Where Did My Happiness Go? – By Mingyur Rinpoche

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Monday, August 04, 2008
Where Did My Happiness Go? – By Mingyur Rinpoche
Transcript on Mingyur Rinpoche's public talk 'The Joy of Living' in KL, 30 May 2008:

The Joy of Living is the title of my English book. Each country changes the title, that's why in Chinese, the publisher changes the title without even informing me! I think I'm not the happiest person in the world because my teacher is happier than me. But scientists haven't tested my teachers' brains yet.

Then maybe you wonder, nowadays in the world there are many problems, so many sufferings, so how can you live your life joyfully? My answer is whether you can live your life joyfully or not depends on you. Happiness and suffering are all in here. Heart or brain (to refer to the mind) doesn't matter as it depends on culture.

Ok first, I'll ask you a question: can you find 1 object, 1 phenomena, which everybody agree that it's good? From the whole world, no one says "I don't like the object"? Everybody agree this is good? Can you find? You can say whatever you want, don't be shy. (An answer from audience: Money)…Everybody agree?

(Another answer received: Good health)…Everybody agree? But in California, there is 1 bridge called the Golden Gate Bridge. And people like to fly through this Golden Gate Bridge…and go to Pureland immediately. So do you understand? They don't like good health. They are watching is there any police, because if they are here (thinking of jumping down), the police will protect them.

Next? (An answer received: Wisdom)…Wisdom is not an object. What kind of wisdom? (Another answer: Wisdom of emptiness) Some people don't believe it also. First, 1 person said "money". But once I'm in Berlin Germany, there's 1 group and their hair dyed really funny. Me and some people are in the car, and then there's a demostration. They were holding a banner which wrote "Money is poison."

How about gold or diamond? Does everyone like diamond? Ok, now you think diamond is good in this world. Why? Because it's not easy to find. If the whole mountain is diamond, then you won't feel diamond is important. We don't like stones ya? When someone threw stones into your home everywhere, what do you think? Maybe you'll use the vacuum cleaner and clean them up. Can vacuum cleaner suck up the stones? (Laughter) But now, if you found small diamond on the floor, you'll be very happy. But if the whole mountain is diamond, you don't like small diamond. If small diamond was to be found inside your room, you'll use a vacuum cleaner and clean it up. If you found a small stone, you are so happy, you'll pay a lot of money to buy that small stone and wear it.

That's why if your mind had decided which is good and nice, then when you look at that phenomena, it makes you happy and joyful. If your mind decides this is bad object/phenomena, then that phenomena makes you unhappy. That's why there is really no real happiness and suffering existing in the outer phenomena. It's in the mind. That's why you cannot point to 1 object that everyone agrees is good. If happiness really exists in outer phenomena, like in durian, if someone like durian, it makes them happy. But if you don't like durians, when someone gives you a durian, you'll say, "Please don't bring it here." You feel uncomfortable.

If happiness really exists in durian, then when you eat more and more, you'll bcome happier and happier. If you eat 1 durian, there'll be 1 happiness, 2 durian 2 happiness, 5 durian 5 happiness. But no. Even if you really like durian, 3 or 4 durians ok lah. If you eat 5, it becomes the cause of suffering. That's why we have to understand — we have wrong belief, thinking that real happiness exists in outer phenomena. That makes you suffer. Then your life cannot be joyful all the time no matter how much material things you achieved.

I have another story, true story…not true story, half story…Scientists had researched on heart attacks, the time of heart attacks. 79% of the heart attacks came in Monday morning. Why? You know why ya? Stress…you have to go to work…2 days holidays finished. "Oh my, I've to go to work!" But actually, Monday morning is the same as Tue morning, Saturday morning and so on.

Another story…true story. There's a couple. They have a very good life — very sucessful, good job, good business and they both are very close. They both are very happy. Then one day, they decide to buy a new house in a rich area. Their neighbour's house is much bigger than their house and they are a very rich family. And everyday when the couple came back home, they saw how their neighbour behaved. They change clothes everyday 1 or 2 times. But they themselves wear the same clothes. Thentheir neighbour drives very nice cars, Jaguar, many cars. While they drive only 1 car. Then, this couple became jealous of them, and they feel they do not have enough — they want to buy more clothes, they want to change new car but they have no money. Eventually, the husband gets unhappy and depressed. And he began to do badly in his business and job. He cannot work very well and come back home to complain about his wife and makes the wife uncomfortable. That also makes the wife unhappy and affects her work. Then, their life becomes miserable. One day, both of them are thinking, "What happened? Since we move hse, our life went down, like a stock market going down." Maybe fengshui? (Laughter)

Then one day, they found the root of the problem. What is it? Neighbour… bad neighbour… ? No no, the neighbour didn't do anything. It's their own mind. Ever since they found this root of problem, their life becomes ok…slowly, their emotional level calm down, they get their energy back, they don't care what the neighbours are doing. They try their best for themselves. After that, their life becomes good again. That's why to understand this point is very important — what we call wisdom. If the couple didn't understand where is the root of their problem, they'll continue to suffer. Maybe they'll complain about each other, complain to the neighbour or other people ya? Just by understanding the real source of problem, you'll be liberated from the problem. That's why this is very important. That's why the joy of living means whether you can live your life joyfully is in your hands. If you don't understand it's in your hands, no matter how much you achieved in material success, you'll remain unhappy.

Scientists had researched about happiness. And what they found is the cause of most happiness comes from 2 main reasons — winning lottery and a good marriage. The happiness of winning lottery is good for 2 years. After 2 years, they have more suffering than before. And about marriage, should I tell you or not? (Laughter) They said it's only good for 5 years (More laughter). Ok it's not me who say, the scientists say so. Of course, not every marriage is like that. Some are good forever till death.

Maybe I tell you why I wrote this book
(1) I like to share my own experience.
(2) There's a lot of similarities between Buddhism and modern science.

So I put them together. A lot of things that scientists said they discovered, the Buddha had already explained more than 2500 years ago. And I put in 2 areas of science — physics and neuroscience. Physics is very close to the Buddhist's view on interdependence, impermanence and emptiness. The second, neuroscience, is very good for the experience in meditation. That's why I put these 2 areas of scientific research, Buddhist views and meditation together.

Also, the scientists had tested my brain — I'm a bai lao shu (Chinese term, meaning guinea pig). But they did not operate on my head, they put me into a big machine call fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). This machine is not similar to regular MRI — it's fMRI, functional MRI, like video. You can see neurons moving and what they are doing. Regular MRI is like taking photos. fMRI is a very big machine, almost 1 floor, with the shape of a coffin — white coffin. Bai guan cai and bai lao shu (Chinese terms, meaning "white coffin and white guinea pig")(Laughter) .

Then, it has like a tongue and I had to lie down on this tongue, and act like a corpse. They tied my head, then I had to wear a big earphone. I was not allowed to move my head. Even a little was not allowed. And they put a white cloth in my mouth. They pushed me inside the machine, like somebody was swallowing you up. The machine was very noisy, like a siren. Then, I had to stay inside this machine for 1 hour, sometimes 1.5 hours without moving. The inside got warm, like Malaysian weather. And sometimes I got itchy, but I couldn't do anything.

Then, I have to apply 3 meditation techniques — shamatha with object, open presence or objectless shamatha, and unconditional loving-kindness and compassion. They gave me orders through a microphone in another room, with nice chair and a cup of tea. They said, "Ok, 2 minutes focus…now stop, don't meditate…then 2 minutes of meditation, don't meditate for 2 minutes, 2 minutes of compassion meditation, now no more compassion.. ." At the same time, they sent terrible noises — of a girl's screaming and baby's crying. At the same time, I've to meditate.

Then, they have to analyse using the computer for 6 months. The findings – they said I am totally crazy. They also test with 18 other meditators, who they referred to as long-term meditators, those who have already meditated for more than 10,000hrs. What they have found is the left side of the brain, which is the left prefrontal lobe, this is the area for happiness, compassion, joy etc. And the activity in this region increases a lot…more than 700%! Normal people can only reach 7 – 8%.

Then, they also tested on beginner meditators — university students who have no idea about meditation. The scientists divided them into 2 groups, then they taught 1 group meditation. Both groups have similar emotional level. Then, they had a meditation teacher to teach 1 group how to meditate and after that, these students were told to apply meditation everyday for 2 months. 2 months later, these students developed the happiness activity in the left prefrontal lobe 10 – 15%.