HINDU THOUGHTS ON HAPPINESS --AN INTRINSIC QUALITY OF HUMAN NATURE
(Compilation by N.R. Srinivasan, Nashville, TN, USA, May 2018)
“All of us want to be happy. We differ only in the way we look for happiness. All our actions are directed towards achieving happiness or avoiding sorrow. Vedānta gives a systematic approach to happiness. It classifies happiness as those obtained in objects, situations or persons as vishaya-ānanda and happiness that can be discovered in ourselves as ātma- ānanda.
vishaya-ānanda is mixed with sorrow and struggle and it is never completely fulfilling. It also leads to bondage as, without that object, situation or person, we cannot be happy. ātma- ānanda is free from such defects. However ātma- ānanda is possible only under the guidance of a competent teacher or Guru.
The Guru points out that our mind, if not trained, can be the source of sorrow and the same mind can be the source of happiness. The mind training involves doing all our actions as an offering to God and to have the maturity to accept whatever we get for our actions as prasāda.
Mind training also involves various forms of meditations so that the mind is no longer focused on the glitter and glamour outside but is able to experience the peace in stillness, in the now and here.
The teacher uses yukti or logic, anubhuti or our own experiences and finally, once the student develops complete trust, scriptural wisdom or śruti to discover happiness.
There is nothing to do or anywhere to go to find happiness. Happiness is discovered in the here, now and in ourselves. The search for happiness ends in Just Being happy.” Says Dr. Thimmappa Hegde of FOWAI Forum.
Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence” says Aristotle. Everyone in this world desires happiness, although few know exactly what it means. It is the state of well-being and contentment, marked by an atmosphere of good fellowship, and a pleasurable or satisfying experience often favored by luck. If we don’t really know what true happiness is, or how to cultivate its sweet fragrance inside ourselves, then our efforts to find true happiness in outer circumstances alone are likely to be in vain. Daniel Gilbert says a wandering mind is not a happy mind.
Psychologists say that those with a spiritual practice or who follow religious beliefs tend to be happier than those who don’t. Religious people tend to be less depressed and less anxious than non-believers, better able to handle the vicissitudes of life than non-believers.
A review published in the journal JAMA on Internal Medicine found that even small amounts of meditation training can help with anxiety, depression and pain. But that doesn’t mean scientists know exactly why it works. A pilot research findings of The Department of Physiology, Pondicherry, International Stress Management Association, Hyderabad, Department of Physiology, Little Flower Medical Research Center, Kerala reveals depression, anxiety, stress and cortisol were significantly decreased and blood pressure was regulated within normal limits and MMSE scores and spatial memory was significantly improved followed by regular chanting of Vishnu Sahasra Nama(VSN). There are many such earlier studies with similar conclusions drawn, studying chanting of Veda Mantras or meditating in Sanskrit language. The divine Sanskrit Language which is called a Divine Script (Devanagari) has something to do here though there is no direct evidence by comparative study!
The same goes for the protective qualities of religious belief and spirituality. Some experts think that believing in a religion gives you a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life than a secular viewpoint alone does, and that can help carry you through the low periods and elevate the higher ones. It could be that belief in an afterlife—something nearly all mainstream religions have in common—can make you happier in this one, knowing that if you lead a clean and good life you’re headed for something better. Jesus told his faithful their “reward is great in heaven,” but that promise seems to pay off in this life itself.
When it comes to religion and spirituality, it may not be what you believe or how you believe it that protects you from unhappiness so much as the fact that you believe at all—and that you practice those beliefs with other people.
Western view of practicing religion with others comes from Matthew 18:4 of the Holy Bible—“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”. This might probably be reflecting the thought from Rigveda:
Sangacchadhvam sam vadadhvam sam vo manaamsi jaanataam / devaa bhaagam yathaa purve sanjanaana upaasate // Rigveda (X-191-20)
Come together! Speak together! Let our minds be all of one accord like the divines that sat together in the past in harmony to worship. Did this inspire Bhajana Sampradaya and Kalakshepa in Hinduism?
Scientists have long known that having strong social ties is one of the greatest guarantors of happiness. When life is hard, the communal support of a religious community—and, presumably, the hope for something better to come in an entirely different world—is especially valuable. That may be one reason religious community was so important to slave populations throughout history, from the ancient Israelites under the pharaoh’s boot in Egypt to African Americans trapped in the antebellum South. It may also be why in USA, states with lower life expectancies and higher poverty rates have the largest proportion of religious people. A rich man may find it harder to get into heaven than a camel does passing through the eye of a needle says even Bible.
Religious people (at least in the United States and other religious countries) are happier on average than non-religious people. But, the key variable does not appear to be religion itself. Instead, it is the social connections that religious life facilitates that make people happy. The idea that happiness should be the goal of religion is a fairly recent one in Western concept. In Hindu culture from time immemorial the social fabric is so knitted that no human activity is segregated from the divine. It often derives happiness from its Temple traditions and celebration of festivals and sacraments. In Western culture this has been brought to focus by the Pilgrim Fathers who landed on Plymouth Rock, who believed that the point of existence was the glorification of God—not human happiness. They were probably influenced by Hindu religion that had made the happiness as the goal of religion long back.
Western authors mostly talk about physical happiness necessary for healthy living. Ayurveda also suggests “Laughing Exercise” as a pre-requisite to Yoga and Meditation to balance Kapha, Vaata and Pitthaa contributing to healthy and long living.
But Vedanta describes two other kinds of happiness Sreyas and Preyas apart from the Western thought of physical Happiness. Sreyas is inward happiness and leads to Eternal bliss making human spiritual life good leading to liberation while Preyas makes our living pleasant to lead a healthy physical life. Bhagavad Gita which reflects the Upanishadic thoughts of Kathopanishad often mentions about Sreyas and Preyas. Its real difference and deeper meaning can be better understood by the following mantras in Kathopanishad:
Sreyascha preyascha manushyamet tau sam -pareetya vivinakti dheerah |
Sreyo hi dheero abhi preyasoe vrineete preyo mando yogakshemaad vrineete
Both the good and the pleasant approach the mortal man; the wise examines them thoroughly and discriminates between the two; the wise man prefers the good to the pleasant, but the ignorant man chooses the pleasant for the sake of this physical body through avarice and attachment (for getting and keeping).
Two mutually opposing options are open for man; one is śreyas (श्रेयस्) and the other is preyas (प्रेयस्). Out of these, śreyas is that which brings about inner enrichment and preyas is that which ruins the person by entangling him in worldly entailments. Only the wise men choose śreyas; Nachiketas did the same, rejecting all the trappings of preyas. This is what earned him the commendation of God of Death (Yama) and an opportunity to receive the desired instruction. Sreyas means ultimate well-being and preyas means immediately palatable, that is called preyas. So everyone should be interested in śreyas, not in preyas. Again refer to the Blind men and The Elephant analogy in Hindu scriptures:
avidyāyāmantare vartamānāḥ svayaṃ dhīrāḥ panditam manyamānāḥ
dandramyamāṇāḥ pariyanti mūḍhā andhenaiva nīyamānā yathāndhāḥ (2.5)
dandramyamāṇāḥ pariyanti mūḍhā andhenaiva nīyamānā yathāndhāḥ (2.5)
Meaning: ‘The foolish ones, thinking themselves to be intelligent and learned, despite being totally immersed in ignorance, wander around, going from one thing to another, like the blind being led by the blind’.
This verse implies that if one opts for the path of Preyas, he is actually foolish, though he may think himself to be wise and learned. Being already ignorant, he is led by ignorance too; the phrase ‘blind led by the blind’ emphasizes this fact, blindness being a reference to ignorance.
Man is his mind. We Train the mind to think and to act in terms of the values of life for the higher Values of life of love tolerance, service with a smile, etc., get ourselves cultured and perfect ourselves to become a Sthitaprajnya (steadfast in mind) which is the central theme of this discourse. Un-intelligent person chooses the pleasant for the purpose of Yoga-kshema. Yoga is the development of the body and Kshema is its protection. Sankara says Yoga is acquiring what one does not have and Kshema is the preservation of it after having attained. A wise man who has trained his mind spiritually attains steadfastness of the mind and chooses Perennial joy (Ananda) instead passing Pleasures (bodily pleasures).
Sthithaprajnya is translated in English as man of steadfast wisdom. Our scripture says one who has gained spiritual wisdom and gained wealth of spiritual education is Stithaprajna. Stithaprajna remains undisturbed with his mind focused on Brahman called Brahma-Jnaani. Stithaprajna state is close to Samadhi, a state that one directly perceives the Supreme spirit that abides in one’s own soul, synonymous with the Supreme spirit.
Within the various schools of Hindu thought, there are different paths and ways of achieving Ananda (Sreyas or Divine Happiness.) The main four paths are Bhakti yoga, Jnana yoga, Karma Yoga and Raja Yoga.
Meditation is one of the most direct and powerful ways to awaken to who we really are and to experience happiness as a state of consciousness that already exists within us. When we meditate, we go beyond the swirl of thoughts, memories and emotions that tend to keep us stuck in our ego’s story of who we are. We enter an expanded state of awareness and discover our own inner fountain of joy, a source of happiness that isn’t dependent on anyone or anything.
Ānanda literally means Bliss or happiness which accompanies the ending of the rebirth cycle. Those who renounce the fruits of their actions and submit themselves completely to the divine will, arrive at the final termination of the cyclical life process ( Samsara) to enjoy eternal bliss (ānanda) in perfect union with the godhead. The tradition of seeking union with God through passionate commitment is referred to as Bhakti or devotion.
Sat-Chit-Ananda is the triple consciousness on the highest plane, and that plane is for the absolutely chosen few. Sat is existence, Chit is consciousness and Ananda is bliss. To reach Sat-Chit-Ananda is a most difficult thing. It is much easier for people to reach the illumined mind or the Super-mind, but Sat-Chit-Ananda is absolutely the highest. That absolute consciousness is almost impossible to attain, even for the spiritual Masters. (God, Avatars and Yogis)
The Kingdom of Heaven about which the Holy Bible talks is more than just a mere plane, like other planes. It is a plane of divine Consciousness. It is a state of Realization. It embodies Sat-Chit-Ananda. Sat is divine Existence, Chit is divine Consciousness, Aananda is divine Bliss. When we go deep within we feel these three together, and when we acquire the inner vision to perceive them all at once, we live verily in the Kingdom of Heaven. Otherwise, Existence is at one place, Consciousness is somewhere else and Bliss is nowhere near the other two. When we see and feel Existence-Consciousness-Bliss on the self-same plane, each complementing and fulfilling the others, we can say that we live in the Kingdom of Heaven. Yes, the Kingdom of Heaven is within us. Not only can we feel it, but without the least possible doubt, we can become it.
Bhagavad Gita on Sreyas and Preyas
Nachiketas in the story narrated in Chhandogya Upanishad asked Yama for the grant of Sreyas and not Preyas. He thus did not choose the low path of the ignorant such as damsels and other temporary worldly pleasures that are tempting and desired. He understood such a path leads to sorrow only ultimately and is not a solution to attain permanent happiness. The path way to liberation is different and highly praiseworthy. The pathway to enjoyment is pleasant and it is different.
All virtues, strength, self-denial, and sublimity come out of Sreyas. Yoga and spiritual enlightenment lead to Sreyas. A life of triumph and conquest is available to all who tread the path of Sreyas.This is the essence of the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita. Each of the subsequent chapters in this book is an elaboration of this theme from a particular angle.
The Gita teaches one to equip oneself for the battle of life. Without self-preparation the battle of life cannot be waged successfully.This enjoyment has a place for a limited time in this world of pleasures. Soon the Jeevatma realizes the very temporary nature of such pleasures and yearns for permanent happiness to merge with its source of Bliss or permanent happiness.
Gita describes the fate of one who sets his goal on Preyas:
Chintaam apari meyaam cha pralayaantaam upaasritah | Kaamopbhoga-paramaa etaavadati nischitaah ||
Obsessed with innumerable anxieties, those end only with their death they regard the enjoyment of sensual pleasures as their highest goal of life and are fully convinced that, that is all and everything.
Vedas refer to Avidya as secular sciences or worldly knowledge and Vidya as spiritual knowledge. They are often referred to as Para vidyaa and Apara Vidyaa also. Isavasyopanishad is very practical in saying: "vidyaam cha avidyaamcha yastad vedobhyagam saha | avidyayaa mrityum teertvaa vidyayaa amritamasnute"-- “We need to transcend hunger and thirst through the secular sciences and then alone we can obtain immortality through spiritual science.” So we need to concentrate on both. After achieving success with secular knowledge in the first phase of our life we should concentrate on spiritual knowledge in the second phase of our life to be successful in life. Synthesis of material pursuits and spiritual knowledge has been often advocated by modern teachers of synthesis like Chinmayananda. He who combines both Vidyaa and Avidyaa would overcome death by Avidyaa and obtain Immortality by Vidyaa. Don’t we need both?
Pleasures that are sense-bound and prone to mutation come under the category of Preyas. The majority of mankind are seekers of Preyas. But there are a rare few who aspire for transcendental. Scriptures describe this transcendental experience as the Sreyas.
The senses are created with outward tendencies like a bar door with hinges that allow it to swing open outward only. The ignorant pursue outward pleasures, they walk into the wide-spread net of death. The wise, however, recognizing eternal life, do not seek the constant among inconstant things. All virtues, strength, self-denial, and sublimity are born of sreyas. Yoga and spiritual enlightenment are all contained in this sreyas. A life of triumph and conquest is available to all who tread the path of Sreyas. This is the core of the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita.
In the social front, when pāpa karmas become rampant threatening the peace and well-being of the society, the ultimate ruling principle, SAT-CHIT-ĀNANDA, intervenes by churning out sufficient opposite forces to contain the adverse impacts and to finally assert itself. This is what Gīta says ‘saṃbhavāmi yuge yuge’ (4.8). Pāpa karmas are like obstructions to natural flow of water in a river; when they reach an intolerable level, water musters sufficient force and thrashes away all the obstructions with a violent sweep.
All self-centered pursuits for physical yields will end up in retaliations and entanglements. Only by abiding with the principle of Ātmā that one can secure hassle-free, durable happiness. We should therefore get enlightened about that principle. That is why Upanishads say that only by knowing the Ātmā one can attain bliss. Gīta prescribes this knowing as the only one goal deserving to be pursued, not too many, as would be the case with physical benefits (Gīta 2.41 to 2.44).
Yaamimaam pushpitaam vaacham pravadantyavipaschitah | vedavaada-rataah partha naanyadasteeti vaadinah || 2-42 ||
Kaamaatmaanah svargaparaa janma-karmaphala-pradaam | Kriyaa-visesha-bahulaam bhogaisvarya-gatim prati || 2-43 ||
Men of petty knowledge who are dull witted and whose minds are full of desires, are very much attached to the flowery words of the Vedas, which recommend various fruitful activities for elevation to heavenly planets, resultant good birth, power, and so forth. Being desirous of sense gratification and opulent life, they say that there is nothing more than this.
Vyavasaayaatmikaa buddhirekeha kurunandana | Bahusaakhaa hyanantaas-cha buddhayo-avyavasaayinam || 2-41 ||
Bhogaisvarya-prasaktaanaam tayaapa-hritachetasaam | Vyavasaayaatmika buddhih samaadhau na vidheeyate || 2-44 ||
The will that pertains to yogic discipline here is but one, that is one pointed, while the will of those not given to such discipline are multi-pronged and unending. Even the resolute will, one pointed and disciplined, does not incline naturally to the yogic state of atonement, when the mind, intent on enjoyment and power, is seduced by the promises of the ritualistic texts.
Attracted by the ritualistic portion of the Vedas, people perform the prescribed rituals for the attainment of worldly desires, pleasures, power and fortune. In this process they get trapped in desires and can never develop a determined intellect for self-realization because of the illusive nature of desires keep distracting the mind from the final goal of Liberation. The ultimate goal of reciting Vedic hymns, and performing the Vedic rituals is self-purification, self-realization and God-realization. In the words of Sri Ramanuja,”In performing obligatory and occasional rituals (Nitya and Naimittika karmas) all fruits—primary and secondary—promised in scriptures, should be abandoned, with the idea that Release from Samsara or Salvation is the only purpose of all scripture-oriented rituals. These rituals should be performed without any thought of selfish gains”
In the karma-kaanda section of Vedas it is said that those who perform the four monthly penance (Chaturmasya) become eligible to drink the somarasa beverage to become immortal and happy forever. Even on this earth some are very eager to have somarasa to become strong and fit to enjoy sense gratifications. It is also said in Vedas that there are gardens called Nandana --kaanana in which there is good opportunity for association with angelic, beautiful damsels and having profuse supply of Somarasa wine. Such bodily happiness is certainly sensual; there are those who are purely attached to material, temporary happiness as lords of the material world attached to Preyas. They do not want anything more than sense gratification proposals for enjoying life in heaven too where wine and women are available and material opulence is very common.
Different Thoughts on Ananda (Spiritual Happiness) in Hindu philosophy
Swami Vivekananda has claimed that the reason different meanings of ānanda and different ways of achieving it are present in Hindu philosophy is that humans differ from each other, and each chooses the most appropriate path to ānanda for him or herself.
According to Sri Aurobindo, happiness is the natural state of humanity. He describes it as delight of existence in his book, “The Life Divine”. However, mankind develops dualities of pain and pleasure. Aurobindo says that the concepts of pain and suffering are due to habits developed over time by the mind, which treats success, honor and victory as pleasant things and defeat, failure, misfortune as unpleasant things.
According to the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy, ananda is that state of sublime delight when the Jiva becomes free from all sins, all doubts, all desires, all actions, all pains, all sufferings and also all physical and mental ordinary pleasures. Having become established in Brahman it becomes Jivanmukta (a being free from the cycle of rebirth). The Upanishads repeatedly use the word Ānanda to denote Brahman, the innermost Self, the Blissful One, who unlike the individual Self has no real attachments.
Based on a reading of the Bhagavad Gita, Dvaita Vedanta interprets ananda as happiness derived via good thoughts and good deeds that depend on the state and on the control of the mind. Through evenness of temper and mind, the state of supreme bliss is reached in all aspects of one’s life.
According to the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta school which was proposed by Ramanujacharya, true happiness can be only through divine grace, which can be only achieved by total surrender of one's ego to the Divine.
According to Ramana Maharshi, happiness is within and can be known only through discovering one's true self. He proposes that ananda can be attained by inner enquiry, using the thought "Who am I?"
Religion of the Upanishads asserts unity with the origin and unity of essence of all beings. It is all about transcending the diversity of external appearances and characteristics and attaining the unity of inner essence. The spirit of this inner equality makes it devoid of all kinds of discrimination and hatred. It is the universal religion. What it presently lacks is proper dissemination of its principles. Effort to inculcate these principles in the minds of all has to start at the very stage of childhood. This is essential to illumine their future lives with positive values and broader vision of universal oneness.
Swami Krishananda in his ‘Realization of the Absolute’ says “Absolute being is the highest perfection. Perfection is Bliss”. Krishnananda quoting Chhandogya Upanishad, asserts that “The great Infinite alone is Bliss, there is no bliss in the small finite” Taittiriya Upanishad says: “That, verily is the essence. Only on getting this essence, does one becomes blissful. Else who would breathe and who would live – if there is no bliss in existence (space). Truly, this essence is the source of bliss”. Mundaka Upanishad calls Reality as the “Blissful Immortal”. The inherent quality of the Atman or the embodied self is Brahman which is Infinite Being (Anantham Sathyam), Infinite Consciousness (Anantham Jnaanm)and Infinite Bliss (Anantham Aanandam). The epithet Anantham is required for understanding Sathyam Jnaanam Aanandam. Upanishads often describe Brahman as Sat-chit-Ananda. But Brahman while Sat-Chit-Aananda is also Bhuma (Plentitude) and Anantha (Infinite) besides. He is clearly described as Sathyam Jnaanam Aanandam Anantham in Chandogya to understand the difference between Atman and Parmaatman (anantha kalyaana guna).
In the Taittiriya Upanishad Aaanda has been described as bliss par excellence which is many hundredfold more than the happiness one derives from any worldly act. Taittiriya Upanishad says Brahman is the one that gives joy to us, the blissful Self that dwells within the lotus of the heart because of whom we live and breathe, the cause of our very existence. Tataittiriya Upanishad gives an interesting description of the measure of bliss (Aananda) that a person well-versed in Vedas and unaffected by Kaama would attain to. Let there be a noble youth with wisdom and good learning who is resolute and strong; the happiness he would feel if the whole world and wealth therein belongs to him is the measure of human bliss. Hundred times of this measure of human bliss is the bliss of human Gandharvas; hundred times thereof is the bliss of celestial Gandharvas; hundred times thereof is the bliss of the manes who belong to the eternal world; hundred times thereof is the bliss of devas born in the world of devas; hundred times thereof is the bliss of Karmadevas; hundred times thereof is the bliss of Devas; hundred times thereof is the bliss of Indra; hundred times thereof is the bliss of Brihaspati; hundred times thereof is the bliss of Prajaapati; hundred times thereof is the bliss of Brahma. This is same as the bliss of an enlightened person who is not felled by Kāma. We need not break our heads on the puraanic characters mentioned here; the aim of the description is to glorify the bliss that would accrue to a man who is enlightened and who has got rid of all Kaama (passion or desires).
Advaita Vedanta suggests that Being (Brahman) is non-dual (Advaita). It is existential. It is experiential and non-relational. There is no difference between Self (Atman) and Being (Brahman). It is supreme knowledge (Sat), supreme
Consciousness (Chit) and supreme bliss (Ananda). Advaita Vedanta propounds that it is nescience (aviyda) that enshrouds the individual self to assume that existence is dual, that is there is a creator and creation, that there is the experiencer and the experienced. It reinstates the Vedic theory that the substratum, Brahman, is not identifiable and that it is not located in space-time-causation continuum. The non-dual school of thought suggests that it is the delusive force or energy (Maya) that veils the non-dual nature of Brahman.
Advaita Vedanta emphasizes that the actions or activities undertaken by the Embodied Self is nothing but an innate urge to express its expanse and freedom and unfold its nature as supreme knowledge, supreme consciousness and supreme bliss. It believes that bliss is not capable of being pursuit or sought, as man, as an embodied self, is by nature blissful. It conclusively asserts that Self (Atman) is enlightened and blissful by nature. It reiterates the concluding findings of the Hindu revealed Vedas (scriptures) highlighting the non-dual nature of Brahman or Atman. Advaita Vedanta suggests that creation is the ultimate expression of Brahman which is inherently blissful, endowed with supreme knowledge and consciousness. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad affirms in its sutra or aphorism, “Poornamadam Poornamidam, Poornaat Poornamaduchyathe, Poornasya Poornamaadaaya Poornameva avasishyathe” which means “from fullness (Brahman), fullness (creation) came and despite its expression, fullness (Brahman) still remains full. Thus, creation is taken as a sportive expression of Supreme Knowledge, Supreme Consciousness and Supreme Bliss.
Present Hindu religious practices have to undergo thorough reformation to live up to the most scientific spiritual philosophy of the world which constitutes their essence. Unfortunately what is now being practiced as the Hindu religion is only a highly corrupted version of this religion. All known religions possess various sets of prescriptions on rites and observances as a means to practice their distinct spiritual philosophy. These prescriptions mostly aim at appeasing the God of their perception, for favors of physical well-being and happiness Preyas and not Sreyas, eternal Joy living in the domain of the Supreme permanently (Salokya, Sameepya or Sayujya). This short term appeasement is made by singing praises to that God, visualized in human form, and by offering presents in the form of money, gold and other valuables; this is akin to bribing some power-wielding, greedy mortals for securing protection and favors.
1) Swami Chinmyananda, Kathopanishad, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, India.
2) Prabhu Duneja, Bhagavad Gita, Hansaram Hasanand, Delhi, India.
3) Ramachndra Rao, S.K., Gita Kosha, Kalpatharu Research Academy, Bengaluru, India.
4) Kartikeyan Sridharan, The Science of Upanishads, IndiaDivine.Org
5) Wikepedia, Hindu Reflections <nrsrini.blogspot.com> and other Internet sources.
6) Chandrasekharan Veeraiah, The Pursuit of Happiness, SEGI University, Kota Damansara, Malaysia.
7) Anantha Rangacharya, Principal Upanishads, Bengaluru, India.