Buddha statue quiet lake
Eight Conditions for Happiness
Listen to this talk:
Eight Conditions for Happiness (45 min.)
Transcript of a talk delivered by Terry Cortes-Vega
November 10, 2013 - Dallas, Texas

So, dear friends, thank you for being here and inviting us. And I have to apologize right off the bat if we caused you any discomfort or worries, especially Bobbie. Well, we didn't worry because we knew you were doing fine. We didn't want you to worry about us. We left at 10 till 4:00 to make this 45 minute drive, but our friends are still building and trying to fix our roads for us, and so there were a lot of us watching that happen.

So next time we know we need to come and leave about 3:00. That is what we figured. If we left at 3:00, then we could be here in time to sit with you the first time, but it was really wonderful to walk with you and sit with you. We were not feeling rushed at all, unless you call 10 miles an hour rushing. So we are happy. Mark and I came together from Grapevine, I think—Bedford. I came from Austin, so I left at 8:00 this morning and got here by 5:30. So I am happy to be here.

So, all of the Buddha's teachings were about happiness, about how to transform our unhappiness and how to find or how to create happiness. And part of his teachings were that he offered 8 conditions for happiness. So the first one, he said, "If you have the right view," that means if you have a wise understanding about how the world works, "this is a condition for happiness." Having wholesome thoughts and skillful speech and right action and ethical work, these are all conditions for your happiness. Working and practicing diligently, putting some effort into your practice, is a condition for your happiness. Being mindful of your body and your feelings and your mind and the objects, the stuff out here, the objects of your mind—being mindful of that is a condition for your happiness. And he said having a meditation practice, stopping and looking deeply, is a condition for your happiness.

So I don't know if he called these the Eightfold Path, but we call them the Eightfold Path, and it is the fourth of the Four Noble Truths. They are called noble because when we practice these teachings, they ennoble us. So the third Noble Truth is it is a natural and normal for human beings to be happy, so expect to be happy in this life. Also—and this is this first Noble Truth—it is natural and normal to be unhappy sometimes, so don't freak out about it. Because that is the normal human experience to at times be happy and at times be unhappy.

So then the second Noble Truth is that there are always many conditions, many reasons, many causes for your unhappiness. If you are unhappy, it is not like we think, "just his fault." It is there are external reasons and there are internal reasons and there are always many reasons for our unhappiness. And when we look into our suffering to see the causes of it, then we become more familiar with what causes us to be happy.

So, the word suffering has always bothered me, and I never felt like I really suffered. You know, it is what the starving children in Africa do, is suffer. But the word that the Buddha used was dukha, and dukha means everything from a little sinus headache or a missed appointment that your friend canceled for a lunch date with you to extreme physical pain, depression, grieving the loss of a loved one, and the stuff in between—anger and fear and regret and anxiety. So, when we talk about suffering, we mean that whole continuum.

So, the Four Noble Truths again are—the first one is like that bumper sticker, "Suffering Happens," or something like that. Suffering happens. The second one is there are always many causes, internal and external causes for our suffering, and when we get to know what causes us to suffer, we better understand what causes us to be happy. And the third Noble Truth is you are going to be happy sometimes, and the fourth is, here are 8 conditions for your happiness.

So tonight we are going to be talking about one of the sources of happiness. All of the Buddha's teachings, when we study the teachings of the Buddha, we are learning sources for happiness. And one source for happiness is gratitude. I would like you to reflect on your own experience. Can you be grouchy and happy at the same time? You really can't. If you are aware of the abundance in your life, can you be unhappy? Well, we can see then that gratitude is one of the sources of our happiness, and there are two kinds of gratitude: being grateful for what we don't have and being grateful for what we have.

So let us look at being grateful for what we don't have first. One of the sisters in my sangha, Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Ruth, served in the military for many years, and she reminds us now and then that we are so fortunate that we can come to sangha without any expectation of being violent or having to go through a checkpoint. So she reminds us to be grateful that we are not living in a place where there is war.

Thich Nhat Hanh has another example of how we can be grateful for what we do not have. I would like to read what he says. "Suppose you are depressed. What can we do? First, you have to embrace your depression and look deeply into it to identify the causes that have brought it to you. In that way, you can learn from your depression. After that, you can enjoy your non-depression. Depression must be fed in order to survive. If you know how to cut the source of the nutriment that has brought on your depression, you are on your way to freedom, and you can begin to enjoy your non-depression. It is like your toothache. I hope that at this moment, you don't have a toothache, but you cannot enjoy your non-toothache until you have had a toothache. After suffering from your toothache, you can say, "It is so wonderful not to have a toothache." How can you enjoy your non-toothache? Just remember the time when you had a toothache.

The Buddha also offered a teaching on being grateful for what you don't have. Many of you have heard this story about how the Buddha and his buddies were sitting having a picnic at an intersection in the woods, and this farmer comes running up pulling his hair. "Oh, I am so upset. This is the most terrible thing. My cows have escaped, and they have run away, and now I don't know what I'm going to do. This is just horrible." And the Buddha says, "Oh, dear friend, we are so sorry that you lost your cows, but we have not seen them. Maybe you should go down that road looking for them." And then the man runs away screaming, so unhappy, tears. His life is coming to an end. And the Buddha turns to his buddies and he says, "Fellows"—well, actually, maybe there were some nuns there, too, so he said, "Friends, we are so lucky because we do not have any cows. So we can be grateful for every cow that we do not have."

I have three horses, and one of those horses is a cow because he bosses the girls around, and it is hard to ride him, and he is nippy. It would be fine for me to let go of that horse/cow. You might think of some people or some things in your life that you would be grateful not to have.

So then I would like to share with you five ways to cultivate gratitude for things that you do have. So, the first one is when you wake up in the morning—this is what I do. When I wake up in the morning, before I get out of bed, I say this little poem that Thich Nhat Hanh taught. "Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand-new hours are before me. I vow to live them in mindfulness. I vow to greet each being with the eyes of compassion." So I teach a meditation class in the jail, and I offered this little poem to the fellows there, and one of the guys said, "I am in jail. How can I wake up and smile?" And one of the other guys said to him, "Because you woke up."

So, we can wake up every morning, and if you don't feel like smiling, then you do this. You fake it. You just wake up, and you say, "Waking up this morning, I smile."

It is funny how just relaxing your face feels better. "Waking up this morning, I smile." And if you think about it, you can smile because you did wake up. Some morning, you won't. But this morning, you woke up. You are alive.

Audience Member: You're not in jail.

Terry: You're not in jail. You can wake up and smile because you have 24 brand-new hours before you, 24 fresh, new gifts. It is like I wake up, I think, it is my birthday. I have 24 gifts here. They are not those old used ones that I had yesterday. These are brand-new, never been used. Nobody went to the thrift store and brought my presents. They give me brand-new 24. I vow to receive each one of them and now to live them in mindfulness. Maybe not each one, because I'm going to sleep for some of them, but the ones that I'm awake for, I am going to be there aware of this gift I have been given. Each hour.

And some of the stuff I'm given, I'm not going to like, but I'm going to be there for it and see what it is, see what kind of teacher it might be. I'm going to receive that gift. And then, I am not just going to hold it all to myself. I'm going to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion. I'm going to share some of that joy. So when I go to the bank and the teller is grouchy, instead of me getting grouchy at her back, as if that would teach her a lesson to be grouchy, I'm going to smile. Or maybe I will just know that she is carrying some kind of burden, and I'm not going to add to it.

So the poem is, "Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand-new hours are before me. I vow to live them in mindfulness. I vow to greet each being with the eyes of compassion." And I made a copy of that poem for you if any of you would like to have it. I have some copies up here for you to put on your nightstand until you memorize it. So, that is one exercise, one practice of gratitude to cultivate gratitude in your life.

The second one, I call it aided gratitude. Mark fixed my Mamaw's clock, and so every 30 minutes now, on the hour and half-hour, it chimes. And whenever I hear it chime, I stop whatever I am doing, take one breath in, one breath out, and then I notice what I am grateful for. Just in that moment, what am I grateful for? At 12 o'clock, I've got maybe 30 seconds to spend on noticing what I'm grateful for. On the half-hour, I might not have so much time, but I just stop and notice what I am grateful for. So I invite you to do that practice. If you do not have your Mamaw's clock—or if you do and it's not working, call Mark.

But if you don't have your Mamaw's clock, I have on this handout some apps for your computer or for your phone. There is one that is free and one that is 99 cents that you can program your computer or your phone the go off either randomly or set it for a specific amount of time. When I first did that on my computer, I set it for every 15 minutes because when you visit Thay's monasteries, they have a clock that goes off every 15 minutes. I thought, that's what I need to do. But to tell you the truth, it drove me nuts. Every 15 minutes stopping. I was having trouble being grateful. So I just practically turned it off and used my Mamaw's clock. But I have these apps for you that you can program how your phone works or your computer to remind you to be grateful.

So a third practice is to bless your food, to notice all of what has gone in to bringing you a meal, all the people, all the hard work, at the time, the natural resources that gone into bringing you a meal. So at each meal, you can stop and offer the Five Contemplations. Now, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote these Five Contemplations many years ago, and I memorized them. And then he changed them up quite a bit. I have memorized the new ones, but I've not memorized the new, new, new ones, which I put on this handout for you. So I would like to read them to you. Otherwise, you would get the second version instead of the new one.

"This food is the gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard work." So we can stop there and be grateful for the gift of food. "May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it. May we recognize and transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation. May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings and preserve our planet. We accept this food so that we can nurture our sisterhood and brotherhood, strengthen our community, and nourish our ideals of serving living beings."

So there are four exercises to cultivate your gratitude. One is the first thing in your morning, your morning process, waking up this morning. The second is looking throughout the day, being aware throughout the day of what you're grateful for. The third one is at each meal time, to be grateful for what all has come together to bring you food.

And then the fourth one that I would suggest is that you do in the evening, that you write down five things you are grateful for every evening, and write them down. So the guys in jail, when I proposed this idea to them, they said, "Yeah. Yeah. Whatever. I'm not writing them down. I'm remembering them." But here's the reason I want you to write them down, because every evening, I want you to add five new things you are grateful for. So don't repeat yourself.

And what happened to me when I started this practice, my first five were like, "I am so grateful that I have children. I'm so grateful that I have food. I'm grateful for my health. I'm grateful for my house. I'm grateful for the kittens." And that is good. Those are five things to be really grateful for, but what I've noticed over the years is that my list gets more and more subtle. I am able to see more of the gifts that I'm receiving. You know what I'm saying? So when I turned on the water, when I just turned this little faucet on, water comes out. That is a miracle. When I flip this switch, the light turns on. My liver must be working, because I don't feel bad. I'm so grateful for my liver.

So I really encourage you—maybe some of you, your friends have given you some real fancy journal books. I would feel intimidated by those fancy journals, like, ooh, what could I write in there that would fill up such a pretty book? So that is what I have used. If you have one of those, just jot down five things every night, every evening.

So you have something to do in the morning, something to do throughout the day, something with your meals, and then an evening practice. Don't write a big long story. Just five things you are grateful for.

And then the fifth exercise that I would like to offer you tonight, I would like you to actually experience this practice of deep relaxation, and in order to experience it, we are going to need to all lay down So can we do that? Maybe you don't want to put your feet toward the Buddha, but you can put your head toward the Buddha. Maybe you don't want to put your feet toward other people's heads. Maybe we can go head to head or feet to feet. Let's figure it out. Some of you might want a blanket. Somehow, everybody, if you can find a place to stretch out.

Lie down comfortably with your back on the floor. Close your eyes lightly. Allow your arms to rest gently on either side of your body, and let your legs relax, feet turning outwards. And as you breathe in and out, become aware of your whole body lying down. Feel all the areas of your body that are touching the floor, your heels, the backs of your legs, your buttocks, your back, the backs of your hands and arms, the back of your head.

With each out breath, feel yourself sinking deeper and deeper into the floor, letting go of tension, letting go of worries, not holding onto anything. As you breathe in, feel your abdomen rising. As you breathe out, feel your abdomen following. With each breath, just notice the rise and fall of your abdomen.

Now, as you breathe in, become aware of your two feet. As you breathe out, allow your two feet to relax. Breathing in, send your love to your feet. Breathing out, smile at your feet. As you breathe in and out, feel how wonderful it is to have two feet that allow you to walk, run, play sports, dance, drive, and do so many other activities throughout the day. Send your gratitude to your two feet for always being there for you whenever you need them.

Breathing in, become aware of your right and left legs. Breathing out, allow all the cells in your legs to relax. Breathing in, smile to your legs. Breathing out, send them your love. Appreciate whatever degree of strength and health there is in your legs. As you breathe in and out, send them your tenderness and care. Allow them to rest, sinking gently into the floor. Release any tension you may be holding in your legs.

Breathing in, become aware of your two hands lying on the floor. Breathing out, completely relax all the muscles in your hands, releasing any tension that you may be holding in them. As you breathe in, appreciate how wonderful it is to have two hands. As you breathe out, send your gratitude to your two hands. Breathe in and out, and be in touch with all the things your two hands allow you to do: cook, right, drive, hold someone's hand, hold a baby, wash your own body, draw, play a musical instrument, type, fix things, pet an animal, hold a cup of coffee. So many things are available to you because of your two hands. Just enjoy the fact that you have two hands, and allow all the cells in your hands to really rest.

Breathing in, become aware of your shoulders. Breathing out, allow any tension in your shoulders to flow out into the floor. As you breathe in, send your love to your shoulders. As you breathe out, smile with gratitude to them. Breathing in and out, be aware that you have allowed a lot of tension and stress to accumulate in your shoulders. With each exhalation, allow the tension so we've your shoulders and feel them relaxing more and more deeply. Send them your tenderness and care, knowing that you do not want to put too much strain on them. You want to live in the way that will allow them to be relaxed and at ease.

Breathing in, become aware of your heart. Breathing out, allow your heart to rest. With your in breath, send your love to your heart. With your out breath, smile in gratitude to your heart. As you breathe in and out, get in touch with how wonderful it is to have a heart still beating in your chest. Your heart allows your life to be possible, and it is always there for you every minute of every day. It never takes a break. Your heart has been beating since you were a 4-week-old fetus in your mother's womb. It is a marvelous organ that allows you to do everything you do throughout the day. Breathe in and know that your heart also loves you. Breathe out and commit to live in a way that will help your heart to function well. With each exhalation, feel your heart relaxing more and more. Allow each cell in your heart to smile with the ease and joy.

Breathing in, become aware of your stomach and intestines. Breathing out, allow your stomach and intestines to relax. As you breathe in, send them your love and gratitude. As you breathe out, smile tenderly to them. Breathing in and out, know how each essential these organs are to your health. Give them the chance to rest deeply. Each day, they digest and similarly the food you eat, giving you energy and strength. They need you to take the time to recognize and appreciate them. As you breathe in, feel your stomach and intestines relaxing and releasing all tension. As you breathe out, enjoy the fact that you have a stomach and intestines.

Breathing in, become aware of your eyes. Breathing out, allow your eyes and the muscles around your eyes to relax. Breathing in, smile to your eyes. Breathing out, send them your love. Allow your eyes to rest and sink back into your head. As you breathe in and out, know how precious your two eyes are. They allow you to look into the eyes of someone you love, to see the beautiful sunset, to read and write, to move around with ease, to see a bird flying in the sky, to watch a movie. So many things are possible because of your two eyes. Take the time to appreciate the miraculous gift of sight and allow your eyes to rest deeply.

Now if there is a place in your body that is sick or in pain, take this time to become aware of it and send it your love. Breathing in, allow this area to rest. Breathing out, smile to it with great tenderness and affection. Be aware that there are other parts of your body that are so strong and healthy. Allow these strong parts of your body to send their strength and energy to the weak or sick areas. Feel the support, energy, and the love, penetrate the weak area, soothing it, healing it. Breathe in and affirm your own capacity to heal. Breathe out and let go of worry or fear you may be holding in your body. Breathing in and out, smile with love and confidence to the area of your body that is not well.

Finally, breathing in, become aware of the whole of your body lying down. Breathing out, enjoy this sensation of your whole body lying down, very relaxed and calm. Smile in gratitude to your whole body as you breathe in and send your love and compassion to your whole body as you breathe out. Feel all the cells in your whole body smiling joyfully with you. Feel gratitude for all the cells in your whole body.

Return your attention to the gentle rise and fall of your abdomen. To end, slowly stretch and open your eyes. Take your time to get up mindfully and lightly. That is a practice of gratitude that I use when I go to bed at night or when I wake up in the middle of the night end of trouble going back to sleep. I start being grateful for my toes. I rarely make it past my knees. It is a wonderful gratitude practice.

So, the five practices for what you are grateful for: a morning practice, a daily gratitude practice throughout the day, gratitude for your food, the evening practice of writing five things you are grateful for that day, and then this deep relaxation gratitude you feel for your body. Then you also want your practice of gratitude to include what you are grateful that you do not have.

To end, I will give a song about gratitude and then a prayer from St. Theresa of Avila. It is a giveaway song. "Sometimes I go about pitying myself while I am carried by the wind." And this prayer of St. Theresa of Avila: "May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you're a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise, and love. It is there for each and every one of us."

I would like us to take just a moment to gather together this wonderful peace and ease that we've created together tonight and to offer it out as a healing to those who might need it. We hold all these beings in our healing circle, and we offer them this prayer. All before you, peaceful. All behind you, peaceful. All around you, peaceful. All within you, peaceful.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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