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Relative Happiness and Absolute Happiness

For a strong mountain climber, the steeper and more rugged the mountain, the greater the enjoyment. Photo by ZIGA PLAHUTAR / GETTY IMAGES.

This article is adapted from An Introduction to Buddhism, second edition, pp. 28–30, which serves as the study material for the upcoming SGI-USA Introductory Exam, to be held April 26–27 and Sept. 27–28 throughout the nation.

All of us are searching for happiness, but the idea of what makes us happy differs from one person to the next. However, Buddhism expounds a universal happiness that is an expression of our greatest potential, which we also call Buddhahood or enlightenment.

Based on the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda taught that there are two essential types of happiness: relative and absolute.

Relative happiness speaks of a condition in which one’s material desires or immediate personal wishes are satisfied. While there is no limit to what we can hope or wish for, there is a limit to what we can have materially and how long we can hold on to it.

For example, we may get something we want at this moment, but the fulfillment we enjoy from getting it will not last. Through effort and planning, we may develop and adjust our circumstances to our liking, thinking this is happiness. But should those circumstances change or disappear, so will our happiness. Such happiness is called relative because it exists only in relation to external factors.

In contrast, absolute happiness means that living itself is happiness; being alive is a joy, no matter where we are or what our circumstances. It is a life condition in which happiness wells forth from within. It is called absolute because it is not influenced by external conditions. Attaining Buddhahood means developing absolute happiness.

Beyond the troubles of just getting by in life, we often face unexpected problems. True happiness is not dependent on whether we have problems, but how we perceive and deal with them. To cite an analogy, a person of little strength and experience who encounters a steep mountain path will view it as a daunting obstacle. But an experienced hiker can confidently ascend a steep trail even while carrying a heavy backpack, enjoying the view along the way.

Similarly, one who has established a life condition of absolute happiness can resolutely face any difficulty. Problems can even become an impetus to bring forth a powerful life force, enabling one to calmly and confidently overcome any challenge.

For a strong mountain climber, the steeper and more rugged the mountain, the greater the enjoyment. Likewise, a person who has developed the wisdom and life force to overcome hardships will find society, which is rife with problems, to be a place for the creation of value and fulfillment.

SGI President Ikeda states: “Ultimately, happiness rests on how we establish a solid sense of self or being . . . Happiness does not lie in outward appearances nor in vanity. It is a matter of what you feel inside; it is a deep resonance in our lives” (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, pp. 478–79).

In addition, the things that constitute relative happiness, such as possessions, relationships or circumstances, all disappear upon death.
Absolute happiness, however, which is the life condition of a Buddha, exists on the level of life that is eternal and transcends life and death. It is a benefit that we carry with us in lifetime after lifetime.

Buddhist Study

5 Must Knows for the Intro Exam

What are the dates and locations of the SGI-USA Introductory Exam?
The SGI-USA Introductory Exam will be held on two occasions this year. The dates of the exams are: April 26–27 and Sept. 27–28. Exams are held at local SGI-USA centers, where applicable. Please speak to your local leader for specific details.

Who can take it?
The intro exam is for new members and members who have not yet taken it or who did not pass previously. Guests can also take the exam.

How do I register?
Examinees will need to register for the exam via their SGI-USA Portal Account. Please visit, click on “My Exams” then “Register.” Guests will need to create an account.

Is there study material to help me prepare?
All exam questions are from An Introduction to Buddhism, which members receive upon joining the SGI-USA. The booklet can also be purchased at SGI-USA bookstores for $2 or downloaded for free at by clicking on “Member Resources,” then “Exam Study Guides.” Sample questions are available through the above link as well.

What do I need to bring on the day of?
Examinees must bring a smart phone, tablet or laptop to take the exam online at a designated SGI-USA location.

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