The thing about Buddhism is that it stresses attainment of something ineffable, and I think this is where it differs from other religions in that it's more correct.
We live in a world with promises of paradise. Everyone is telling us that if we will only have a certain experience, amass a certain amount of belongings, become rich and famous, whatever it is, we will be happy. And there are people who tell us that just the opposite is true - if we give up all that and we live a life of chastity, simplicity, poverty - sort of doing penance - that creates happiness. Those two schools of thought are very prevalent. But Buddhism endorses both of those schools and says, sure, you can go through that path of giving things up, and it will create a certain momentum and discipline for you to go beyond the limited perceptions that you currently have or, you can have it all and go beyond the limited perceptions that you now have.
Buddhism's stress, in other words, if it's advanced Buddhism, is really not on how to live. Basic Buddhism has all the little scriptural thoughts on right thought, right action, right conduct; it tells you everything, for a person who is trying to rise above being completely possessed by their desires and senses and just get some intrinsic purity going. But once you're past that stage, Buddhism suggests that the only thing worth attaining is that which is ineffable. And this is really the question that you have to ask yourself. Theoretically, you are in this room because you are interested in something that's ineffable. And at the same time, we all have a side that is very, very materialistic. We want personal gain above all else. And sometimes it just gets extreme; we get out of control with it. We want something and we will do anything to get it. We'll even do something illicit, that we know is intrinsically wrong. We would kill somebody if it would profit us, and not even think about it.
So in Buddhism, we feel that whatever you attain is a loss. Whatever you lose is kind of a plus. This is intermediate Buddhism. Because when you lose something it makes you aware of the transience of all samskaric existence, of all the existences of all the worlds. The worst thing you can do is be in comfort and luxury and paradise and have everything working for you. Because it totally blinds you to the reality of existence, and that is that everything is transient. You get into a very relaxed and comfortable state until the bottom drops out from under you, whether it's your death or change of some type. You get into kind of a blinded state.
So we're very self-reliant in a kind of Emersonian sense, the Buddhists. And we can accept very quietly incredible suffering - and incredible ecstasy.
So we feel that when you lose something, when there's disaster, what most people would not seek in their life - when it occurs to you, we consider that a very good thing because it keeps you on your toes. It awakens you to the fact that you are in a dream world, that the very nature of life is continual change.
So when something goes wrong, we love it, because it says, "Wait a minute. Time to saddle up, buckaroos." We have lost touch. And this is life's gentle way, or not so gentle way, or downright ornery way of reminding us that this is the nature of life, and what we should be doing is establishing a solidity in ineffability. Since nothing in the material world lasts and all material things ultimately cause pain, because all material things are eventually lost or they lose their luster, it is best to develop a solidity in something that does last.
It's like a career. You know, you can get a career where there's no solidity. You're a performer. This season they like you, you get a lot of work; next season they don't, you're out of work. On the other hand, if you're a computer scientist and there's a demand for good programmers because there's a shortage, then you can be assured of work all the time. So one looks around at life - most people, of course, don't, they don't really awaken enough - and you kind of dope it out and you realize that everything here is transient and no matter what you attain, it will pass, and that all happiness, personal happiness, is based upon things that are temporary - and that's all well and good, but temporary happiness is followed by absence, by pain, by depression, by alienation, then there will be temporary happiness again. That's just how life is.
So in Buddhism, we seek to go to something that is ineffable because it's more solid. We feel that there's a world, we see it, we experience it - there's a world of light from which all these material worlds come, from which we come, all the things we love come, all the things we don't like come - and if we can meld our mind with the essence of that, then we will live in a perpetual state of newness, renewal, ecstasy and happiness. And our happiness is no longer dependent upon whether they like us this season and want us or not.