Being content vs not being content

This is an article I wrote a couple of days ago.

Disclaimer:

Please bear in mind I am a student of the Dhamma who likes to share personal thoughts/insights in order to help and be of benefit, engage in discussions that will be useful for myself and others, and throw ideas out there to be checked whether they are right, wrong, or not perfectly right, so as to improve my own understanding and that of others, and provide food for thought. Not to instruct, teach or tell people what to do. Consider me a learner and a beginner-practitioner with a fair amount of theoretical Dhamma knowledge who wants to improve and help self and others, but one with some deep personal experiences as well.

Constructive criticism and comments are welcomed and strongly encouraged. Destructive criticism shall be dealt with.

Being content vs not being content

Be content with and accept the feelings and occurences (effects, results - happiness & suffering) in the present moment as they are fully, as if they are perfectly good enough.
Do not be content with nor accept the quality of your actions by body, speech or mind (causes) in the present moment as good enough, but instead strive to improve yourself and your conduct each moment.

The feelings we feel, and the experiences we have in the present moment cannot be changed in the present moment. If we are suffering, we want that suffering to stop, and we want it to stop right here and right now, but that is impossible, because the effect is already taking place, and that effect is a result of what has happened in the past, and that past cannot be changed.

If we are happy in the present moment, we want to be even happier. And so we crave more from the present moment than it can offer.

All this craving for more of the present moment – whether more happiness, if there already is some, or happiness if there is suffering – only causes frustration, because it is an impossible thing to achieve.

If we have a problem bothering us – a relationship, mental or physical pain, dissatisfaction with who we are or how people treat us, work-related problems, or financial problems, or any problem whatsoever – we want to get rid of it, destroy it, we want it to disappear, and because it is happening now, and for us it is painful, we want it to go away now.

That wanting manifests in craving or aversion. We either want happiness instead of the suffering we have to experience, or we simply want to destroy the problem any way we can.

That gets us into trouble and then we get into all sorts of unskilful reactions, thoughts, behaviours, attitudes, etc. which only make the problem and the suffering even worse.

So what do we do?

We accept the problem and the suffering and the pain exactly as it is, no matter how bad it is. To accept means that we are perfectly okay with it, we make peace with it, we let go of all that wanting and aversion that it change right here and right now, we renounce our desire and craving for something more out of it, and rest with what is – in terms of the feelings and the situation. For now.

But, we know that the problem must be solved. So we are not going to allow the problem to continue – we just know that the present moment the suffering or the happiness is what it is and it can never be any better that same moment; for the suffering and the problem to stop we must do something positive about it – in the present moment.

So we accept the feeling – even if it is the very worst – but we focus on the doing. The doing of something which is positive. And each moment, we constantly practice doing good things in the present, so that the next moment will be better than the previous one. That is how suffering lessens and how problems are resolved – not by focusing on the suffering or the problem and how much we do not want these things and how much we want to change them – but rather on what we are doing in the present moment to solve them.

100% acceptance of the feelings experienced in the present moment means contentment.

On the other hand, we should not be content with our practice or actions – to its full extent. We appreciate the good practice done so far, we acknowledge it, but we know it is still not good enough, and we must always do better – all the time. We look at what the practice has been so far, and we notice the good, the bad, and the imperfections of the good, so that we know what to improve and what not do again.

In AN 2.5 (Upaññāta Sutta), the Buddha says that he has learned to never be content with good states one has already developed but to always keep practicing until the attainment of Nibbāna, and he says to do one’s very best.

“Bhikkhus, I have personally known two things: non-contentment in regard to wholesome qualities and indefatigability in striving.221 I strove indefatigably, [resolved]: ‘Willingly, let only my skin, sinews, and bones remain, and let the flesh and blood dry up in my body, but I will not relax my energy so long as I have not attained what can be attained by manly strength, energy, and exertion.’222 It was by heedfulness that I achieved enlightenment, bhikkhus; it was by heedfulness that I achieved the unsurpassed security from bondage.223

13“If, bhikkhus, you too would strive indefatigably, [resolved]: ‘Willingly, let only my skin, sinews, and bones remain, and let the flesh and blood dry up in my body, but I will not relax my energy so long as I have not attained what can be attained by manly strength, energy, and exertion,’ you too will, in no long time, realize for yourselves with direct knowledge, in this very life, that unsurpassed consummation of the spiritual life for the sake of which clansmen rightly go forth from the household life into homelessness, and having entered upon it, you will dwell in it. Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train yourselves thus: ‘We will strive indefatigably, [resolved]: “Willingly, let only my skin, sinews, and bones remain, and let the flesh and blood dry up in my body, but I will not relax my energy so long as I have not attained what can be attained by manly strength, energy, and exertion.”’ It is in such a way that you should train yourselves.”

But the Buddha also teaches that contentment is to be developed at all times and that one who is content is always happy no matter where one is.

“When there is discontent, this woe may be looked for. Whether one goes, stands, sits or lies, one has no happiness or pleasure. Whether one has gone to the forest, to the foot of a tree, to a lonely place, to an open space or among the monks, one finds no happiness or pleasure. But when there is contentment, this good may be looked for. Whether one goes, stands, sits or lies, whether one has gone to the forest, to the foot of a tree, to a lonely place, to an open space or amongst the monks, one finds happiness and pleasure.” A.V.121

How are we to combine the two teachings on contentment and not being content?

We are content with the effects occurring in the present moment. But we are not content with our actions in the present moment, and also we are not content with the problem staying that way forever.

In other words, (1) we let go of the idea that we have to change whatever situation we are experiencing in the present moment, because it is impossible to change - in the present moment. (2) We focus on our actions and the intentions and attitudes behind our actions, making sure they are wholesome, skilful, and positive, as well as ensuring that, with each moment, we improve the quality of the good actions. (3) We have to make sure that the problem is resolved and the suffering is extinguished, but we know that this will only happen by focussing on (2) and that it takes time.

-Stephen K.

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The two sentences above seem to make a ‘disconnect’ between ‘happiness & suffering’ and ‘actions of body, speech & mind’; as though actions of body, speech & mind are not direct causes of happiness & suffering.

:seedling:

They are direct causes. Actions of body, speech and mind are direct causes of happiness and suffering.

The point I was trying to make is:

Are they direct causes in the very same moment?

In other words, are causes immediate or instantaneous? Or does it take time for them to bear fruit and mature?

If it takes time, why do people spend so much of their time worrying about their suffering in the present moment rather than doing something positive about it in that same present moment?

Because people want to be free from pain here and now, rather than work to make that happen, and it will happen only in the future, and only if they do something good in the present.

This is the gist of my idea.

OK… Thank you Stephen :seedling:

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Thank you, Deeele.

So may I ask what your opinion on the topic is?

:grinning:

Thank you, Stephen.

I think aiming for contentment is an important topic.

The healing or spiritual transition of crossing the bridge or stream to the destination of contentment certainly does require bringing new wisdom or modes of skillful kamma to the present manifestations of past (less skilful) kamma.

I think what you wrote below is very clear & helpful.

[quote=“Sumana, post:1, topic:3872”]
We accept the problem and the suffering and the pain exactly as it is, no matter how bad it is. To accept means that we are perfectly okay with it, we make peace with it, we let go of all that wanting and aversion that it change right here and right now, we renounce our desire and craving for something more out of it, and rest with what is – in terms of the feelings and the situation. For now.

But, we know that the problem must be solved. So we are not going to allow the problem to continue – we just know that the present moment the suffering or the happiness is what it is and it can never be any better that same moment; for the suffering and the problem to stop we must do something positive about it – in the present moment.

So we accept the feeling – even if it is the very worst – but we focus on the doing. The doing of something which is positive. And each moment, we constantly practice doing good things in the present, so that the next moment will be better than the previous one. That is how suffering lessens and how problems are resolved – not by focusing on the suffering or the problem and how much we do not want these things and how much we want to change them – but rather on what we are doing in the present moment to solve them.[/quote]

I really like the following summation. It is a very effective guided meditation. It works for me.

We are content with the effects occurring in the present moment. But we are not content with our actions in the present moment, and also we are not content with the problem staying that way forever.

Regards :slight_smile:

Thank you, Deeele, for your views!

All these insights came to me a few days ago, while I was on the bus stop, and then developed them on the bus, while I was on my way to my temple.

I can summarize it all thus:

First, we make peace (with suffering). Then, we put forth effort (to practice Dhamma). Finally, peace (or freedom) at last!

Wow. This summarizes the whole process from start to finish! Making peace is letting go of craving (nekkhamma saṅkappa), putting forth effort is the rest of the Noble Eightfold Path. And peace and freedom is Nibbāna!

What comes before all that is the insight/wisdom/realization (Right View) born of learning (pariyatti) - the very insight that I had at the bus stop!

defilements -> bad kamma -> suffering -> learning -> insight -> letting go/making peace -> Dhamma practice (all the various practices) -> liberation from suffering -> knowledge of destruction of the cankers

It’s much more complex even than that! This is a simplification. And I am going to develop this line of cause and effect further.

Actually, I already started a few days ago but it is incomplete, as I stopped at some point. But here it is:

at first everything is fine -> ignorance, greed, hatred, fear -> unskillful actions (mental, verbal, physical) & mistakes & negative attitudes -> PROBLEM-> suffering -> hurting -> complaining -> unskillful attitudes and reactions -> anger / craving / despondency -> intensification of problem -> wisdom (insight, realization) -> letting go/making peace/renunciation/acceptance/contentment ->care and love for oneself and those whom the self affects -> decision to start -> setting a goal (freedom from problem) -> faith/confidence/belief/assuredness/positive attitude -> -> learning about what to do and how to do it -> contemplation and understanding -> … to be developed further

It is not necessarily in actual order, sometimes it is cyclical.

The more I contemplate Dhamma, the more amazed I am at how profound it actually is! But even more than that, one must put it all into practice.

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Old topic, sorry to revive it.

General observations on progress on the path, goal language vs method language : Buddhism (reddit.com)

My way of making sense of this apparent paradox is to see that there’s two different languages at play here, and it’s usually made clear by context which language is being used. If one mistaken usage of one language for another, suffering results or one doesn’t progress on the path.

Goal language wise, is results orientated, seeing what’s the stages. It’s on this language that one shouldn’t be contented with wholesome qualities, or on account of a minor achievement, until arahanthood, then one can be contented.

Method language is how to get the results. What to actually do, or rather doing nothing, just being. How to get deeper (non contentment with regards to wholesome states)? Jhanas, how to get Jhanas? Be contented.

Pitfalls of mixing up the languages.

If one takes contentment as goal language, then there’s no need to practise. Cause one is contented being unenlightened.

If one takes non-contentment as method language, then there’s a lot of craving in one’s meditation, it results in non-stillness, one cannot progress and get a lot of suffering for the practise.

In honesty, being content is not my talent. Being really content are rare moments for me. Being not content is more of a structural nature. It is hard to see what is extactly the cause. Sometimes i think it is kind of inability. Always being insecure about things, about choices, relations, what it true and not true, wholesome and unwholesome, reliable and unreliable, about views, decisions, etc. Like being without a real compass. Never sure about things. Also not about Dhammma. Always worrying.
It is so easy to feel discontent. Like it takes no effort at all.

Sometimes i feel one has to find ones place or ‘destiny’ too. A place and way of living that suites you.
In which you feel at home, at ease. Living in luxury did not suit the Bodhisattva. The Bodhisattva made dramatic changes in his life. Very dramatic and fulfilled his heart wishes.

Often spiritual people suggest that the causes for suffering are only in your mind mind, and one does not have to change anything. Not place, not job, not livelyhood etc. but i think that is too much.
The Bodhisattva made dramatic changes.

One can try to be content amids people with totally different orientation on life, different views, goals, accents, prioritites etc but i think one asks too much. I belief external factors are very important. The Bodhisattva liked quited place, lonely places and did not like much noise. He also listened to this. He did not ignore all his likes and dislikes.

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