The Meaning of Contentment

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During my talk last night at the Shambhala Center of New York, we discussed the notion of how meditation and the Shambhala Buddhist teachings can affect our understanding of systems and culture. There is no escape from society; our practice eventually has to address cultural issues because our culture is literally sewn into the mind we encounter on the cushion. I even managed to work in a mention of the movie The Devil Wears Prada and actually made it relevant to this discussion of cultural and societal dharmic issues. So I was proud of that. 🙂

During the discussion portion, a friend and student asked me if I thought that capitalism itself was part of the problem. I remarked that it’s interesting how much of a role economics plays in my teacher Sakyong Mipham’s new book the Shambhala Principle, due out in May. It’s a great book (I would preorder it). I mentioned that I didn’t think capitalism per se was the problem, but a lot of the views of human nature that underlie our economic understanding seem to suggest a rather strange view of what brings a human being happiness. For example, neoclassical economics calls the measure of personal happiness one’s “utility curve,” which is a rather strange name for happiness. It seems like those who came up with the term “utility” did not have much understanding of what happiness was personally, because if you actually felt happiness, you wouldn’t refer to it as something as cold as utility. That’s like referring to “love” as something like “an interaction investment strategy.”

Tomorrow night (Thurs) at the Shambhala Center of New York I am beginning to teach the Shambhala curriculum with my friend Lodro Rinzler, author of the Buddha walks into a Bar. We will be addressing this this notion of Contentment rather than a view of happiness based on greed and incessant consumption. We will be looking deeply for 5 weeks into  how exactly we train our minds to walk through the world with contentment, satiation, and the wisdom of knowing exactly what is enough.

It often occurs to me that huge part of the problem with our American system is that we guaranteed the pursuit of happiness, without really defining the term “happiness” at all. Perhaps it is this lack of definition which makes the term happiness so loaded and problematic. But happiness does exist, and it can be cultivated. (Hint: greed does not get you there.)

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