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 Is Buddhism for happy people?

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jack



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PostSubject: Is Buddhism for happy people?   Tue Dec 28, 2010 11:59 am

Or to put it another way, what would attract happy people to Buddhism?

To be sure. if Buddhism just worked as an effective antidote for depression and other sorts of human maladjustments, it would be an amazing social medicine. But it's track record for the deeply unhappy is not all that clear. The unhappy seem attracted to it; they are often desperately seeking any port in their mental storm. But I'm not sure Buddhism has much to offer them. If they have a tendency to visions, meditation will likely enhance opportunity for them; insidiously some Buddhist cultures will exacerbate that tendency by giving them special significance. If they are depressed, then Buddhist renunciation and the first noble truth just reinforce their already bleak view, isolation and maladaptation to the world rather than changing it to a more connected (sometimes a Buddhist shudder-shudder) more wholesome one. Buddhist misanthropes who by sheer tenacity become teachers of others will pass along their misanthropic diseases to others. Psychopaths (not killers but those without connections to the feelings of others) will bask in unattached exploitation of others to indulge their own personal whims using the unhappy whose pre-damaged sense of self makes them needy victims.

It seems to me that Buddhism best helps those who are already reasonably happy, but ultimately dissatisfied with cultural answers to deep questions about life, it's meaning and the existence of injustice and suffering (even if one is not caught up in it). In that milieu happiness and dissatisfaction coexist, with dissatisfaction drawing one beyond the status quo, while happiness provides a wholesome base from which to pursue the goal.

The question arises because the basic draw of Buddhism has been relief for acute pain. Indeed, more than 80% of the people who drop by to meditate inn our local group are coming from a position of pain -- mental or physical. The other 20% have legitimately asked the question, "Since I'm not deeply unhappy, what does Buddhism have to offer me? How can it help me? Why should I invest the effort to live the "noble" life, when to use Barry Schwatz's words, I'm a "satisficer." Life is good enough as it is, and then's no real evidence that of anything beyond this existence?"

Are monasteries and the sangha hospitals -- only attractive to the really sick? Are practiioners only sick people trying to get well and happy? And when people get happy, is not the medicine something to be abandoned?

I have my own personal answers. But I'm interested in what others might have to say.
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Guest
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PostSubject: Re: Is Buddhism for happy people?   Tue Dec 28, 2010 1:46 pm

Interesting question, Jack. One of the things that made me begin to question OBC was the emphasis RM Koshin put on how miserable (his word,) the spiritual path that he taught would, without question, make the person who followed it. He quoted RMJK many times as saying "We don't need happiness, we have joy." He also made it clear that antidepressants and other psych meds were not compatible with a deeply spiritual life. Celibacy was also necessary. Sounds like asceticism to me. I don't believe he speaks for all of OBC, but it was what I was taught.

I woke up Christmas morning with the understanding that I would never be able to bring the OBC, my experience with it, and possibly much of Buddhism, into focus. The more I try the more unhappy I become and the more unhappiness I bring about. Time to let go.

Buddhism does seem to promise healing and then not deliver, at least for me. There is an existential twist to what I was taught that terrified me and that I ultimately rejected. I do not believe that the truth will make you miserable. If what is being touted as truth causes terror and misery there is a mistake somewhere, either in the teaching or the understanding. But Buddhism does offer a great deal that I was able to understand and incorporate and I will always be grateful for that.
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Howard

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PostSubject: Re: Is Buddhism for happy people?   Tue Dec 28, 2010 2:23 pm

Hey Jack
On the fly out to work but...
I have an aversion for the word "Happy and un happy" ( Yes many revered Buddhist Teachers throw them about willy nilly) but I'll leave that for another thread.

I know a lot of Buddhists who struggle with depression in a way that makes my life's trials seem pretty trivial.
These responses to your questions are only some observations over the years and not my personal experiences of depression itself.

I have never seen Buddhism initially appeal to anyone satisfied with their present experience of life.
I have never seen anyone stick with Buddhist meditation practise that wasn't motivated by that experience of dis -satisfaction..
I have seen Buddhist meditation repeatedly provide some inertia of hope for those in a low trough of depression that says "that this too will change."
I have seen Buddhist meditation provide a framework for the depressed that provides a larger experience for them to draw on than just themselves and their present unhappiness.

I would say that the only universal antidote for depression I can imagine is time itself, that is not limited by anyones lifespan. Another way to say this is that I think Buddhist meditation can help, can be attractive to participate in because of that help but will ultimately fail if that reason for participating does evolve beyond that self.

We all have mental difficulties that will skew to some extent anything we relate to. It's not the object (organization) that is important but how we relate to it. I think our mental difficulties are no more exasperated by Buddhism than they are by anything else.

Some of your ideas are supported by the traditional views that historically, Buddhism needs a certain level of peace to prosper.
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Isan
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PostSubject: Re: Is Buddhism for happy people?   Tue Dec 28, 2010 6:29 pm

Guest wrote:
He quoted RMJK many times as saying "We don't need happiness, we have joy."

Buddhism does seem to promise healing and then not deliver, at least for me. There is an existential twist to what I was taught that terrified me and that I ultimately rejected. I do not believe that the truth will make you miserable. If what is being touted as truth causes terror and misery there is a mistake somewhere, either in the teaching or the understanding.

What I heard RMJK say on a number of occasions was "Enlightenment/training doesn't make you happy, it brings you peace". What I understood her to mean was Buddhist practice revealed happiness to be transitory, so seeking happiness was futile. On the other hand it is possible to abide in peace. Training can cause disillusionment, but should not descend into nihilism.

Regarding your second statement I would agree; if what is being touted as truth causes terror and misery it should be rejected. That is what many of us here are saying in various ways.
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Carol

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PostSubject: Re: Is Buddhism for happy people?   Tue Dec 28, 2010 7:21 pm

I want to confirm Guest's observations about Koshin's teaching on psychological treatment. Koshin once delivered a full length dharma talk on how OBC training was inconsistent with psychological treatment. A few years ago, a very good friend of mine was undergoing much-needed psychotherapy. Koshin told him not to come to meditation until he stopped the treatment. This was cruel and added to my friend's suffering.

I think Koshin's teaching is dangerous. If it is true that depressed people sometimes look to Buddhism for relief (which, based on my observation, is probably true), then teaching that meditation is inconsistent with treatment may imperil a depressed person or perhaps even lead to suicide.

Even if this teaching doesn't lead to serious harm for a depressed person, it can cause immeasurable suffering for someone whose pain could be relieved by antidepressants or psychotherapy.

I don't know if other seniors who are responsible for keeping the OBC moving in the right direction know of Koshin's teaching. Maybe this is standard RMJK teaching and all her disciples agree about this. But I think it's irresponsible for a religious organization to condone this teaching.

I was raised as a Christian Scientest and saw more than one person die or suffer needlessly from a condition that could have been treated with medical intervention. I cannot now follow a religious teaching that needlessly denies people psychological treatment.
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Isan
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PostSubject: Re: Is Buddhism for happy people?   Tue Dec 28, 2010 11:24 pm

violet wrote:

Even if this teaching doesn't lead to serious harm for a depressed person, it can cause immeasurable suffering for someone whose pain could be relieved by antidepressants or psychotherapy.

I don't know if other seniors who are responsible for keeping the OBC moving in the right direction know of Koshin's teaching. Maybe this is standard RMJK teaching and all her disciples agree about this. But I think it's irresponsible for a religious organization to condone this teaching.

Perhaps I can shed a little light on this. You are correct that when I was at Shasta Abbey we (the monks) rather simplistically discouraged psychological treatment and instead encouraged people to rely on meditation and training. This was based in the belief that a person could overcome mental/emotional obstacles such as depression through training, whereas if they relied on psychotherapy or medication they might just prop up the status quo. I think this could be true depending on the nature of the therapy and the medication. Some types of therapy help stabilize people, while Buddhist training brings about a more direct confrontation with the causes of suffering and tends to destabilize people. The question is what is appropriate for each individual? Now I would never generally state that people wishing to practice Buddhism should avoid therapy, etc. A meditation teacher needs to observe students carefully and determine whether the practice is helping or harming them. I know of instances where people stopped taking medication and it didn't go well for them. Fortunately nothing truly terrible happened, but I never forgot it. It is hubris to think you know what's right for everyone.
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john

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PostSubject: Re: Is Buddhism for happy people?   Wed Dec 29, 2010 9:06 am

Howard said,I think our mental difficulties are no more exasperated by Buddhism than by anything else.-
Oooe I soo disagree with that statement. In the monastic setting opening up to the process of meditation and the utter rawness and vunerability that can arise is, and I am assuming here,in most cases very much more supportive than in lay life .And I think that the disipline and scheduling imposed on monastics helps to concentrate the mind to the degree where there is not much room for the regurgitation of stories and mind play that can cause so much pain. I have found while on retreats that just doing what comes next, and feeling the connection with others and keeping the mind focused, is just so tremendously helpfull, just stopping the self indulgent mind from running away with its tradgedies, but not over looking compasion for oneself and others, which is the emotional intelegence aspect which is much talked about here.
Outside that setting in lay life, it can be pretty hard without that support especially if there is no understanding of what is going on.I dont think I would ever recomend now
zen practice to anyone who I knew had psychological issues. From my experiance zen will take everything that the mind uses as a defence to keep it self happy, and leave one utterly desolated. The analogy comes to mind of the student asking the zen master can you teach me to swim, the master then takes the student by the hand and throws them in the deep end of the swiming pool, the student shouts I cant swim, the master says just get on with it. My final thoughts are that, zen meditation practice will uncover and amplify psycholigical issues, and in the end game as was said earlier, its how we relate to these issues that will ultimatley give us freedom. Im still hacking away at that one.
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Karen



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PostSubject: Re: Is Buddhism for happy people?   Wed Dec 29, 2010 12:42 pm

This thread speaks to my reason for separating from active OBC participation (as a lay person) about two years ago. When I first encountered the OBC and became attracted to it, I was a fairly happy person. Jack's description of one sort of person who is attracted to Buddhism applied very well to me: "reasonably happy, but ultimately dissatisfied with cultural answers to
deep questions about life, it's meaning and the existence of injustice
and suffering."

Then I had some very difficult life experiences a few years later, and looked to the OBC for spiritual direction for a way through them. I thought I was up for what Isan described as: "a more direct confrontation with the causes of suffering [that] tends to destabilize people" but it turns out that the combination of the teaching, my misunderstanding of it, and the continued unfolding of the difficulties in my life, led me into an emotional hole that I didn't know if I could get out of, without anyone I felt I could turn to who could actually help. And knowing that the first thing I'd be doing when I got out of bed in the morning was meditate -- that was interfering with my even wanting to get out of bed. When I stopped formally meditating, I started to feel better.

Did I turn away from a spiritual breakthrough while in the darkness just before the dawn? That is possible, and I will never know for sure. But I think what is more likely is that I made a wise decision for myself.

I'm still not as happy a person as I was before my cathartic life experiences a few years ago, but I'm rebuilding. And I'm finding all the honesty present in this forum to be nourishing spiritual food these days.

I was planning to do an official introductory post over in that thread before sharing more, but reading this thread today got me off my duff in a different sort of way.

From my limited very personal viewpoint, I do not wish to see the OBC go away, nor am I convinced that my participation with it is over forever. I do definitely wish to see the institutionalized abuses cease both within the monastic population, and in their interactions with the laity. I also wish that monks who are going to have contact with the lay public as spiritual advisers receive training that better prepares them to deal with the non-monastic realities that people live in out in the world.

That's it for now. I'm sure more will come later. I might even get up the nerve to post a photo. Cool

-Karen
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katersy



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PostSubject: Re: Is Buddhism for happy people?   Wed Dec 29, 2010 1:24 pm

Argh! Some of this stuff is just horrible. If it makes you unhappier - why do it? I'd renounce so-called spiritual transformations if they made me miserable! What's the point???

I've written it on here before but I will again. Martine Batchelor (to paraphrase) said that if your practice is making you happier, kinder and is keeping alive "The Question" then it's a good practice. Otherwise not.

Also to paraphrase Jack Kornfield... if your path has a heart, it's a good one. If it has no heart.... what's it worth?

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Isan
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PostSubject: Re: Is Buddhism for happy people?   Wed Dec 29, 2010 1:29 pm

Karen wrote:


Did I turn away from a spiritual breakthrough while in the darkness just before the dawn? That is possible, and I will never know for sure. But I think what is more likely is that I made a wise decision for myself.

I'm still not as happy a person as I was before my cathartic life experiences a few years ago, but I'm rebuilding. And I'm finding all the honesty present in this forum to be nourishing spiritual food these days.

From my limited very personal viewpoint, I do not wish to see the OBC go away, nor am I convinced that my participation with it is over forever. I do definitely wish to see the institutionalized abuses cease both within the monastic population, and in their interactions with the laity. I also wish that monks who are going to have contact with the lay public as spiritual advisers receive training that better prepares them to deal with the non-monastic realities that people live in out in the world.

-Karen

Hello Karen,

You make some good points. Regarding possibly turning away from a breakthrough, I say don't worry about it - life will provide opportunities for learning, so whatever we "miss" will come around again. I saw some people at Shasta Abbey dig themselves into some scary holes by holding on to the belief that if they just kept going they would have a breakthrough. What they had instead were emotional breakdowns and sometimes psychotic breaks. It was truly terrible to watch, and another example of how people surrendered their common sense and adopted the beliefs of others. RMJK did not seem to understand that her path could not be everyone's path and the perception became engrained in the community that those who pulled back from the brink were weak or insincere.

My preference is also for the OBC to reform and thrive. It will require a dramatic change of perspective though for them to change their ways and become capable of helping others deal with "non monastic realities", etc.
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Howard

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PostSubject: Re: Is Buddhism for happy people?   Wed Dec 29, 2010 1:49 pm

Hello John

Howard said,I think our mental difficulties are no more exasperated by Buddhism than by anything else.-


Sorry that I was not clear enough. I really should of been leaving for work instead of firing off little efforts of dharma as the clock clicks down to being too late to have a job.

Anybody else out there realizing they may be a dharma junkie?... anyway..

My comparison was Buddhism compared to any other religious tradition, not of monastic practise compared to lay.

Happy & unhappy, blows about with the wind. Identifying with it results in the suffering that brought us all to look for some alternative. I think of Zen as what brings about the transcendence of the identification to the happy & unhappy.

No arguments about what intensity and fervour of anything can bring about. I just think of Buddhism as the car that we choose to get in and take out for a test drive. Most people just try that ride out once and then probably look for another car to try. Some nutters like ourselves live in our car. That we begin to smell after a while is not unexpected but while the car may be a factor in all of this I don't think of it as the real cause of the smell.

Dam!!! Late for work again.

Cheers.
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Maya



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PostSubject: Re: Is Buddhism for happy people?   Wed Dec 29, 2010 2:52 pm

Hi Everyone,


I'm on my way to DeerPark Monastery after a very fun Christmas with my Buddhist, Chinese-American family. We love Christmas (almost as good a party as Chinese New Year:)

Perhaps being born and raised Buddhist is a little different than finding it as an adult. But I think not too different. One has to choose to take the Dharma seriously. (Am I an ethnic Buddhist and what does that mean? ) But most Buddhists I know are reasonably happy people with strong ethics and morals; trying to live in Harmony. (Even Mothers and daughters Wink )

I hope this isn't a silly observation. When reading these posts, I felt a familiar flavor of some of the conflicts I had growing up with a Chinese Mom and an American Dad. Mom is almost more Confucian then Mahayana and my sibs and I (I'm 25) often get caught in conflicting expectations. I wonder if the Asian culture as interpreted by Rev. Master Jiyu didn't introduce an element of confusion. I don't know.

I attended Chinese language school taught by Bikshunnis whom I still love and revere. Even visit once a year and work in the kitchen. They are like Aunties to me. Sometimes one of them is unhappy for a long time. But it passes. The Dharma remains.

Anyways, I think Buddhism attracts people during seasons of happiness as well as struggle.

I will sleep at DeerPark tonight. Please offer a little merit for me.

with bows,
Maya
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Lise
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PostSubject: Re: Is Buddhism for happy people?   Wed Dec 29, 2010 6:56 pm

Hi Maya -- sending merit your way. I hope all goes well for you at DeerPark.

My experience is similar to yours, in finding that most Buddhists I know at the moment seem happy enough. At least they look like it, based on externals -- many in my current sangha (Tibetan) are pretty chirpy/emotional/enthusiastic types. Quite engaged with each other and less focused on themselves & the state of their own personal training than the Shasta lay sangha (from the occasional glimpses I saw as a visitor).

I was happy enough with my life when I started exploring Buddhism nine or ten years ago; I wasn't trying to fix anything really, then or now. I wanted to learn to meditate and see what the Precepts meant. And I was looking for a rationale to explain some inequities in life. For awhile I was sold on the idea of karmic consequences being the most likely explanation, but lately I don't have the same convictions about that. I think it could well be as Amalia said in one of her posts, that no one knows why bad things happen. I have got to where I don't need a particular framework or theory to be true in order to be happy. I really like that part, the absence of investment in whether I should follow a certain tradition or teacher, or anything at all. That kind of liberation is itself a source of happiness to me.

Karen, welcome to the forum -- I'm glad you find it helpful and I hope you will enjoy being part of the discussions here.

Regards,
Lise
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jack



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PostSubject: Re: Is Buddhism for happy people?   Wed Dec 29, 2010 9:59 pm

Howard and everyone else.

I know that "happy" can be a problematic word. As a starter, it's not "unhappy." Beyond that it's always a varying amalgam of reasonable freedom from crushing need, meaning, joy, peace, and equanimity -- and probably several other words. Pleasure is flash of fire in the pan -- not much substance to it -- not the happiness I'm talking about.

In our meditation group, the unhappy 80% of the people who drop by looking for relief don't stay very long. They are looking for something quicker; something to make their pain -- physical or mental go away now. Most of the ones who stick with practice come from the 20% who are reasonably happy anyhow. Typically they are willing to practice like an athlete, not because they are in excruciating pain, but because they aspire to a more noble life -- one that is kinder, with more clarity, with more peace amidst the troubles everyone encounters. Some are recovered addicts of one form or another, working to strengthen a commitment they've already made. In my case, the aspiration to transform my life in a wholesome way was a strong motivation. I've found Buddhist teaching, meditation, and it's walking corollary - mindfulness -- to be very valuable as a skillful means of doing that.

Within the voluntary association of our group, there is no social coercion for any to stay who do not deliberately choose each meeting to do so.

What the group does offer other than shared practice is Buddhist friendship. Bikkhu Bodhi once wrote (and I can't find the reference now) that friendship was the core of a Buddhist sangha. The Pali Canon sort of reaffirms this. Until the Buddha's parinirvana, members of the sangha addressed each other only as Friend. The picture of Shasta painted through stories told here is an environment somewhat bereft of open friendship. The monk who taught at the Priory I attended was also very wary of that -- whether it was friendships among members of Priory or with others. I wonder if Jiyu was jealous of friendships and attention that was not centered on her. I could be wrong.

I read others on this forum writing to express warmth for someone they found a kind and worthy teachers, a friend or example. Did this sort of thing get expressed within the confines of the Abbey? Was there any idea that the sangha was supposed to be a community of wise supportive friends?

Tibetan Buddhist friends seem to find the whole Zen thing cold and sterile. Their ceremonies are filled with noise, celebration and humor. Their festival kitchens fill with noise and conversation. Theravadins seem much quieter, but there's no fierceness in it, just calm. And smiles are very common. My experience is limited, though. I'd be interested in what others have found.
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Lise
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PostSubject: Re: Is Buddhism for happy people?   Wed Dec 29, 2010 10:29 pm

Jack, I will admit I fell in with my current sangha because of their open, unbashed, unashamed delight in friendship and connecting with other people. And their exuberant celebration of their existence, instead of wanting to win the Great Enlightenment Derby as soon as possible and extinguish it forever.

My experience with Buddhist sanghas is limited -- I only have exposure to two. I was an infrequent visitor to Shasta, didn't get to know many people (maybe three? who became good friends), so I can't speak to the nature of friendship among the majority of lay sangha there. I didn't pick up on much warmth, however, or trust that anybody could really "be themselves" in front of others, especially at a public function like a potluck meal or other sanctioned Abbey gathering. Couldn't be more different with my Dzogchen homies. We get up to all kinds of nonsense, in front of monks who laugh with us, no restraint/embarrassment/posturing/suppression. It's been such a relief to be amongst my own kind, finally. I don't hide the fact that I like being here on this planet, and I hope to come back, plus I hope all my favourite people come back as well Smile Every day I say thank you to That Which Is for this marvelous playground we've been given.

That's all I know Smile
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albertfuller

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PostSubject: Re: Is Buddhism for happy people?   Fri Jan 07, 2011 1:09 am

you bring me a happy person and I will show you that he's just a sad person in denial Crying or Very sad

just kidding ... even though it's true (a logic game)
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