The Layman’s Way to Happiness

Life in the modern age has become particularly trying and problematic.  Though it remains a fact that the standard of living has generally improved, man is still suffering immensely under the weight of present-day living. The physical condition of man has been reduced to such a pathetic level that hesuccumbs to untimely death by killer diseases such as cancer, heart failure, diabetes, etc. to an unprecedented degree. Mentally, he is so tension-ridden that he has forgotten the art of relaxing, and he cannot even enjoy sound
sleep without the aid of tranquilizers. In this set up interpersonal relations have become so brittle and vulnerable that the divorce rate has indeed become
alarmingly high, thus letting loose a whole series of other social problems such as uncared-for children, juvenile delinquency, suicide, etc. Thus life has become a problematic burden and a solution to make life more tolerable and enjoyable is a great and pressing need.

As the word of the Buddha is of everlasting value and universal applicability, and as the Buddha preached not only to monks and nuns but also to the lay
public as well, it is useful to find a teaching of the Buddha which is relevant to our present-day problems: In the Pattakammavagga of the Anguttara Nikaya (A II, 69) the Buddha preached a sutta to Anāthapindika on the fourfold pleasures of a layman.
It is our considered opinion that this sutta offers adequate insight to meet the demands of the present-day problems as well. The four types of pleasure
listed there are:
1: Atthisukha, the pleasure of having material
wealth;
2: Bhogasukha, the pleasure of enjoying material
wealth;
3: Ananasukha, the pleasure of being debtless; and
4: Anavajjasukha, the pleasure of being blameless.
Let us take these for discussion one by one and see how these four sources of pleasure can be harnessed for living a happy life in the present-day world.

Atthisukha —
Man should not only have a righteous means of living, avoiding blameworthy trades such as dealing in meat, liquor, poison, firearms & slavery,
he should also entertain a wholesome attitude towards his right occupation. For instance, if a doctor welcomes epidemics in the locality in order to make
much money, or a trader hopes for natural calamities to send market prices up, the money earned by such unscrupulous individuals is not righteous money as
their intentions are impure and foul. Also one should not deceive or exploit others in carrying out one’s occupation. Exerting oneself with great energy,
one should earn one’s living, and such hard-earned wealth is called righteous wealth (dhammika dhammaladdha). Again one could have great wealth, but if one does not experience a sense of contentment with what one has, one cannot really enjoy atthisukha or the pleasure of having. The amassing of wealth of such a person is like trying to fill a bottomless vessel. This is one of the widely spread maladies we see in the present-day society. Inordinate expansion of wealth becomes a source not of happiness, but of greed, anxiety, and envy. Such wealth exposes the possessor to the jealousies and manoeuvres of other unscrupulous individuals, hence the occurrence of blackmailing and kidnapping from time to time. But if one does have a correct means of earning one’s living and the correct attitude to wealth, one can escape many of the hazards which money brings in its wake to modern man…

Bhogasukha —
Wealth has only instrumental value and the proper enjoyment of wealth is an art which is worth carefully cultivating. Buddhism deplores both extravagance and miserly hoarding. One must maintain a healthy balanced standard of living according to one’s means. If, in the enjoyment of wealth, one overindulges in sense pleasures, one is bound to run into health hazards in a very short time. If, for instance, one overindulges in food just because one can afford it, one will soon be overcome by diseases such as heart failure, high blood pressure and diabetes. Such a one will be faced with the situation of “cutting his neck with his own tongue.” Moderation in food is a virtue praised in Buddhism and it is a health-promoting habit. Often in the name of enjoying wealth, man cultivates unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking. It is paradoxical that man, who actually loves himself most, should act as if he were his own worst enemy by indulging in habits which ultimately reduce him to a physical wreck. It is medically established that smoking causes the highest percentage of lung cancer, and that drinking causes irreparable damage to vital organs of the body including brain and liver. If only one pauses to just ponder over one’s own welfare, and if only one entertains at least some degree of compassion towards oneself, one would not get into the clutches of these vicious habits. Wealthy men often end up in the pitiful plight of the ant fallen in the pot of honey. Such men did not know the art of enjoying bhogasukha. The regard the body as an instrument for pleasure, and they wear out and debilitate the body’s capacity for enjoyment in double quick time, long before the natural process of wear and tear sets in. If we love ourselves, we have to treat our bodies with proper care without taxing it with overindulgence and deprivation. It is with the body that we can enjoy not only the pleasures of the senses, but even the spiritual bliss of Nibbāna. Another aspect of the joy of wealth is the art of sharing. Without being an Adinnapubbaka, a miserly “never-giver,” if one learns to share one’s riches with those worthy, the less fortunate and have-nots, one will have the noble experience of rejoicing at the joy of another. At the same time one will learn the love and good will of others, instead of becoming the target of envy, jealousy and intrigue.
Ananasukha —
The pleasure of being debtless is the third quality discussed in our sutta. Economically if one can be completely free of debt, one is indeed a very fortunate person. To be really debtless in society one has to discharge one’s obligations scrupulously. As a wage earner one has to discharge one’s duties for which one is paid, otherwise one can be indebted to the employer. As a parent one has to fulfill one’s obligations to one’s children. In our society children are taught to worship and look after their parents, and it is well to bear in mind that parents too have to qualify themselves for the honour they receive by being dutiful parents. It should be emphasized that fathers who neglect their families as a result of their addiction to vices such as drinking and gambling fall far short of the ideal of debtlessness. One can have the satisfaction of being debtless only if one has fulfilled one’s obligations in all social roles one has to perform.
Anavajjasukha —
The satisfaction of leading a blameless life is the highest form of satisfaction that a layman can have. Every society has a code of ethics to be followed by its members. According to Buddhism the minimum
code of ethics regulating the life of its adherent disciples is the pañcasila:the Five Precepts. If one practices these virtues, one can have the satisfaction
of leading a righteous life to a great extent. Refraining from doing to others what one does not like others to do to oneself, is the basic inviolable principle underlying these virtues. Buddhism speaks of hiri and ottappa, the sense of shame and the fear of doing wrong, as deva dhamma or celestial qualities. These are the basic qualities which separate man from the animal kingdom.
Unlike the animals man has a conscience, which makes him squeamish about doing wrong… Buddhism recognizes blameless mental activity as well. Mental activities which arise from greed, hatred & ignorance are detrimental and thus blameworthy. Let us see how such mental behaviour causes unhappiness.  Take for instance the case of a person who is angry. What are the symptoms of anger? Hard breathing, accelerated heart beat, faster circulation of blood, feeling hot, sweating, trepidation, restlessness, etc. — these are the physical manifestations of anger. These are certainly not pleasant physical experiences.
Each time the cause of anger is remembered, even though the rage of physical manifestations of anger may not be that marked, one feels quite restless and mentally ill at ease. We use expressions such as “boiling with anger,” “I got the devil on to me,” etc. to mean getting angry, and these sayings are literally expressive of the situation. It is impossible for one to be angry and happy at the same time. An irritable person is truly a very sad person, and what is worse he infects others around him too with the same sadness. The cultivation of sublime modes of behaviour such as loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity are truly conducive to happy living. Those who live with such attitudes habitually are pleasant and amicable people, who can be happy when all alone, as well as in any company.

(Courtesy – Bhikku Samahita)

By Prof. Lily de Silva

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