The principle for happiness is surprisingly simple to understand, yet difficult to attain. Just as when a sage was asked by a king about the guide to happiness, the sage explained that happiness can be achieved simply by abandoning evils, doing good and purifying the mind, whereupon the king exclaimed, "This is so simple that even an eight year old can understand it". "However," said the sage, "even an eighty year old man cannot practice it well".
This is not to say that happiness cannot be attained. It can be, but only with proper cultivation of the mind - and herein lies the challenge. It is simply not enough to abandon evils and do good, without cultivating the mind, for the cause of your happiness is your thoughts, as illustrated in the diagram below.
In fact, the cause of all your emotions - both happy and sad - is your thoughts. Like it or not, you have to gain mastery over your thoughts in order to gain the happiness you seek.
Seek First to Understand How Your Mind Works
Understanding how your mind works is crucial to mental cultivation. To understand how your mind works, you need to be able to look within your mind and be aware of all the thoughts that arise. This means you will need to be mindful of your thoughts and feelings.
1. Mindfulness is an indispensable tool for self understanding. So, start training yourself to become more mindful - meaning to become more aware of your body, feelings and thoughts, and watching them in a non-judgmental or impersonal way. As you watch your body, feelings and thoughts, see how they affect each other. Examine their relationships with one another.
2. Satisfy yourself with the accuracy of the observation that your thoughts affect your feelings, which in turn move you into actions (as shown in the earlier diagram). See how every positive emotion is preceded by a positive thought, and how this is true also with negative thought and emotion.
3. Notice also that although external objects (people, things or events) may trigger an old memory or mental habit, it is your present state of mind that determines whether they may affect you in a particular way or not. This is called conscious living or living in the present moment. In karmic lingo, it is said that what you experienced outwardly is old karma, and how you experienced them inwardly is new karma. In short, you must recognize that while you cannot control what is outside, you can be in full control of what is inside - your thoughts. This insight puts you totally in charge and fully responsible for your own happiness (or sufferings).
4. Recognize also this very important principle - what you feed becomes stronger, what you starve becomes weaker. This principle is what you will use to strengthen wholesome mental habits and weaken unwholesome mental habits. How do you feed your mind? You feed it by choosing what to focus on. Focus on what is wholesome, such as unconditional love, kindness, generosity, compassion, altruism, fair play. Discard what is unwholesome, such as fear, worries, anxiety, habitual speculation or making assumptions. It is important to recognize negative mental habits and remove or replace them with positive habits.
Some Observations about Thoughts
After you have examined your thoughts for a while, you will start to realize some things about your thoughts.
1. Your thoughts come and go according to certain causes and conditions. Specifically, thoughts are triggered by association between what you are in contact with now (people, things and events) and your past memories or experiences about them. From there, it proliferates according to your mental habits. Thus, the state of your mind when the impression or contact is made can greatly influence the outcome of your present experience.
2. Thoughts are NOT created equal. Some thoughts are more important and useful to you than others. However, you have the habit of treating all thoughts with the same urgency and importance, giving them equal weightage and attention. You need to change this habit.
3. In the ultimate sense, thoughts are empty of any intrinsic values except what you give to them. Thoughts are simply thoughts. They become real only when you believe in them.
4. There is no one to own the thoughts. They simply appear when certain causes and conditions are met. You personalize your thoughts and everything else in your life when you claim ownership over them.