Through meditation we can do wonderful things. We can overcome our ignorance, delusions, greed, anger, hatred, jealousy, and depression, and enhance our compassion, loving-kindness, happiness, and equanimity. Meditation is the way we can find liberation to escape the bonds of dissatisfaction. A common problem that can come up during meditation is that we find this happy, magical place that gives us this sense of relaxation and peace – that’s great and all, but it’s important that we don’t attach or cling to this feeling or special place. We must strive to push ourselves further and penetrate our mind deeper in order to escape the prison our mind has locked us in and find our way out to freedom.
Every being wants happiness. As humans we go from one thing to another in order to find that happiness; from one relationship to another, one job to another, or one city to another. We go to college and major in art, medicine, or creative writing in hopes that it will get us to a job that will make us happy. We adventure to new places to experience new foods and cultures, practice yoga, play video games, or grow flowers. Almost everything we do is an attempt to find happiness and avoid dissatisfaction. If we take a look at our lives we’ll discover that we spend a lot of our time and energy on mundane activities, such as seeking material, emotional, and sexual satisfaction, and enjoying the pleasures of the senses. Although these things can make us happy temporarily, they can’t provide us lasting and true happiness. Eventually all the pretty things we have, feelings we get, and pleasures we experience will end and become dissatisfying. We then find ourselves again and again going after these external pleasures and again eventually becoming dissatisfied. By becoming attached to worldly pleasures, it directly or indirectly causes us to suffer. Our desire to have the latest tech gadget gives us temporary happiness until the next new gadget comes out and we again desire to have it, and if we can’t we suffer. Everything will end, everything is impermanent. Our house will eventually age and fall apart. Our car will also age and stop running. Our loved ones will age, get sick, and die. If all we’re doing is trying to find external happiness in material or emotional experiences, our mind will never be at peace.
Happiness can come from external pleasures, but it doesn’t truly satisfy us and free us from our problems. It is unsatisfying, transitory, and unreliable happiness. This doesn’t mean we have to give up everything we enjoy like friends and possessions. Rather, we need to give up the misconceptions of what they can do for us. At the root of our problems is the fundamental mistaken view of reality, because we see these things as permanent and able to satisfy us “forever.” We have an instinctive belief that people and things exist in and of themselves; that they have an inherent nature, an inherent thingness. This means we see things as having certain lasting qualities within them; that they are good or bad, attractive or unattractive. These qualities seem to be in the objects themselves as independent of our view point and everything else.
For example, we think that ice cream is inherently delicious, or that having lots of clothes is inherently satisfying. If they were, surely they would never fail to satisfy or give pleasure and we would all experience them in the same way. Our mistaken ideas are deeply programmed in our mind and habitual to us; it controls our relationships and experiences with the world. We probably never question on whether or not the things we see is the way they actually exist, but once we do we’ll be able to see that our view on reality is exaggerated and one-sided; that the things we see as good or bad, attractive or unattractive are the things we’ve created and project by our mind.
Happiness is a state of mind, therefore the real source of happiness lies within ourselves, not in external circumstances. Though there is nothing wrong with having possessions and enjoying pleasures, we however tend to cling to these things and when they end or disappear we suffer. If our mind is peaceful and free from attachment, greed, ignorance, and anger, then we will become happy. Likewise, if our mind is not peaceful and free, we will become unhappy. So the purpose of meditation is to cultivate these states of mind of peace and happiness, and eradicate those that are not. The Buddha said that it’s a great gift to be born as a human, because only as a human do we have the chance and ability to gain enlightenment. Animals can enjoy food and sex, build homes, and care for and protect their family, but they can’t completely eliminate suffering and find true happiness. So why as humans do we sometimes only achieve what animals can do? As humans we must use our precious time to study and practice virtuously so we can escape the cycle of Samsara. Meditation helps us break the mundane walls of our attachment, ignorance, and greed and lift us out of the prison of our mind to find love, happiness, and freedom.