Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Note on Buddhist Eudaimonism (or Saukhyaism)

You may have heard thousands of times about Bhutan being a land of “Gross National Happiness” (GNH). Some would simply scoff at the very idea and some would be fascinated by it. Others may choose to maintain a safe (not necessarily a sagely) silence because of the risk of becoming a “prisoner of Shangrila.” By the way, I interpret “prisoner of Shangrila” as someone who creates, believes in, live or wishes to live, or propagates a fabulous image of a society or a country that is not consonant with the actual state of affairs. If you say you are from Bhutan, people would expect you to know about GNH. In the past, I have been invited to give lectures on GNH. As a rule, I politely declined by explaining that although I hail from Bhutan, I am not an expert on Bhutan, not particularly on GNH. Instead I often offered to give talks on Buddhist philosophy of happiness.

While I am still unsure about the feasibility of GNH as a practical political guideline, I hold the philosophy of GNH a very noble source of inspiration insofar as it is a crystallization of the concept of the maximization of the over-all wellbeing of a society. Why would anyone have a problem with it? The only challenge is how best to gain a clear picture of the causes and conditions of GNH and to make real difference to the society without becoming complacent. Bhutan is neither a heaven nor a hell. It is just a tiny fleck on the earth. While non-Bhutanese might afford to create a heavenly or hellish image of Bhutan, Bhutanese cannot. Bhutanese alone must live the reality.

Actually I love what Aung San Suu Kyi in her Nobel Lecture (Oslo, June 16, 2012) stated: “Absolute peace in our world is an unattainable goal. But it is one towards which we must continue to journey, our eyes fixed on it as a traveller in a desert fixes his eyes on the one guiding star that will lead him to salvation. Even if we do not achieve perfect peace on earth, because perfect peace is not of this earth, common endeavours to gain peace will unite individuals and nations in trust and friendship and help to make our human community safer and kinder.” Indeed according to Buddhist philosophy, absolute happiness is not of this earth. I hope and pray that the Bhutanese leadership and people will continue to strive towards the goal of maximizing the wellbeing and happiness of the nation, unaffected and undeterred by the hellish or heavenly image of Bhutan that is likely to be created and recreated. But why am I talking about this here?

Let me get back to my initial and actual theme: Buddhist Eudaimonism (or Saukhyaism). I do think that Buddhist sources belonging to various systems and degrees of antiquity reveal fascinating philosophies of happiness. I am still in the process of exploring and exploiting them purely for personal interests. To express the Buddhist philosophy of happiness, I employ the word “eudaimonism.” But why do I also add here an alternative word “Saukhyaism”? It is possible that some readers may not like the word “eudaimonism” because of the possible unnecessary implication or connotation or association. Saukhyaism is a neologism I created myself. The Sanskrit word saukhya is a neuter abstract noun built from sukha and it sufficiently renders the idea of “happiness.” Before delving into pressing works that require immediate attention,  I am often tempted to read something that is not connected to work but something that is soothing and inspiring to my soul. I know Buddhists do not use the word “soul.” But it seems somehow befitting here. Nāgārjuna is one who never ceases to inspire me. In this case, I am speaking of his Ratnāvalī and I think authorship is not an issue here. Or is it? So I grab Michael Hahn’s edition of it and just open a page and start reading it as I simultaneously take a sip of hot Indian chai that I recently started to make. Ratnāvalī 4.98 prevented me from reading further. It made me think and rethink. So in Ratnāvalī 4.98, Nāgārjuna clearly suggests that happiness of all kinds is actually a by-product of the highest state of awakening! Or, perhaps as one strives for the highest goal of awakening, one would obtain happiness on the way and by the way (antarā: zhar la). What kind of implication would such an understanding of happiness have on the understanding of Buddhist Eudaimonism (or Saukhyaism)? This idea, which I need to explore and exploit further, would be significant for my understanding of Buddhist Eudaimonism (or Saukhyaism). Does he imply that happiness is not the Summum bonum? Is there such a thing as Summum bonum according to Buddhist philosophy? If so, what would be it?