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The happiness that you can grow

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The happiness that you can grow

Blurb: Can we buy happiness?
How can we achieve true and lasting joy?
Here are some views from Phra Paisal Visalo,
an abbot of Mahawan forest monastery in Chaiyaphum.

       True happiness cannot be bought. It is something we have to cultivate ourselves. There is a Chinese saying that "if you want three hours of ecstasy, try gambling. For three weeks of rapture, go traveling. For three months of bliss, get married. Build a new house, and you will enjoy three years of heaven. But if you want a true and lasting happiness, grow and live with trees." Growing trees make us happy not only when we see them blossom and give us fruits and shades. We already experience the feeling of joy the moment we put the seeds into the soil, pour the water over it, till and take care of the land constantly. As the seeds grow into saplings, and eventually bigger trees, so does our sense of happiness. Those who have spent time living in the midst of nature know how what seems to be a life of monotony is indeed a blessed one, brought about by innate peace and tranquility.

       To have a chance to grow trees, to take care of the environment, to become a part of nature, that is, to me, real happiness. And we should not be just the beneficiaries; we should also take an active role in the nurturing of our surrounding. Nowadays, such opportunity has become few and far between: the wild woods have been continuously shrinking. We need thus to join hands in bringing them back. That is the beginning of growing happiness by our own hands.

       At the same time, what is no less important is to take care of "a tree" in our own heart. When that flourishes, so will our peace of mind. The question is: how is the tree faring? Is it growing healthily? Or has it been withering away? How much are we attending to this tree in our own mind? Most may not realise that there is ?a tree? inside each of us that needs looking after. We may not be aware at all if it is still alive, or is it wilting away? This is because we often spend little time with ourselves. Much of the time, we keep ourselves busy with things from the outside: friends, work, TVs, shopping, and so on. We think they are indispensable. We look outward to avoid the problems inside. The tree in our mind has been neglected. It becomes vulnerable to pest, weeds, and drought. But now is the time to go back and nurture our own tree.

       That is not difficult at all. When we do something good, when we give something away or make someone happy, we are watering the tree inside us. We have been taught to believe that the more we possess, the happier we will be. Thus a number of people think happiness can be purchased; they run after things to fulfill their craving all the time. Few realise that the happiness gained from giving away is more profound, more refined; it waters the tree inside our mind. And when that grows, prospers, it will give the flowers, fruits, and shades _ an unsurpassable peace _ to us. 

       The Jit Arsa volunteer programmes have drawn a number of people [who volunteer on various projects]. Incidentally, many participants talked about the discovery of happiness in the process. At the end of a two-day tree-planting project, a lady confessed that she initially felt overwhelmed at the sight of the barren hills in front of the temple. She felt like she was just a clump of lowly grass. Having planted numerous trees, her spirit soared. She no longer felt like the grass. She now feels like the trees. The trees in their minds have grown. Just two days of working on something meaningful with other people has given her the energy. From the grass, she suddenly becomes the trees. It is so instant. It is up to us how we will grow, take care and nourish it.

       Our happiness is not different from the tree. When it is small, it needs water from the sky, from the gardener. As it grows, the tree does not only spruce upwards; its roots also dig deeper into the earth. And when the roots reach the water source, even in the drought, the tree will continue to stay green because there is a constant supply of water underneath.

       Thus even the dry, parched earth may have some source of water underneath. Some of us may feel every now and then like the sun-scorched earth _ desolate, without any hope. We seek happiness from traveling, searching for delicious food, fun and excitement. But such feelings do not last. It is like the tree that still depends on water from the sky. It will wither in the dry season. But the tree with the roots digging deep into the soil, reaching the fount of water inside, will be able to absorb the happiness from within. It is already inside us. When we have time to be with ourselves, to experience the various phenomena of the mind, we will become aware that both suffering and happiness is up to us, to our ability to get in touch with the inner depth inside ourselves.

       From giving, doing something good, helping others, spending time with oneself, we begin to touch the inner peace, and gradually realise true happiness. This is called the spirituality. In the secular realm, happiness is already with us. We are, however, usually not aware of it until we get sick. Only then shall we realise how happy we were yesterday. We kept looking for something else, unaware that we were already happy, with our good health, friends, family, having someone we love. We did not recognise our own happiness. Our heart kept yearning for something else all the time.

       During his talk organised by the Komol Kheemthong Foundation [early this year], Pramual Pengchan described his climb up the Doi Inthanont. Before he reached the top of the mountain, he became so exhausted and finally got a lift from a passing driver. On the way down, he was in awe by the scenery of both sides of the road. He was amazed at the beauty of nature. Then he understood that he could not see and appreciate the beauty on the way up because his mind was concentrated on reaching the top of the mountain. It reflects the reality of life that people are not happy because their minds are always in the future, what they call wishes and dreams, wealth, fame and glory, success in their career. We long for happiness in the future even though it is right in front of us. People today are not happy because they cannot appreciate the good things they already have in the present. We keep looking for the happiness that lies ahead. And when it has not yet materialized, we suffer. When we run after happiness, thinking that we will achieve it at the end of our destination, we then forget that we can make it real everyday. By spending time with our children, family, by doing exercise, by meditating, or doing something we love. Instead of concentrating on the future, we can begin to pay attention to today, to appreciate what we have in every moment. To pay attention to the present moment does not only mean to be contented with what we have, but also not to worry about the past nor the future. Most of us suffer because we carry things that have already passed, or worry about what's yet to come. If we can live with the present, we will become more peaceful. We will have better concentration. But nowadays, a lot of us tend to be more interested in what we don't have yet, or what we have already lost.

       To nurture mindfulness, to be constantly alert, is to open our heart to happiness in the present. It helps our mind to reach the inner happiness, the spiritual side of us. Only then shall the wisdom arise, and we will not be afraid of anything.

       The tree is not afraid of the sunlight. As it grows and branches out, it can transform the sunshine into shades. Its roots are not afraid of waste, because they can transform this into nourishing foods, into fragrant flowers and tasty fruits. When we look after our mind, always contemplating with mindfulness and wisdom, we will not be afraid of suffering, losses, pain, and even death. We will be able to transform suffering into happiness, misfortune into a blessing. It is like the tree that can transform the heat of the sun into the cooling shade, the waste into sweet fruits and flowers.

       But we have to invest in all this by growing, nurturing, both the trees in nature and the tree in our own mind. Only then will they flourish, growing deep and tall, to give us the shade, and the happiness.


Endnote:  This is a translation of an article that summarised Phra Paisan Visalo's closing speech on the celebration of the tenth anniversary of Sarn Saeng Arun Magazine and was published in the bi-monthly for May-June 2007 edition.