Today yet another birthday comes, which also means another year gone. One year further away from my birth and one year nearer my death has passed. And, in-between these two bookends of life, innumerable days of dukkha, or stress. Not that it's been a particularly troublesome existence, you understand - there have been plenty of highs along with the lows (and the in-betweens). But, through it all, there has been this gnawing fact that life is somehow inherently unsatisfactory, which is another translation of the Buddhist term dukkha. The fact is, that as a human being, I am born to suffer; until I die that is. Life's a bitch, and then you die, goes the somewhat cynical saying.
The Buddha's teaching on dukkha is not an inherently negative view of the world, however, merely a realistic one. Most babies come into this life screaming, and many people go out of it in a similar way. Existence can be confusing, scary, painful, and wearisome. The good times can seem awfully fleeting, and what do we have to look forward to? Death! If we reflect on this, it may come to us that given this knowledge, we may as well make the most of what little time we have, and there is much to be said for this attitude. One problem is the perception that we need to doing an incredible things to lift us out of the mire of dukkha, whether it be being a movie star, a noble prize winning scientist, or a living saint. Unfortunately, such an existence is out of reach for most of us. We are stuck in our unsatisfying lives.
This, however, turns out to be not such a bad thing. For, we've all heard or read of filthy rich people committing suicide, or celebrities visiting addiction clinics. Living the dream isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be. Having an ordinary lifestyle can actually turn out to be a saving grace, allowing us the chance to reflect on life and develop some insight into it. This means that dukkha itself becomes the focus for contemplation, leading us to insight into the way-things-are (the Dharma), which turns out to be the real way out of our stressful lives. So, while pop stars, politicians and millionaire business types wallow in the extraordinary suffering of their extraordinary lives, we can use our quieter, less distracting situations to awaken to true happiness.
Bearing in mind the day that this body & these thoughts will pass away is not a morbid thing to do, but a wise one. Accepting the mortality of this person can be a motivating factor to discover what's important, and how to achieve it. In the Buddha's teaching it is happiness or contentment that is considered of prime importance in our lives. Not just for the individual, but for all people and creatures. The ultimate happiness is the absence of suffering, a state that is known by many names, some of the most well known being enlightenment / awakening (bodhi), 'blowing-out' (nirvana), extinction (nirodha), the deathless (amata), and the unconditioned (asankhata). Some of these might appear negative, but it's worth noting that happiness (such) is another synonym for this realization.
Unless we are monks or nuns, earning enough money to live by is an important occupation in life, and avoidance of this aspect of living can cause much suffering in the long run. However, thinking that fame & fortune are the most important factors in leading a happy existence would seem negated by the above references to the stress experienced by the rich & famous. The must be another way to lasting happiness, and this is the path (marga) that leads to awakening (bodhi). This path involves eight factors which cover correct understanding, correct intention, correct speech, correct action, correct livelihood, correct effort, correct mindfulness, and correct concentration. They are 'correct' in that they lead to enlightenment. Walking this path is the Buddhist 'holy life,' and its fulfillment is true, lasting happiness.
So, on a birthday such as this, a wise thing to do is resolving to continue walking this path & realizing its many fruits, the pinnacle of which is nirvana...before death-day arrives.
May all beings be happy!
May all beings be happy!