Buddha statue quiet lake
The Second Mindfulness Training: True Happiness
Listen to this talk:
The Second Mindfulness Training: True Happiness (26 min.)
Transcript of a talk delivered by Bobbie Perkins
May 1, 2016 - Dallas, Texas

Thank you all for being here. Cornell talked about some of the things I was going to begin with, meaning that the precepts that the Buddha gave were a part of his initial teaching, and then he spent the next 45 years giving more explanations, practices, and teachings to help people overcome the tendency to suffer, the tendency to cause ourselves suffering. And so, these mindfulness practices that our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has written for us give us some really concrete ways to avoid the things that will cause us suffering and then to not only just avoid them, but to make commitments or make some promises to ourselves about what we can do constructively to increase our happiness.

And the one we are going to talk about tonight is actually called True Happiness. I want to talk just a little bit about some of the words that we tend to skip over, I think, and true is one of them. True Happiness, and we also did True Love last week. When Thay is using that word—I should back up a little bit in case some of you do not know—the word Thay is a reference, kind of an affectionate term for a teacher. And so we call our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. We call him Thay. And we have another teacher with us, Thay Z [Thich Minh Thien], who is also a Thay. So, when Thay uses the word true, he is meaning something that is not ephemeral, something that is not going to change from one day to the next, something that you do not have to chase after because it is already there. It is true, and you can depend on it. You can depend that it is there. Now we cannot always find that True Happiness, but it is always there when we can give ourselves permission to find it. So true, I think, is an important word in these teachings.

And another important word to me is training. We call them the Five Mindfulness Trainings. So they are really trainings in how to guide our minds into the practice of mindfulness. Most of us have minds that wander and chase things and really are difficult to pin down and concentrate and focus, and so these trainings are intended to help us train our minds to follow these practices if that is what we choose to do. And of course, we are always at choice. And so, to get us started, you can follow along if you like or just listen.

Albert: Second Mindfulness Training: True Happiness. Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

Bobbie: In one of the sanghas I facilitate, we read these practices every month, and one week I remember after we read all five of the trainings, one person said, "Whew, that is a lot of words." And it is, and at the same time, it is a lot of words because he covers so much territory and gives us so much to work with. One of the important things to remember about these trainings, as Cornell said about the precepts, is that they were not given to us as commandments, and Thich Nhat Hanh does not expect all of us to follow this teaching perfectly, nor to come to some kind of full realization about it very quickly, because as someone who has been practicing these mindfulness trainings for five years now, what I've discovered is that just when I think I have kind of got it down, I understand something new in the teaching that I haven't seen before.

So it just keeps evolving. It keeps deepening. And that is, I think, as it should be. It is not that we get to some plateau and just want to stay there. We want to continue to understand and continue to grow in our understanding and in our consciousness. So Thay always begins by reminding us how lack of True Happiness can cause suffering. And so he shows us how suffering can be caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, oppression, and all of those things are also related to a sense of craving, a sense of trying to get something that someone feels is lacking within themselves.

One example: Last year, before we moved from our building on Floyd Road, every day, I facilitated a noon meditation, and one particular day, I just left my cell phone in the office and didn't think about it really. And when I went back, it wasn't there, so I assumed I had put it somewhere else in the building. It was a big building, and I looked everywhere, and then I got people to help me look, and we looked and looked and looked, and it did not turn up. So I thought, well, it will turn up. It will turn up tomorrow or the next. But it didn't. It didn't turn up for about five days. And so finally I thought, well, I just have to go get a new phone. So I went to the store, got a new phone, and I was sitting in the car with my husband, and my new phone rang. Oh! My first call.

And it was a guy that I didn't know who said, "I think I bought your phone." So he had bought my old phone from somebody at a service station and paid 50 bucks for it. I didn't even pay $50 for it. Anyway, he paid $50 for it, and I think he was hoping that I would buy it from him, but I didn't. I didn't need it. I already had a new phone. However, there was something—I don't know—something just kind of tugged at my heart, and I asked George if he would just drive me to where these people were, just to meet him. He didn't really want to do it, but I persuaded him. And so we drove there, and it was a young man with a wife and two children, and I said, "I really don't need a phone, but I will give you $20 just to have it back. I can use the case. It will be a spare or whatever." And so I did that, and he gave me the phone.

Well, I think that is an excellent example of what happens in this kind of situation. Somebody came into the meditation center while we were meditating, saw my phone there, and just had a craving to take it and see if he could make some money off of it—or she. I don't know if it was a man or a woman. And then did sell it. So talk about causing suffering. I didn't suffer a lot, although it was annoying, but I enlisted the aid of a lot of people who helped me look. We all looked. So there was a lot of that going on, and the people who were trying to reach me couldn't get me. I had to prevail on my husband to drive me to the store. You know, in just little ways, you can see how it ripples out from that one event, and then the young man that paid $50 for the phone, well, he was out $30 by the time I gave him $20, but still, his wife and children, they didn't really look like they could afford to lose $50 on a stolen phone, which was of no use to him unless he went to the store and had it activated.

So, it is just suffering all the way down the line when something like that happens. And if I think about it, I can think of things that I have done in the past that had that kind of ripple effect and probably caused other people to lose their sense of well-being, their sense of happiness. I hope I don't do that too much anymore, but I know I have in the past.

So when we read this and think about it, and we come to the part where Thay says, "I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others." And that is very clear. It makes a lot of sense. And then he goes on to say, "I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need." And so in a sense, he is suggesting that we take it a little farther, and not only choose not to take something that would belong to others, but also to not deprive the other people of our time, our energy, and our material resources if we have enough to share. And so this is what I mean about these practices. They really take us much more deeply into the practice if we choose to do it that way.

And then he goes on to remind us to say that if we would like to, we're going to practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from our own happiness and suffering. And this is one of Thich Nhat Hanh's core teachings, the teaching of inter-being, the fact that we are all interconnected—deeply interconnected. We depend on one another. Without you, there is no sangha. Without you, I don't need to give this talk, unless I want to talk to myself. We are interrelated, interdependent on one another. And so, he uses this opportunity to remind us that our happiness and our suffering are not separate from anybody else, and that we have the capacity to interact with one another in such a way that alleviates our suffering and helps us to attain True Happiness.

And then he goes on to remind us, really, that True Happiness—and I am talking again about that deep happiness that is always there and always dependable—is not possible without understanding and compassion. And then he talks about craving again, or really just striving for something—striving for wealth or fame. Here's a quote that I really like. Thay says, "We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice 10 years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, house, and so on, but we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to live. And he reminds us of that again in this Mindfulness Training, that the only True Happiness is available to us now, not after we get the car, after we get the diploma, after we get the money. You know, we can be happily pursuing those things, but knowing that we are still moving in a way that brings us joy and happiness, and therefore joy and happiness for all the people that we come in contact with.

And he also reminds us by saying, "I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions." He says, "I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy." And that is a very powerful statement, but it also is sometimes difficult to manage. I will give you an example. I was recently at a retreat, and we were talking about losses, and we were talking about True Happiness, in a sense. And they even sang the song that we sang earlier, "Happiness is Here and Now." And one young man in the group said, "Sometimes that is just not an option. That is just not possible." He talked about his battle with depression and things that are very challenging to manage.

Since then, I have thought about that, and while it is true that happiness is always available to us right now, we are not always in a place where we can access this. So it seems to me that, perhaps, just knowing that happiness is available is some comfort, and then perhaps we can just say to ourselves, "I know I have been happy, and I believe I will probably be happy at some point, but right this minute, I am not there. I am not there." And the wonderful thing about that acknowledgment is that knowing where you are—in other words, knowing that you are not really in the place of happiness, knowing where you are makes it possible for you to at some point get there, because you can only move to a particular position if you know where you are.

It is like traveling, you know? If I want to go see my daughter in Chicago, I have to take a flight from DFW or Love Field. I can't get a flight from Los Angeles, unless I want a really long trip. But knowing where you are is critical, and acknowledging where we are is important. It is useless to say, "Put on a happy face," when it is not true. Really, it can just be kind of aggravating, you know? When you're not feeling all that happy and people are coming up to you and saying, "Smile." You just want to slap them. Nevertheless, you're not feeling happy about it for sure. So it is important to be able to acknowledge what is so, acknowledge what is true.

We sing another little song about breathing in and breathing out and coming to a place where you are still like a mountain lake so that everything is reflected exactly as it is, and that is what I am talking about, being able to reflect truly what is going on within ourselves, an awareness of what is really going on within ourselves. Once we have that awareness, then actually we do have choice. And I like what Billy said at the beginning when he said, "I choose happiness every day." And maybe happiness comes and goes throughout the day, but I think it is important to remember that we are at choice about this, but we can't make a choice if we don't recognize where we are. We can't deny. We can't just refuse to look at the truth. But so often, when we can actually look at the truth, it doesn't seem quite as foreboding as it does when we try to deny it or hide from it.

So, remembering that happiness is present here and now is important and also acknowledging that maybe I am not in a place where I can actually fully participate right now. So, at the very end of this Mindfulness Training, Thay also brings the information back to the Buddha's Eightfold Path by saying that a commitment to practice Right Livelihood is exactly in line with finding True Happiness. If you have ever actually worked in a job that you did not love, I'm sure you understand that. When we are finding our livelihood, when we are making our living in a way that is fulfilling, in a way that feels like we are providing a service to others and also taking care of ourselves, we are contributing to everybody's happiness. And we are then also helping to reduce the suffering.

Another thing that I love about Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings is his deep regard and respect for the earth. And he talks about that at the very end here. We make the earth suffer when we exploit, when we take things from the earth because we are greedy, because we crave this mineral or this fuel or whatever it is. And one of the ways that we can help reduce the suffering of our earth is to remind ourselves we have more than enough conditions to be happy. We do not particularly, in my opinion, need another oilfield. We have lots of reserves. There are many, many things that as a nation, as a globe, as the world, this one Mindfulness Training could serve as such a wonderful example for the whole world.

I'm going to just give a little plug for this book. It is called A Mindfulness Survival Kit, and we have a few if you would like to purchase one. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are written in here along with Thay's comments and commentary, and at the end of the book is what Thay refers to as a global ethic. It is really quite remarkable, so that, I would like you to think about, if you would like to purchase it. I had no idea I would talk this long.

One poem I want to read—how many of you have pets? Dogs and cats? Almost everybody. I like this book, poems by Mary Oliver. She calls them Dog Songs. This particular one, she wrote the conversation that she had with the dog she called Bear. So, "Said Bear, I know I am supposed to keep an eye on you, but it is difficult Said Bear, "I know I'm supposed to keep my eye on you, but it's difficult the way you lag behind and keep talking to people."

"Well, how can you be keeping your eye on me when you're half a mile ahead?

"True," said Bear. "But I'm thinking of you all the time."

She says, "I had to go away for a few days so I called the kennel and made an appointment. I guess Bear overheard the conversation."

"Love and company," said Bear, "are the adornments that change everything. I know they'll be nice to me, but I'll be sad, sad, sad." And pitifully he wrung his paws. I cancelled the trip. (Laughter)

I think when we are clinging to something or attaching to some expected outcome, you know, maybe just cancel the trip.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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