The Buddhism Guide to happiness (brought to you by the underpants gnomes):
1. Abandon Hope
Now I will admit that this actually holds a large grain of truth here, and I'll explain why. But I'll also go on to explain why they have the first step -- maybe even the first two steps, but they've confused them for the entire path.
I would first like to say that the first half of this book I deeply needed to read. I've been working on stopping my impulsive responses and listening to my heart for some time now. The first several chapters of this book reinforced my belief that this was good, and further gave me some really good insights into how to do even better. For this reason alone, I firmly suggest that everyone go and buy this book.
In short -- far too often, when something goes wrong I respond instinctively and immediately to stop the pain, to bring myself pleasure to compensate. Most of these initial responses are fast, almost panicked grabs at keeping what I thought I had. Immediately after that I get restless, I "spin up", I get focused on fixing things, on finding solutions, on making things better. But honestly, this is just me responding to my own loss. It isn't always a useful response, and in fact in many times you could argue I have gone against my own best interests.
The first few chapters, nay, the entire book deals with learning to stop that immediate response. To learn to let those panicked thoughts go, and listen to our heart. And to learn that we can't own this thing we thought we had -- it is will always be in transition, and we should let transition occur. Stop interfering, and be at home with ourselves in transition.
Okay, so ... don't act. Acknowledge my thoughts but don't let them own me. Recognize my thoughts for what they are, but let them go. Abandon hope that things will return to that which I thought was safe or happy or good. Accept transition. And listen to my heart. This is true, and beautiful, and wise. And I need to keep working on this. (so should everyone -- go buy this book)
Now. You are at peace. You are no longer responding to the pain. You accept yourself and the situation for what it is right now. You abandon all hope of change. You are whole and safe within yourself.
Now what do you do? This is where Buddhism fails. Because you do nothing. You abandon hope for anything better. You abandon desire.
So how does this map to the real world? What does abandoning hope and accepting things as they are do for any of the following situations?
1. Your mother is dying and needs your assistance.
2. Your partner is abusive and beats you senseless. (Or you are abusing someone else perhaps?)
3. Someone is taking advantage of you, physically, sexually or economically. (Or you are taking advantage of someone else?)
4. You have witnessed a terrible crime happening. (or you are taking part in a terrible crime)
Guess what. Abandoning hope will never improve those situations. They will persist. Your mother still needs your help. You still need to get yourself out of harm's way. And worse, you are potentially allowing a damaged person to move on and damage someone else. And if you are the perpetrator, then you are failing to take action to stop yourself.
Desperately grabbing for what you think you own is wrong. The Buddhists have the right of this. But failing to take action against a wrong, either someone else's or your own is not the right thing to do.
I suspect that books written by Buddhists who have retired to live in monasteries might all have this one fault. Doing nothing at all, having no desires at all... is a great way to reduce one's life to sitting in a monastery and counting upon others to feed you. It simply can't accomplish anything else.
The funniest thing is that the existence of the book proves their own failure to know the entire path. They did not expend the effort involved in writing their books (and Buddhist scholars as a whole seem fairly prolific) without either (1) having hope that people will read it and improve themselves or (2) having hope that people will buy it and provide money. If they had no hope, no desire -- then there was no basis for such a book to exist.
Conclusion: You should stop. You should listen to yourself without judgement until you have stopped speaking. You should learn to love the silence. You will find a new truth when you stop trying to compensate. That is step 1. And the Buddhists have this right.
But you must desire. You must hope. You must act. Or nothing will ever improve. And you should absolutely act from a position of wholeness, of safety within yourself. But for things to improve, you must have hope that they will. That is step 2 -- Acting Rightly. And no book written by a Buddhist I have ever read understands the nature of step 2.
Note: I am sure that many buddhists and/or their apologists will respond here telling me to reread the book, or read another book, or think about something they have said. Well, I will promise to take you very seriously, and I will immediately go and read whatever you ask of me very carefully... IF you include with your response the answer to one question: If I am supposed to abandon hope. Completely, absolutely abandon hope that I or anything else will ever improve... why should I do this? Am I not already the best I should ever hope to be?
Of course not. I'm sure whatever you want me to read will help me understand myself better, help me improve my life. And I will do it, because I desire improvement. I always will, until I give up and pass away.
I'm not a Buddhist. They have many things for me. They have many truths that everyone should read. Right now, we must stop responding in pain. We must listen to ourselves. We must accept transition. We must be at home in our hearts.
But then we must move beyond stopping, and learn when to start again. We must act. We must act in a true and right manner. We must create beauty. We must love, we must value, we must cherish. And we must take action to protect things which are Good.
I am Thelemite. I believe that the age in which it was best to accept sorrow and never act to improve it is over. This is a new age, and we as individuals have power as never before to improve our lives. We must learn to stop, to abandon pride and accept transition. From this place of wholeness, we should act.
Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains.
Beauty and strength, leaping laughter and delicious languor, force and fire, are of us.