The Pursuit of Happiness

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Finding Inner Peace

Developing inner peace, on which lasting meaningful happiness is dependent, is like any other task in life: we have to identify its causes and conditions and then diligently set about cultivating them.

What factors might obstruct you inner peace? What conditions might you cultivate in your life that would be conducive to contentment?

The two predominant sources of inner peace, the Dalai Lama says, are:

  • our attitude.
  • our actions in the pursuit of happiness

Our basic attitude

Dealing with external circumstances is the starting point for any consideration of developing inner peace.

The Dalai Lama likes to relate the observation of the great Indian scholar-practitioner Shantideva, who observed that while we have no hope of finding enough leather to cover the earth so that we never prick our feet on a thorn, covering the soles of our feet will suffice.

Where would I possibly find enough leather
With which to cover the surface of the earth?
But wearing leather just on the soles of my shoes
Is equivalent to covering the earth with it.

While we cannot always change our external situation to suit us, we can change our attitude.

Can you relate an attitude of yours regarding what you need to be content to Shantideva's offering? Which attitudes do you have which might hinder your quest for inner peace? What attitudes might you cultivate which would sustain your search for happiness?

Can you see why the Dalai Lama gives attitude such significance?

Our actions

When we look investigate how we pursue happiness, we can distinguish between:

  • acts that provide transient pleasures
  • acts which offer lasting happiness

The Dalai Lama isn't telling us it's wrong to want an ice cream cone or a new jacket:

An appetite for the concrete is part of human nature. We want to see, we want to touch, we want to possess.

But when we don't recognize the transient nature of these things we seek, we in fact invite — unwittingly — dissatisfaction. Our actions are ultimately linked to our attitudes, our intentions. And it is our intention that differentiates action that brings lasting happiness from that which offers only a ephemeral sense of well-being.

More importantly, when we act from the place of seeking pleasure for ourselves, we lose sight of the effect of our actions on others.

It may seem difficult to connect wanting an ice cream with negatively affecting others.  But go beyond your desire for sweet foods. How might your search for pleasures affect others negatively? How might desire for a new car or new house affect your acting ethically with others?

The Dalai Lama offers example of how our actions are ultimately tied to our intentions:

For example, our pursuit of material gain may bring us great joy when success comes. But if we have acted without consideration of potentially negative consequences, we can if end up causing suffering: the environment is polluted, our unscrupulous methods drive others out of business, the bombs we manufacture cause death and injury. When our intentions are not clear we may gain temporary happiness but bring long-term trouble.

When we analyze activities of this sort, we find they involve discernment. They entail weighing different factors, including both the likely and the possible consequences for ourselves and for others.