Someone once asked me if I am happier as a monk than I was before. What prompted this question I don’t know, but I considered it for a few moments before answering: "No, I’m not", and went on to explain that, before, I was ignorant about ignorance, and so could be somewhat happy. But now that I’m aware of ignorance, and of how deep and strong it is—both in myself and in the world around me—how can I be happy? Happiness rooted in ignorance is false happiness, an illusion.

Some words of an old Beatles’ song—Strawberry Fields Forever—say pretty well what I’m trying to say here: "Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see". Before, I was carefree—or rather, careless—and stupid, understanding nothing and thinking only of myself (and not doing a very good job of that, either!) Fortunately, I didn’t remain like that forever, as some thing or things happened to wake me up a bit, to open my eyes and show me that happiness of the kind I had been concerned with, or had known before, is not a worthy goal in life—in fact, is not a goal at all, for, like the horizon which ever-recedes from us as we move towards it, it cannot be attained, grasped or possessed, but always slips through our fingers, leaving us feeling hollow, empty, frustrated and unsatisfied.

Before anyone gets the idea from my words that it is therefore better to know nothing and remain ignorant and be happy than to know something and not be happy, I should explain that I am not saying that I am unhappy now, because although sometimes I am (being this side of enlightenment), sometimes I am happy, too. However, I know that, because they depend very much upon circumstances, both happiness and unhappiness are impermanent, and come and go. I have also found something more important than personal happiness, and that is Joy—the Joy of seeing through ignorance, of seeing through something that binds us all, and which we all suffer from in various degrees; and, because it involves us all, seeing through it takes us beyond the petty concerns of self. My search now is not just for my own interests, as it was before, but for humanity’s, because whatever—if anything—I find of the Good, the Beautiful and the True, will not be for me alone but for as many others as I am able to share it with.

Like most people, I feel sad at times (for reasons known and unknown, no doubt), but when I am sad, I don’t feel sad about feeling sad, because I know that, like everything else, it will pass. And it does, and often in a way that I don’t notice until later I realize that I’m not sad anymore. If we make a big thing about sadness, as if it’s going to last forever, we only prolong it and make ourselves suffer needlessly. And would you like to be happy all the time? If you say "Yes, of course", it is only because you have never thought it through.

Forget about personal happiness, as far as possible, and find Joy instead; it is a much more refined and spiritual quality than happiness. If we were happy all the time, we wouldn’t be happy for long but would soon become bored and find it monotonous. It would be like having our favorite food for every meal, day in and day out, with nothing else; we would soon get fed-up with it and wish for something else, would we not? Our lives need variety, so that we have a basis for comparison. Sadness can be seen to have a positive aspect, as it gives meaning to happiness, and helps us to appreciate it, which it would be hard to do if there were no sadness.

If/when happiness arises, be happy, but if it doesn’t, don’t be sad and don’t worry. Constantly thinking about happiness is the thing most destructive or preventive of happiness. If/when sadness arises, hold on; it is ultimately unreal, because it changes. Don’t grasp at either of these things but understand their nature: how they arise and pass away. True, you might not soar as high as you did before—’get high’, so to speak—but neither will you fall so low. And it won’t—as you might think—become boring. In fact, when we see it as it is—impermanent and ever-changing—it becomes more interesting, as we can see the interplay of things. It is seen as boring only when we do not understand it and think that things are ‘always the same’.

It is not uncommon to find that life seems to get harder when we follow a spiritual way. But perhaps this should be expected, as we have assumed responsibility for our lives, and can no longer turn away and pretend we don’t see. If things are unfolding as they should, however, this is not the only thing we find; at the same time, we grow correspondingly stronger, and able not only to carry our own burdens of life, but also to reach out to help others who might be struggling under theirs. It is not just for ourselves that we live, therefore, but for the community that we call the World.

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