Talk Categories Happiness | Talk Locations Waseda University

Happy Life — Buddhadharma Can Make a Difference

We think that if we make lots of money, marry our dream date and live to 100, we will find the happiness we seek. But the very nature of our world guarantees it won’t last. True happiness can only be found through the inner mind.


“I sincerely hope that all of us, including myself and others, could obtain true inner happiness that can be found within our own mind. As everyone has a mind, it’s therefore very possible to be happy by cultivating inner qualities.”

Speech by Khenpo Sodargye

Societal Pressures and Disaffected Youths

Buddhism and Suffering

The topic I’ve chosen to speak about today is ‘a happy life’. Everyone around the world is busy seeking happiness from morning till night. Not only human beings but animals also want to be happy. I wanted a happy life, too. But I soon discovered, as I began to practice Buddhism, that worldly happiness is both fleeting and impermanent.

Buddhism talks about three kinds of suffering: the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change and the all-pervasive suffering. From the view of all-pervasive suffering, the happiness that we experience is constantly changing and is very likely to become the root cause of the next suffering. The happiness that we used to believe in may continuously become the causes and conditions of the next sufferings.

I sincerely hope that all of us, including myself and others, could obtain true inner happiness that can be found within our own mind. As everyone has a mind, it’s therefore very possible to be happy by cultivating inner qualities. On the contrary, it’s hard to obtain happiness by relying on external factors. Even you manage to get it, it’s very easy to lose it. The nature of such happiness is unstable and subject to changes easily. Such unreliable and unstable experiences of happiness are the causes of underlying insecurity and anxiety in people.

Dealing with Information Overload Wisely

Perhaps it’s not very difficult for everyone here to obtain all the information in the world. Then what is the most difficult? The most difficult thing is to know your inner world. Few people pay attention to their inner minds.

Everyone here knows that the 20th century is a century of war, during which many wars such as World War I and II took place. People were living in a bloody era. Whereas the 21st century can be regarded as a century of peace. What’s more, it’s also an era of information. We are exposed to information overload.

When we get up in the morning, we get instant access to news around the world by turning on the TV, iPad and mobile phone. You may be greeted by bleak news of deaths and sufferings caused by disasters such as earthquakes, floods, airplane crashes and wars. You are exposed to all the shocking news in an instance.

However, some information is totally irrelevant to us. Some information is even in conflict with our thoughts and behavior.

It’s said that there is an American prophet who once said that a lot of the information that we get may not be useful at all and may bring about disasters. Such meaningless information is considered pollutants as they could have a negative effect on our lives. Sometimes we get lost under such information overload and cannot make proper decisions. We receive fragmentary information every day. But we need to think carefully about whether such information improves our lives or gives us any value.

Some information that we are trying to seek for may appear to be good, but it actually makes our mind more impetuous, marginalized and secularized. This is quite possible. So in the early 8th century, the India master Shantideva said that the ultimate truth is not within the reach of our dualistic mind. The mind of ordinary people can only perceive gross information. That is to say, instead of using profound wisdom, most of us perceive objects only by depending on our own feelings, projections and desires. As such, we will probably miss the truth we are seeking.

Samuel Beckett, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist and playwright, agreed with Buddhism on this point. He said, “our vulgar perception is not concerned with other than vulgar phenomena.” In fact, most of us can only perceive and are easily attracted by very simple things with gross characteristics like all kinds of advertisements. As we do not have any stable wisdom in our mind to examine the external objects, we end up chasing after them. As a result of our vulgar perception, we become attached to the superficial phenomena. However, the ultimate reality of phenomena is that they do not exist inherently.

Saying this doesn’t make me a pessimist nor mean I’ve given up on society. And I am not a hedonist like some Japanese youths, either. What I really want is to use some analyses and share the true meaning of our life.

Societal Pressures and Disaffected Youths

A lot of people want me to talk about happiness in life. But I don’t know whether the Japanese are happy or not. They should be happy, but I’m not sure. However, according to some studies and news, people around the world, including Japanese, are experiencing a lot of sufferings. Whether young or the old, everyone suffers. I have heard that school bullying is a problem. Actually it happens everywhere. But Japan is a country with a very strict education where students are trained to be organized from an early age. Under such an education system, some children are more likely to be bullied or abused by other children. As a result, children suffer from the pressure to do well in their studies and discrimination by their peers. They also have the pressure from their parents. So it’s difficult for many children to be truly happy.

Are youths happy? Of course, some of them are enjoying themselves. But most young people are stressed by work and their family life. Some young people work hard for very long hours including overtime. There are some who cannot cope with the stress of long working hours and competitiveness at the workplace and may end up committing suicide.

On July 8th this year, the Daily Mail reported that there are one million Japanese suffering from Hikikomori. This is a large proportion to the total population. It is a condition in which individuals refuse to leave their house and isolate themselves from society. These people lock themselves in their bedroom, surf the internet, read and watch television, cutting off all social contact with the outside world. If the phenomenon of Hikikomori is real, then many young people are not happy. I heard about the case of a young man whose routine comprises of eating, sleeping and going to the toilet only. He hadn’t communicated with anyone for 3 years.

Yesterday, we mentioned that Shantideva had a nickname called “One with Only Three Thoughts”, because he seemed to think nothing else except eating, sleeping and walking. However, Shantideva had inner realizations.

Yet for the hikikomoris, the only way to know if they are still alive or not is to observe whether the room lightings come on. There are a lot of young people who haven’t communicated with others for about 3 years. So it’s difficult for them to feel happiness.

In the early 8th century, the India master Shantideva said that the ultimate truth is not within the reach of our dualistic mind. The mind of ordinary people can only perceive gross information. That is to say, instead of using profound wisdom, most of us perceive objects only by depending on our own feelings, projections and desires. As such, we will probably miss the truth we are seeking for.

Three Kinds of Happiness

Dealing with Suffering

From a Buddhist perspective, it’s very easy to deal with these sufferings as they are not deemed serious at all. In our life, we will experience the occasional episodes of emotional conflicts, depressions and unhappiness. We may experience stress from the rat race in our daily life. But if you have received some Buddhist teachings on mind training, you will be able to deal with these sufferings easily.

The sufferings that people experience can be broadly categorized into inner and outer sufferings. People have the misconception that as long as they possess properties, reputation and status, they will have inner happiness. The idea is false. It is only when we possess the qualities of faith, wisdom and compassion in our mind, would we be happy naturally. At that time, even we’re lack of external substances, we’ll still feel about.

There was a Buddhist practitioner in Tibet called Milarepa (1052 -1135). As an ascetic, he lived a life of self-imposed deprivation, almost like a vagabond with hardly any clothes to wear and food to eat. But his poetry and Dharma songs are filled with joy. And because of this, his writings have aroused hope, wisdom and happiness in the minds of countless people through the ages. So, by exploring the potential within one’s mind, anyone can achieve happiness.

There are many wealthy and powerful people who are not happy. Even Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, seemed to regret sacrificing time with family for the success of Microsoft. So even great wealth does not guarantee lasting or complete happiness in our minds.

Three Kinds of Happiness

According to the Buddhist Treatise on the Great Perfection by Nagarjuna, there are three kinds of happiness with three different scopes of people. The beings of the highest capacity, driven by their compassion and loving-kindness, derive happiness by working to benefit other beings. Beings of medium capacity are concerned with liberation and seek to be liberated from the karmic afflictions and samsara forever. Those of least capacity seek happiness in their current life by pursuing material success, status, relationships and so on. Example of this is the pursuit of worldly happiness like healthy bodies, safe lives, good relationships and etc.

There are many Buddhists in Japan. Japan has a good Buddhism tradition. There are differing views about the history of Japanese Buddhism.  One view holds that Buddhism spread to Japan during the South and North courts period, while the other view is that it came to Japan during the Asuka period. Anyway, Buddhism has at least 1500 years of history in Japan. Buddhism is still deeply rooted in the Japanese culture and minds of Japanese people. Nevertheless, I am not sure how many have understood the real essence of Buddhism which is to attain supreme happiness through benefiting sentient beings. How many people have attained this?

We should cultivate the aspiration to benefit all human beings and animals from childhood. We must always keep in mind to try our best to help them. Thus, no matter how busy you are or how much pressure you are undergoing, it is likely that you won’t be so upset. This is so as the altruistic mind has the potential to bring us happiness naturally.

The second category of beings are people who care more about the happiness of their future lives. Just like us Tibetans. Although most of us also care for this life, but more importantly, we do not wish to into the three lower realms in our future lives and aspire for liberation. Hence, it is with the objective of pursuing bliss and liberation in future lives that we are not so attached to wealth and undertake practices of generosity, and set time for other spiritual practices. Thus, although we may be busy with work and live an unexciting life, we still feel very happy.

The third type of beings is focused only in the pursuit of happiness and pleasures during their current lifetime. Perhaps, quite a lot of Japanese Buddhists belong to this category. Not characteristics like in Japan, but I find that most people in the world these days are not interested to hear about liberation in the afterlife. People are more concerned about being good-looking, being healthy and living peacefully in this life. The majority of people in the world pursue this kind of ordinary happiness which is fine from the Buddhist perspective. However, the fact is that such kind of happiness is fleeting in nature.

Consider our own lifespan. I have heard that the average lifespan of Japanese people is longer around 80 years old. But I am not quite convinced of this and it is unlikely to be so. I’ve just been to several African countries where the average lifespan there is around 30-40 years. In terms of health and other aspects, Japan is better. People should live longer.

Even if we live long, it is relatively still quite short. Assuming everything goes well and you feel happy, the actual time you can enjoy is short. So as a human being, we have to focus on our long term happiness.

Anyway, we should rely on some external objects to improve the quality of our lives. But if we only live like this, we are not different from animals. We know that, animals also satisfy themselves through eating grass, drinking water and companionship of their own kind. However, as human beings, we have the possibility of attaining higher spiritual happiness. The spiritual happiness doesn’t depend on others but it should start with the development of our mind.

A Zen Master by the name of Huang Po once said, “All phenomena is the work of our mind.” That is to say, the mind contrives all external phenomena. If our mind can be truly developed, it becomes an inexhaustible treasure that will never run out. If we rely on this treasure to satisfy both ourselves and others, indeed we will have inexhaustible happiness. But nowadays, very few people in this world can really enjoy this kind of happiness.

Many Roads, One Goal

There are many different approaches to Buddhadharma. People have to choose the right practice that best satisfy their needs. For example, the Zen meditation can be applied in our life in many different ways. A manager, through meditation, is able to deal with the human mind. This is the highest level of management. As long as you can manage your mind, tame your mind, all your staffs and employees will gradually become kind and easy to deal with. Thus you can achieve the highest level of human management. If you are an educationalist, as long as you tame the minds of teachers and students, not only will the teaching quality improve, but the students’ potential intelligence and abilities can be realized which will lead to grades improvements. If you are a sportsman, then apply meditation in your sports which will help you reach peak physical and mental states. In other words, meditation could help us realize our goals and achieve our wishes. So meditation techniques alone can bring different benefits to different people.

Personally, I am not very familiar with Japan. But from the aspect of systematic learning of Buddhism which on listening, contemplation and meditation, there is a big difference between Tibet and other places.

Japan is recognized globally for its strategic planning capabilities. Lots of powerful countries are also afraid of it. In Japan, everything is well organized. It has very advanced technologies and the people have good manners. It is also a nation where citizens obey rules strictly. With their high intelligence, I believe that if the Japanese study Buddhist teachings on loving kindness, compassion, meditation, or emptiness and altruism, and promote these ideas widely, they will be able to benefit the whole world greatly.

I take much joy in many aspects of Japanese Buddhism. However, the tradition is being marginalized. So, it’s , to change the situation by adopting a different way. For example, if the Japanese can make some contributions to the world with their intelligence and power in this area, it would be very encouraging.

On the global scale, we all trust products that are made in Japan, like cars and so on. In the 1980s, we all believed in the quality of tiny recorders that were produced in Japan. Also for a shaver, if it is a Japanese product, it will definitely be very good. We have high regards for the quality of material products made by Japanese. And I believe for spiritual part, we’ll find much more transcendental “products” if we probe into it rigorously.

From a Buddhist perspective, it’s very easy to deal with these sufferings and they are not deemed serious at all. In our life, we will experience the occasional episodes of emotional conflicts, depressions and unhappiness. We may experience stress from the rat race in our daily life. But if you have received some Buddhist teachings on mind training, you will be able to deal with these sufferings easily.

The Profound and the Simple

The Profound and the Simple

When studying Buddhist philosophy, there are times when we need to analyze it with vigor for deeper meaning, while at other times we can understand the meaning directly as written. Yesterday, when I was at Tokyo University, I met a professor who had been to Harvard and other well-known universities in the world. She said to me, “Ten years ago, you taught The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, which is very profound. But now at universities, you seem to teach very simple and easy subjects. Why? In universities like ours, you should be teaching very deep and elaborate Dharma.”

I told her that, although my intelligence is limited, I still like to teach some profound Dharma. However, when I’m in some universities, if the content is too elaborate and profound, a lot of people may get disinterested. I do not want such a situation to happen. So, I’m trying to teach some relatively simple contents. When I first started lecturing in some universities, I taught mainly on the topics of Buddhanature and emptiness. Except for a few professors, the rest of the audience looked disinterested. Thereafter, I decided to teach simpler contents no matter where I was. Almost every year, I’ll spend around a third of my time giving simple teachings outside our academy. The remaining two-thirds of my time is spent in our academy teaching profound contents to Buddhists practitioners there.

She asked me, if so, why do you teach at these famous universities?

I advised her that I had taught in almost every kind of education facilities and at all levels from well-known top-tier, second-tier or third-tier universities, specialized secondary schools, middle schools and down to primary schools. I’ve also been to some orphanages, prisons, drug rehabilitation centers and so on. I will teach wherever as long as I have the opportunity. The famous universities are different as I always like opportunities to mingle with intelligent professors. So I visit the universities and ask questions. They also ask me very sharp questions to test me.

Also, famous universities provide good publicity and attract the attention of more people. For example, if I teach about the ideas of Tibetan Buddhism in a very small temple, not many people will take note of such teaching. However, if I teach at Tokyo University on the same topic, people would be more curious about the topic of Tibetan Buddhism. So if I teach in a very small temple, people may not be interested at all.  I teach widely at different places in order to create a positive affinity between all beings and Buddhism.

Study All Teachings

Whether you are a professor at the university or an ordinary Buddhist, you should study profound doctrines in depth and also master simple and easy teachings. People tend to be extreme these days. On end of the spectrum are arrogant practitioners or academics—only wanting to listen to profound teachings like Madhyamaka, Emptiness, Dzogchen and so on. They look down on all other teachings. On the other extreme, those with low self-esteem avoid profound teachings believing they are not good enough to study them. This group of practitioners focuses only on refuge taking and view of impermanence. Both are not right. All of us should try our best to learn all the teachings. Through the learning process, we will gain real benefit and happiness in our life naturally.

If we have a complete and systematic understanding of the truth, Buddhadharma and also the nature of our mind, our world will become gentler and milder, and we are able to adapt with ease. The Japanese Zen master, Taisaku Ikeda, once said that, “Mastering philosophy is like brightening our mind with an inner sun, whose light could shatter the darkness of our lives and our age.”

If we are able to control and understand our mind, the external world will become a much more beautiful place.

Question and Answer Session

Dealing with Depression

Dealing with Depression

Question #1:

Two years ago my family fell on hard times and since then I’ve become quite depressed. I don’t seem to be able to pull myself out of this depression. I know it’s not healthy but I can’t help myself. What should I do?

Khenpo Sodargye:

Everyone is likely to meet unusual circumstances during one’s lifetime. Generally, when conditions are good, we’ll be happy and normal. We feel that we have strong courage to face the challenges of life. But when some severe adversities actually arise in our life, our mood and mentality may change. Many people have such experiences. It’s just that some people appear to suffer more than others.

However, from the view of Buddhism, some of the changes that occur in our families and the people around are somehow valuable and meaningful. I heard that many people here in Japan have a relatively better understanding of impermanence because they recognize that they are constantly exposed to potential unexpected natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis. If that is the case, it will be very easy for us to deal with the familial relationships and the suffering of birth, aging, illness and death, etc.

In Buddhism, the contemplation of impermanence is one of the most profound practices. When we understand impermanence, we will not be shocked by changes. We need to realize that whatever happened is part and parcel of a normal life. Only through such understanding, will we be able to face changes and enjoy life normally. Thank you!

Subtle Afflictions

Question #2:

I have been studying Buddhism for two years as it offers ways to deal with afflictions. But I am puzzled that there are many people who appear to be free of afflictions. My mother, who is a very upbeat and caring person, said she doesn’t need Buddhism because she doesn’t have any afflictions. How can I persuade such people to practice Buddhism? Or in Buddhadharma, is there any higher pursuits than taming the afflictions?

Khenpo Sodargye:

Try slapping your mother’s face and see if she has the affliction of anger! Once, there was a man who claimed that he was very happy and that he did not have any afflictions. Later, his teacher accused him of stealing the former’s possession. The man became very angry with such an accusation. The man then realized that he actually has afflictions. Many people nowadays have very simplistic ideas about Buddhism. They think that learning Buddhism is just like eating pain-killers. They believe that Dharma only controls the afflictions temporarily. These people do not ponder about life and death at all. Actually, so long as one is not liberated from life and death, one has to undergo suffering.

There is suffering in every country. Both poor and rich suffer. As long as we have not achieved freedom within our minds, we will suffer a lot. If our minds are liberated, we will be very happy wherever we are. We will always feel quite at ease whatever kind of crowd we are in.

Although she may not have afflictions at the particular moment when she was talking to you, it may not be that she is free from them. You should observe if she is happy all the time in her life. Will she also be very happy at the time of death? In fact, many of the sufferings are inevitable in our life. So, maybe the power and subtleness of Buddhism can only be revealed when we refer to the profound teaching of Buddhism that deals with the issues of life and death.

Belief in Future Life

Question #3:

I’m the third type of person you mentioned. I believe in the next life but find myself being concerned with only my present existence. Personally, I believe people can only develop through difficult circumstances. Without adversity, a person will not be able to progress. So it does not matter this life as the person can still practice in his or her next life. Therefore, I do not feel that I need to practice in this life so as to make a better next life. Could you please tell me how can I persuade myself that the next life is important?

Khenpo Sodargye:

You say you believe in next life. Is it like the belief in the existence of tomorrow? If it is just like the belief of the existence of tomorrow and the rest of your life, you probably would care about the next life. If you believe it’s the same as tomorrow and the rest of your life, and you still don’t care about next life, then you would not care about anything in this life either. So many people nowadays say they believe it. But the strength of belief is different.

Population Growth Rate

Question #4:

As you can see I am an old man. The Japanese population is decreasing right now while the global population is increasing. I read somewhere that after 30 or 50 years, there will be a scarcity of food and water. Then after 50 or 100 years, human have to leave earth to migrate to another planet. And it seems we do not need rockets for the migration.

I saw a film 60 years ago titled 4:44 Last Day on Earth, which left a deep impression on me. The story was about that a small planet colliding with the earth resulting in its destruction. Maybe this is not a fiction but rather a real possibility that may happen in about 50 or 100 years later. I am concerned about this, so I would like to ask your opinion.

Khenpo Sodargye:

In fact, as I said just now, there is some false information whose main purpose is to attract our attention. In order to shock us, there are news about aliens or something horrible. Also when they are advertising new movies, they always try to create a fresh feeling so that you’ll be fascinated by it. So I don’t believe some of these stories.

The doubling of the global population in the past 40 or 50 years is a fact. The world population was not very large in about 1930s. But it began to explode from then on. I met some anthropologists at the University of Cambridge. According to their statistics and forecasts, the human population would not necessarily increase for a period of time from now.

Europe and the US are now facing the aging population. In Singapore, it seems that one-third of the population is not willing to get married or have children. A lot of young people in the Netherlands, Belgium and other European countries also don’t want to have children. The aging population is a problem in many countries. According to their forecast, there would not be the population explosion like the last century. So we don’t have to worry about it and especially if we save the earth resources. Especially for old people like you and me, I think there will be enough resource until we leave the planet.

Finding What You Seek

Question #5:

In the world, there are many countries with various unique cultures. The lifestyle of every individual is different. But everyone wants to live a happy life. We know that material comfort doesn’t necessarily bring happiness. Different people or counties have different definitions of happiness. Do you think that those who claim to be happy are really happy? This is my question.

Khenpo Sodargye:

Perhaps the concept of happiness is different between countries and individuals. But I have been thinking about it for a long time. In fact, happiness is being satisfied with what you have found after seeking it for some time. If one obtains inner freedom, then one doesn’t want to seek for anything outside. This is true happiness. Anyone in any country would be happy as long as he obtains the feeling of satisfaction.

Waseda University