Thursday, February 7, 2008

Cheerful New Year!

Best wishes to all of you, as Buddhists around the world celebrate Losar, the Tibetan New Year, the Chinese New Year, the Lunar New Year, and Shambhala Day (as it is known in the Shambhala community).

Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of Shambhala, made a point of wishing people a cheerful New Year, and cheerful birthday, instead of a happy New Year and happy birthday. He explained that happiness depends on circumstances, while cheerfulness is unconditional—we can always tune into our inherent well-being even if our circumstances are not happy.

It is our alienation from this basic well-being, buddha nature, our true nature, that keeps samsara spinning. By tuning into our true nature we can cheer up on the spot.

So, Cheerful New Year to you!


michael greenleaf said...

Cheerful New Year to you Andy!

Your post on Trungpa Rinpoche's embrace of "cheerful" over "happy" seems simple enough. With a little reflection however, it is hard for me to imagine myself cheerful in the face of unhappy situations -- especially if they are happening to me. Inevitably, a component of unhappy situations will be MY unhappiness with them.

One might conclude that an experience of our own true nature would distance us from the ups and downs of happiness and its opposite. This seems not to be the case. Buddhist teachings and stories of practitioners suggest that practice leads to a deep understanding and experience of the good and the bad.

As you suggest Andy, Trungpa's Rinpoche's preferred adjective points to a completely radical notion. Not the protection from suffering by an imagined nirvana, but the "enjoyment" of both happiness and unhappiness.

One way of approaching this notion is appreciation, which includes both the more neutral idea of being aware as well as the sense of seeing, knowing or enjoying value. (An often heard buddhist view is that we typically overlook and underestimate what is valuable in our experience.)

This connects with the practice of mindfulness. By paying attention, we are at the same time "tuning in" to the potential value of our experience, whether we understand it as good or bad.

Because it provides a settled place from which to see experience with more depth, mindfulness has the effect of changing and softening initial ideas of good and bad.

This leads to the question of how to define experience without our familiar labels about it as well as questions into the nature of knowing in our experience altogether. (Is true intelligence or knowing always linked with enjoyment and appreciation of some kind?) In any event, when these fixed ideas are relaxed, humor is an inevitable result.

"Cheering up" then, is both the path -- training in being appreciative whatever confronts us -- and the goal, an equanimity that transcends the distinctions of good and bad altogether.

While the goal might transcend distinctions of positive and negative, it's clear that the experience of the path of mindfulness, by definition, encourages and embodies joy -- or we could also say "cheer".

From one practitioner to another, a cheerful New Year indeed!

jerry said...

This is a great post. I just had one of the ‘Doh!’ moments and ran back to correct my own site before publishing my comment. You see my own comment form did not match what I’m about to advice. I get less comment than you, so never noticed any problem. I’ve changed it now anyway so here goes.

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