Mohawk/Kanien’kéha word of the week

This week’s word is wakatshenón:ni, which means “I am happy.” My cousin Mike asked me to do a post on the Mohawk word for happiness, so I did some research, and learned that although there isn’t specifically a word for “happiness,” Mohawk/Haudenosaunee culture has a powerful tradition that supports people in leading good and happy lives.

I thought it would be nice to talk about the concept of happiness in Mohawk culture, but I didn’t manage to get any answers from the people I contacted about it. Perhaps I would have had more luck in person than over email.

In any case, I did some reading, both online and in book form. One of the books I read recently was The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It was co-written by psychiatrist Howard C. Cutler. The discussion of happiness in this book includes some reflection on the root of the concept of happiness in western culture:

The concept of achieving true happiness has, in the West, always seemed ill defined, elusive, ungraspable. Even the word “happy” is derived from the Icelandic word happ, meaning luck or chance. Most of us, it seems, share this view of the mysterious nature of happiness. In those moments of joy that life brings, happiness feels like something that comes out of the blue.”

Robertson Davies may have summed up the western idea of happiness best: “Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.”

Rather than simply “getting on with it,” from the point of view of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, happiness is the inevitable outcome of training the mind and of cultivating those things that promote happiness, while eliminating those that cause trouble, strife and unhappiness.

So simple! This is a new perspective to me, since I had always seen happiness as being the result of chance or luck, and not something that you could actually bring about intentionally. Living a good life seems like an attainable goal, since you can choose how you behave and treat others, at least to some extent. But I can’t choose how I feel, can I? I can’t will myself to be happy.

I guess the Tibetan tradition offers a path leading to happiness. I can walk along this path, growing a bit wiser and more peaceful with each passing day.

In my readings, I learned about the three principles that guide Haudenosaunee life: skennen (peace) kasatstensera (strength or power) and kanikonriio (good mind). This principles are the foundation of a good, happy life:

The Peacemaker brought three principles of peace. The first principle is that peace comes inside of us as an individual. And if we accept that peace within us, then we become a human being that loves themselves, and is confident about themselves. That’s the first principle, to maintain the peace within. The second principle arrives when the peace is put to work, and how that peace emits from the human individual, and how it will affect the other people around them. Because that’s what happens when you come next to a peaceful person. it kind of rubs off on you. And you will say to yourself, ‘Gee, I want to be that way too.’

So the Peacemaker had a very brilliant way of doing it. There were five warring nations that were murdering one another, and in the end they were able to come together and accept the three principles. And that’s how they obtained the power of a good mind, which is the third principle. And the power of a good mind was experienced this morning when we did the opening and we said, ‘Let us put our minds together,’ and we created a great power. That special spirit came among us to give us the strength to carry on our day and whatever we are going to be accomplishing today, that whatever comes to us will be beneficial to our future generations.

Jake Swamp, Kanikonriio, Power of a Good Mind

Kanikonriio, good mind, is having a clear, reasonable and gentle mind, that cares for all those around you and emerges from inner peace. A good mind is a mind that is compassionate.

This is similar to the Buddhist view, in which happiness is arrived at when we connect with our fundamental human nature – a nature that is essentially compassionate and gentle. Those who are happy are more concerned with the well-being of others; they are more generous and more kind.

So if you strive to be happy, do you try to exemplify kanikonriio (good mind)? Do you cultivate this good mind by developing skennen (peace) within, until it is felt by all those around you as kasatstensera (strength)? And then, perhaps we will we bring our minds together, and become a single good mind, with good and powerful goals.

In case you would like to express your happiness, here is the full conjugation of the verb to be happy:

wakatshenón:ni=I am happy
satshennon:ni = you are happy

rotshennon:ni = he is happy
iakotshennon:ni = she is happy
iotshennon:ni = she/it is happy (neutral)
ionkwatshennon:ni = we are happy
sewatshennon:ni = you are happy (plural)
ronatshennon:ni = they are happy (masculine, plural)
ionatshennon:ni = they are happy (feminine, plural)
ionatshennon:ni = they are happy (neutral, plural)

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