“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
This well-known quote resonates with me in a powerful way, so I decided to explore the importance of applying it in our day-to-day living. It is a simple concept, yet we often have difficulty living this exhortation to share ourselves with the world.
Why is it that some people, ourselves included at times, have great difficulty sharing what is precious within us? In the quote, above, Buddha zeroes in on that very issue. He says we are afraid that the sharing will diminish the gift. This observation is dead on the money! It is really sad that our first instinct is to hold on to our treasures for fear that others will take them and leave us with nothing. It is understandable, mind you, when one considers that for many millennia humans fought for survival in uncivilized circumstances. This instinct to keep what’s ours is very deeply ingrained.
For over three decades, I taught in a Roman Catholic school system, where formal courses in religion were part of the official curriculum. For years, I taught at least one religion course per school year, and I recall that the concept of sharing had a prominent place in many formal lessons. I know this is taught by many other world religions as well. It is clear, that this act of sharing goes against our natural instincts and must, therefore, be taught.
In this quote, Buddha was not speaking about sharing our material wealth, but rather, our interior happiness. When I consider this concept, my mind balks long enough to ask, What is happiness? The quest for happiness among humanity is universal. Where do we find it? Does it come with our retail purchases? Can we find it in music or in all of the other arts? Or, is this attractive state we seek, a gift from persons we love and who love us? Do we find happiness in sources outside of ourselves?
I don’t think Buddha would agree. When we seek happiness in people or things outside of ourselves, we are probably missing the boat. Being a former educator, I sought out a definition from Mr. Dictionary! The source I used spoke of happiness as a ‘state of contentment’. After mulling that over, I concluded that I liked that description, rather than one of extreme euphoria, which, in my view, is unsustainable.
In order to possess a degree of contentment, I must look within myself. I cannot buy that, or accept it as a gift from another. To be content is a state of mind; an attitude one adopts that allows us to be at peace with our circumstances, the people in our lives, and with ourselves. That mean acceptance, and it must begin with myself. I must become comfortable in my own skin. I’m honestly aware of my shortcomings, and of my gifts and accomplishments as well. There must be balance! Acceptance requires this balance, and this is an attitude one adopts.
If I am at peace with myself and my world, I am better able to share this happiness with others. I can speak kindly, perform acts of kindness, and generously give of my time and attention to others. It is my experience that this type of giving is its own reward. As Buddha points out, I do not diminish my capacity for happiness by giving away kindness and support to friends, family, and strangers alike. These acts make me feel better about myself – that’s my reward!