What is the Secret to Happiness?

Was listening to Happy by Pharrell Williams on the way to work today and got thinking about the centrality of happiness in human life.

Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Father of the United States famously said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Happiness is perhaps the most important aspect of life. And yet, it is elusive for so many of us, caught in the rigamarole of daily life. Happiness has become an important subject of modern research. Prof. Paul Zak from Claremont Graduate University notes that people find greatest happiness in connecting with those around them. (See this link for more about his research:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/06/tpl-what-makes-people-happy_n_4548604.html ).

Even governments around the world have started thinking more systematically about the levels of happiness or well-being in their people – and how they can set policies that help people live happier and be more connected. The United Nations even publishes a world happiness report! The Government of Bhutan has played a leading role in calling for a new index – one of Gross National Happiness.

But what about the individual level? What are the sutras or tenets of wisdom that we can rely on to increase our happiness levels? I found the following article by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar particularly valuable. Enjoy reading!

Every living creature wants to be happy. Whether it is money, power or sex, you seek it for the sake of happiness. Some people even seem to enjoy misery because it gives them happiness!

To be happy, you seek something. But despite getting it, you are not happy. A schoolboy thinks that if he goes to college, he will be more independent, free and, therefore, happy. When you ask a college student whether he is happy, he feels that if he gets a job, he will be happy. Talk to somebody who is settled in his job or business, and you may find that he is waiting to get a perfect soul mate to be happy. Then what? When he gets a soul mate, he now wants a child, to be happy. Ask those who have children, if they are happy. They respond that how can they relax until the children have grown up and have had a good education and are successfully settled on their own? Ask those who are retired if they are happy? They long for the days when they were younger.

All of one’s life is spent in preparing to be happy someday in the future. It’s like making your bed all night, but having no time to sleep in it. How many minutes, hours and days of your life have you spent being happy from within? Those are the only moments you have really lived life. Those were perhaps the days when you were a small kid, completely blissful and happy or a few moments when you were surfing, swimming or sailing or on a mountain top, living in the present and enjoying it.

There are two ways of looking at life. One is thinking: “I’ll be happy after achieving a certain objective.” The second is saying: “I am happy come what may!” Which one do you want to live by? Life is 80% joy and 20% misery. But you hold on to the 20% and make it 200%! It is not a conscious act, it just happens. Living in the moment with joy, alertness, awareness and compassion is enlightenment. Being like a child is enlightenment. It is being free from within, feeling at home with everybody, without barriers.

Don’t judge and don’t worry about what others think of you. Whatever they think, it is not permanent. Your own opinion about things and people keeps changing all the time. So why worry about what others think about you? Worrying takes a toll on the body, mind, intellect and alertness. It is like an obstruction that takes you far away from yourself. It brings fear, and fear is nothing but the lack of love. It is an intense sense of isolation.

Relaxing through meditation and breathing exercises can handle this. When one is relaxed, one realizes that they are loved, and connected to everybody, and are a part of the whole universe. This will liberate you and the mind will completely shift. You will then find so much harmony around.

To find harmony, it is not as if you have to physically seek it by sitting somewhere for years. Whenever you are in love, your mind is in the present, you feel joyous. At some level, to some degree, everybody is meditating without being aware of it. There are moments when your body, mind and breath are all in harmony. That’s when you achieve yoga. The Art of Living lies in the present moment.

Springtime Cherry Blossoms

 

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Learning and Love

Long, long ago and far, far away, there lived a great sage. His name was Maharishi Shounaka. He had many disciples, and would send them to the surrounding villages to spread his message on life and its purpose. Over time, this increased the ego of some of the senior disciples and they began to consider themselves the storehouse of all knowledge.

One day, a few of these disciples came to Maharishi Shounaka and said, “Master, we have been obeying your commands and conveying your message on the purpose of life to the people in the manner we have found good and desirable. But we find that our work serves no purpose! Most of these people are stupid, and they are either unwilling or unable to learn or change their way of life. We feel it is a waste of our valuable time to educate these people and pass on our knowledge to them.”

The sage was amused, but saddened by the rising ego of these disciples. He said, “You all seem to have acquired considerable knowledge about people and life.”

“Certainly Master,” they echoed in unison. “Our learning is approved and appreciated everywhere. We have learnt almost all that is worth learning.”

“I am indeed very happy to learn about the level of your expertise,” said the Master. “But before we can discuss these matters further, I suggest that you form two groups and approach people again. One group will find out all about knowledge without reading books, and the other group will find out all about love without physical contacts. You may return to me later with your findings.”

The egoistic disciples were rather dismayed and surprised at the strange commands of the Master and the queer nature of their assignment. How could anyone acquire knowledge without reading books? And how could anyone learn about love without physical contacts?

However, in obedience to the Master’s wishes, they went around, far and wide, in two groups, seeking the view of the people of the surrounding villages and town on these two matters. But lo! They met with ridicule and laughter, wherever they went. People laughed at them as two groups of idiots, not aware of the facts of life. Their ego got a good beating and they came back to the Master, crestfallen.

“Oh Master! You simply sent us on a fool’s errand. Everyone who respected us before is now laughing at us. Master, it is impossible to acquire knowledge, without reading books, and it is equally impossible to understand love without physical contacts.”

“Is it so?” said the Master with a smile. “Then, what is the knowledge that you have got from me? If real knowledge could be got from libraries and real love could be got from physical contacts, then why have you come to me? After reading volumes of books, and searching for love through physical contacts, why are people still ignorant of true knowledge and true love?”

The disciples were shocked and ashamed at their lack of wisdom and appealed to the Master for guidance. “My dear children,” said the wise sage, “please understand that real knowledge cannot be obtained by just studying books, but by a study of the people, for whom and from whom the books have come. We have to first educate ourselves about the people, before we proceed to educate them. We should avoid ridiculing people, without placing ourselves in their place. A closer study of people leads us to a clearer perception of them, which in turn results in a deeper understanding. From such an understanding flows a sympathetic acceptance.”

“To study, to understand, and to accept creation, as it exists, is real knowledge. All else is just plain information, though you may have given many names to it. In the same way, real love is that which sprouts from us and generates a sense of gratefulness to the Divine, who has blessed us with a body and mind, and provided us with endless wonder in this creation.”

“This boundless gratefulness leads to a total love for the Divine, who is our resource and who is also our refuge. Real love related to giving, and can only be related to the Divine. All else is just plain desire, the desire to possess and enjoy, though you may call it by many other names. In order to receive the benefits of such knowledge and love, one must have faith in the Master, as he represents both the creation and the Creator. Through an enlightened Master, you can learn that the knowledge of creation is real knowledge, and the love of the Divine is real love. It requires humility from you as a basic qualification.”

This story reveals what to seek from an enlightened Master, and the importance of pondering on the purpose of our life.

This story from the Upanishads was compiled by Acharya Ratnananda in “More Light on Less Known: Courage, Compassion, Confidence” Volume 3. 

What is Life?

I was going through my old files to look for some papers, and found a letter from my grandfather among them. He used to write to me regularly, and often shared some witty stories and anecdotes from his life.

The following is an excerpt of a letter he sent a couple of years ago.

When I was in Hamburg, Germany, a professor asked me in jest, “What is Life?” He expected me to give a long lecture on the subject. But, I said, also in jest, “Life is simple, only in four letters.”

The professor was taken aback, and said, “I don’t understand you!”

I laughingly said, “I knew you would not understand me!! But Life stands for:

L for LOVE

I for INTELLIGENCE

F for FELLOWSHIP

E for ENDURANCE (Tolerance)

He laughed and said, “What a way to explain Life!”

A wonderful way to reflect upon our lives, isn’t it? Here’s wishing you a wondrous and joy-filled year ahead!

The Revelation

Long, long ago, far, far away, there lived a great Sage and many people went to him for enlightenment. A man known for his cruelty and anger, went to the Sage and said, “Master, my mind is always full of unclean and unhealthy thoughts. And this leads me to unhealthy actions. Could you please rid me of these thoughts and help me to achieve enlightenment?”

The Master thought for a while and said, “Before I give you peace and poise, I have to warn you that you will die in a week’s time. Hence, you may go now.”

The man was deeply shocked at this revelation. The thought of death fully occupied his mind. He ran to his wife and said, “I have harassed you countless times, and I want to make amends now. Please excuse me for all my mistakes. I am going to die in a week. I will remedy my behavior towards you at least now and will treat you with love.” He also showered his love on his children, his parents, relatives, friends and neighbors.

The complete change in his demeanor, manners and behavior produced a pleasant surprise and an affectionate response in all his near and dear ones. There was all round love and affection coupled with the regret that he was going to tie shortly.

On the last day of the week , the master came to him and asked how he felt. The reformed man replied, “Sir, my mind was so full of thoughts of my death that it produced a great change in me and a happy response from all those around me. Now, I find that my mind is calm except for the thought that I will die soon.”

The Master smiled and replied, “Just the thought of death in eight days reformed you and produced pleasantness all round. When we are aware of the impermanency of life all the time, then we consciously ensure that our actions are able to produce and promote happiness.

You are not going to die now, but do not allow these benefits to die. Continue to be good to people and live in the present. That is enlightenment.”

This story reveals that all problems arise because we feel that our life is quite long and tend to forget its impermanence, though we see death all around us everyday.

This story was written by Acharya Ratnananda and can be found in Tales for the Young and the Old.