You know everyone dies one day. Everyone gets older and older, and weaker and weaker. Sometimes we get sick, and sometimes we die even when we’re young and for no real reason.
People aren’t happy about that. They don’t like getting sick and getting weak. They don’t like the idea of dying. People go through a lot of trouble to avoid thinking about it. They also spend a lot of time and money trying not to get sick and trying not to die. A lot of people are actually really obsessed about that, and they end up spending all of their lives with really bad fears and lots of anxiety because of things they can’t really control.
People do all sorts of crazy things in their lives because they’re so afraid of growing old and sick and dying, even though there’s really nothing we can do to avoid it.
Buddha saw that and wasn’t happy about it. He was also really afraid of death and suffering, and he wanted to find a way to live a life that wasn’t completely controlled by that fear. He wanted to live happy, and for him that meant finding a way to live without fear.
After many many years of trying to find out how to live happy and how to get rid of the fear, he was tired and really fed up with all the trying. He gave up because he didn’t think it was working — but surprise! The moment he gave up is when he found the answer he was looking for.
He found that if we’re so miserable in life, it’s because we want things. It’s because we’re so obsessed with the things we want that we forget to be happy.
It’s Because We Want Things
We want to to be happy, we want to live a long life, we want money and we want power — we want this and we want that. We always want all sorts of things that we just can’t have, and sometimes we even want things we don’t know we already have. Sometimes we think we can have them with just a little more effort and time, but that’s just a temporary illusion — and people create all sorts of crazy stories to convince themselves it’s not an illusion.
Buddha wanted so hard to be happy and to not be afraid of death that he forgot to just live! He found that happiness isn’t something we get by wanting it — when we want something really hard we only make ourselves unhappy here and now. He also found that fear isn’t something we can get rid of, and by not wanting the fear we just make the fear a lot worse.
He found that if we’re unhappy, it’s because we want things we can’t have — or don’t want things that we can’t not have! He found that happiness isn’t about getting anything. It’s about stopping to want things and accepting what we have — because happiness isn’t about getting anywhere or doing anything, it’s about choosing that what we have is enough.
And so all we have to do is to stop wanting so many things that we don’t or can’t have, and to accept that what we have here and now is enough. Sometimes we even realize that we have a lot more than we thought we did!
It’s Because of the Judgments
He also found that to stop wanting things, we need to stop judging things. We need to stop saying: this is good and that is bad — because when we do that we automatically want the good things and don’t want the bad things. It’s natural, right? But sometimes bad things happen, and other times good things happen — and we can’t always do something about that. But when we take a step back, we see that in many cases the bad isn’t as bad as we thought — we just make it a lot worse than it really is by judging it badly and by trying to run away from it.
If we don’t judge the bad so harshly, then maybe it won’t be so bad. And if we don’t judge the good so much either, then maybe it won’t hurt so much if we don’t get it. So we want less, and we judge less: there is no good and there is no bad, there is just what is — and that’s enough.
When we do that, we can also stop judging life and death as good and bad. We can accept that both are OK and necessary and beautiful in their own ways. So we stop being so afraid of death — that doesn’t mean we’re completely unafraid of death, just that we don’t make it such a big deal anymore. We can start being happier and happier because there’s not so much reason to be unhappy anymore.
It’s Even Better than Happiness
We don’t call it happy, though — because happy and unhappy are also judgments, just like good and bad. Wanting happiness and not wanting unhappiness is also going to cause unhappiness and frustration. There’s a special word for this kind of special happiness: we call it nirvana.
Nirvana means looking at the world differently. That’s it! We don’t need to do anything to have nirvana - just to decide that everything is OK and enough the way things are, and that nothing needs to change. It’s not the same as happiness because it doesn’t depend on anything. It doesn’t depend on pleasure or comfort or anything that we can’t control. It doesn’t depend on anything we can control either— it doesn’t depend on anything! It’s just a choice we make on the inside.
And maybe that’s even better than happiness…