Enjoying the smile of the world

Some for the Glories of This World; and some
Sigh for the Prophet’s Paradise to come;
Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!

Rubaiyat 13

The lack of money is the root of all social evil and misery. Without cash, everything is hypothetical, said my father, who struggled all his life to provide adequately for his large family. But to enjoy the ease and smile of the world, we need more than an adequate income...

I believe happiness is a positive cash flow. St Paul, the man who invented Christian theology with his gregarious letter-writing (in today’s Internet context he could be regarded as an e-mail spammer), says in the Epistle to the Romans (a longwinded, preachy book in the New Testament Bible) that the love of money – greed – is the root of all evil.

But I say the lack of money is the real cause of social evil, misery and personal tragedy.

In a poor country, widespread poverty leads to corruption and exploitation. Families have little cash for life's essentials and the children suffer from unnecessary malnutrition and disease. The mother goes to another country to work and gets abused as a domestic worker (a common situation in affluent Singapore where housewives and their husbands who employ maids from Indonesia, Philippines and Sri Lanka, tend to beat, harass and molest the maids).

The father, in despair and loneliness, drinks himself drunk and when he receives the remittance from his wife, promptly acquires a mistress.

Money certainly won’t solve family or social ills but at least it provides a proper home, enough food, and basic schooling for the next generation. With a job and regular income in their own country, women do not need to leave their families to work abroad, girls don't need to go into prostitution, and the menfolk would not be wandering the streets.

Money is never enough: Once we’ve solved the basic problem of jobs for the majority, we want more. In a selfish sense, an adequate income is not quite adequate.

For most families, an adequate income means just enough cash for home-cooked meals, bus rides, plain clothes, utilities, textbooks and pocket money for schoolchildren, a 15-inch TV set, a home phone, and an Internet-connected computer running on a 56k modem. There is precious little left for taxi rides, for owning a secondhand car (when taking a cab is inconvenient), for a family vacation in a nearby country, for a mobile phone, for pricey Internet broadband connection to the computer, for eating out in a decent restaurant, for buying smart clothes at a boutique, and for treatment in a comfortable private hospital when one falls ill.

In short, we want an adequate-plus income for the hundred and one indulgences that make life sweet, desirable and motivating. Humans cannot be satisfied with just the essentials. The hunger for more material comfort is what drives people to work harder and longer hours, sacrificing family life, health and personal wellbeing.

In Singapore, recession or no recession, the shopping malls and smart restaurants continue to be crowded. New condominium apartments continue to flood the market. New car models continue to drive the Singapore male wild.

What I want: Luckily for me, I don’t really care for most of the above. I want only fuss-free physical health (and a well-maintained public park for my regular runs), plenty of good books (hardbound editions preferably), enough cash in my pockets to have regular black coffee and kaya toast in the neighbourhood coffeeshop, and an occasional trip up in Malaysia or Thailand for weekend scuba diving in the South China Sea.

Wait... I need a bit more cash to buy Chinese scroll paintings, munch high-grade durian at roadside stalls, and snack on late-night prata and teh tarik with amiable companions.

Two kinds of happinesses: In our pursuit of happiness, we have to differentiate two kinds of “happinesses”, according to my meditation teacher, Sayadaw Pannananda, the resident Burmese monk at the Singapore Vipassana Meditation Centre.

The most common and pleasurable experience we get is from our six senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting and thinking (or daydreaming).

We feel “happy” when we have something good to eat, something nice to smell, something beautiful to look at, something sensual to touch, or something stimulating to think over. Such happiness is transient and lasts as long as the sensation lasts, as long as the object of attention is there. Once the sensation is over, we go back searching again to repeat the experience. The quest for more happiness through physical, sexual and mental sensations always lead to dissatisfaction and misery. 

The other kind of happiness is santi sukha. This Buddhist term describes a state that is completely independent of the sensations. It is regarded as true happiness and inner calm. You don’t need any stimulation to achieve it. You don’t need any sight, sound, smell, touch and so on. It is the happiness promised by practising Vipassana or mindfulness meditation.

Most people experience only the first kind of happiness, and spend their lifetime chasing it, and paying a small fortune to preachers, prostitutes, and psychiatrists to get it. Because it does not satisfy, they experience the hangover of frustration and ennui.

The second kind of happiness, once obtained through the strenuous practice of mindfulness and insight meditation, is independent of sensations and circumstances. It lasts.

Meditation to achieve happiness | Contents Page

The good life is not in  the ease and pleasure of the world