You have the right to be happy regardless of your life situation.

- through Francois Leclercq

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Fri. Pomnyun Sunim. Image courtesy of Jungto Company

Korean master Seon (Zen) Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (Buddhist monk) wears many hats: Buddhist monk, teacher, author, environmentalist and social activist, to name a few. As a highly respected Dharma teacher and tireless socially engaged activist in his native South Korea, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim has founded many Dharma-based organizations, initiatives and projects that are active across the world. Among them, the Jungto Society, a community of volunteers based on Buddhist teachings and expressing equality, simple living and sustainability, is dedicated to solving modern social problems that lead to suffering, including the degradation of the environment, poverty and conflict.

The following article shared by the Jungto Society is part of a series of highlights from Ven. Pomnyun Sunim's writings, teachings, and regular live Dharma question-and-answer sessions, which are accessible worldwide.

When I ask people, “Are you happy? in my interviews, few people say yes. Each of them suffers from personal worries and emotional wounds, relationship conflicts, frustration and stress about our irrational society, or anxiety about the future.

All kinds of things happen in our lives. Usually things don't go the way we want. We want to be loved, but we may be hurt instead, or people we care about may stab us in the back. Nothing in this world, however, happens without a reason. However, it is not because of the will of God, or a sin committed in a previous life, or pure chance. We just don't know the reason. However, if we can identify where our suffering is coming from, we can find the solution easily.

A big part of why we are unhappy is our inability to let go. Let's say a man insulted us. It's the same as he hands us a garbage bag. We hold onto the dirty bag tightly and rummage through the trash all our lives saying, "He insulted me" or "He insulted me."

However, we can never enter the path to happiness as long as we cling to such negative feelings. If someone tries to give us a trash bag, we shouldn't take it. If we accidentally pick it up, we should say, "Yuck, that's dirty," and throw it away immediately. Unfortunately, we usually continue to keep it deep in our hearts, so it's hard for us to be happy no matter how hard we try.

If we as individuals are suffering because of our negative mindset, we should change that habit. If we are hurting because of a relationship gone wrong, we need to look at the cause of the conflict and find the solution. If we believe that a social system is the problem, we must first try to adapt to the current system, and then, if we are sure that the system is the problem, we must try to improve it. Most of us, however, complain without making any effort to change things. As a result, the world does not change and we continue to be miserable.

Everyone born into this world has the right to be happy. So far, for those who are not exercising their right to be happy and are mired in suffering, I have mainly talked about how individuals should cultivate their minds in their practice. However, in my writings, I also talk about social change, which is another wheel on the cart of happiness. Ultimately, our happiness will only be complete when the mental attitude of the individual (the seed) and the social conditions (the field) are cultivated together.

Individual happiness and making a good society are not two different things. An individual's effort alone does not make the world a better place, any more than the improvement of external conditions makes an individual happy. Happiness and unhappiness are the results of a combination of the individual's mental attitude and the surrounding environment.

We must therefore reflect on ourselves before blaming others and, at the same time, take responsibility for improving any irrational part of our current reality. In the end, it's all to our benefit. No matter how hard we try to live a good life, we are doomed to suffer if things go wrong in the world. Self-indulgent thoughts like “As long as it's not me, it's fine” or “It can't happen to me” won't protect us.

To embark on the path to absolute happiness, we must henceforth live as masters of our life and of the world with the awareness that we ourselves create our own happiness. Each of us is an insignificant entity, like a speck of dust in space, but when we become masters of our own lives, we can change ourselves and the world.

When we aspire to become vital to the world and well used by the world, rather than trying to lead a good life and achieve success solely for our own benefit, we will be happy and useful to the world at the same time. Then happiness will be a reality rather than a dream. It is also the way for us to exercise our right to be happy.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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