The Buddhist Commity and how it Parallels with Aristole’s Views on Happiness

Kendall Kazor Period 4

When someone is faced with the question “what is your aspiration in life?” the answer is most all the time “to be happy”(A BUDDHIST VIEW OF HAPPINESS). Whether that takes form in becoming the richest man in the world or bringing peace to the world, everyone wants to be happy. Each individual has developed their own opinion on what this ultimate happiness truly is; however, these are merely uneducated opinions. What does it mean to truly be happy? What defines happiness?

An answer to this has been brought to focus by Aristotle and has been instilled in many communities and different lifestyles.  Aristotle wrote that happiness is not just a feeling but a state one enters after utilizing the virtues to the fullest extent. Therefore, owning a brand new Mercedes Benz will not bring you true happiness. It may momentarily bring joy, but in reality material luxuries subtract from ones overall goal to be happy.  The philosopher uses the Greek term “eudemonia,” translated to good spiritedness, reiterating that happiness is not just to feel something but to be something.

Many religions tie in the theory that happiness is the “end” in their teachings. One religious community that centers itself on this concept is Buddhism. The Buddhist community in particular, stems from the idea of happiness or sukkha. All aspects of a Buddhist lifestyle gear towards working to the ultimate happiness, nirvana. Buddha teaches that in order to enter this state of nirvana, one must overcome the natural suffering caused by being human, dukkha. Dukkha is a complex word meaning “that which is difficult to bear”(A Basic Buddhism Guide: The Eight-Fold Path). However, we as humans have a natural tendency towards dukkha. Overcoming this, in other words unhappiness, one must follow the Eightfold Path.

The path is described as a paradox (A Basic Buddhism Guide: The Eight-Fold Path).  One’s true nature is to be happy but one must remove themselves from the tendency to go against that nature. The Eightfold Path leads to nirvana, the ultimate happiness, the end(A BUDDHIST VIEW OF HAPPINESS). As well as being a path, it is also describes as an everlasting, eternal state of mind. The current leader of the Buddhist community, the Dalai Lama, speaks about this in his best-selling novel, “ The Art of Happiness.” He says that “happiness is determined by ones state of mind rather than external events” . He extends this and explains that one can achieve this through “training your sem”, or spirit (A Basic Buddhism Guide: The Eight-Fold Path). The act of training ones spirit in the Buddhist community is done through follow the journey that is the Eightfold Path.

Buddha describes this journey as the Raft. In order to cross the treacherous river we must build a raft (A Basic Buddhism Guide: The Eight-Fold Path).   Once built, we the raft, you use its resources to row your way across the river. After reaching the other side of the river, the raft is no longer needed; however, you must make sure you are done using it before you let go or else you will sink. This metaphor essentially teaches that in order to achieve the Nirvana, or the end of happiness, on must use teachings combined with personal skill to their fullest extent. Buddha’s point is almost identical to Aristotle.

Aristotle teaches, that is order to achieve his definition of happiness, one must perform at their highest function of reasoning while utilizing their highest virtues. The path specifically consist of achieving right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. If one were to translate these teachings into Aristotelian terms, they could say the Eightfold Path is the equivalent to the virtues one utilizes to achieve happiness.

Aristotle describes virtues as a mean between to extremes. They are good habits achieved though practice and repetition until they are instilled into your being. Therefore, one must neither be an ascetic nor captured by materialism. Buddha teaches of this mean as well. Before he became Buddha, his name was Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha left society to find truth in the world. He was essentially embarking on his journey to define the meaning of life. Before this journey, he was born into a wealthy class of Hindu society, the Kshatriya class. The reason he left, was because he knew that the material and luxurious lifestyle was not true to nature. He became an ascetic. However, after depriving himself from the nutrients and necessities of life, he realized this was not the right way to live. He then discovered the Middle Way. The Middle Way was the mean between the two extremes.  Aristotle would inevitably agree that the true path to happiness is through living the Middle Way. One must practice all things to this extent as well(Buddha.” Pursuit of Happiness).

The Buddhists teach that the ultimate evil that prevents happiness, dukkha, revolves around this constant want for more (A BUDDHIST VIEW OF HAPPINESS). The Dhammapada is a collection of the essential teachings of Buddha.  One of the chapters , titled “Happiness,” contains a description of the elements that come along with a happy life.  One of the main elements includes the following:  “living without yearning for sensual pleasures among those who yearn for sensual pleasures”(A BUDDHIST VIEW OF HAPPINESS). This essentially means that even though we live in a world driven by pleasures, if following the path towards happiness, one must go against this tendency.

When reading this, one might jump to the conclusion that this goes against the Aristotelian teaching that unless you feel pleasure in an action, you are not living well. However, this conception is false. Aristotle is saying that as humans we often work to achieve pleasure. This is actually the opposite of what we should be doing. In reality, exercising ones faculties should equate to pleasure. Therefore, Aristotle does not oppose this Buddhist teach but actually reinforces it. Buddha says that the world has gained a twisted view that implies success is when one gains their pleasures. Concluding that in reality, instead of this, we must live life in way that brings constant pleasure thus reaping happiness.

Another aspect of the Buddhist community that aligns with Aristotle is the practice of contemplation. Because Buddhist definition of happiness is a mind-state, one of the key ways to achieve it is through meditation. Buddhists teach that through meditation, one develops a sense of awareness which helps transform his habitual patterns (A Basic Buddhism Guide: Meditation). Meditation is a conscious effort to change how the mind works. The word for meditation is ‘bhavana’ which translates ‘to make grow’ or ‘to develop'(A Basic Buddhism Guide: Meditation). Aristotle would 100% agree with this method of achieving knowledge. He believes that contemplation is the highest form of life, because it reaps no result beyond the contemplation itself. Just as the Buddhist, Aristotle teaches that in order for contemplation to be fulfilled, the conclusions gathered must be shared and practiced.

Essentially, if Aristotle were to live in India, the prominent country where Buddhism is practiced, he would happily convert. The Buddhist ideals align perfectly with Aristotle’s conclusions on life and its goal: to be happy. Therefore, a true member of the Buddhist community, who follows all the rules and teachings, will end up achieving Aristotle’s definition of happiness.

“A Basic Buddhism Guide: Meditation.” A Basic Buddhism Guide: Meditation. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2014. <http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/qanda06.htm&gt;.

“A Basic Buddhism Guide: The Eight-Fold Path.” A Basic Buddhism Guide: The Eight-Fold Path. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2014. <http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/8foldpath.htm&gt;.

“A BUDDHIST VIEW OF HAPPINESS.”Cloud Water. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2014. <http://www.cloudwater.org/uploads/text%

“Buddha.” Pursuit of Happiness. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2014. <http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/buddha/&gt;.

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2 thoughts on “The Buddhist Commity and how it Parallels with Aristole’s Views on Happiness

  1. This blog did a great job of taking all the complexities of Buddhism and making it simple enough for someone unfamiliar with the religion to understand. Her use of metaphors and quotes greatly added to the work because the offered insight that is essential to the understanding of the religion. Her comparison of Aristotle and Buddhism was interesting, as it looked outside the box. Even if I did not agree with her opinion, I would respect it because of her success in stating her argument.

  2. Very interesting article, with good explanations of both ideas. I think it would be good to consider some of the diffs too. For example, you equate Arist.’s idea of contemplation with Buddhist meditation, but while they may have a lot in common, they aren’t the same. Contemplation for Arist. can include, for example, the practice of science that gives us greater insight into the natural world. As a Westerner, Aristotle gives probably closer attention to material reality than most Eastern religions do. Still, there are definitely strong similarities. I thought the ending was amusing, given that Buddhist’s are probably not the only religion that sees Aristotle as a friend. As you probably know, since St. Thomas Aquinas, Catholics have long seen the Aristotelian view of life as very harmonious with Catholicism. His thought definitely has wide applicability.

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