WE WOULD THINK IT funny if we saw someone climbing an apple-tree searching for bananas, would we not? But this is not as strange as it sounds. Looking for happiness in places where happiness cannot be found is stranger and less rational than searching for bananas up an apple-tree.

Some years ago, I was requested to speak to the Asian Buddhist students of a certain high school in Sydney. I observed that they straggled into class late, were not interested or attentive, and had lost— or discarded— their traditional Asian manners and respect.

In order to get their attention, I asked them what they thought people all over the world wanted or were looking for. Well, because most of them were refugees from Vietnam or Cambodia, several of them said "Freedom", but I countered this by saying that many people have that already and so are not looking for it; indeed, some people have too much freedom and don’t know what to do with, so abuse and destroy it instead of taking care of it like the treasure it is. This means, of course, that they are not ready for it; freedom is wasted on people who do not or will not understand, appreciate or take care of it; it must be earned, not given to us, for if we do not strive for it, we will not value it, and thus, it will easily be wasted and lost.

Some others said "Money", but, again, although many people— maybe we could even say most— are looking for it, and though money is, without a doubt, the ‘religion’ with the most devotees in the world, not everyone is looking for it. There are some rare folks who have money and who are not looking for more (Bill Gates is not one of them, obviously). Someone said "Love". Well, you know, even though the word has been so over-used that it is almost worn-out, Love— the quality— is still something we all need, in one form or another. The answer I wanted from them was "Happiness". I asked them: "If you had been happy in your own country before, would you have fled as refugees?" "No", "Probably not", came the answers. "So, you fled your country because you were not happy there, because life there was too difficult".

I have been to about 40 countries and have seen that, although there are differences between people, the basics are the same: Everyone wants to be happy; no-one wants to be sad or to suffer. "Therefore", I continued, "happiness must be something very important, no?" "Yes", they agreed. "Well, since happiness is very important, do they teach you about it here in school?" There was a unanimous cry of "No, never!"

How strange, that something so very important as happiness is completely neglected in our schools! Why should this be? Is it because happiness cannot be taught, but must be earned or found by the individual himself? Can or should nothing be said about it? Or has it been shunted aside as ‘too emotional’, thrown into the trash-can in favor of the over-emphasis on ‘success’?

Personally, I regard the education-system, as it stands today, as Public Enemy Number One, for it inculcates in people many qualities that the world needs much less of instead of more, and which lead directly to conflict: competitiveness, ruthlessness, selfishness, pride, greed, envy, acquisitiveness, thoughtlessness about others, etc.

Some people will argue that without competition, we would not progress, but I would disagree, for we would probably make better progress, and with much less conflict, if we learned how to cooperate with each other for the common good. And I believe that we can be taught and shown, from a very early age, how to cooperate. World War Two— to name the most outstanding of senseless conflicts— caused the death of 50 million people, and untold irreparable damage and destruction. But we still haven’t learned; the Twentieth Century was the bloodiest of all. And, right now, there are numerous conflicts of various sizes going on in the world, and it looks as if we’ll be very lucky to avoid a Third World War!

With the present education-system— which, in reality, is the ‘American system’ that everyone else seems to take as their model— are we happy? Far from it! We have turned the world into a jungle full of wild and savage animals, where it is not safe to go out on the streets at night— or even in the daytime!— in some places! It’s amazing— is it not?¾ how we can put men on the moon and send them to the bottom of the ocean, but we cannot teach our children — for this is where it must begin— how to live together with others in understanding and peace.

The ways in which we seek happiness are countless; seeking happiness and trying to avoid unhappiness, are pursuits that take up a great proportion of our lives. We may safely generalize and say that everyone wants to be happy and avoid pain; we all have this in common. But how many of us are happy? We are happy sometimes, and some people are happier than others, but do you know anyone who is happy all the time? I don’t.

Some people seek happiness in ways that are harmless to others, while others willingly hurt others in their efforts to find it; they will kill, steal, lie, cheat, etc., if they think it will yield the happiness they seek in their frustration. But are they happy? A little, perhaps, and briefly, but when their actions ripen, where is their happiness?

There are many formulas for happiness that people hold, the most common being Money = Happiness. "Oh, if only I were rich, I would be happy", they think. Of course, it would be very difficult to be happy if one’s family was hungry or homeless, but riches, in themselves, do not solve all problems or bring happiness. Many rich people are very unhappy.

Other formulas go like this: "If I had a beautiful girlfriend (or handsome boyfriend), I would be happy". "If I were young again / healthy / powerful / famous / popular / had many friends, etc., I would be happy". But can happiness be formulated? Perhaps it would be better to pause awhile and ponder on man’s frantic and eternal search for happiness.

Happiness cannot be sought and found, for it— and unhappiness, too— are results of the way we live our lives and how we see things. In fact, the search for happiness is the greatest obstacle to finding it, though we usually do not see this until after we have sought for it to the point of exhaustion.

It has been said that: "Happiness is a perfume that you cannot sprinkle on others without getting a few drops on yourself". This is the key: Forget self and help others, do what is right according to the situation, and happiness may find us, though really, this should not be our motive for helping others. We should do so simply because we have the opportunity and capacity to do it, and not for what we think we might get in return, for that is the same as seeking, and usually results in disappointment.

Why do we look for happiness? If we were happy already, if there were no pain and suffering, there would be no need to look for it! It is because we are not happy, because we are subject to pain and suffering, that we search for it.

What is pain? It is a response to certain causes or conditions; it is the effect of causes, like everything else, and if we can discover and understand the causes, we might be able to avoid the effects we don’t like.

There are two kinds of pain: physical and mental. We have a body, so naturally, we experience various bodily pains; though many of these pains could be avoided if we took better care, some pains are unavoidable, as it is natural and inevitable for the body to break down and decay— like any machine— and one day, it will die. This is why Lao Tsu said: "Accept misfortune as the bodily condition, for without a body, how could there by misfortune?" Or, as someone else said recently: "Exercise regularly; eat moderately; die anyway".

Mental pain, on the other hand, is not inevitable, as it is possible for us to be in much greater control of our minds than we are. We cannot prevent the body from growing older and dying, but the mind is ours to control, if we will. We need not suffer from worry, grief, despair or anger; we need not give way to jealousy, revenge, malice and pride; our minds need not be filled with greed, hatred and stupidity. But they often are, aren’t they? And we suffer so much because of the presence of these negative and harmful emotions; they cause us pain even on the physical level, through the mind acting on the body. What a lot of trouble comes from the mind!

Now, nobody— at least, no reasonably-sane person— likes to suffer. Most people try to avoid pain, most hate and fear it, but few try to understand it, to listen to it, to hear what it is saying— and it does have something to say. Pain is Nature’s way of telling us that something is wrong— out of balance— and needs attention. It is not really the enemy we think it is, for if we listen to it and learn from it, it becomes useful, and may be considered a friend in disguise — a teacher— even if its face is ugly. From our own pain, we begin to understand the pain in others. This gives rise to Compassion, the greatest virtue, and Compassion is what compelled the Buddha to go out to show the Way to those who were ready to see. If we have never suffered ourselves, it is difficult to sympathize with others.

Our world is a sad place, though it often wears a mask to conceal its pain, because to face the pain constantly would quickly drive us mad. Sometimes, when we are sensitive, we can feel the infinite sadness of the world, and if we have no knowledge of the Law of Cause-and-Effect, we might easily feel overwhelmed by it. But, knowing that there are no accidents in the Universe, and that everything arises from causes, imbues us with a feeling that we are not impotent, and that there is something we can do about it.

Again, there are two kinds of suffering: natural suffering and man-made suffering. As our knowledge increased over the ages, we have been able to lessen the suffering caused by Nature. We are able to predict earthquakes, storms, volcanic eruptions, etc., and are able to take precautions against them; we can mitigate the effects of drought and floods; we have eliminated or controlled many killer-diseases, and undoubtedly will do so with many more. Most of the suffering, and all of the evil in the world, however— such as war, crime and drug-abuse— is not natural, but man-made, and it is in this field that we can— using intelligence and compassion— have the greatest success. And this is perhaps the most important thing I have to say in this book: Each and everyone of us has the capacity to increase of decrease the suffering in the world. And the same can be said about happiness. We might not have much of an impact, but we can do our share, and every little bit helps. It’s our world. Won’t you join us?



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