However Buddhism also emphasizes meditation. Regarding this ‘immeasurable contemplation,’ I quote from the Nikayas: “This contemplation is ease for the present as well as resulting in ease in the future…this contemplation is noble, disinterested…this contemplation is peaceful, excellent, it is for gaining tranquility, for reaching one-pointed concentration, it is not of the habit of painful self-denial…this contemplation is one which I, mindful, enter upon; mindful, emerge from…” 9
In general much of Buddha’s teaching is aimed at monks as individuals who have left the world, but he also preached to lay persons. For them Nirvana was untenable, but happiness on a community scale rested on another precept – that one should “consider all beings as like oneself.”10 Contentment comes from “four social emotions: friendliness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and impartiality.”11 Again we see that harmony in relationship to others and the universe is conducive to peace of mind.
Buddhism as other philosophies offers us a particular means to contentment. Lucien Stryk sums it up in his introduction to The World of the Buddha; “To many, modern life is simply unbearable, and there are things happening or threatening to, which make of our time a perilous absurdity. Man’s choices have been so severely curtailed, his involvement in decisions of life-or-death magnitude so limited, that he often find himself lacking totally in purpose. Paradoxically, Western man’s strong response to Buddhism may very well be the result of his being forced by circumstances to accept one of its major premises, that humans experience is not individualistic. Those things which have made of life, for some, a veritable hell, have at the same time thrown its richest possibilities into relief, the chief being the sense of man’s oneness with others.”12
So again we can take away some pearls of advice in achieving contentment in the contemporary world. These come down to five main principles: (1) Renunciation at least of the superficial offerings of material society is essential, (2) Understand that discontent (and suffering) come from craving and desire, (3) The illusion of self undermines our tranquility by leading to fears of annihilation, (4) Regular contemplation of essential truths is the means to peace, and (5) Conduct in harmony with a community and consideration of all as like oneself leads to group happiness .
9Beck, L. Adams, The Story of Oriental Philosophy. The New Home Library, New York, 1928. Pages 175-176.
10Champawat, Narayan, Buddha, in McGreal, Ian P. (editor), Great Thinkers of the Eastern World, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York, NY, 1995. ISBN 0-06-270085-5, page 165.
12Stryk, Lucien (editor), World of the Buddha. Grove Press, New York, 1968. ISBN 0-8021-3095X, page xlv.