Sermon given on 10/25/16
I was so honored when Rev. McKee asked me to talk to you this morning about happiness. To be honest, I was nervous, too – especially when I decided to call my sermon, “Happiness Doesn’t Exist.” So let me ask you…How do YOU define happiness? Is it money? Is it a big house or a fancy trip to exotic places? Is it family? Is it health and well-being? What is it?
From a Zen perspective, happiness doesn’t exist. You can’t go buy happiness. You can’t order happiness on Amazon and have it shipped to your house. You can’t pick up happiness. You can’t borrow it from someone else. Happiness is an inside job. It comes from within oneself, our own Buddha nature, our true self.
I have been thinking a lot about what I wanted to say to all of you about happiness, and I have thought of all the different Zen aspects that apply to this topic. I have written this talk over many different times trying to get it just right and say just the right thing, but that is not really how I do things. I have to do them from a feeling place. I have to speak from my heart. What it really boils down to for me is perspective. When I was younger, I was a pretty angry young adult. I felt that there was a lot of injustice in the world. I wanted to make things right and change people. I wanted to bang my drum and stomp my feet. I thought if I threw enough fits, yelled the loudest, protested the most, people would change their ways. What I really wanted was for everyone to think like I did. I thought I was right. I always thought I was right; that my way was the only way, and if you didn’t see it my way, well, then you were narrow-minded, close minded, or better yet, you were down right wrong. My perspective was very messed up, and the truth is I didn’t love myself. I didn’t think I was good enough, so I overcompensated in other areas. I never looked outside myself. I never put myself in someone else’s shoes. I never thought about how it was for anybody else, what their life was like, how they grew up, what their belief systems were; that there might be more than one way to look at things. My mind was so closed to anything else, it just didn’t matter. The world had done me wrong. The world was wrong. Poor me. I was angry and very, very unhappy.
Material things didn’t make me happy. Money didn’t make me happy. Happiness didn’t exist for me at least not the way I thought it should. I wanted to make myself happy by changing my surroundings, changing people. I was looking outside myself for happiness. People who agreed with me might have made me somewhat happy, but nothing really changed my heart until my perspective on life and the way things are.. changed. And believe me this did not happen overnight. It has taken me a long time to make the decision to change and to work on myself. Some of it has come with age, but a lot of it has come with a willingness to want to feel happy, to bring happiness to others, and to show my children happiness. I have to be willing to change. I had to work for it. I didn’t wake up one morning and boom I was happy. Bad things still happen and there is still suffering. Life keeps on going. People die. People get sick. People lose jobs, people move away. Things in life change, and there is nothing I can do about that. I can’t change other people, but what I recognized was I don’t need to change other people. All I need to worry about is myself. I need to work on me. I need to focus on how I can make myself better, because if I don’t love myself, take care of myself, learn to be happy myself, how can I help anyone else?
Thich Nhat Hanh, a famous Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, would say that we have to water the seeds of happiness. This means I have to work at being happy. I have to do things that bring happiness to me and my life, and to others, but he would also say being able to enjoy happiness doesn’t require that we have zero suffering. It just means that my perspective on how I deal with any given situation is up to me. I am not saying that we have to smile all the time or “act” like nothing is wrong when it is. I am saying part of having a happy life in general for me is to honor my feelings, no matter what they are, when they come up. It’s about being present in the moment and trying to learn how not to live in the past or project about the future. It’s about right here, right now. It’s about learning to be awake to this very precious moment that is all I have.
Rev. McKee said in the first sermon at the beginning of the semester, “we only have to recognize the gift and see it as good and respond to it.” Recognizing it is the key here, and it made me think of the Bible verse from John 13:34, where Simon Peter and Jesus were talking. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Simon Peter said in response: “Lord, where are you going?” One could say or argue that Simon was not in the moment perhaps; that he didn’t even realize that Jesus just gave him a fabulous, awesome new commandment….to love one another. He was worried about where he was going and completely missed the point. He didn’t recognize the gift.
A Buddhist story along these same lines is the Flower Sermon given by the Buddha. He said absolutely nothing in this sermon. All he did was hold up a single flower and waited and waited and waited. Everyone was trying to figure out why the Buddha was not saying anything….except one, Mahakasyapa. All he did was look at the Buddha and smile. The Buddha knew at that moment that he understood, and that he was the only one that understood. It was about being in that particular moment fully awake and recognizing that there was nothing else but the Buddha holding up a flower.
Being present and awake to this moment with loving kindness toward myself and others, I believe, is the cornerstone of happiness. When I am able to apply this to my life, with attention to this moment, I believe this is when I am the most happy. Recognizing the absolute energy of right now is pretty huge. Smiling to someone else and really smiling to their heart, meaning it. Helping anyone I see that I can if they need it. Being grateful for every.. little.. thing, my children, my family, friends, my breath, my health, a job, food, clothes. I could go on and on. These things may seem little to some, but I am truly, truly grateful for every one of those things.
I believe we are all one big sentient family, and if I have loving kindness at the center of my actions towards my fellow Earthlings and practice this with as much skill as I can, I believe this will bring me happiness and my family, and for others. I believe that is the Zen of happiness….everyday life with loving kindness, filling our lives with love. Do I do this all the time, definitely not! But being open to the fact that I don’t have to live in negativity all the time and that I have a choice. I can be miserable and negative all the time or I can try to be positive and uplifting. I can open my heart and mind. I don’t have to create opposites with my opinions. I can make amends when I do something wrong. There is no “us” and “them”. There is just us. I can put it all down and just ask, “how may I help you?”
It hurts me to see all the anger, hatred, and negativity in the world today, and quite honestly I know that I cannot fix the world’s problems by any stretch, but what I can change is myself. I can be as happy a person as I can. I can work on myself, better myself, spread love wherever possible. I can help my fellow family which is each one of us whenever and wherever possible. I can always, always choose LOVE! It’s like a ripple effect. It starts with me and ripples out to my family, my street, my community, my country, the world. It’s about building bridges, not tearing them down. It’s about not creating opposites, not knee-jerk reacting to every little thing. It’s about finding similarities. We all want to be happy. All of us do not want to suffer. We are all one. We are interdependent on this planet with everyone and everything else, and it’s up to each one of us to be LOVE. I aspire to be this. I want to be Love, and when I am not, I won’t give up. I will try harder the next time because I believe happiness is on the path of love. Imagine if we all looked at everyone, every sentient being, as a member of our family that we loved and cherished. Just imagine that for a moment!
This summer I had the honor and privilege of seeing His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, with my Great Teacher and his wife. This was truly a bucket-list moment for me. His message was, WE ARE ONE…we are all brothers and sisters on this rock…all sentient beings matter! His main message, of course, was love. It takes a strong and courageous heart to love those who are not very lovable. That is the only thing that will work in the long run. Stand taller and rise above all the stuff that only brings people down. His Holiness said it doesn’t matter what your faith is as long as love and compassion are at the core. He said you have to be determined to BE love. “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”
So if no one has told you today that they love you, then I will. I love you all. Peace, love and happiness, Everyone!!!