Manopubbaṅgamā dhammā, manoseṭṭhā manomayā
Manasā ce pasannena, bhāsati vā karoti vā
Tato naṃ sukhamanveti, chāyā’va anapāyinī.
Mind is the forerunner of (all good) states.
Mind is the chief, and they are mind-made.
If one speaks or acts with a pure mind,
happiness follows as one’s own shadow that never leaves.
The Miser Maṭṭhakuṇḍalī
A son was on the verge of death because his miserly father refusing to call a doctor and attempting to treat the illness himself. The Buddha knowing of the dying boy went to the house for alms and when the boy saw the Buddha found liberation before his death.
The grieving father went to the boy’s grave every day until he met a person who claimed to be a deity who needed two wheels for his chariot.
“Bring back my boy,” the father said, “and I will buy you whatever wheels you wish.”
“The wheels I desire are the sun and the moon,” said the deity.
Unable to obtain the sun and the moon the father’s head lowered below his shoulders in sorrow.
“Foolish man,” the deity snipped. “You cry for long for your dead son, but at least I can see the sun and the moon.”
The father recognized the voice ad understood that his son had been reborn into a celestial realm after his liberation with the Buddha.
Mind is the Chief
The story of Matthakundali is an interesting story to have drawn this verse of the Dhammapada from. The father and son do not seem to be great examples of finding happiness. Nevertheless, if we look at our own lives, don’t we see the same issues of happiness always being the tasty mushrooms that grow from the feces that continually presents itself?
The son was suffering, but before his death was able to experience a profound moment of his life after meeting the Buddha. It was a single moment of such great quality that it changed his life—no matter how short that life was. How much of our lives is spend wandering and meandering? Do we really see quality in those days, months and years? Or instead do we find the small moments in our life that bring real meaning and purpose to be the seconds of true understanding of what it means to be happy?
It is better to live one day of honest happiness than a hundred years of dullness and discontentment. The story of the son is one that explains that it is the quality of our lives and not the quantity that matters. So as the child’s mind found a taste of enlightenment so did the resulting benefits of a positive rebirth.
Even if we do not believe in the concepts of rebirth or celestial realms, it is a good lesson to everyone: We must be the creators of our own bliss regardless of the situations we are in.
The story of Matthakundali is also about how the mind is the creator of all misery as well. Matthakundali spent more energy concentrating on the wealth in his pockets than the wealth in his mind and heart. His craving for money cost him his son’s life. His craving for his lost son was costing him his own life.
At the center of each suffering was his own mind. As the “deity” states, “at least I can see the sun and moon” we should understand that at least the craving for those things that are nearly impossible to possess are more reasonable than to crave for those things that do not exist at all.
How much of our lives is spent indulging the hollow joys of wanting? We cling to the craving of unrequited love, lost objects, youth gone, etc. The pain of cravings has a kind of pleasure to it, because we have the pleasure of conceit and the joy of “what if.”
The conceit is not always about feeling superior to others. Conceit is the indulgence of our ego to think that we are special. “Oh look at how wonderful I am! I am at least better than you.” That is certainly a type of conceit where we set ourselves a status above others—either by elevating ourselves or tearing down someone else.
Look at any playground in elementary school, and see how many children tease and taunt others to knock them down and establish a social hierarchy.
Another type of deceit is “Oh woe is me. I will never be as good as you.” Victimhood is just as ego driven as snobbery. It feels as good too, because it makes us feel special—even if it is special looser.
Look at how many teenage conversations revolve around, “I can’t do it. I am not like her. No one likes me” and you can see how the ego indulges self-destructive enjoyment just to feel different and special.
The most destructive behavior to happiness, however, is more than likely the joy of “what if” or “only if.” Everyone has found pleasure in this type of craving. “What if I won the lotto?” or “Only if I was more in shape.”
This type of craving puts our belief in happiness squarely on the responsibility of some external condition: money, objects, people, and life conditions.
The Buddha stated, “I teach only the understanding of suffering and the end of suffering.” It is not surprising that a story lesson about happiness would then start with suffering. Matthakundali, and those reading the story, had to comprehend the nature of his suffering in order to see how he could reorient his mind towards a path of happiness.
Matthakundali understood by the end of the story, that while he loved his son, he had to let go of his own conceit that was letting him indulge in the guilt over his son’s death. His love for him was not dependent on his continual self-punishment.
Matthakundali also had to understand that his desire to have his son was unreasonable and impossible. It was a “what if” fantasy that was bringing more craving and suffering to him.
The Path to Happiness
We all experience moments of grief, loss, and regret. It is natural. What is important is that we do not continue to let it fester, like a man who continually pulls at the stitch of a mended wound.
Life is impermanent, and we should embrace the fact that our lives are limited making each moment we have in the world extremely precious. So we must refocus our energy to using our time wisely and putting value where it is most useful to our real happiness.