by Kenneth Mondal
Several years ago my wife and I were vacationing in Key Largo, Florida. Our hotel room looked out on a marina that reeked of opulence. Every evening the yachts would start rolling in, each one more ostentatious than the prior one. I was intrigued by the names on each boat. One of the largest and most impressive yachts was named “Never Enough.” To me that name spoke volumes. I wondered if the owners were truly happy.
Buddhism talks about the eight worldly concerns. These consist of attachment to four desirable things like money and possessions, praise, a good reputation and sense pleasures. The other four are the direct opposites, feeling upset with poverty, criticism, a bad reputation and lack of things pleasant to the senses. From day one we are taught that happiness results from attaining the first four and doing whatever we can to avoid the last four.
I have spent most of my life focused on the eight worldly concerns. I have managed to be fairly successful attaining the good stuff and avoiding the bad stuff. Has this brought me true and lasting happiness? No. Has this brought me a sense of fulfillment and meaning in my life? Definitely not. Instead it has brought me a lot of suffering. Almost like a drug addict, I have experienced successes and attainments that have led to brief moments of elation followed by longer periods of depression. When does one have enough money, praise, reputation, or sense pleasure? Never.
If these things aren’t capable of giving one happiness and fulfillment then what is? When I first heard Buddhist teachings something clicked. There was a clear explanation of why we suffer and why happiness is so elusive. Our self-centered attitude putting ourselves above everyone else and our self-grasping ignorance blinding us to the reality of how people and things truly exist (impermanent, interdependent and lacking an inherent nature) set us up for a whole raft of negative emotions and actions that guarantee we will never find happiness.
Instead, the Buddha’s teachings talk about love, compassion, kindness, generosity, patience, and tolerance. Putting others’ happiness and welfare ahead of our own is the secret formula. It may seem paradoxical, but if we want a happy, meaningful life we need to focus less on ourselves and more on others.
Since I have been following this new path there is no question that I have a greater sense of peace and contentment. Waking up every day and setting a motivation to do no harm and to be of benefit to other living beings whenever possible has given me the sense of meaning and purpose that I was searching for. I had a long career in medicine, and there is no question that I helped thousands of patients. However, along the way I lost sight of the altruistic intention that motivated me to be a doctor in the first place. I can thank the Buddha for waking me up and reminding me of what is truly important in life.