Belief in life after death in heaven or hell appears to suggest to some people that they need not, and indeed should not, seek happiness in this life on earth. They have even assumed that if they lead unhappy lives here, they have a greater chance of going to heaven after death. Happiness is not morally unacceptable, or opposed to virtue; indeed, much of man's unhappiness owes itself to avarice, dishonesty and indifference to the sufferings of others. The factors that make for happiness here and now are not such as to work against happiness after death. By following the proper methods to ensure hapiness here and now, we actually reinforce our claim to eternal happiness.
But if all conscious efforts through this life are directed to the acquisition of happiness, unhappiness arises from the very strenuousness of the efforts to achieve. Man works too hard for his happiness to be really happy. Man in fact manages to keep himself unhappy most of the time. Casual enquiry will seldom bring out the truth; but deeper questioning, brings out the fact that most of us are indeed unhappy. Money or the lack of it is the cause of much of it. History tells us, King Abdur Rahman III, the greatest of the Omayyad kings of Moorish Spain, was rich and powerful, feared and respected all through the western world. His glistening, beautiful capital city, Cordova, was the pride and envy of all Europe. He ruled for over fifty years, but records that during this long period, he could recall having been genuinely happy only for fourteen days.
Is there a solution to this universal problem? There is, in a single verse in the Bhagavadgita (V.23):
'Only he who can keep in control here itself the pressure mounted by desire and anger can be happy; he is a true yogin.'This formula for happiness is brief, crisp and lucid, with no ambiguity. If we learn to govern our passions, we can be happy here and now. The difficulty is in implementation.
Of desire and anger, the former is clearly the more basic evil, as anger arises mostly when desires are thwarted. Desire arises around the objects of the world--money, position, possessions, fame. And they are all cursed with a peculiar disease--duality. Its inherent nature is to project two reactions which are mutually opposed, like pain and pleasure. Pleasant and unpleasant states of mind alternate whenever we contact anything. Therefore, desire is never consummated in continued, uninterrupted happiness. As an example, one can cite money, which certainly buys pleasures, but also inevitably brings in its wake worries about safeguarding, investing and multiplying it, not to speak of anxiety over tax-collection.
The pressure caused by desire is exercised in another manner too. Whenever we desire an object, a bond is forged between that and us. This is much strengthened when we feel we must own and exploit it. The moment we covet something, we lose to that extent our liberty. It does not require argument to prove that bondage vitiates the joy of life. Only the unbound can be truly happy.
Desmond Morris in his Human Zoo demonstrates vividly how man's present condition can be compared to that of captive animals in a zoo. They are distinctly unhappy and apt to quarrel and hurt each other at the slightest provocation. These conditions apply well to human beings particularly in congested cities. Clearly the basic thing to do is to restrict desire to the necessary minimum for a reasonable life on the earth. The minimum needs must of course be met. Even though the steps taken to meet them may technically be called desire, they are not frowned upon by philosophers.
The curbing of desire may sound depressing, a way to kill joy, but it is not so. Some of the happiest people in the world have been the saintly men and women who limited their desires. 'I am always happy, never sad' said the saint Appar of Tamil Nadu. The secret is to enjoy all creation without attempting to own and exploit anything. We are equipped with five senses and an active mind, surely not with the purpose to suppress them. The greatest of all showmen, God, has spread before us sensationally beautiful sights and mellifluous sounds in profusion to be enjoyed. Trouble comes only when we want to own, possess and exploit nature for our sole benefit, excluding others.
The active mind we have been blessed with can become a curse if allowed to become wayward. To secure unlimited happiness means harnessing it effectively in order to dwell on the spirit, and on the work of the great Artist who has designed the world. And us too, for as long a time as possible. For that spirit is of the nature of pure, unlimited bliss; there is no duality at all there. The longer we withdraw the mind from looking at the objects around in a possessive way, and meditate on the inner nature of things, the greater is the bliss. This practice of contemplative concentration on the spirit, can ensure progressive beatitude, until we arrive at the stage where even without conscious effort, the mind dwells in the land of the spirit even while performing all the work of the world with the greatest efficiency. That is the stage of the liberated individual (jivanmukta), emancipated, even while in the flesh. His is the unlimited bliss that most seek and do not find.
Mr. Subramanian is a scholar writer in Sanskrit, Tamil and English.