Believers and Nonbelievers: Adopting the Buddhist Way

Tom Maunz

Spring 2002

"The purpose of life is happiness whether you are a believer or nonbeliever." (The Dalai Lama, 2001) This is a statement that may be considered controversial but true all the same. The believers are the ones who believe that God is the reason for life and the only reason for living is through his purpose. The nonbelievers or skeptics follow a way of carpe diem, which stands for live for today, and attempt to live life to the fullest. However, what does happiness have to do with living life for a higher being, or living life in different extremes? If people are living life in the traditional perspectives, like the true believers', how can they change their thinking process to make happiness a bigger part of their lives? Finally, what is the most gratifying way to achieve happiness so it can be most beneficial to everyone? The following questions will be answered to show how happiness is life's purpose.

Aristotle once said that the "function of man" is an activity of the soul that follows a rational principle. Virtue is the appropriate excellence for an activity and what that activity aims at. Therefore, happiness as the goal or "excellence" of human life is the "activity of the soul in accord with virtue." (Aristotle, 2002) Happiness should be considered with elevated associations; as arising from the purest social, benevolent, and religious affections, but it is not an easy task to accomplish. It is the purpose of life and even a lifetime is not enough for some individuals, both believers and nonbelievers, to obtain. The problem with some people is that their lives have taken a wrong step and have found new, more destructive meaning for their lives. Others have been seeking happiness but have not been able to obtain it due to not fully understanding how to reach happiness at an elevated state. The Dalai Lama stated that the purpose of life is happiness, and he has been practicing Mahayana Buddhism for over fifty years. Over the years he has learned to give and take his knowledge and beliefs to best suit the surrounding world around him. The problem with the believers is that they are traditional to such an extreme, that they would take their own lives for a cause that is not that meaningful in the purpose of why we were all born and that is for happiness.

Eric Hoffer, the author of The True Believer, stated it perfectly in that the believers who group together are the bottoms of society. They have nothing left to live for so they try and give their lives new meaning, which is how many terrorists organizations came into play (Hoffer, 1951). They are miserable with how the world is evolving and will do anything within their power to change it to better suit them. Even if it means taking their own life, it is for their cause. Many of these types of believers are like a pack of dogs. They have been brainwashed into believing that they are a part of something special but at the same time, they are given no information except to cause havoc on a particular group of people. They stick to their traditional beliefs and will not listen to any other opinions on the matter. These believers have a problem because they are obsessed with completing their specific tasks. They feel they will be happier once the changes that need to be made with the world are completed. However, they need to realize that happiness does not come from the things we obtain in life. Happiness comes from the way we view life in terms of us loving the world and in return loving ourselves.

It is true that if the believers complete their goals that they are trying to obtain, it will satisfy their needs for an amount of time. However, once they get used to the new way of life, things will become the same as they always have been, and then they will put up a new fight so that their lives will once again have a purpose. People always say that Americans are the best off in terms of their way of life. Most Americans do have more possessions then the rest of the world but that does not make us happier. We are used to our way of life, and happiness is a problem for Americans as well. What the believers do not understand is that all people are struggling in the search for happiness and it will become easier for everyone to obtain if we all work together for our search.

The view of the nonbeliever is quite different. I view myself as a skeptic and I am aware of my search for happiness. The way I live life is as a sensualist, which means I try to enjoy every moment I have on this planet. Everything that I do is for my own amusement and only do otherwise when I absolutely have to. For example, I may get a job for a short amount of time but that is only so I can use the money I get and put it towards my amusements. However, is constantly amusing myself the same as being constantly happy? Although it is a start in the right direction, there is more to being happy than just amusing oneself. Aristotle stated with his reasoning that happiness is the activity of the soul in accord with virtue, but where is the virtue in what I myself as a nonbeliever am doing. From my own experiences in life, I know that happiness is the goal that I have set out for myself. I do not feel that having a particular religion is important in the search for happiness, and even Eric Hoffer said that religion is important for those who are seeking to make their lives more meaningful because they have lost their purpose (Hoffer, 1951). At the same time, where does amusing myself with bars, bowling alleys, and booze fit in with being virtuous? I realize that my quest for happiness has not even come close to fully reaching its peak so far, but the great thing about life is that it is never too late to start searching a different way.

I realize that both the believers and nonbelievers will feel threatened to change their way of life. The believers have followed a traditional perspective for so long, that it is nearly impossible for them to realize that their true purpose is for happiness. The skeptics and sensualists will also have a hard time being persuaded to change their beliefs because they are so used to amusing themselves that they do not realize that true happiness awaits them down a different road. It took me twenty-one years to realize this and I still am too busy amusing myself to make any significant changes. However, I propose a change and a claim of policy for both the believers and nonbelievers. I say that if one attempts to enjoy life, and take things more warm-heartedly, then it will be easier to change their already existing beliefs. People will also use more empathy towards one another and they can clearly see where the other person is coming from in terms of his or her ideas.

Once the believers and nonbelievers understand that the purpose of life is happiness, they must understand the best way to receive happiness. One way is through self-transcendence from becoming enlightened. The Buddhist way of life involves understanding that we are all humans no matter what our color, race, or religion. Buddhism deals with the four noble truths, which state that life is suffering, suffering is due to attachment, attachment can be overcome, and that there is a path to accomplish this called dharma. Dharma means the "middle way", which is the middle way between such competing philosophies as materialism and idealism, or hedonism and asceticism (Boeree, 2002). There is also an eightfold path for understanding the truths of life, and obtaining wisdom in the search for enlightenment, and realizing our own morality through meditation. Meditation is used for understanding our emotions and for a quiet mindfulness where things just drift in and out like a quiet breeze where we almost feel like nothing. The breathing during the meditation is the enlightenment. Once a person realizes that the world is evolving with no beginning and no end, they can see that are lives are almost meaningless. Our happiness is all that we have in our lives and we should make the most of it.

I am not saying that the believers who follow their God should stop and start a whole new way of life. I am saying that they should try and understand everything around them is alive and that we are all the same deep down. Once they understand this, happiness will be more easily obtained and maybe they will find their lives more meaningful than to cause others pain and suffering. Another quote from the Dalai Lama states, "I have always felt that the Buddhist culture can make a positive contribution to the rest of the world, because of its principle stress on compassion, and especially in the Mahayana tradition by its profession of nonviolence in various human activities." (Dalai Lama, 2002) These are the types of attitudes needed to ensure that all our pursuits of happiness take place.

A counter claim to this belief is accomplishing happiness through self-esteem and awareness. Instead of letting the world flow through you like drops of rain, one can be aware of ones liveliness and feel good about everything they do. As long as an individual, either believer or nonbeliever feels, as though they are special, then they will act as though they are special, and happiness is bound to occur. However, it is hard to imagine a believer who feels as though he is no longer an individual but rather as a member of a group as feeling too special. I also cannot imagine a suicide bomber who kills a number of people for hatred and spite as someone who has high self-esteem and awareness. The fact is that people must realize that they are special and that through their awareness; they can see that they are important to the rest of society and to themselves. The only problem with this method of obtaining happiness is that things happen in life that a person has no control over. Deaths, illness, and stress are common in society and it is hard to handle sometimes when a person is aware that it exists. People go through ups and downs in life and a person can never be truly happy with self-esteem alone. However, it is a major start for a person who is seeking life's greatest prize, which is happiness.

In conclusion, people must first understand what the purpose of life really is. Over the years, many who are believers with their own causes, and nonbelievers who are busy entertaining themselves instead of being truly happy have lost the pursuit of happiness. However, with a new way of thinking, believers and nonbelievers can see that there is more in life than they can possible imagine. Today, we live in a society where suicide bombers crash into buildings, and two main monotheistic religions are going head to head in combat and hatred. All I ask is for both religions to see the other group's side and compromise with enlightenment of the third way of believing. Who knows, maybe if this occurs, everyone's pursuit of happiness may become a reality. "I pray for all of us, oppressor and friend, that together we succeed in building a better world through human understanding and love." (Dalai Lama, 2002)