October is almost upon us which means that it is time once again for our annual seven week fall series. The book we have chosen for this year is Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard.
This may sound like a frivolous topic at a time when Nazis are marching in our cities, record setting hurricanes are spinning out of the Atlantic and the government prepares to send more soldiers into harm’s way in what appears to be an increasingly futile effort in Afghanistan. In reality, this book is about developing the kind of clarity of thought and vision that will better enable us to deal with this reality.
The word happiness gets a bad rap today because it has been narrowly defined in a way that is synonymous with frivolity, pleasure and hedonism. This is one of the problems with the English language. Happiness, like the word love, has many shades of meaning; some silly and frivolous and others profound and momentous.
Happiness is a central idea in our Declaration of Independence; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
We have probably lost what the founders had in mind when they used the word happiness in this way. Historians suggest that the following best describes what Jefferson had in mind at the time:
“If, in reality, courage and a heart devoted to the good of mankind are the constituents of human felicity, the kindness which is done infers a happiness in the person from whom it proceeds, not in him on whom it is bestowed; and the greatest good which men possessed of fortitude and generosity can procure to their fellow creatures is a participation of this happy character.” Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society
Indeed, this is one of the key ideas we get from the book Happiness which serves as a how to guide for bringing this about in our lives and the lives of others. Matthieu Ricard is a Nepalese French writer and Buddhist monk who resides at Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery in Nepal.
Before becoming a monk, he was a PhD molecular biologist and gave up his scientific career to immerse himself in learning what Buddhism can teach us about happiness. As a result, he is often referred to as “the happiest person in the world.” He owns nothing, lives alone in a hermitage for two months per year and gets by on about $50 per month.
The book is available on Amazon and can be ordered through our Spiritual Resource Center with no shipping charge and delivered to your home. However, rest assured that the Sunday talks will not require that one read the book first.
Our fall series is an opportunity for focused practice on spiritual growth and community building. Each Sunday a discussion group will meet after the service to talk about the topic for the day and, just for fun, we choose a different color each week and encourage creative coordinated attire. We hope you can join us!