By Suma Varughese September 2001 The quest for happiness has taken mankind on many strange journeys. Many have arrived at destinations never imagined or sought. We lose our way frequently and end up with regrets and sorrow. Is there a sure way to find happiness? ‘Don’t worry, be happy,’ carols Bobby McFerrin.‘And the prince and the princess lived happily ever after,’ say the fairy tales.‘I only want your happiness,’ croons the lover.‘Every man has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ says the American Constitution.‘Happiness is buying the latest must-have,’ shout the advertisements. No matter what the message, mankind is united in conviction that happiness is a very desirable state. Indeed, all of us, consciously or unconsciously, are motivated in all we do by our need for happiness. The housewife strives for a clean and orderly house and well-brought up children so she can be happy with herself. The husband aims to make more money so he can be happy. We chase money, health, growth, fame, power, property and relationships, not for their own sake but for the satisfaction they promise. The creation of empires and civilizations, the discovery of continents, the waging of wars, the whole ebb and flow of history is a graphic portrait of man’s ceaseless quest for happiness. Yet, most of us will acknowledge that we don’t always feel happy. Oh, yes, winning that merit scholarship or the coveted promotion, buying a car or losing weight feels great for a while. But we find that our friends are jealous, or that the promotion means longer working hours or that the car guzzles petrol, and that our lives haven’t been transformed by losing weight. We are weighed down by a sense of lack. No matter how well life turns out, nothing seems quite enough. Others seem to have more, or desires keep arising. If nothing else, we fear for the future. What if something was to happen to our loved ones or to us? Many of us are content to accept this mixed bag of happiness and sorrow as the human lot. Within this framework we attempt to maximize our joys and minimize our woes. We excel in whatever skills we have, spend less than we make, save for a house, take care of our health, get our children married and keep money aside for old age. At the end of our lives, we believe that we have lived to the best of our capacity. This is no mean task and deserves to be richly lauded. But for a few, this unpredictable, fleeting happiness is not enough. They dare to ask if an irrefutable, permanent and absolute happiness is not possible. A happiness they can trust. Perhaps it is this question that moves man towards divinity. For he is attempting to transcend the very framework of the human condition. Is such a state possible? Yes, say the scriptures and enlightened beings. ‘The highest happiness comes upon the yogi whose mind is calmed, in whom passion is appeased, who has become Brahman and is free from sin,’ says the Bhagavad Gita (Vl: 27). The Upanishads add: ‘Take the happiness of a man who has everything: he is young, healthy, strong, good, and cultured, with all the wealth that earth can offer; let us take this as one measure of joy. One hundred times that joy is the joy of the gandharvas, but no less joy have those who are illumined.’ The Buddha’s entire teaching revolves around the question of how to overcome human suffering and attain happiness. The first words of the Dhammapada, a collection of the Buddha’s teachings, pinpoints the problem and its cause: Mind precedes all phenomena,Mind matters most, everything is mind-made.If with an impure mindYou speak or act, then suffering follows you,As the cartwheel follows the foot of the draft animal. On the other hand, here is the Buddha’s recipe for happiness:If with a pure mind You speak or act, Then happiness follows you As a shadow that never departs. The very nature of life and our Selves, according to the Upanishads, is joy or bliss. Our true nature is sat (reality), chit(consciousness) and ananda (bliss). Bliss is part of who we are. Bliss is our birthright. ‘Vedanta says that happiness is you,’ explains Uday Acharya, a Vedanta teacher. But how on earth do we claim it? Step l: Prioritize Happiness Aiming for absolute happiness is serious business. It calls for steady, patient labor for years on end. This means absolute commitment to the goal, no matter what you may have to sacrifice. How does one achieve such a dogged attitude? Usually from plunging into the miseries of life. Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher based in Canada, whose book, The Power of Now, is a masterpiece of spiritual guidance, led a life, he says, of almost continual anxiety interspersed with bouts of suicidal depression. Then he had a spiritual experience that transformed his life forever. Not that he didn’t have to work at sustaining it. It just meant that he had something concrete to work towards, for he knew the state he was aiming at from inside. Perhaps restlessness and an inner quest do motivate you. Eknath Easwaran, the late meditation teacher practicing in California and writer of many popular books on spirituality, reveals in his translation of the Upanishads that he was the quintessential man who had everything. Unsatisfied, he kept looking for that which he himself didn’t know until a chance reading of the Upanishads unfolded vistas of joy unimagined thus far. The statement: ‘There is no joy in the finite; there is joy only in the Infinite,’ became a lodestar to which he hitched his happiness wagon. In other words, the quest for happiness comes from within. It arises only when we are ready to engage in the mammoth task of seeking. Which is to say, it is not entirely within our conscious control. Scott L. Peck uses the term ‘grace’ to explain the mysterious force that nudges us towards further growth: ‘The paradox that we both choose grace and are chosen by grace is the essence of the phenomenon of serendipity.’ You can also begin where you are right now. If by reading this you are inspired to want happiness, that too is a starting point. What matters is the intensity of your desire. Prioritizing happiness means that you will let go of everything that is inimical to happiness. In his book, A Dialogue with Death, Easwaran talks of the concepts of preya and shreya. Preya is what is pleasant; shreya, what is beneficial. Preya gives us instant happiness, the happiness of eating a good meal or buying an outfit, or getting a compliment. Shreya also gives us happiness, but in the long run, such as when we embark on a fitness program or kick the smoking habit. Preya and shreya are most often directly opposed to each other, such as when we spend the night carousing and wake up the next day with a heavy head and conscience. Preya’s seductive happiness, arising as it does from the satisfaction of the senses, almost inevitably leads to long-term unhappiness. So how do we choose shreya? Simply, by not choosing preya. Our refusal to settle for short-term happiness in itself guarantees long-term happiness. Prioritizing happiness means a single-minded focus on shreya. Are your eating habits interfering with your health? Change them. Is your anger spewing unhappiness around? Let it go. Are you spending more money than you make? Get financially smart. Are your relationships in trouble? Work at them. Is your yen for fame or power coming in the way of your happiness goal? Off with their heads. Are these easy? Let’s face it, they’re well-nigh impossible when attempted from the outside. How do you access such superhuman will? This takes us to the next step. Step ll: Know Thyself All spiritual masters and texts are united in this one. The answer to the human condition lies in understanding our true Self. According to Vedanta, our primary error is to mistake ourselves for our body, or even our minds or egos. Our real Self lies beyond these limited factors of identity, and is boundless, infinite, pure reality, consciousness and bliss. Those who know they are neither body nor mind,But the immortal Self,the Divine Principle of existence,find the sourceOf all joy and live in abiding joy.—Katha Upanishad This knowledge, even if only an intellectual concept to begin with, will give us the perspective to progress further. Vedanta graphically uses the concept of a chariot to convey the real nature of the Self. In the Katha Upanishad, Yama, lord of death, tells the young seeker Nachiketa, Know the Self as lord of the chariot,The body as the chariot itself,The discriminating intellect as thecharioteer,And the mind as reins.The senses, say the wise, are thehorses,Selfish desires are the roads theytravel. When the Self is confused with the body, mind, and senses, they point out, he seems to enjoy pleasure and suffer sorrow. In other words, the reason why we choose preya rather than shreya is because our untrained senses gallop after a drink or espying a pretty girl, leaving our charioteer toppled on one side with the reins hanging loose. The Self, meanwhile, deep inside the carriage, can’t make itself heard. The nature of the senses is to run after objects of desire, and only a well-trained mind controlled by a discriminating intellect, which takes its guidance from the sequestered Self, can rein them in. This then is the task before us: to train the senses, discipline the mind, and strengthen the intellect to awaken the Self. The Buddha said the same thing when he observed that attachment created suffering. Attachment arises out of our reactions of like and dislike, which are a result of the contact of the senses and the mind with the world. These, in turn, are part of universal mind and matter, which arise out of undifferentiated consciousness. The Buddhi
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