How to find happinessby Prakashatma
Since the very beginning, the pursuit of happiness has been the most important goal of mankind. The progress that man has made so far, in science, industry and civilization, comes from man's desire for happiness. But despite thousands of years of modernity and consumerism, why has happiness remained so elusive? Perhaps, man has been delusional about happiness, despite having always wanted to acquire happiness.
Businessmen, for example, dedicate themselves to their business for money. An author writes for both money and popularity. A student studies for a degree and to earn. A religious man prays to a deity for his personal benefits. All of them dedicate themselves to their respective jobs thinking that they will gain happiness at the end, but the jobs never end. If they end, they get replaced by another. The more a man has, the more he wants to have. If his desires are not fulfilled, he suffers. If his desires are fulfilled, he gains momentary happiness but desires more thereafter. The very fact that man seeks happiness proves that man is devoid of happiness. Does man ever find happiness?
Happiness seems to be a state where there are no desires but just a satisfaction of what is there. This satiety, or happiness, comes from inside,
and must be independent of external factors. By being satisfied with simple things, that are easy to have, one remains happy longer, but when one follows conventional methods of gaining happiness, by desiring more wealth, more fame or more power, or sees others doing so, one ceases to be happy.
In the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, the sage Yajnavalkya says to his wife, Maitreyi - "It is neither for the husband's sake nor for the wife's sake, nor for the sake of the children, nor for the sake of wealth, nor for the sake of higher worlds, gods and creatures that the husband, wife, the children, wealth, higher worlds, gods and creatures are dear, but it is because of one's own self that everything is dear".1
One's own self, is by its nature, content, complete, and is the true source of happiness. But not knowing this, the unwise try to acquire and associate with a number of external things, thinking that they can gain happiness (pleasures) from them.
One should "hear about one's own self, reflect on it, and meditate on it only, through which, one becomes the knower of everything".1
Many years later after the Upanishads, the Buddha must be credited for restating how to be truly liberated, by leaving aside all conditioned things. "All conditioning is impermanent. All conditioning is suffering. All conditioning is not-self. One who sees this with wisdom, gets rid of suffering".2
We are raised from childhood to compare ourselves with others, to examine how happy we are compared to others, and to gain happiness by following and competing with others, as unnaturally as possible. Wouldn't we be happier without such externally imposed conditioning?
Most people remain unaware of socially and culturally imposed conditioning. The exact problem with these is they create a perpetual conflict between what one is, and what one should ideally be, in order to be happy.
Most people, who are unaware of this, struggle and suffer to fulfill their ideals, and to live according to those ideals, as if they are made to become someone other than what they are. They start believing that happiness is something that can be sought and acquired, if what they are supposed to do is done accordingly. Many actually forget what they are, and some do not admit what they are, because of the inferiority complex that is created.
The way that people suffer and struggle to live according to their ideals, by building new homes, buying new cars, finding new ways of making money and finding dating partners, watching miserable soap operas with love triangles, building new industries, destroying nature, and being dishonest most of the time, may make people seem inherently inhuman, ignorant, miserable and even insane, but these are the effects of conditioning. By making children compete with others from the beginning, the people make them crazed for money. By separating boys from girls from the beginning, they make them crazed to date the opposite gender. Only when individuals are crazed for material things will they build, buy and sell cars. Only when they are crazed to date will they produce and watch movies with love triangles. The automobile industry, the entertainment industry and many such industries flourish, which may be good for the economy,
but this is done at the cost of unnaturally increasing suffering for everyone. People tend to be such hypocrites; after deliberately increasing their own suffering through bad conditioning, they sometimes claim to decrease it with other bad conditioning. Anyone interested in Moksa, or Nirvana or liberation from suffering, should thus focus on externally imposed conditioning first and try to free oneself of it.
A bird who is born inside a cage and is raised inside a cage may start liking the cage.3 But can a bird really be happy inside a cage?
The escape is not in seeking a better type of conditioning, and replacing one type of conditioning with another; not replacing one cage with another, but completely getting rid of all kinds of conditioning, getting rid of every piece of trash that mankind has gathered over hundreds of millennia, generation after generation, making societies and cultures; and picking only ones that help make a bird truly a bird.
A bird is certainly happy in her nest and when she flies in freedom because she has all her bird-characteristics when she is in freedom.
Only by having her intrinsic bird-characteristics, she is a happy bird. She doesn't try to be a happy bird and does not show others that she is a happy bird. She is a happy bird.
1. Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.5
2. Dhammapada 20.277,278,279
3. Heidi's observation of Clara's bird in Heidi, Girl of the Alps ep 21,22
4. Dhammapada 174