So what is happiness?

lightI just finished reading a book called The Light Inside the Dark: Zen, soul, and the spiritual life. It’s a bit of a departure since its author, John Tarrant, draws heavily from western traditions and incorporates their symbolism and psychology with Eastern traditions of self inquiry. I have always kept the West a bit at bay, but given the fact that the unconscious is deeply ingrained by these belief systems, mores, and mythologies, it is silly for me to discard all together.

In the book, Tarrant quotes a Buddhist teacher, though not by name, as saying:

I began to realize that my happiness did not depend on being happy. I am always at a particular stage on the stair and my happiness consists of greeting my stage, even when it is painful, along with the knowledge that time turns all wheels and the next stage is always approaching.

That sounds crazy: happiness independent of being happy? How could that be? It’s been interesting to see how people respond to the decision I’ve made to drop everything and go monastic for a little while. There’s this one sentiment that I find kind of funny, and that’s “well I hope you find whatever it is you’re looking for”. I don’t even really know how to respond to that. First, what if I’m not looking for anything in particular? And second, is there really anything other than happiness which each and everyone of us seeks in our lives?

But how can happiness be something external or future-oriented? Anything other than exactly that which is? Is happiness anything different from being aware of just this? Isn’t happiness totally elusive if not? Won’t it become its opposite?

When I returned from my very life-altering trip to Mongolia, I got a lot of, “she’s not the same as she was before” and “she’s so quiet”, “she’s not herself”, “she has no passion, no energy, she doesn’t care anymore”. Far from it – I had been cracked open and couldn’t turn back – but certainly I was grieving. I felt that I had truly lost something great: real love. I felt that I had lost a dream of a future in partnership. But I accepted that sadness and felt gratitude for what it made clear to me. The understanding it provided. The spiritual path is one we ultimately travel alone. And I harnessed the love energy I had previously engendered the relationship with and put it in the faith of the unknown.

Today I listened to a talk from Rodney Smith, Actions from Now, and in it he said, “movement without certainty is faith”. He argues that if we watch and have the patience to understand whatever it is that initiates movement, the kind of honest action that is free of time and conditioning will arise naturally. And if this is what moves us forward on the trajectory of life, how can we not be happy in the is-ness of this very moment?

Life is change! Why not jump in?

See also The Paradox of Happiness from John Tarrant, published in Shambala Sun, January 2004.

Leave a comment


  1. sharanam

     /  July 29, 2009

    Some additional insight, specifically on love and loneliness and relevant in how it relates to happiness, from the Tricycle Editor’s Blog: .

  2. geapi

     /  July 30, 2009

    I think a quote from E. Tolle’s “A new earth”: “Life is the dancer, you’re the dance.” sums it up nicely. As with love being a state of being, happiness is a state of being, the acceptance of the now and the giving up of resistance, attachment and judgement.

    btw. great writing(s), not “boring” at all!

    • sharanam

       /  July 31, 2009


      Totally agree with the state of being (or “state of mind-heart” perhaps). Thanks for your comment. I also found this quote from Charlotte Joko Beck that fits in nicely:

      “Freedom is the willingness to risk being vulnerable to life; it is the experience of whatever arises in each moment, painful or pleasant. This requires total commitment to our lives. When we are able to give ourselves totally, with nothing held back and no thought of escaping the experience of the present moment, there is no suffering. When we completely experience our pain, it is our joy.”

      Thanks for reading and for the dialogue!


  3. jerome

     /  May 6, 2013

    Well, at the risk of sounding cliched, happiness is different for different people, isn’t it? Or are we saying that happiness is the same for all? Even enlightenment experiences vary dramatically from person to person. That said, these are wonderful posts, I think, because they question and doubt.


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