To Be Happy by Doug Duncan Sensei


As best we can, we set out to fulfill this aspiration – to be happy. We struggle to attain the pleasant and avoid the unpleasant. Rarely do we examine what makes the pleasant ‘pleasant’ or what makes the unpleasant ‘unpleasant’.

This is like owning a car and not knowing how it works. Consider the state of the car and your experience with it to be your degree of mindfulness as it is experienced in the three realms. People who live solely in the micro-want realm don’t think much about their cars. They are busy going to work, getting groceries, going out on a date, keeping out of the weather, just generally concerning themselves with getting where they are going.

They put gas in the car when they have to and think about the oil when the light comes on. It is only when they have a break-down that their attention turns to the macro-want realm; and by then, of course, it’s too late.

There are some who, even after such a breakdown, continue to treat their vehicles as before. People who live from the macro-want realm keep their car maintained. They make sure it gets regular service, check the gas, oil, battery and tyres. They keep it clean and protect it from vandals and the weather.

These people have far less trouble, get a smoother and more comfortable ride and feel much more confident and assured in their travels. They have much less trouble than their micro-realm neighbours and, as a result, seem to have happier and more trouble-free lives. However, if a breakdown does occur, and it will, they can’t fix the car themselves. They must call their neighbours from the supra-want realm.

The mechanics, the supra-want realm people, do all the same things with their car the micro-realm people do. They look after it as do their macro-realm neighbours. But these people know how to fix their vehicle. They have studied, practiced and learned from others how to repair their car. They have crawled underneath, getting their hands and clothes dirty in the process.

They have tried this and that, adjusted and adapted. They have learned what works and what doesn’t, who can help and who can’t.

If they have received bad instructions, they learn and carry on. They are grateful to those that have tried to help, and they transcend lesser teachers. They remain open to new information but won’t allow ignorance to guide their actions. They are in a position to instruct others.

When the micro-realm people have a breakdown, they are helpless. They can rant and rave, cajole or plead. They can act confused or indifferent, none of which changes their situation at all. They are forced to look for help while being at the mercy of circumstance, and they don’t know whether the helper they find is honest, has integrity or knows what to do and can do it right.

When the macro-realm people have a breakdown, they know who to call. In some cases they may be able to fix it themselves, having learnt something from visits to the garage. They have a pretty good idea of what’s wrong and a sense of whether their help is competent or not. The supra-realm people are self reliant, independent of help, capable and confident. If they can fix the car, they do so. If they have to wait for help, such as a tow, they aren’t fooled by amateurs or hustlers. If someone who doesn’t know what they are doing stops to help, our supra-realm mechanic urges them on their way. If the car is beyond repair they walk on, not looking back. This freedom is pleasant. The micro- and macro-realm people tend to linger uncertainly around their maimed vehicles. They are unsure whether to stay or go. This uncertainty is unpleasant.

This breakdown is not personal. It is the result of choices, how we maintained our vehicle, and present circumstances. Everything is impermanent. It is most likely the micro-realm people will take it personally, and so make it personal. In a sense they are right, since their personal choices, or lack of them, did lead to their current dilemma. The macro-realm people will know it’s not personal but can’t help taking it personally as their vested interest is still tied up in their car. The supra-realm people know it’s not personal and don’t take it personally. They did what could be done. They are free now from the vehicle. They are no longer subject to it.

When the Buddha awakened he is reported to have said:

‘Done is that which had to be done.
I have found you, oh builder
You shall build no more.
Cast down is the ridgepole.
No longer is this subject to becoming.’

Achariya Doug Duncan is a meditation teacher in the Namgyal Lineage. Doug ‘Sensei’, as his Japan students call him, is Clear Sky’s Resident Teacher, principal teacher for Dharma Japan sangha and numerous students in many countries.