My Wife the Bodhisattva, part 4: Big Happiness vs. Little Happiness

As always, my wife has good advice for me. I joke that she is my “bodhisattva”, the one who helps me all the time and teaches me. A while back in spring or early summer, I was venting my frustration about how I studied Japanese for years and still didn’t speak it very well. I speak OK but not great, and certainly not fluent.

She replied, “What do you expect? You don’t live in Japan.”

But then I said, “Well, look at such-and-such person online. He learned Japanese in 2 years!”

So my wife then said, “He’s special. You are bonjin.”

The word 凑人 (bonjin) means a regular person, as in not special or extraordinary. Then her advice was to stop expecting to be the fastest, best and greatest. Just enjoy the little things in life. Find little happiness.

I thought about this many times since over the last several months, and finally decided to share this little pearl of advice.

People are usually unhappy with themselves. They want to be smarter, stronger, sexier, richer, etc. They want to be first, they want to be the most, etc. But not everyone can be there. It reminds me of a funny quotation from Neal Stephenson’s book, Snow Crash, my favorite book in college:1

Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad. Hiro used to feel this way, too, but then he ran into Raven. In a way, this was liberating. He no longer has to worry about being the baddest motherfucker in the world. The position is taken.

Which is kind of true when you think about it. We can’t all be the baddest mofo on the planet. In fact, most of us are just “bonjin”. That position has been taken, and chances are, you are not it. If you were, you would be doing much cooler things than reading this blog. πŸ™‚

But, I bet that the baddest mofo on the planet is still an unhappy person. It’s their discontent that drove them to become the best, prettiest, etc, and even then their discontentment may not be satisfied.

So the problem isn’t about being best, smartest, etc. It’s about being content. A person who is totally content and at peace owns the world. No one can compete with that person, and no one can fail to respect them either.

As the Buddha said in the Dhammapada:

[103-105] Greater in battle than the man who would conquer a thousand-thousand men, is he who would conquer just one β€” himself. Better to conquer yourself than others. When you’ve trained yourself, living in constant self-control, neither a deva nor gandhabba, nor a Mara banded with Brahmas, could turn that triumph back into defeat.

So, it’s helpful to appreciate the “little happinesses” sometimes, rather than the “big happiness”. They cost much less, and are much easier to find contentment with.


P.S. Past “bodhisattva” posts: one, two and three.

1 I still own a signed copy from when I met him at the local university for a book-reading. He was quiet, but very nice in person. I told him about how I had brought the book with me when I went to study abroad in Vietnam, and got a bit of a laugh over it. That must’ve been almost 10 years ago. :p


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

7 thoughts on “My Wife the Bodhisattva, part 4: Big Happiness vs. Little Happiness”

  1. Your wife really is a sage, its about the little things! The Buddha quote reminds me of that Sun Tzu quote, “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” Thanks again for putting it out there.


  2. When I was young a teacher while reading my chart said ” You have strong feelings to become something so use them to become something ” so I followed his advise , nothing happened ! I then read of a zen monk who became so small he could fit through a key hole. I tried that practice,Nothing happened! Now I realize that I am ( Bonjin)


  3. If the “2 years” thing is that Japanese 24/7 guy, well he gives unrealistic expectations to Japanese learners. What you don’t realize is that he had a very strong mastery of Chinese characters due to his years studying Chinese (before giving up). He had close to the same advantage that native Chinese speakers have in picking up Japanese (ie. very quick on the reading). From what I’ve seen (circa 2007, so it’s been a while), he didn’t/doesn’t speak or write Japanese like a native. In fact, he usually used kanji to get his point across, specifically characters that are more common in Chinese. Don’t worry about other people, just have fun with it, study hard, and you’ll get better. πŸ™‚

    Nice Snowcrash quote, by the way.


    1. Hi Pork Chop and welcome! We might in fact be talking about the same person, but even if not, your insights are greatly appreciated anyway. I’ve been trying to learn Japanese for quite a long time, and I have come to realize that my methods were somewhat flawed so it has been a very useful learning experience. But yeah, I feel really dumb sometimes despite all that effort. It helps to realize that everyone goes through this sooner or later.

      But at the same time, like my wife says, it’s not worth killing yourself over it either. As you say, have fun and don’t worry.

      Thanks again. πŸ™‚


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