Every sentient being, down to the tiniest animal, naturally seeks well-being and shuns suffering. Consciously or not, this dual yearning constantly motivates their thoughts and deeds. However the continuous quest for pleasure mainly gives rise to problems or at best fleeting moments of happiness that are soon replaced by disenchantment.
In his very first discourse, the Sutra of the Four Noble Truths, Buddha Shakyamuni identified suffering and its origins, showed the possibility of terminating it and laid out the methods to attain genuine and definitive happiness. Among other things, the Buddha explained that happiness and pain do not occur by chance but are in fact the results of causes that lie mainly within us.
In line with the diversity of all beings' aspirations and capacities, the Buddha taught a great variety of methods that help people take control of their minds by familiarising them with the true causes of happiness – virtuous states of mind or good qualities – and progressively overcoming the origins of suffering – mistaken perceptions and harmful mental states.
This is made possible through study, reflection and meditation. By study or listening one acquires from external sources accurate knowledge of the good qualities to develop and the mistakes to avoid. However to internalize this awareness and prevent it from remaining superficial or purely intellectual, study must be followed by personal reflection. Then by exercising alternately the two kinds of meditation – analytical and concentrative – one familiarizes one's mind with the good qualities that one has deliberately produced, strengthens them and stabilizes them until they become spontaneous or natural parts of it. A similar procedure is followed to overcome the causes of suffering.
We are currently born as human beings in the best possible conditions. We therefore have the capacity needed to work on ourselves in this way. The immediate effect of doing so is a greater ability to deal with daily situations, more inner peace and openness to others. Also, from the point of view of our future lives, which are conditioned by our present mental states and actions, it is particularly urgent to cultivate good qualities that we can count on.
It is in this way that we gradually become happier and stronger and prepare ourselves to guide others on the path to happiness.