What do we think of when people ask us what we want out of life? Worldly comforts come to mind: a comfortable well-decorated home. Fancy cars. Delicious food. Loving family and friends. Those are the traditional and understandable desires of most human beings.
Most of the time, however, when we get what we think we want we are left with an empty feeling when the euphoria wears off.The Buddha pointed out to us that chasing material wealth and external validation for its own sake is a fool’s errand because we can never get enough. In other words, what lies beneath all our worldly desires is a spiritual desire to be satisfied.
It’s important to point out that the Buddha did not say that material wealth and the support of friends and family are useless. Instead, he encouraged us to use our resources and personal connections to achieve something greater than our own personal enrichment and fame. The path to satisfaction lies in avoiding those actions that are harmful to our fellow sentient beings and devoting our time and energy exclusively to reducing their suffering. Once we except that self-gratification and aggrandizement does not lead to satisfaction, we can see that any action that does not help another being in some way is a waste of time because it does not help us to achieve the satisfied feeling that we really want out of life.
Now for the answer. How do you get what you really want, a feeling of satisfaction? It is simply this eightfold path: right action, right speech, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, right thought and right wisdom. The first three, referred to collectively as morality, are actions, speech and work that do not involve killing, stealing, adultery, lies or intoxicants. That’s the part where we don’t harm others.
If we’re not harming anyone our minds will be freed from regret leaving space for us to be in the present moment. That gives us right effort which means the effort to be mindful and right concentration which means being mindful as much as possible. When you apply mindfulness in this way you begin to observe the true nature of the body and mind giving rise to right thought and right wisdom.
With this understanding you can determine whether your actions, speech and livelihood are really helping people or whether they’re making problems worse. This doesn’t mean that we all need to work for charities. It means that our work should be honest and beneficial to those who purchase our goods and services rather than harmful. This leads us back to the beginning again with right action so when we join the eightfold path we’re into a virtuous cycle. And that’s very satisfying indeed.