Seeds of Happiness (2005)
Suffering was a natural occurrence for Flora, and tears were her livelihood. Day after day, she sat in on the miseries of people’s lives, and spoke of the miracles of happiness. People came to tell her of their problems, pouring out their sorrows, and left feeling rejuvenated and purified. They dropped their unhappy seeds, and walked away. But alas, those seedlings grew in Flora, whose mind became a knotted forest. She was overjoyed when her patients recovered, but saddened when they did not. The burden became overwhelming, and Flora – a specialist counsellor for those with depression – became depressed herself.
She soon lost all happiness in her life. All her motivations to help other people, all her aspirations to change the world, all her hope for the future generation – all lost within her internal forest. She shone away from social gatherings, broke off her relationships with friends and family, quit her job as counsellor, and fell to tears whenever things got too stressful. She lost faith in the world, and in herself.
The only joy she found was in her daily walks along the beach, beginning her day watching the sunrise and ending it with a sunset. It reminded her of the time she visited her dying aunt in the hospital.
“You bought me a card! Oh, it’s beautiful Flora!” Flora was surprised at her aunt’s reaction. It was just a $2 card from the florist downstairs.
“And it has a picture of a sunrise too!” Her aunt exclaimed.
“That’s not a sunrise, Aunty Mary,” corrected Flora. “It’s a sunset.”
“No dear Flora, it is most certainly a sunrise. Another glorious day has just begun and the world is coming alive!”
Flora remembered she had shaken her head and mumbled that it didn’t matter whether it was a sunrise or sunset. Aunt Mary died with a smile on her face less than a fortnight later, which was when Flora’s depression was at its worse.
Aunt Mary was a beautiful woman, and left seeds of happiness in many people. But her death grew many thorns in Flora as well. Flora couldn’t understand why such a kind-hearted woman had to endure so much suffering, just as she couldn’t understand why her patients were still depressed, despite working so hard to be happy again. It all seemed unfair.
She told her wise father this, and he replied that true happiness isn’t something external you work towards. You first need to cultivate the right causes and conditions in your life, and internalise a sense of contentment.
“Causes and conditions?” asked Flora curiously.
“That’s right, Flora.” Nodded her father. “The Buddha had spoken of the Four Noble Truths to show that suffering exists and originates from our attachments and ignorance of the interdependency of all things. So suffering arises when you are attached to sense pleasures, desiring what you like and riding what you dislike. We suffer because attachment to status quo goes against the truth of impermanence, and attachment to self contradicts the fact of interdependency. The ‘Flora’ I’m looking at is not the same ‘Flora’ I held in my arms 25 years ago. Nor are you a sole individual existing in isolation, without the help of anyone around you. You are who you are because of the various causes and conditions in your life.”
Flora was deep in thought. “You spoke of two Noble Truths, but what’s the other two?”
“After diagnosing our suffering, the Buddha illuminated the existence and path to end this suffering via the Eightfold Path.” He then carefully wrote on a piece of paper and handed it to his daughter:
“The elements of the Eightfold Path are right understanding, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Understand each element individually, but practiced them collectively.”
He continued. “The four famous sights the Buddha saw were a sick man, an old man, a dead man, and a monk. Due to modern sanitisation of our streets, maybe you can try a different setting.” Flora’s father thought for a bit and suggested she take a trip to the airport.
Flora was shocked, a bit sceptical, but very curious. It took her three days to finally accept the challenge. She felt a little silly coming here without a purpose of picking anyone up, or of leaving. She didn’t even know what her father wanted her to look for. She wondered around the airport a bit, especially drawn to the duty-free stores. Turning the corner, she found herself at the departure gates. She saw families hugging and lovers embracing. Tears streamed down their faces.
“Is this the suffering my father wanted me to look at?” She thought. She continued to observe, and felt a tug on her heartstrings. The tears reminded her of her aunt and her depressed patients. But her attention shifted to a loving couple smiling and laughing as they said their final goodbye.
“Bye Fauna!” Cried the man. “If the causes and conditions are right, we shall meet again.”
“Yes, so don’t come back unless you’re a multi-millionaire!” joked Fauna.
The man laughed heartily and turned towards the gate. He looked back once more to see a smiling Fauna waving him goodbye. He laughed again and disappeared through the gates.
As Fauna was about to walk away, she saw Flora looking at her. She smiled, and Flora blushed.
“Sorry for staring,” stumbled Flora. “I…I was just surprised at your laughter, especially amidst all this crying.”
Fauna’s eyes sparkled as she laughed cheerily. “You seem surprised to see happiness.” Flora stared at her in disbelief. The words resonated within her, and she tried to regain her composure.
“Your friend spoke of causes and conditions,” began Flora. “If it takes so many causes and conditions for people to be together, why must we part? It seems cruel.”
“Or maybe we should be grateful that so many causes and conditions allowed these people to be together for the time they had. Happiness and sorrow is merely a flutter of the mind.”
“Just as like and dislike is merely a discrimination by our perception.” Flora added.
Fauna nodded. “That’s why parting doesn’t upset me. The impermanency in our lives means people and things will come and go. Yet paradoxically, the interdependency of all things means they may come and go, but they still remain connected with us. What better thing to do but let go and let everything pass us like the wind?”
For the first time since Aunt Mary’s death, Flora felt her internal forest untangling. But something else was troubling her.
“Although I understand this, I still can’t help but feel upset when I see all the unhappiness around me.”
“But when you’re being unhappy at the unhappiness of others, aren’t you contributing to the world’s unhappiness? If you want to help alleviate the world from its suffering, shouldn’t you be a role model of contentment?”
This time, Flora laughed. She had only one question left to ask Fauna.
“You are wise, but can you answer this: what is the difference between a picture of a sunrise and a sunset?”
Without hesitation, Fauna replied, “The movement of the mind.”
Flora understood and beamed happily. Like the friendship that grew between her and Fauna, her internal forest started to blossom flowers.
(Written for UNIBUDS Annual Magazine 2005)