YOUTH IN FOCUS: I have always strived to be a topper. I wanted a good job and a cool car. After graduating, I found a job with a high salary and soon I will buy a car. Suddenly, though, I feel empty. I feel that achieving my goals has not brought me satisfaction. What now? Do I strive higher or quit everything?

Confused, Thimphu      

 Well, confused, I think your dilemma is a universal one.  Most people think that more equals happier, and so the world is filled with unsatisfied people. You see, if we believe that only after we get a better job or a more expensive car we will be content then that means that we are discontent now. We feel that in the present moment we are inadequate or that we don’t have enough. We call this a poverty mentally.

So, you ask should you strive higher or stop altogether. I think that neither response offers a solution. If we quit a highly paid job and move to a small village, we may outwardly appear simple but inside may still have a lot of desire and jealousy. Contrarily, if we continuously strive higher with the expectation that one day we will finally be satisfied, then we will live discontented lives. 

Actually, there are two points to consider: First, we should understand that real wealth is not a big car or money in the bank, but the ability to be content with what we have. Being able to really savour a cup of coffee or to genuinely enjoy a piece of music is true wealth – real contentment. Think of it like climbing a mountain. At first we believe that only after reaching the peak we will be happy, and so we climb fast. Slowly, however, we begin to appreciate the scenery and enjoy the fresh air. We stop rushing, and instead advance one step at a time. Finally, we enjoy the walk so much that it becomes irrelevant whether we reach the peak or not. We have already achieved our goal to be content.

The other point is a little more complicated, but I’ll try to explain it simply. All material things are compounded and impermanent and so can never offer us long term satisfaction. Ok, now I imagine that you are shaking your head and thinking, ‘what is this guy talking about’, and so I’ll give an example.

Think of the Kuensel that you are holding. It is made of paper, right? Now, if you follow its journey back, you’ll discover that the paper was made from wood that came from a tree. In turn, the tree grew from a seed through its interaction with moisture from rain, warmth from sunlight and nutrition from soil. Therefore, the Kuensel in our hands is just a temporary joining together of factors. It is not a permanent thing. At the moment you are reading it, but by tomorrow it will already be garbage and soon it will be part of the soil helping a new tree to grow.

It is not only Kuensel that exists in this way, but everything in the universe is just a temporary joining together of factors. Even something solid like a mountain is just made of rock and stone and will one day disappear. Consequently, we say that everything is like a rainbow or a mirage; we can see them, but under examination we find nothing permanent – just a temporary joining together of factors.

Are you following my logic? A mirage cannot make us happy, right? As soon as we try to reach it, it disappears. Cars, houses, etc may exist longer than a mirage, but in reality they are the same – just temporary things that appear when certain factors join together. Ultimately, they don’t exist and will change and disappear.     

Ok, I know this is confusing. Over time, it will make sense.

Anyway, back to your question. It is fine if you have a good job and nice car. The trick is to constantly remind yourself that these things cannot bring you long term satisfaction. If you can do this, you will not feel disappointed or empty. Personally, I recommend that you do your work like climbing a mountain – making each step a goal. To do this, undertake your work mindfully and show care and respect for your colleagues and customers. One day, you may become the boss of a multi-national company, but it won’t matter. You’ll already be content.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes.

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