In the Buddhist tradition, joy differs from ordinary happiness. In the conventional sense, happiness is devoid of pain. It is an escape, diversion or momentary respite from the difficulties of life. This is often a healthy way to recharge overused batteries. Problems arise as we grip to the experience. We begin to organize our life around what is essentially a temporary experience. Tension arises as we try to solidify that experience. Happiness may be a thing, but its not the real thing. In fact, happiness is an irritatingly fleeting and temporary thing. And, as it rejects a large part of our experience, it can be a superficial thing.
When Buddhist texts refer to “happiness” or the “truth of happiness” they are referring to a deeper experience. In the Shambhala tradition we refer to this experience as Joy. As opposed to the temporary fling we have with happiness, joy is a deeper, more stable experience. Joy is not devoid of pain. Joy actually describes a space so vast, it encompasses pain.
Happiness is based on relatively rigid circumstances. The temperature, time of day, alcohol intake and digestion all need to align. And because we are narrowing the vast creative potential of life experience, our expectations reach the point of demand. Our investment is so high, we become addicted to the process whether or not we have even become happy.
Joy, on the other hand, stems from a primordial wellspring of goodness. It is a precisting condition not reliant on external circumstances. As it is always there, it is always accessible.
To all of us. At any time. Regardless of circumstances.
We all have a base of goodness and dignity on which our life configures. Circumstances in life cause us to overlay a protective construct that mistakes temporary experience with truth. This construct is so focused on its survival, it has confused itself for with the being it aims to protect. In its gripping panic it seems to eclipse our basic goodness. But, our deeper essence is goodness, or why would we have bothered to emerge from the chaos in the first place? Why would we be here at all? Why would we experience the miracles of sight, sound and mind? The fact that our clinging defenses all but obscure the simple poetry of life, does not alter how precious our experience actually is.
When we connect to the simple unvarnished truth of experience, our feeling is a deep and profound appreciation for ourselves and our life. This happens whether the surface circumstances are good, bad, happy or sad. Beneath the self focused prose of our narrative of life lies the joy of connecting to that life.
Therefore, life can be imbued with an experience of joy simply by becoming attuned to this goodness. Since joy is inherent to all, all we need do is recognize the experience as not only valid, but as an experience that is our very birthright. All we need do is open to what is there. In order to facilitate accepting our life as it is, in order to open to joy, we can work to loosen blockages that are an obstacle to the experience of joy.
The practice of mindful awareness allows us to connect to the moments of life beneath the story. Each time we return to the breath, we create anither slice in the layers of superficial attachment. Each time we return to the breath, we reconnect to the truth of our present experience.
When we are actively addicted to the myth of happiness returning to the breath might seem tenuous and unsatisfying. But, if we follow the instructions naively, and just continue returning to the breath, again, again and again our allegiance will shift to an appreciation of the deeper experience. Odd as it would seem to a diversion addled mind, turning our identification from the incessant pursuit of the illusive to the simple experience of breathing can be a deeply joyful experience.
This connection to inherent goodness of the present is what we call Joy. And, joy is there in the saddest times, as well as the happiest times. When we realize this simple truth our allegiance shifts from flailing at suface illusions toward the profound joy of being.
And, as we further develop that openness through meditation practice, our access to joy becomes effortless. Joy becomes the natural state, as it was intended. Fearless joy that cannot be vanquished. Pain cannot dampen it. Fear cannot deplete it. Sadness actually flavors it and loneliness shines as aloneness within its radiance.
Oh, and, happiness? Happiness is still there, of course. Usually when we are not looking for it and are willing to let it go. Happiness is the glistening sun on the surface of the waves. Joy is the radiance of the passion of the sun there whether glistening or in shadows. Joy is not an adornment. It is life itself.