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
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
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).
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."
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 mind You 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
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.
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
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 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
ll: Know Thyself
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
know they are neither body nor mind, But the immortal Self, the Divine
Principle of existence, find the source Of all joy and live in abiding
even if only an intellectual concept to begin with, will give us
the perspective to progress further.
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
Self as lord of the chariot, The body as the chariot itself, The
discriminating intellect as the charioteer, And the mind as reins.
say the wise, are the horses, Selfish desires are the roads they
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 Buddhist approach to ultimate
happiness is the abolishment of the entire structure of consciousness
by focusing on reaction. The cessation of reaction would cause the
cessation of like and dislike, which would cause the cessation of
contact between the senses and the world, eventually leading to the
collapse of consciousness. While Vedanta moves you towards a positive
identity, Buddhism unshackles the construct of all identity. Each,
however, forces us to confront the very depth of our nature.
In her book,
Spiritual Intelligence, Danah Zohar draws upon the latest discoveries
in quantum physics to substantiate her claim that we are made of
the same stuff as God. Says she: "The quantum vacuum is the still
silent 'ocean' on which existence appears as 'waves'. The first thing
to emerge from the vacuum is an energy field known as the Higgs Field.
This is filled with very fast, coherent energy oscillations that
are the origin of all fields and fundamental particles in the universe.
If proto-consciousness is a fundamental property, then there is proto-consciousness
in the Higgs Field. And the quantum vacuum becomes very like what
mystics have called the 'immanent God'. In that case, the 40 H2 neural
oscillation that result in our human consciousness and our spiritual
intelligence have their root in nothing less than 'God'. 'God' is
the true center of the self. And meaning has its origin in the ultimate
meaning of all existence."
There we have
it. Even science acknowledges that we are divine stuff, children
of immortality, amrutasya putraha, to quote the Upanishads.
with the body or the mind traps us within the sensory world. Preya
becomes our only concept of pleasure so that happiness becomes purely
a question of how much money we have, how beautiful we are, how many
houses and cars we own and whether we belong to the A list of socialites.
Says Eckhart Tolle: "Identification with your mind creates an opaque
screen of concepts, labels, images, words, judgments and definitions
that block true relationship. It comes between you and yourself,
between you and your fellow man and woman, between you and nature,
between you and God. It is this screen of thought that creates the
illusion of separateness, the illusion that there is you and a totally
So how do we
start the process of de-identification? Move to the next step.
Enhance Your Self-Esteem
Before we get
to the actual task of discarding our false self, we need to take
certain preparatory steps. We are about to embark on a long and arduous
journey (which the Upanishads call walking the razor's edge) and
we must have enough rations to see us through. The most crucial of
these is robust self-esteem. The task of confronting yourself and
coming to terms with every aspect of you, essential aspects of de-identification,
can only commence if you are capable of containing and accepting
the less than flattering truth. Renouncing the ego can only be successfully
accomplished by those who have a healthy one to begin with.
virtually the guru of self-esteem, defines it thus: "To trust one's
mind and to know that one is worthy of happiness is the essence of
self-esteem." He stipulates six pillars that comprise self-esteem.
consciously: The ability to be active rather than passive, to
be in the moment, and to have a commitment for growth.
The ability to be on one's side, to accept all feelings, thoughts
and acts and to be compassionate with oneself.
To take responsibility for the achievement of desires, one's behavior
with others, and for one's happiness.
To know that we have the right to be who we are and that we do not
have to live up to others' expectations.
living: To use our internal power for the attainment of our
goals, including happiness, by taking responsibility for it, identifying
the actions necessary to achieve it, monitoring our behavior to
check if it is in alignment and so on.
integrity: When our behavior is congruent with our professed
values, and ideals and practice match.
to enhance self-esteem is through sentence completion. Sit down every
day, morning and evening, and give five different completions to
the following sentence stem: "When I reflect on how I would feel
if I lived more consciously…" At the end of the week, go through
all that you have written and give six different endings to this
sentence: "If any of what I wrote this week is true, it would be
helpful if I…"
Do this with
the other pillars too and you will find that the very fact of thinking
and writing about these will help you move towards these states of
mind. In her book, The 12 Secrets of Health and Happiness, Louise
Samways suggests that a good way of achieving self-acceptance is
not to surrender to labels about ourselves created by others or us.
Stick to facts, she says. Thus, when you botch up a presentation,
you say to yourself, "I didn't do this well', rather than: "I'm a
lousy salesperson." Says she: "Self-acceptance allows you to be comfortable
with all aspects of yourself, good and bad. You feel confident that
you can change if you want. You can be yourself; you don't need to
hide behind a role."
The other way
of accessing self-esteem is through the knowledge of who we are.
If we are divine, an aspect of God, then surely that is reason for
self-esteem? Self-esteem is innate; an aspect of our true nature
and what stops us from experiencing it is our ignorance and conditioning.
Count down slowly
from 20 to 0 until you find yourself feeling peaceful inside. Tell
yourself with as much intensity and conviction as you can manage:
"I am whole, perfect and complete." Soon, depending on the strength
of your conditioning, this knowledge will manifest within you not
as an intellectual concept, but as a part of you.
Why does this
work? We'll discuss this in the next step.
You don't need
to have perfect self-esteem before entering into this step. It is
enough that you started working on it and have reached a basic level
of inner stability. It is time now to go within. This is the key
to the whole enterprise. If you can direct your mind inwards with
unshakable commitment and steady application until you have seen
through it, you are home and dry. What you must do is direct your
attention to the uncharted inner regions: the zones of thoughts,
feelings, reactions and actions. You are going to take the measure
of your mind. Remember what the Buddha said, that we live in a mind-made
world? That our thoughts create our reality? Are these thoughts supportive
of happiness or not? Let us explore.
The first thing
we learn is that we have very little control over our mind. And that
we are never in the present. Thoughts zoom in and invade our mind.
We zigzag between the past and the future in a medley of regrets,
despair, anger, worry, fear and so on. Our past failures haunt us
and fill us with apprehension for the future. We have certain ideas
of the world and people based on our past and we view the whole of
life through that prism.
We also become
aware of how much we are controlled by circumstances and other people.
Any stranger on the street can abuse us and spoil our day. We live
in fear of what our boss will do or say, and we base our life goals
on making our parents proud of us. From stepping into a muddy puddle
to being rejected by our 'true' love, our reactions are based on
external events. And we have very little control over ourselves.
We decide that we are going to concentrate on a project and the next
thing we know we have awoken from a daydream about a holiday in Mauritius.
We vow to lose weight, but when a colleague passes chocolates around,
we can't resist it. We try to curb our temper, but each time there's
a provocation, we lose it. In other words, not only do others and
circumstances control us but we have no control over ourselves. We
are enslaved to our feelings, thoughts, actions and reactions.
Why is this?
Vedanta and Buddhism have a word for these conditioned thoughts,
words and deeds: samskaras.
the personality. It is in understanding the process that creates
it that we can become free and transform ourselves. Our mind is composed
of two parts, the conscious and the subconscious. The subconscious
is at the root of many of our thoughts and behavior. We cannot control
these consciously, which explains why we have difficulty losing weight
or kicking the cigarette habit, but we can learn to master them if
we understand how they come into being.
is fully influenced by our thoughts. If we think repeatedly that
we are good, worthwhile and likable, the subconscious gets the message
and automatically operates from that assumption, giving rise to behavior
that is open, spontaneous and non-manipulative. This in turn makes
other people like us, transmit messages to say that we are good and
worthwhile, to further entrench our original impression. This is
how we create our personality, from beliefs and assumptions about
ourselves, much of it arising from our infancy. A thought repeated
a thousand times gives rise to words repeated a thousand times leading
to deeds repeated thousands of times.
In The 12 Secrets
of Health and Happiness, Samways talks of the chain linking speech,
feelings and actions. According to her, our perceptions of events
in our lives, such as being scolded by parents, lead to beliefs that
create the thoughts we have about ourselves (self-talk), which give
rise to feelings and finally to behavior or deeds. Each link in the
chain reinforces the others so that the chain becomes increasingly
This is also
the essence of karma, which implies that everything we think, say
and do has a consequence. The consequence not only occurs in the
outside world, but also within, by shaping our personality. All this
is fine, as long as the samskaras are positive and life-enhancing.
But when they cramp our style, limit our potential and make us unhappy,
they create problems. Says Samways: "An optimistic style of self-talk
has been found to be the single most important predictor of who is
successful in life."
are a process, created by our thoughts, words, and deeds. This has
two implications, both vital to our pursuit of happiness. The first
is that what we have made we can unmake. The second is that we can
also create fresh positive conditioning. In Step III you were advised
to repeat the words that you were whole and perfect. You were, in
effect, reconditioning yourself positively. All spiritual and mind
improvement techniques focus on these two processes, undoing negative
conditioning and feeding in positive ones.
How Do You
There are many
methods, the most popular being meditation. Whether through chanting,
watching your breath and sensations as in vipassana, your mind is
automatically drawn to its own wayward movement. By patiently bringing
it back to the subject on hand and allowing our thoughts to be, we
finally begin to move towards stillness and inner balance. The momentum
of thoughts declines, and we experience a modicum of choice. There
are those like J. Krishnamurti, who advocate tackling the mind directly,
by a choice-less awareness of all that arises. The task consists
of being ruthlessly aware of the content of our consciousness; the
presence of jealousy when it exists, of indifference or hate-without
resisting or rationalizing it, in other words, nonjudgmental acceptance
helps transform it. Awareness and acceptance by themselves can transform
Krishnamurti in suggesting that we watch the thinker. If we can watch
the thoughts without identifying with them or reacting to them, then
there is a gap between the thought and us. This is the beginning
of going beyond the mind. He also suggests being in the now, what
the Buddhists call mindful living. Here, we buttress ourselves in
the moment with all the intensity at our command. We experience the
process of walking, breathing, talking, eating, sitting, standing,
as thoroughly as we can by being present to every nuance.
using the power inherent in desire to go against the conditioned
might of the samskaras. We can tap into the flow of prana to take
us towards happiness if we just redirect our desire for sensory objects.
Jaya Row, a teacher of Vedanta, agrees when she says that the trick
is to shift our focus from the lower desires to higher desires, such
as the quest for happiness and self-realization.
How do we do
this? By strengthening the will. Says Easwaran: "The power of desire
is the power of will. Every desire carries with it the will to bring
that desire to fruition." How do we strengthen our will? By going
against all conditioned self-centered desire. If you feel like sleeping
when you still have not completed your homework, resist it. When
your fingers itch to grab that last gulab jamun, stick your hands
into your pockets instead.
"If the will is unified from top to bottom, the moment anger surfaces
you can transform it into compassion. The moment disloyalty arises
you can transform it into love. Every negative samskara can be transformed
in this manner, which means that personality can be remade completely
in the image of your highest ideal."
How easy is
this? Not too difficult, provided you have one crucial attribute-discipline.
Says psychiatrist Scott L. Peck, in his book, The Road Less Traveled:
"Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life's
problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing. With only some
discipline, we can only save some problems. With total discipline,
we can solve all problems." According to Peck, there are four aspects
to discipline-delaying gratification, acceptance of responsibility,
dedication to truth, and balancing. The ability to delay gratification
arises from a sense of self-worth and security, which is to say,
self-esteem. Says Samway: One of the strongest predictors of who
feels happy is the degree to which an individual feels in personal
control of their life." She adds: "Happy people also take control
of their time. They make manageable plans and commitments. They are
busy, purposeful and punctual." She says: "It is very important to
remember that as a human being you have been designed to cope with
a great many unhappy and sad things-'the roughage of life'-as well
as the good things of life."
When we incorporate
discipline within us, we will have begun to live masterfully, using
all problems as challenges and opportunities for our growth. The
will becomes powerful, and desires have no power to move us from
the goal of happiness. We learn to go beyond our natural human selfishness
that instinctively serves the cause of survival. We choose the burnt
toast and let others have the well done ones. We endure inconvenience
in order to do others a favor. We surrender our bus seat to a senior
citizen. Gradually, we are learning not to put ourselves first, a
feat the Buddha called as difficult and unnatural as water going
upstream. Says Easwaran: "The surest mark of grace is marvelous,
almost unimaginable: the desire to go against all selfish desires.
Until this begins to happen, you cannot believe it is possible…If
only we knew what daring is required to face and conquer a selfish
desire! Every cell in the body stands for an ovation."
Fine, our human
condition has been explored and the solution approached. But, what
of the road ahead?
Step V: Transcend
When the will
becomes powerful enough to take on desire, the discriminating intellect
(the charioteer, remember?) awakens. Buddhi, as it is referred to
in Vedanta, is the center of discrimination. It views the situation
on the whole and helps us to arrive at balanced and wise decisions
that benefit the larger good instead of our selfish purposes.
in turn helps us to move beyond duality. We become increasingly aware
that our mind vacillates between likes and dislikes, pain and pleasure.
For the Buddha, this was the root of the problem of suffering. The
mind reacts to events either favorably or unfavorably, pushing away
what we don't like and holding on to what we do. Craving and aversion
result, and through this we distort the very nature of life. Instead
of accepting its essential impermanence, we strive to perpetuate
the pleasant, and be rid of the unpleasant.
this duality, we need to let go of our need for happiness. We cannot
afford to like something because we will dislike its opposite. Like
cool, breezy days? Beware, you will dislike hot sultry days. Like
mild-mannered, polite people? Whatever are you going to do when confronted
with aggression or rudeness? To free ourselves from this entire edifice
of reactions, we must destroy the whole structure. Yes, indeed, the
secret of happiness is to let go of our need for it. When we do this,
we trade the ephemeral satisfactions of the ego for the permanent
peace of being. Established in equanimity, we become witnesses to
the ebb and flow of events in our lives, resisting nothing, holding
on to nothing.
Step Vl :
Recognize the Other
Only when we
have finally relinquished our ego-centered perspective based on likes
and dislikes do we really become conscious of the other as existing
in their own right and not as instruments of our need. Free of all
need, we see them as they truly are for the first time. Says Easwaran:
"We feel towards all the way we feel towards ourselves. No one likes
to be snubbed or made fun of… You understand where people are coming
from. You do not judge, romanticize or close your eyes."
You do more.
You actively begin to care for their welfare. Happy yourself, you
seek to make the other happy. You acknowledge them, appreciate their
good points and point out their potential. You empathize with their
misery and strive to support them through it. Free of need, you become
a selfless repository for others' needs. And you discover that they
are a potent source of happiness too. Participating in the joys of
others fulfills us as much as our own joy. By focusing on their happiness
we transcend all conflicts both within and without us. Nothing they
say or do or even think can affect us any more. We live now for the
universe and not merely for ourselves.
says in his book, The Conquest of Happiness: "A man who has once
perceived, however temporarily and however briefly, what makes greatness
of soul, can no longer be happy if he allows himself to be petty,
self-seeking, troubled by trivial misfortunes, dreading what fate
may have in store for him. The man capable of greatness of soul will
open wide the windows of his mind, letting the winds blow freely
upon it from every portion of the universe."
You no longer
require people to be polite, courteous, loving or unselfish. You
can allow them the space to be themselves and take on the responsibility
of the relationship on yourself. When this happens, you are cutting
off all the cords that tied you to others and to circumstances. Awesomely
enough, you are now free. The long journey you embarked upon is drawing
to a close. You are your own master. No circumstance in life has
the power to ruffle your equanimity, or your commitment to happiness.
Be in the Moment
When the content
of our consciousness is emptied, when we have accepted every minuscule
bit of ourselves, when we have freed ourselves of all conditioning,
when the past and the future are closed chapters, then the present
unfolds like an endless song. Still as a lake, our mind is poised
in the moment, alert, joyous and free. With no identity to fetter
us, no needs to tie us down, we surrender ourselves fully to life,
experiencing, enjoying and letting go. We are home, free.