Sometimes it seems like Buddhism encourages us, overly, to focus on the difficult. It’s all about the dukkha, so to turn our attention to the happy and the joyful moments in life is just not the way. I spent a couple of YEARS with that misconception, thinking that to enjoy dessert just wasn’t Buddhist… (please don’t make the same mistake!)
However, the Buddha talked a LOT about happiness, how to manifest it and how to relate to it. Yes, he talked about nirvana and the heavenly realms, but he spoke often about ordinary, mundane, human happiness too. In fact, the Buddha seemed to imply that happiness is so much a part of human experience, that actually, we can’t avoid it.
So, especially after last Monday’s earthquakes which ripped the South Island of NZ (and shook much of the North Island), I am in the mood to just count my blessings. I was about 275km from the epicentre, and still it was terrifying. But I am not hurt. My power and water weren’t cut off, I didn’t go without food, I drove home from Wangapeka on smooth roads that didn’t have gigantic crevasses in them like the ones in Kaikoura did, making them impassable.
Is happiness just the absence of suffering? Ajahn Brahm says yes – happiness is the ground we fall back on when we let go of everything else. It’s our true nature, and it’s already there. But there’s no just about it.
We’ve had 4000 aftershocks, but they’ve subdued to the extent that I can no longer feel them. Yesterday, I had a quiet day at home. I baked banana & walnut bread for my friends who have a 6-month old baby. I weeded the garden. I listened to the tui’s. I really appreciated the fact that the ground wasn’t moving. I felt happy – not fearful, not sad, not anxious, and not just ‘not’ those things. Not a blank slate, but happy. In the evening I listened to a dharma talk by one of my favourite teachers Gloria Taranyia, entitled ‘The Three Fold Bliss’ (via Dharmaseed) which planted the seeds for this post because she made me realise that actually, I WAS HAPPY and I should just dive into that feeling as keenly as one would try and understand a suffering state.
In the Pali Canon there is a much loved sutta called the Mangala Sutta, translated as the The Discourse On Blessings. In this text, the Buddha gives a short but comprehensive outline of the ways we, as householders, can gain maximum blessings in our lives. As I read the verses, it was easy to imagine how happy a family, a society and even a nation would be if they followed the Buddha’s advice. It’s not esoteric or complex. It doesn’t involve 100,ooo prostrations or complicated ritual. His prescription for happiness is a list of simple actions that we can all undertake. Such as; learning a useful skill and being able to earn a living in order to support ourselves and our loved ones. Having the resources to support causes that we care about and consider important. To cherish our family. To keep the precepts. To be humble, grateful and contented. He says that these actions establish us ‘invincible’ in happiness.
Not every day is this calm, but we can and should appreciate these moments. Taraniya says “in reality, we don’t need to seek pleasure. It happens of it’s own accord.” I didn’t exactly plan this morning’s espresso, an almond croissant and time with a friend, but I certainly enjoyed it!
There appear to be two messages going on here. One, happiness is our true nature. And two, to be happy we need to connect, relate, be useful. Bake bread, switch off the device or something.
Banana and Walnut Bread – adapted slightly from Plenty More, Ottolenghi
This makes 2 medium sizes loaves, or one big loaf plus leftovers for cupcakes. The original recipe used pecans but I’m a walnut lover. I also used almond milk to keep it dairy free, but you can use whole milk. I had mine toasted with tahini and honey spread on top, because I am in the midst of a tahini love affair.
2 cups walnuts
4 large ripe bananas, mashed
275g soft light brown sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
½ tsp salt
140ml almond milk
70ml olive oil
275g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1½ tsp baking powder
- Heat the oven to 170. Line one large, or two medium loaf tins.
- Toast the nuts in the oven for 8-10 mins until toasty, then roughly chop and set aside.
- Mash the bananas, then with electric beaters, combine the bananas, sugar and eggs until well mixed.
- With the beaters still on low, mix in the oil and milk.
- Sieve the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder together, then add slowly to the batter, mixing as you go until well incorporated.
- Pour into the lined pans, and bake for 45-60 mins. They are ready when a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the tins for 15 mins, then turn out on to a rack. The bread keeps really well for 4-5 days, or slice and freeze.
Almond Croissants photo by Boo Lee
Espresso photo by Scott Schiller