Cultivating the Intention to Relieve Suffering

Cultivating the Intention to Relieve Suffering

Discussion date: Thu, Nov 18, 2021 at our weekly Thursday evening practice
Silver Spring, Maryland, Community Online on Thursday Evening
November 18, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all Online on Friday Evening
November 19, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Dear Still Water Friends,

The Second Mindfulness Training, True Happiness, like the others trainings, encompasses a lot:

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power, and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.All the trainings express the Buddha’s and Thich Nhat Hanh’s (Thay’s) teachings on suffering and the end of suffering. They ask: How can we transform our own suffering and the suffering of others? What are the habit energies we need to look carefully at in order to compost our suffering into compassion, wisdom, and happiness?


The Second Training, True Happiness, reminds us that our own happiness depends on the happiness of others and that our craving for wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasure can result in exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression.

However, we are often led, by the media and other people, to believe that fame and wealth will make us happy.  People like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk — each with over $200 Billion in wealth — are held up as models for us to aspire toward.

Many economists agree that once we have “enough” money (when our basic needs are covered), there are diminishing returns on happiness with additional wealth. (Read more here.) That’s partly because we become afraid of losing what we have. Wealth may also cause us to become less reliant on others in our community — we start to believe that our money or fame alone can protect us from pain. The first Noble Truth reminds us that nothing can protect us from experiencing the dukkha (dissatisfaction) of a human life. We can observe that wealth and fame cannot prevent old age, sickness, death, COVID, or loss.

For me, this training is saying that we can be happy in the present moment simply by reminding ourselves that we already have enough conditions to be happy — dwelling in the present moment, aware of all the positives that exist in this moment. It’s not about becoming famous or wealthy or filling our life with sensual pleasures.

The teaching suggests that since we don’t need to run after or hoard money and since our happiness depends on the happiness of others, we can share our time, energy, and material resources with those in need. The more we support others the happier we will be. And the more we take good care of our own suffering, the more we will be present to support others. “True happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion.”

This training encourages me to find ways to align my energy, livelihood, and material resources with my intention to reduce suffering. This kind of generosity may mean giving away more money (or choosing more effective organizations to give to), working at a job that helps to heal the world, or spending time and money healing our generational trauma. And, of course, there are many other ways to practice generosity.

Like all the Five Mindfulness Trainings, this one does not prescribe specific actions to take. Rather, it encourages us to mindfully consider our every action. Our relationship to wealth, fame, power, and sensual pleasure makes a difference. We can choose to contribute to exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, or we can opt for actions that reduce suffering.

This Thursday and Friday evenings, after our meditation period, we will have time to read and contemplate this training. Some questions to consider are:

  • When have I chased fame, wealth, power, or sensual pleasures?
  • When have I practiced generosity, aligning my life with healing my own and the world’s suffering?
  • What are my intentions now?

A related reading from Thay is below.

With love,

Annie Mahon

Upcoming Still Water Special Events:

  • Transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings — January 8th, 2022
    The Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center will again join with the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax to transmit the Three Refuges and the Five Mindfulness Trainings. This year the transmission ceremony will take place online on Saturday, January 8th, 2022, beginning at 9:00 am and ending before noon (Eastern time).
  • Still Water Five Mindfulness Trainings Preparatory Classes — November 11th to December 19th, 2021
    Practitioners who are interested in receiving the trainings on January 8th are asked to participate in preparatory classes. Still Water will offer a series of five classes, between November 11th and December 17th, 2021, each exploring one of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Each of the training classes will be offered twice per week, on Thursday and Friday evenings, from 7:00 to 8:45 pm. Aspirants need only attend one of the evenings per week, though they may attend both evenings if they choose.

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From Thich Nhat Hanh’s commentary on the Sutra on Happiness, in Awakening of the Heart: Essential Buddhist Sutras and Commentaries.

Many people are victims of their fear. If we can alleviate someone’s fear, that is the greatest gift that we can offer them. Our lives will be filled with happiness if we can help others around us. But if we spend our whole lives building up our names and our fortunes, then we cannot find happiness. We might have a lot of money, a big house, a luxurious car, but that’s not real happiness. We can only taste real happiness when we can help others around us. And we have to start with those in our family and the dear friends around us. We have to help family, relatives, and friends first before we are capable of helping others outside our circle. If we’re successful in helping our brothers and sisters in the Sangha, then we definitely will be able to help our loved ones. If, in our daily lives, we can’t help our brothers and sisters, then how can we offer help to others? We have to be successful in helping the people around us alleviate their suffering. That is the highest blessing, and that blessing has a lasting effect.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Nov 18, 2021


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