you have an outer problem not an inner problem and only an inner problem is our problem. Two people in same situation react differently depending on their mind people respond differently depending on the quality of their mind: is it experiencing pain or calm? An accepting mind is inner strength. We cannot avoid challenging situations but we can avoid unpleasant feelings! Through meditation we create a force field to protect us like a suit of armour to deflect negativity; a mind of patience protects us with armour of patience. Your heart is open but you don’t allow negativity to affect your mind, we protect ourselves from difficulties. Protect mind through patience, mind happily accepts. Change your expectations get more realistic e.g. how we expect a date to turn out, how our life turns out etc based on a wish of happiness. True freedom: cast out unreaslistic expectations, accept and change your mind. Accept difficulties readily to avoid mind of aversion , mind of anger etc.

“The heart of Dharma practice is meditation. The purpose of meditation is to make our mind calm and
peaceful. If our mind is peaceful, we will be free from worries and mental discomfort, and so we will
experience true happiness; but if our mind is not peaceful, we will find it very difficult to be happy,
even if we are living in the very best conditions. If we train in meditation, our mind will gradually
become more and more peaceful, and we will experience a purer and purer form of happiness. Eventually,
we will be able to stay happy all the time, even in the most difficult circumstances.”
~ How to Solve Our Human Problems, p. 121

‎”Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” -Dalai Lama