Everyone in the world wants to be happy; and yet everyone suffers in some way. People the world over eagerly search for happiness as if it were a highly treasured secret.
The search for happiness has led many to explore religion, because all wisdom traditions teach that virtue is a precondition of happiness. Virtue may be defined differently by various traditions, yet the search for it invariably calls the seeker to personal introspection and self-honesty.
Times of social upheaval often serve as a catalyst to ignite this individual search for meaning and happiness. It is when the known certainties of our lives crumble, that we start looking for deeper answers. We may embark on this journey to find meaning in the death of a loved one, mourn the loss of a job or relationship, or survive the turmoil of financial instability.
Seekers often believe that the source of meaning and happiness lie outside themselves. They may seek for it in words, books or teachings from those who have been anointed by modern society as the guardians of spiritual truth.
Buddhism takes a contrasting view: it teaches that true knowledge and meaning cannot be found in any outside power or agency. Instead, it is found in the deep knowledge of truth that resides within each of us, even when we try to hide from ourselves.
Why would we want to hide from our inner truth, you may ask? Because we do not want to see our flaws, faults, weaknesses, and excesses. We fear that they’d make us feel too vulnerable and guilty. We are ashamed to admit to ourselves that some of the things we want are forbidden, illegal, unethical, or fattening.
We also hide from inner truth because we are afraid to face our fears. Although we may appear to be self-confident, we are all vulnerable to failure, defeat, humiliation, loss, pain, and death. We fear these things and so we repress those fears. And so we struggle to repress the truths within that we are not able to face, until it seeps through our defenses to haunt us in nightmares, anxieties and everyday worries.
This unwillingness to see things as they are, is the primary obstacle to happiness. It is the chief cause of our self-inflicted suffering; a form of self-denial that the Buddha called ignorance.
If ignorance is the underlying cause of our self-inflicted suffering, then awareness is the remedy. The keys to the kingdom of happiness lie in becoming self-aware. True self-awareness enables us to change the things we can, to accept the things we cannot change, and to know the difference.
Self-awareness can be cultivated through meditation, introspection and reflection. It requires us to witness our inner state of being without reacting to it. The very act of honest self-observation gives us the necessary insight to change our habitual patterns of thought and action.
When we embark on the journey within, we learn to access the truth that offers true happiness. As we come to understand our own resistance to truth, we learn how to transform it. We learn how to change our habits of negative thinking, repressed emotions, and fear-based action into courageous openness, honest awareness, and joyous equanimity. We learn to accept and relax into existence as it is, rather than to anxiously reject and fight it.
We begin to see how we, ourselves, are the primary cause of our own sorrow. And we come to understand that we can also choose to be the cause of our own release and happiness. We learn to find harmony between our inner being and our outer environment, so that peace and happiness flow.
This process of diligent and honest introspection has the potential to radically change our lives from within and restore a true sense of happiness.
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