Fourth, was there any enjoyment in the Buddha's life?
We all hope that we can enjoy life a little bit more. Even coming to this Dharma talk, we want to have a good seat where we can sit comfortably, or hope that the room is air-conditioned and the floor is carpeted, and the list goes on. This is enjoyment for our daily living. People pursue fame and wealth to improve their living condition, so that they can enjoy life a little bit more. In actuality, fame and wealth can bring forth its own set of problems. Is that enjoyment? Not necessarily so. The enjoyment of our senses is very limited. The eyes crave to see pleasing sights, the ears crave to hear delightful sounds, and the body craves the feel of soft and luxurious clothes. But when these sensations pass, we soon feel empty and lonely again. This is no different from when a party ends, dirty dishes and trash are left behind. The price to pay for worldly fame and wealth is just enormous. When we are controlled by the external environment, we cannot find inner peace. If we are not affected by what we see and hear, then there is nothing to bind us. The Dharma joy within ourselves will begin to flow; this will bring us lasting enjoyment.
Among the Buddha's disciples was the former Prince Bhadrika. Once, while he was doing sitting meditation with the other bhiksus, he suddenly called out, "This is happiness, happiness!" As it turned out, the Buddha passed by, so he asked, "Someone just yelled out happiness. What is the happiness? Why did he scream happiness?" Bhadrika replied, "In the past when I was still living in the palace, I was constantly surrounded by guards, yet I was afraid that others would harm and assassinate me. In the palace, the food is of the best quality and the bed is very comfortable, yet I did not enjoy the food and my sleep was not sound. Now that I have renounced the secular life, I can cultivate in the remote hills and woods. Now that I feel free, I am not afraid of anything. I find the simple vegetables and carrots that I get from the alms round extremely tasty. When I sit here to meditate, I just feel cleansed and without any worries. I enjoy the path of cultivation so much that I cannot control myself and must cry out with elation!" Is this not another form of enjoyment?
What is the happiness that the Buddha enjoys? It is the happiness of nirvana. The happiness of nirvana has four special characteristics: eternity, bliss, true nature, and purity. His happiness was to feel the duration of life, to feel the natural joy of life; to feel the existence of life, and to feel the simplicity of life. Now, a lot of people are so busy that they have forgotten about themselves. When they have lost touch with themselves, they have also lost touch with happiness.
Serene happiness is a characteristic of nirvana. If we understand Buddhism, we would know that we can easily find serene happiness in our daily lives as well. We always say, "Helping others is a source of happiness," "To be content is to be happy," and "With patience, comes peace." We can enjoy happiness in contentment. We can even find happiness when we are truly remorseful. We can also find happiness when we are respectful of others, when we have faith, and when we remain calm and peaceful. We should not try to find happiness from our senses; the source of happiness lies within our hearts. When we find ourselves, our own hearts, then we will find happiness. There is happiness in reciting the Buddha's name, in meditation, and in paying respect to the Buddha. Sometime, when you do sitting meditation, you will discover that all your thoughts are calm and not a desire is in sight; you want to stay in this peaceful Dharma joy forever. Is this not happiness? Or, we can be proactive in aiding those in need and helping to repair roads and bridges, then we can also enjoy happiness. When we build good causal relationships with others, we will find support from all sides and we will be naturally happy.
Buddhism of the past had a tendency to equate cultivation with asceticism. Actually, this is quite misleading. Buddhism is a religion of happiness; it does not dictate suffering to its devotees. When it talks about "suffering," it is telling us that suffering abounds in life and that it is a phase that we have to go through to reach happiness. A butterfly has to come out of its cocoon before it can fly. A tree trunk has to be sawed before it can be of any use. In Buddhism, we have to cross the sea of suffering before we can reach liberation. When others reprimand us, criticize us, or even slander us, we should not get angry but should thank others for giving us the opportunity to clear some bad karma from the past. When others defraud us of our hard-earned money, in the absence of an understanding of the Dharma, we would become very frustrated; however, if we practice the Dharma, we will look at the situation as a way to pay off some old debt. Being without debt and without worries, is this not a cause for happiness? In this way, we can even find happiness under adversities. Like the Buddha, we would be able to enjoy the serene happiness of nirvana.
In this world, we are happy when good things happen. When we have the Dharma, we will be able to handle misfortunes and disappointments with equal ease. As in the saying, "When the mind is pure, the land is pure," we can use our pure and calm mind to transform the world. Grief is bodhi, and affliction is happiness. If your mom and dad are very strict, you need not be distressed. You should think to yourself, "It is good that my parents are stern with me; they help me stay away from trouble." With every situation in this world, as long as we can change our perspectives, we will find happiness always!
Let me share with you a secret that few of you know. For many years now, unless I am dining with guests, I always eat my dinner standing up. Usually there is not a chair in my living quarters, so I just eat my meals standing up. I doubt if any of you knew. I lead a very simple life, and I do not enjoy my meals any less.
The life of the Buddha might have been very simple and fraught with hardships, but in the vast wisdom of the Buddha, he always enjoyed the wondrous wisdom of nirvana.