I had reluctantly read the book “The Art of Being Happy”, an account of the life of the Dalai Lama, written in an interview form with him. It had been given to me as a gift by my ex-girlfriend. I guess she had her good reasons to. For several months it was located in a little known place in my small apartment. She insisted I should read it, every time we met.
“You‘ve seen that title yourself, ‘The Art of Being Happy,’” I said. “I die a little every time I see the cover of that book.”
“Just try, I think you will enjoy it,” she said.
I finally picked up the book and thus began a journey of meditation and Buddhism, which is now in its tenth year. My ex was right, the journey has led to a lot of joy and to greater insight into my own self, more peace and more understanding. This journey will last as long as I feel I continue to learn and be inspired by meditation and by Buddhist philosophy, psychology and faith.
It was a curiosity about meditation, coupled with being a bit short of money, that made me seek a Buddhist group in Oslo. I thought that if anyone is an expert on meditation, it must be the Buddhists and they are not known to be particularly obsessed about money either.
In the autumn of 2011, I participated in a one-day retreat at Sagene Samfunnshus where the British-born monk Ajahn Brahm taught. He had trained under the famous Thai monk Ajahn Chah, and has since been the abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth in Western Australia. For almost forty years he has led one of the largest Western Buddhist communities, with thousands of followers in Perth, and hundreds of thousands of followers on Youtube around the world.
I was immediately taken aback when this monk was able to get me to start meditating for real in less than a day. In his direct and simple way, he conveyed what meditation was, and gave me faith that I could make meditation happen as well. I became so enthusiastic that I quickly found myself on a flight to Perth, Australia to attend my first nine-day silent retreat with Ajahn Brahm. Since then, there have been several such nine-day retreats there, and one longer three-month Rains retreat at the Jhana Grove Retreat Center.
But I was not the first Norwegian to visit Jhana Grove or Bodhinyana Monastery. Among the most scholared monks at the monastery were two Norwegians, the monks Ajahn Nitho and Ajahn Brahmali. It was surprising and encouraging for me to be able to talk to these insightful monks about meditation and Buddhist teachings in my native language. Ten years later, history is about to find a whole new twist. I had heard rumors that one of the two Norwegian monks, Ajahn Nitho, had decided to leave the monastery in Perth, but I did not know where he had gone. With a simple search online, I found out with great joy that Ajahn Nitho had returned to Norway, with ambitions to form a Buddhist society in the eastern part of Norway, with the aim of offering meditation gatherings, retreats and dhamma teachings!
I am delighted that a new Norwegian Buddhist society has now been formed with a very well-trained monk as its spiritual leader. Ajahn Nitho is thoroughly schooled in the teachings of the Buddha, as well as the teachings of Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Brahm. The Thai Forest Tradition is a tradition with a strong focus on practice, meditation, ethics and insight. There are few who teach the original Buddhist texts in Pali as convincingly and wisely as the scholared monks from Perth. The focus is on simplicity, and being kind towards oneself and the surroundings.
A book given to me ten years ago became a turning point in my life towards more happiness and inner peace. Likewise I hope this society can be an inspiration, and lead to greater happiness for many. You are welcomed, just as you are. By showing up as ourselves and being honest with who we are, we have the best chance to succeed in giving ourselves the love and focus we need, to be able to let go of what keeps us from becoming free from the negativity that holds us back. Then we will experience more of what I doubted so strongly in the beginning, that happiness can be learned through practising like the Buddha encouraged us to do - a practice that can well be called “The Art of Being Happy”.
Jon Endre Mørk