Generating Happiness & Transforming Suffering

Updated: May 9, 2019

Thich Nhat Hanh has said that the point of spiritual practice is to generate happiness and transform suffering. But what does this mean? Isn’t Buddhist practice all about suffering? The Buddha taught the reality of suffering and the liberation from suffering. Since suffering and happiness inter-are, when we suffer less, we are happier; when we happier, we suffer less. So Thay’s teaching on generating happiness and the Buddha’s teaching on reducing suffering point us in the same direction.  Our gentle, continuous Plum Village Zen practice encourages us to take three concrete steps in order to generate happiness and transform suffering: Be aware; be open; and tend our seeds.  Be Aware: It’s important to be aware of happiness and suffering in every moment. Without it, we are trapped in ignorance. Awareness of suffering allows us to see strong suffering like death, loss, and fear, but also subtle suffering like dissatisfaction, impatience, and cynicism. Awareness of happiness allows us to see the obvious happiness that arises with success, completion, and laughter, but also the subtle happiness of taking a full breath, tasting a carrot, and walking in the Spring sunshine. Be Open: Once we become aware of our suffering and happiness, the next step is to remain open to whatever experience we’re having. This can be challenging. Suffering is hard to hold and takes courage. Happiness is easy yet often overlooked. Sitting and walking meditation train us to be with these experiences, without judgement, clinging, or aversion, and help hold our hearts open. When we’re open in this way, happiness is generated and suffering is transformed. Tend Our Seeds: The seeds we water are the seeds that grow. So we give loving care to seeds of happiness and allow seeds of suffering to lie fallow. This wise gardening is supported by the Mindfulness Trainings, which ask us to notice seeds of suffering without watering them. And our Gathas, or short practice poems, teach us to water seeds of happiness by reminding us that even life's throw-away activities are sacred. ‘Brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth, I vow to speak truthfully and lovingly.’ ‘Waking up this morning, I smile. 24 brand new hours are before me.’ It doesn’t matter whether your practice is to generate happiness or reduce suffering. Either way, you get the point. Listen to this talk on Soundcloud:

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