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