Is happiness really the central goal of Buddhist practice?
The Buddha talked about three different levels of happiness. The first is happiness that can come from pleasant sense experiences: delicious food, nice weather, pleasant music, or any kind of positive sensual experience.
This kind of happiness is fragile.
“Therefore we can be our own perfect guide. There is no external thief of our happiness. Unhappiness and suffering are created by ourselves when we allow ignorance and the other delusions to influence our actions.”
The Four Noble Truths
Lama Zopa Rinpoche
The next level of happiness comes from meditation where we can uncover refined states that bring a deep sense of unity, well-being, and joy. The happiness from these states beats all sense experiences, even the most exquisite ones. It is more sublime, with an immense sense of ease and peace.
The highest level of happiness is a deep contentedness and peace beyond all changing circumstance.
This is the most reliable kind of happiness, well-being, and ease: unshakeable and deeply rooted beyond all conditions, an awakening that brings peace even among the vicissitudes of life.
We can investigate each kind of happiness for ourselves; we can see what leads to a more reliable happiness. As we expand our access to deeper levels, we develop more bandwidth for caring about others and being of service in the world. We discover that happiness includes cultivating wholesome states like generosity, kindness, compassion, as well as letting go of fear, selfishness, hatred, and greed. As we grow out of orienting around “self-serving” drives, we can rest in a much greater perspective of spaciousness and caring. We can gradually expand our idea of “self” to encompass all, so seeking happiness eventually means being of service to all.
“The happiness and suffering created by praise and criticism are ephemeral. When you are complimented, instead of feeling proud just regard the praise as if it were something you were hearing in a dream or a fantasy. Tell yourself that it is not you that is being praised but the good qualities you may have developed through spiritual practice. In fact, the truth is that the only people really worthy of praise are those who have attained liberation.”
On the Path to Enlightenment
The goal of Mahayana Buddhism - developing Bodhicitta and helping all sentient beings.