Bare Bones Biology 151 – May You be Happy

130408-Niko-ASC_3004LSs“May you be free from danger
May you have mental happiness
May you have physical happiness
May you have ease of well-being”

If that’s what you really want more than anything else.

That is a mantra that has been translated from Buddhist texts into our American culture, which must have been quite a shock to the Buddhist texts. At least it sounds to me like a very inadequate translation from wisdom toward trivia. But it is useful.

Driving long distances, surrounded by giant boxes moving at 75 miles per hour can be stressful, and so, on my way from northern New Mexico to southern Texas, I fell back on that mantra about one o’clock in the afternoon. By two o’clock it was getting wearisome. Because if happiness is really what you want it should be pretty easy to come by in this rich country, but it’s not really what I want, in fact I suspect it’s an Americanized sales pitch, and so I should not be repeating that mantra, hour after hour.

Happiness is a word without meaning;
In a world that has grown much more complicated.

Then I remembered Tony Hillerman’s novels that are based in the Navaho area of modern Arizona. He tells us about Navajo ideas of community – a community in which you want to be connected together, rather than everyone competing to see who can be “best.” Tony Hillerman’s character, Joe Leaphorn, says/thinks “’We have a curing ceremony to heal us when we start getting vengeful or greedy or, what to you call it, getting ahead of the Joneses.’ . . (He was) remembering how Navaho kids are conditioned to be part of the community . . . in harmony.“


On the contrary, I think many other of our American cultures are based in the belief that I can be “happy” if ever I can prove that I’m better than you are — or at least not worse. I think Leaphorn is more realistic. If we truly want community, it doesn’t make sense that we should try to prove we are better than the people around us. Why would I like you better because you can prove that you are better than I am? I think that is NOT a way to build a positive communal experience for anyone. In fact I’m sure it’s not, because I have seen how people react when they think they aren’t as good. If it continues, it’s the beginning of violence.

In harmony. I really like that concept. Harmony sounds like balance, not better or worse or winners and losers. Balanced acceptance of, and participation in, the reality of how Life functions.

Harmony, I said. Harmony is what I want. Happiness is just another homo-centric, us over them, ego-trip. But HARMONY, what I really need, what everyone needs to survive in peace, is a balance among all the parts in this physiological teeter-totter of mind and body, that I know couldn’t happen without the vibrant realities of the human and biological communities (, all of which operate by balancing the factual laws of nature.

So I decided to substitute the word Harmony in my mantra

Within less than a mile – I swear this is true, on April 6, 2013 – I saw a big green sign by the side of the highway pointing to “Harmony Road.”

Should I have followed the road? Or –

Maybe I am.

May I live in harmony in my mind.
In a viable, vibrant balance: love balancing anger; fear balancing hubris, wisdom and factual knowledge balancing foolish ignorance;

May I live in harmony with my body.
Tending tenderly to its needs;

May I live in harmony with my neighbors.
In kindness, based upon truth and honor, with everyone I meet.

May I live in harmony with the reality of my community.
No matter how badly it sometimes behaves.

May I live in harmony with the factual laws of the creation and the creator;
Sharing in the commons without greed or grasping.
Recognizing that the processes of Life are not anthropocentric,
But must be shared universally.
Or not at all.

Happiness is a word with no meaning; harmony, something I can try to achieve. Even though it’s not easy to live in harmony with toxicity, at least I have a place to go to.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a weekly production of, and KEOS radio, in Bryan, Texas. The podcast can be downloaded at:

Recommended References

Tony Hillerman, The Shape Shifter – good read; easy to find on line or in the library.

Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindness, the revolutionary art of kindness. Shambala Classics
(Not so revolutionary after all, is it? Originated 2500 years ago or maybe a long, long time before that, judging by similarity with the Navajo concept for only one. And is pretty much just good common sense community behavior, but – the first time I’ve seen it outlined so clearly.)

Pema Chodron, The Four Limitless Quantities. Audiobook. Omega Mediaworks.