One of my teachers has said that practicing Buddhism isn't about having a good time. That's always struck me as a bit harsh. If I practice Buddhism to feel a bit better about myself and to be happy is that a wrong view. If it is, then why would anyone start to practice at all unless they had been brought up in that tradition and it was a cultural thing.
“Ethan santhan ethan paneethan, sabba sankhara samatho, Sabbhupathi patinissaggo, tanhkkhayo, virago, nirodho, Nibbanan ti“
“It is the only peace, the only happiness: prevent sankhara from arising by eliminating tanha and excess greed, and thus stopping the arising of defilements, which is Nibbana“.
This above mentioned contemplation is the most effective kammatthana when cultivating Ariya Jhana. But we can never achieve such jhanic states that is helpful in furthering the Noble Eightfold Path if there isn’t a sense of happiness within us. The sati sampajanna that one dwells in should be one of inner happiness and peace of mind. Sati is mindfulness. The Pali word for alertness is sampajañña. It doesn’t mean being choicelessly aware of the present, or comprehending the present. Sampajañña means being aware of what you’re doing in the movements of the body, the movements in the mind. This is why mindfulness and alertness should always be paired.
Our happiness, our lack of happiness, depends on our actions. So that’s where we focus our attention. When you create a frame of reference here in the present moment, there are lots of things you can tune in to. You can choose the body in and of itself. You can choose feelings, mental states, mental qualities in and of themselves.
Of all the sensory input that comes in at any one particular moment, you make a choice of what you’re going to pay attention to, what memories, what frame of reference you’re going to bring to that particular moment. And it’s an important mental skill to be able to shift your frame of reference as necessary.
Being mindful means being very deliberate and clear about what you bring to whatever you’re doing: what you’re going to remember, what you’re not going to remember, what you’re going to recollect, what you’re going to let go, which things are useful to recollect right now.
If you wanted to, you could sit and spend the whole hour thinking about facts that would make you totally miserable, but what does that accomplish? In walking the Path we are to think about things that are useful for the mind, so remember the things that are useful for the mind, that will help it develop. As for the other voices coming in and out of the mind, listen to the ones that are helpful and ignore the ones that are not. You can be selective.
This way, mindfulness becomes a quality we can apply to everything we do. And instead of making us unable to function, it heightens our ability to function, because we understand the process that the mind goes through, and we are in a state of happiness within.
Just because your teacher and almost all the books in the present day say as to how could one be happy when everything is suffering, you should not accept such a statement as true. For one to advice another on Dhamma, one has have at least come to the ‘Stream Entrant’ stage of the Path. This is like someone trying to teach another to ride a cycle, when he himself doesn’t know how to ride one. Sadly that is the state of affairs in the present day and age.
You can sing, dance, and have an enjoyable time while being grounded in reality, in knowing the underlying nature of anything in this world. It is fully engaging in life with an understanding that we will not be able to maintain anything to our satisfaction over long times. Thus we can see suffering - there not being anything of true inherent value in mundane life activities – but still participate in the activities in a rather detached way. If one truly understands this fact, that itself leads to the Stream Entrant stage of Nibbana.
Is practicing Buddhism to be happy a wrong view?
It depends on what kind of intention is motivating the search for happiness.
If the intention originates from the 3 unwholesome roots, then yes it is considered wrong view as actions based in these roots cause further suffering to arise by enforcing craving and thereby the bondage to Samsara.
If the intention originates from the path factor of Right Intention in the Noble Eightfold Path, i.e. the intention of Renunciation, good-will and harmlessness, then it is considered right view.
To attain deliverance requires the complete eradication of craving - not by force but by understanding. True renunciation is about changing our perspective on conditioned phenomena through the practice of (insight) meditation. This leads to understanding the nature of craving and with keen attention and investigation the mind is able to let go of craving. This leads to true happiness, i.e. a happiness that is pure, unconditioned and permanent.
If one is practicing Buddhism, motivated by right intention, in order to attain that kind of happiness, then it is not wrong view.
One of my teachers has said that practicing Buddhism isn't about having a good time.
I agree with that teacher. At least regarding the practice of insight meditation. It is not undertaken in order for the practitioner to feel good. It is done in order to learn about, investigate and to understand reality. It is meant to bring about a deep, profound and permanent internal change of the practitioner.
If I practice Buddhism to feel a bit better about myself and to be happy is that a wrong view.
I think that the goal of Buddhism, as I understood it from the Pali suttas, is usually phrased as an absence of a negative/affliction: for example, as "cessation of suffering" rather than as "happiness".
There is also a sutta (AN 11.1) which begins with,
"What is the purpose of skillful virtues? What is their reward?"
"Skillful virtues have freedom from remorse as their purpose, Ananda, and freedom from remorse as their reward."
That sutta then goes on, to talk about "joy", and so on. But when you mentioned "feel better about myself" I interpreted that phrase as meaning "freedom from remorse" (because conversely any practice that you may feel worse about is, I presume, somehow associated with remorse).
But the tripitaka mentions happiness too (see the Pali word sukha).
If it is, then why would anyone start to practice at all unless they had been brought up in that tradition and it was a cultural thing.
Well for me I suppose the reason "why" I started to practice at all was because I found the first noble truth was evident: including for example friends and family dying, with Buddhism being the more plausible-seeming method to try to cope/live with that.
I think it's to its credit that Buddhism can find anything at all to be happy about in these circumstances, yet I think it does: for example AN 7.49 mentions gratification and joy as maybe the second-best reason (not quite the best) reason for doing something.
Different people (or different forms of Buddhism) have different reasons though, see e.g. the answers to How to explain what Buddhism is?.
I find the best way to go about it is to ignore dogma and instead follow your heart. Find what is true and works for you. Forget what the dogma says is right and wrong.
However, using meditation to try and feel happier is probs not a great idea because you might start to try and use it as a fix or a spiritual bypass. This can be a trap. Then when you don't feel happy you may start to think "this isn't working" etc
Meditation is more like a process of disillusionment. You begin to look at yourself, the way your mind works, your thought processes and difficult emotions etc. We begin to realise how these phenomena block our innate joy from arising. Instead of trying to be happy we just allow the joy to bubble up naturally.
It can be a very painful process breaking through and facing this stuff. The first time I went on silent retreat I was overwhelmed with grief. So many layers of sadnes and grief kept arising. I cried for days and thought I'd never stop. Eventually I did and I felt the most exquisite joy and stillness. It was a very enlightening experience. So don't try too hard. Just look and allow things to happen and unfold.
"One of my teachers has said that practicing Buddhism isn't about having a good time."
If he hasn't explained why, and he is teaching for the laity, I suppose he could be referring to (at least) the difficulty of abandonment prescribed by the five precepts and the virtue group of the noble eightfold path. For example:
- Abandonment of false speech, angry speech, slander, sexual misconduct, consuming intoxicants, theft, killing etc (right speech, right action / precepts).
These can be difficult and painful to practice.
As one becomes more dedicated, the practice also becomes more difficult. One is taught to restraint faculties hard to restraint, to endure things hard to endure, to avoid things hard to avoid and to develop things hard to develop (MN 2).
Just the following, from MN 2, can be quite painful to practice:
he endures ill-spoken, unwelcome words and arisen bodily feelings that are painful, racking, sharp, piercing, disagreeable, distressing, and menacing to life.
With a deep dedication, one learns that sensual pleasures are a major hindrance in the path to Nirvana. So here, delight in sensual pleasures are likely the best fit for "having a good time". As it so happens, sensual pleasures have some gratification, but hide greater danger (MN 13). Also, ultimately they are impermanent and unsatisfactory. But still, hard to understand and abandon:
The person who’s to their body-cave
Clouded by many moods, and in delusion sunk,
Hard it is for that one, far from detachment,
To abandon sensual pleasures in the world.
-- Snp 4.2
“And what, bhikkhus, is the severance of the bond of sensuality? Here, someone understands as they really are the origin and the passing away, the gratification, the danger, and the escape in regard to sensual pleasures. When one understands these things as they really are, then sensual lust, sensual delight, sensual affection, sensual infatuation, sensual thirst, sensual passion, sensual attachment, and sensual craving do not lie within one in regard to sensual pleasures. This is called the severance of the bond of sensuality."
-- AN 4.10
However, apparently, abandoning sensual pleasures is something the Buddha rarely taught laity (he certainly did not preach celibacy to laity, for example), so this is usually considered a part of the practice that is targeted at a specific, dedicated audience (the monks).
One may ask oneself why something that is advertised as a path to happiness can be painful.
First, this is not entirely the case. Much of the practice has it's own short term rewards. To reiterate @ChrisW's example:
“Bhante, what is the purpose and benefit of wholesome virtuous behavior?”
“Ānanda, the purpose and benefit of wholesome virtuous behavior is non-regret.”
-- AN 10.1
All branches of the Noble Eightfold Path, however difficult, have fruits and rewards as the result of practice. These rewards, naturally, are always congruent with happiness (wholesome), or are themselves increasingly superior kinds of happiness (which culminates in the ultimate happiness, Nirvana).
Also, similar questions can be brought up about practicing healthy exercises, healthy diet, certain medical prescriptions for diseases, or even study: these can be very painful to follow, but they have bigger rewards in the long term.
"If I practice Buddhism to feel a bit better about myself and to be happy is that a wrong view."
I suppose everyone who is sincerely practicing Buddhism is looking for a way to handle suffering and live happy, as well as help others in the same way. The Buddhist path is itself, in all it's aspects, the cultivation of happiness and the study of the origins of suffering. So how could this be wrong view?
To conclude, from the pali canon, Nirvana is said to be the greatest happiness. While gratification of sensual pleasures are recognized, their danger is frequently emphasized along with the possibility of greater happiness apart from sensual pleasures:
“Ānanda, there are these five cords of sensual pleasure. What five? Forms cognizable by the eye that are desirable, lovely, agreeable, pleasing, sensually enticing, tantalizing. Sounds cognizable by the ear … Odours cognizable by the nose … Tastes cognizable by the tongue … Tactile objects cognizable by the body that are desirable, lovely, agreeable, pleasing, sensually enticing, tantalizing. These are the five cords of sensual pleasure. The pleasure and joy that arise in dependence on these five cords of sensual pleasure: this is called sensual pleasure.
“Though some may say, ‘This is the supreme pleasure and joy that beings experience,’ I would not concede this to them. Why is that? Because there is another kind of happiness more excellent and sublime than that happiness. [...]
-- SN 36.19
I see other beings who are not free from lust for sensual pleasures being devoured by craving for sensual pleasures, burning with fever for sensual pleasures, indulging in sensual pleasures, and I do not envy them, nor do I delight therein. Why is that? Because there is, Māgandiya, a delight apart from sensual pleasures, apart from unwholesome states, which surpasses even divine bliss. Since I take delight in that, I do not envy what is inferior, nor do I delight therein.
-- MN 75
It depends why you are going in any direction at all.
Generally speaking, as worldly people (not monks), we go to anything to derive self-benefit out of it. We want to feel satisfied/better. For example, I have this lingering feeling that if I answer this question in this way, I might be appreciated/taken notice of and that makes me feel better or lets say you want to watch a football game, you obviously want to feel happy and entertained by it.
Let's try to see what
Buddhism is. In essence, we don't want to capture
Buddhism as a concept. In the most primary form, it is a set of guidelines/attitudes (mostly) for monks who wish to be enlightened and have given up the worldly.
Now the lay people can practice meditation too. There is nothing wrong with that. But what happens is, it really just clears our cache/mind (sort of, I don't know if you got it). Once we clear our mind, we feel better. You observe that if you are feeling restless/uncomfortable, it mostly has to do with the mind. (Sometimes it could be body too.) You see there is a difference in the goals of the monks and the goals of the worldly.
We only go back the next day to work/to some entertainment to fill it up some more and then we do meditation and it clears up a bit again. Now with constant practice, of meditation in everyday life, we learn to deal with things. But for monks it is more a technique for stream entry and more and more going towards enlightenment. So you see why it means something else for monks and something else for other people.
So I would say, detach a bit from the concept of
being a Buddhist. Allow other people to have their idea of it. But to you, it must not mean anything quite literally or
as an identity.
Following the dhamma begins when their is a ''will'' to stop being ''unhappy'', miserable, disappointed, no matter what the pleasures (and their costs) is experienced so far. The ''harmless fun'', physical or not, that people crave is nice and if you get it without much work, then lucky you; but once the dhamma is seen, the person is not driven, towards the dhamma or anything, by the boredom, the pleasures nor pains, in daily life, nor even the ones of the jhanas, but the person is driven only towards the end of the path, and driven only by knowing that the path is the only thing relevant to do (for as long as the guy is living).
Of course any puttujana is driven, towards anything, by the current tastes, (which change sooner or later), by what is liked and what is disliked, by pleasures and avoiding pains and hardships (directly, or by constructing some story that being in pain, disappointments, hardships, predicaments are worth it or have some merit or are deserved). This holds for the puttujanas who follow the dhamma and for non-bodily drives, there can be faith-doubt(choose the word you see as negative), boredom in their life, tradition, curiosity, realizing their fantasy of becoming righteous, their fantasy of the knowledge of the ''true nature of reality''.
It turns out that, for puttujanas, having a non-physical pleasures makes the mind plastic, concentrated, still, nonagitated. Even if there remain some faiths in some god, in some boasting about the success of the jhanas, some faith in something else than the dhamma, This mind is the ideal mind to meditate on the ''four noble truths''.
The students will have the healthy mind, since they are told to stop worrying (and are made so by being secluded and far away from all this hustle and bustle) about, being still towards ''social'' matters (typically some contests, hierarchies, like a career), which is the basis for contemplating, the continuation of being still with respect to bodily pains/pleasures and boredom, before meditating on their misery ---- which really means ''there is the knowledge that there is still misery, no matter what has been done before'', then all there is the radical stop of being sad, whatever the consequences this would bring to this existence and there is their acceptation , there is only caring about no longer being unhappy; then there is the insight that ''there is misery, because there are not the objects desired (such as cars, heaters, foods, travels, being judged innocent in some trial, paying less taxes, joy or pride of giving some pleasures to a few women, feeling relevant to some humans, expressing some opinions about something, believing to be righteous, believing to behave in agreement to some rules), but this misery happens only because there is a taking up of consciousness, feelings and all that stuff always impermanent, uncontrollable, not I-me-mine, what people call ''ego'' casually, which did not give what was wanted before (for very long) no matter how much effort is put to keep the good states; there is no longer a misery, once and for all, once there is no taking up of, taking as basis those stuff always impermanent and uncontrollable, not I-me-mine''; then the dispassion towards all those stuff happens which brings the knowledge of ''right view''; then the natural and only relevant step to do is to contemplate-meditate to settle this right view once and for all and be done with the path. Before this meditation, The only ''sadness'' that there is is the knowledge that there is no contemplation carried out, yet needed to finish the path.
Buddha taught many kinds of happiness. Nibbana is the highest.