The Question

by Rev. Kinrei Bassis

It is a basic human desire to seek happiness and satisfaction in our lives. The question we all face in life is how do we find this happiness and satisfaction. The way we answer that question is the way we will direct our lives. Our volitional choices, the way we conduct our lives, the way we direct our longing, is our answer.

Sometimes our answer to the question is confusion – I do not know what to do. Sometimes our answer is despair – nothing we do seems to work. Sometimes our answer is blind desire. We allow our lust to control us, our greed to control us, our fear to control us. When I was a young man, travelling to exotic places enticed me. Then, in my travels, I was living my image of an exciting life. Yet my underlying purpose in travelling the world was simply to have a good time. But having a good time is actually not that easy and even exotic places can easily be boring. I eventually realized travelling was not an answer to what I am looking for.

People are often driven by blind ambition because they are not looking at the reality of what they are trying to grasp but just following some deep seated desire. I remember talking to someone who had finally become a neurologist after many difficult and exhausting years of education and medical training. He was now surprised that even though he finally attained the success and financial rewards that he had been seeking, his heart was still looking for something more. It like the title of the popular song of the rock group U2, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.

Our lives are a demonstration of our choices and what has meaning in our lives. I remember hearing someone speak of his wife asking him, “what in the past year meant the most to you?” The husband said, “I maintained daily distance running and ran a marathon.” The wife looked at him with disapproval. He had three children and a wife and what mattered most to him was his running. The marriage soon fell apart.

We all have the tendency to believe that, “If I had this job, or this experience; if I could be with this person or have this lifestyle, this would make me happy and satisfied.” We keep answering the underlying question in our life by all the various ways we attempt to fill the the emptiness. Our life answers our inner longing by drawing us into patterns of pursuing and avoiding, of attainment and failure. And as we chase our dreams, we keep experiencing disappointment and frustration. Whether we fulfill our dreams and goals or fail, we will still eventually keep finding ourselves in the place of “I still have not found what I am looking for.”

Rephrasing U2, I have found what I am looking for. The question of our lives has an answer, the deep longing of our hearts can find the wholeness it seeks. Yet we miss seeing the answer to our question because we are looking the wrong way. The normal worldly mind keeps asking life and the world to give us what we want. Mostly we are asking with demands and expectations. We are filled with wants and needs, and their automatic partner, fear and aversion. Since we never fully control the conditions in our life, we are always both getting what we want and getting what we do not want. The more we answer the question of our lives by filling ourselves with more demands, more wants, the more we keep getting what we do not want.

All of our various longings of our heart are an effort to be whole, to fill the sense of emptiness in our heart. Yet, if we keep asking the wrong question in life, a compassionate aspect of law of karma is that life keeps giving us serious problems and we keep confronting suffering. The Dharma is pointing to the mind of all acceptance, to put the Buddhist teaching into practice and work at having an open and willing mind and heart. Instead of trying the worldly way of obtaining happiness by controlling the conditions within our life, we learn to be inwardly still, with an open heart. We need to try our best to let the waves of desire and strong emotions flow through us without grasping anything or pushing anything away.

The real question is not why we are not getting what we want; the real question is why we are not practicing all acceptance and seeking the Buddha Heart. Letting go in faith and trusting that there is nothing to fear is the way we learn how to ask the right question. To recognize that all of our difficulties is not coming from the world’s failures or my personal failures but what I am asking for. We begin to liberate ourselves from suffering by realizing nothing, neither our suffering or our happiness is our own. We are looking in the right direction when we bow to our suffering and have faith that points us to look up with gratitude.

The difficulty in life comes from the fact that we care deeply about what happens to us. This provides overwhelmingly powerful motivation, driving people to put tremendous amounts of energy into whatever it is that deeply matters to them, whether work, family, friendship, recreation, art, collecting, etc. When we care deeply enough about something, we are even willing to risk our lives.

Sometimes our lives are relatively empty of much meaning and all that person cares about is being comfortable and not suffering. They are just trying to get by, to survive and grasp a little bit of happiness.

The Buddhist path requires that you make the Buddhist practice the central aspect of your life. And naturally this is difficult and goes against the normal human motivation we have to maximize our comfort and avoid suffering. Yet each act of Buddhist training, whether it is meditation, mindfulness, studying the Dharma, ceremonial, practicing with the Sangha, are all ways to help us to look in the right direction. Every time we turn our hearts in the right direction – whenever we think, speak and act with kindness, compassion, generosity and gratitude, we are helping to free ourselves from our defilements. Within us is a fire of a deep longing, and this fire will burn away all obstacles when we feed it with our faith and acts of Buddhist training.

We need to accept that we do not control how our life will unfold and we can trust that what we really want, the true Treasure, lies within the stillness of our hearts. If we live this Truth, it can and will free us from all suffering. When we sit still, the stream of compassion turns within and we can hear the call of the Buddha. Let us be willing to do all that we can so that we will hear and answer that call.