As we open more and more, we enjoy living more and more. Despite the common Western misconceptions the Buddha teaches a path towards living happily. The reason I prefer to describe this path as one of opening is that we can avoid the traps of thinking of this path in terms of mandates and goals and end-states. There is no “Thou shalt be happy.”
Nor are we fated to suffer. The world is not deterministic. Events have conditions from which they could emerge, but what specifically might emerge from these conditions is open. This may depend on that, but there is nothing about that which forces only this to happen. Also, if situations like suffering have arisen from conditions, then we can learn these conditions and how to free ourselves from them.
The fancy term for “this depends on that” is “dependent origination.” Unfortunately, the most common analysis of dependent origination in Buddhist writing traces “the origin of this whole mass of suffering” in 12 steps starting with ignorance through to “aging-and-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair.” SN 12.1 (Bodhi 533)
There is another “rather neglected and progressive account of dependent co-arising” (Morrison 187) that starts with the condition for truly opening up, which is liberation and analyzes the conditions that allow us to open up, going back to the same ignorance that ultimately leads to suffering. This account is found in the Upanisa Sutta.
In this path out of ignorance to full opening, we build on the same three positive emotional processes that we encountered in the last post about joy. If fully and truly opening means unbounded Yes! then it is not surprising that we experience Yes! as joy on our way. That is, we experience gladness as a condition for joy or rapture, which is a condition for calming, which is the condition for happiness or bliss. Happiness helps us achieve meditative concentration, which contains its own pleasant qualities. SN 12.23
An early 20th century translator of the Upanisa Sutta asks “How might it not have altered the whole face of Buddhism in the West if that sequence had been made the illustration” of dependent origination instead of the one tracing “the origin of this whole mass of suffering.” (Morrison 189) In his study of Nietzsche and Buddhism, Robert Morrison uses this sutta as one of his arguments against Nietzsche’s view of Buddhism as a nihilistic religion. He summarizes the import of the Upanisa Sutta as follows:
This account of the Buddhist version of self-overcoming [a goal for Nietzsche] reveals what can be described as a progressive unfoldment of energy and ‘power.’ … Therefore, the Buddhist way, rather than being a relatively healthy but limp expression of life combined with the wish to eventually extinguish life altogether, which is how Nietzsche understands it, seems more concerned with the enhancement and generation of fuller expressions of life …. Rather than running away from life, because it is deemed to be dukkha, what unfolds as a response to dukkha is a life-enhancing unfoldment of ameliorated states …. (Morrison 189)