Happiness and the Art of Being
What is Happiness?
What is the one thing that all sentient beings desire? Is it not happiness? In the final analysis, are not all our desires just various forms of our one fundamental desire to be happy? Is not our fundamental desire for happiness the essence of every form of desire that we may ever have?
Our desire for happiness is the driving force behind all the countless forms of effort that we are always making. We do not do anything – whether through mind, speech or body – that is not driven by our fundamental desire to be happy. Each and every one of our actions is motivated by our desire to be perfectly happy.
For whom do we desire happiness? Do we not each desire happiness for ourself? First and foremost, we each want ourself to be happy. Though we may also want other people to be happy, we want them to be happy because seeing their happiness makes us feel happy. All our actions of mind, speech and body are impelled by our desire for our own happiness.
However unselfish we may think our actions to be, they are still all motivated by our desire for our own happiness. Even if we sacrifice our time, our money, our comforts and conveniences, or anything else that is precious to us, in order to do some altruistic action, whether to help some other person or to support some noble cause, the ultimate driving force behind such sacrifice is our desire to be happy. We do altruistic actions only because doing so makes us feel happy.
Because we feel unhappy when we see other people suffering, we are ready to do anything to alleviate their suffering, even if by doing so we seem to cause some suffering to ourself. We feel happier suffering to help other people than we would feel if we did nothing to help them. In fact we may derive positive happiness from our suffering, because we know we are undergoing it for the sake of others.
Taking this to an extreme, some people actually choose to suffer for the sake of suffering, because they cannot feel happy unless they feel that they are suffering. They derive pleasure by undergoing what appears to be suffering, because for them that seeming suffering is not really suffering but is only a form of pleasure. Whatever extreme form our desire may take, whether some truly noble altruistic form or some deeply perverse masochistic form, in essence it is still only a desire for our own happiness.
Why is our desire for our own happiness the fundamental and ultimate cause of our desire for the happiness of other people? Why do we desire their happiness primarily because it contributes to our own happiness? Why, in other words, do we ultimately desire our own happiness more than we desire the happiness of others?
We are primarily concerned with our own happiness because we love ourself more than we love any other person or thing. We love other people and things because we believe that they can contribute to our own happiness. We love each of them only to the extent to which we believe that they are able to make us happy, and if we thought that they did not or could not in some way or other contribute to our happiness, we would feel no particular love for them.
Our greatest love is only for ourself, and it is for our own sake that we love other people and things. We love our family, our friends and our possessions because we feel that they are ours, and because loving them makes us feel happy. Our love for our own happiness is inseparable from our love for our own self.
Because we love our own self above all other things, we desire our own happiness above all other things. We love and desire whatever makes us happy, and we dislike and fear whatever makes us unhappy. All our likes and dislikes, all our desires and fears, are rooted in our love for our own happiness, which in turn is rooted in our love for our own self.
Why do we love our own self more than we love any other person or thing? The reason we love certain other people and certain other things is because we feel that they make us happy, or at least can make us happy. That is, we love whatever we believe can give us happiness. If we know that something does not make us happy, and cannot make us happy, we do not feel any particular love for it. Is not happiness, therefore, the fundamental cause of all forms of love? Is not all the love that we feel for various people and things in essence only our love for our own happiness? Do we not love only those things that are potential sources of happiness for us? Therefore, since we love our own self above all other things, is it not clear that we ourself are foremost among all the potential sources of our happiness?
In fact, we are the only true source of all our happiness, because whatever happiness we seem to derive from other people or things arises only from within us. Since all our happiness ultimately comes only from within us, is it not clear that happiness is something inherent in us? In fact, happiness is our own true and essential nature. Therefore, the reason why we love our own self more than any other person or thing is simply that we ourself are happiness – the fullness of perfect happiness, and the one ultimate source of all the various forms of happiness that we seemingly derive from other people and things.
Our love for our own self and for our own happiness is not wrong. It is perfectly natural, and therefore unavoidable. It becomes wrong only when, due to our lack of correct understanding about where true happiness lies, it impels us to do actions that cause harm to other people. Therefore, in order to avoid doing any harm to anyone – to avoid making anyone else unhappy – it is essential that we understand what true happiness is and where our true happiness lies.
In order to understand this, we must first understand more about ourself. Since love and happiness are subjective feelings that are experienced by us, we cannot understand the true nature of either of them without first understanding the true nature of ourself. Only if we understand our own true nature will we be able to understand how the desire for happiness arises within us, and why we love our own self and our own happiness above all other things.
The converse side of our desire to be happy is our desire to be free from pain, suffering, misery or any other form of unhappiness. What we all desire is to be perfectly happy, free from even the least form of unhappiness. In fact, what we call happiness is just the state in which we are free from unhappiness.
Our natural state is to be happy. Our desire for happiness is our desire for our natural state. Consciously or unconsciously, we are all seeking what is natural for us. For example, when we have a headache, why do we wish to be free of it? Because a headache is not natural to us, when we experience one, we desire to be free of it. The same is the case with all other things that are not natural to us. We cannot feel entirely comfortable or happy with anything that is not truly natural to us. That is why we never feel perfectly happy, in spite of all the material, mental and emotional pleasures that we may be enjoying. All such pleasures come and go, and hence they are not natural to us.
Whatever is truly natural to us – whatever is inherent in our essential nature – must be with us always. Since the physical body that we now take to be ourself is experienced by us only in our present waking state, and not in dream or in deep sleep, it is not our essential nature. Likewise, since our mind is experienced by us only in the states of waking and dream, and not in the state of deep sleep, even it is not our essential nature. Because in deep sleep we remain peacefully and happily without either our mind or our body, neither of them is natural to us.
Though this contention that we exist in the absence of our mind and body in deep sleep may initially seem strange to us, and may therefore on superficial observation appear to be questionable, if we consider it carefully, we will clearly understand that it is not merely a dubious supposition, but is in fact the obvious truth that each one of us actually experiences in deep sleep, as we shall see more clearly when we examine our three states of consciousness in greater detail in the next chapter. Therefore, since our mind and body are not natural to us, we can never feel completely at ease or happy with either of them, or with any of the material, sensual, mental, intellectual or emotional pleasures that we may enjoy through them.
Why should we think that happiness is our natural state, and that unhappiness is something unnatural to us? If our true nature is really happiness, why do we not feel perfectly happy at all times? How does unhappiness arise?
We can understand this by critically analysing our experience of our three states of consciousness, waking, dream and deep sleep. In our waking and dream states we experience a mixture of pleasure and pain, or happiness and unhappiness. But what do we experience in deep sleep, when this mixture of pleasure and pain is removed? In the absence of this mixture, do we experience happiness or unhappiness? In the state of deep sleep, do we not feel perfectly happy, and free from all misery or unhappiness? Is it not clear therefore that neither unhappiness, nor a mixture of happiness and unhappiness, is natural to us? Since we can exist in the absence of unhappiness, it cannot be our real nature. Unhappiness is merely a negation of happiness, which is natural to us.
If unhappiness cannot be our real nature because we can exist in its absence, can we not say the same about happiness? When we are unhappy, are we not existing in the absence of happiness? No, happiness is something that is never entirely absent.
Unhappiness is a relative state, one which exists relative only to happiness. Without the underlying existence of happiness, there would be no such thing as unhappiness. We feel unhappy only because we desire to be happy. If happiness were ever to become absolutely non-existent, we would not feel any desire for it, and hence we would not feel unhappy. Even in a state of the most intense unhappiness, happiness still exists as something for which we feel desire. There is therefore no such thing as absolute unhappiness.
If unhappiness is something that is merely relative, can we not say the same about happiness? Is not happiness also a relative state, one which exists relative only to unhappiness? The happiness that we experience in waking and dream is certainly relative, and is therefore always incomplete or imperfect. But can we say the same about the happiness that we experience in deep sleep? Does the happiness of deep sleep exist relative only to unhappiness?
No, in deep sleep unhappiness is totally absent. When we are asleep, unhappiness does not exist even as a thought, or as something that we fear or desire to avoid. Therefore, since unhappiness cannot exist without a desire for happiness, but happiness can exist without even the slightest notion of unhappiness, unhappiness is entirely relative, whereas happiness may be either relative or absolute.
The relative happiness and unhappiness that we experience in our waking and dream states are a distorted reflection of the absolute happiness that is our true nature, and that underlies all our three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. We experience relative happiness and unhappiness in the waking and dream states because at that time our real nature of absolute happiness is somehow clouded over and obscured.
What is it in the waking and dream states that obscures our natural state of absolute happiness? Why in deep sleep do we experience perfect happiness, untainted by even the least trace of unhappiness, whereas in the waking and dream states we experience only a mixture of relative happiness and unhappiness? What is the difference between deep sleep and our other two states that allows us to experience absolute happiness in the former, but only relative happiness and unhappiness in the latter?
In deep sleep our mind is absent, and along with it all forms of thought are absent, whereas in the waking and dream states our mind has risen and is active, thinking thoughts of innumerable different things. When our mind and all its thoughts are absent, as in deep sleep, we experience perfect happiness, whereas when our mind is active, thinking one thought after another, as in waking and dream, we experience only a mixture of partial happiness and partial unhappiness. Is it not clear, therefore, that the rising of our mind and its thoughts is what obscures our natural state of absolute happiness?
Even now, in this waking state, our true and essential nature is absolute happiness, but that absolute happiness is clouded over and obscured by the persistent activity of our mind. Therefore, since our mental activity is the cloud or veil that obscures from our experience our own inherent and natural happiness, all we need do to experience that happiness in full is to put an end to all our mental activity – to cease rising as a mind to think anything. Since we experience perfect happiness in sleep due to the cessation of mental activity, we can experience the same happiness even now in the waking state, provided we refrain from all thought or mental activity.
Since our natural and absolute happiness is thus obscured by our mind’s constant flow of thoughts, which rise one after another in rapid succession, how in the midst of that flow do we experience varying degrees of relative happiness and unhappiness? Since our activity of thinking is the cloud that obscures our natural happiness, the more intense that activity grows, the more densely it obscures our inherent happiness.
When our mind is extremely agitated, that is, when its activity of thinking becomes very intense, we are unable to experience more than a glimmer of our inherent happiness, and therefore we feel restless and unhappy. But when our mind becomes relatively calm, that is, when its activity of thinking decreases, we are able to experience our inherent happiness more fully, and therefore we feel comparatively peaceful and happy.
Thus calmness and peace of mind makes us feel relatively happy, while restlessness and agitation of mind makes us feel relatively unhappy. Is this not the experience of all of us? Do we not all feel peaceful and happy when our mind is calm and at rest? And do we not all feel restless and unhappy when our mind is agitated and disturbed?
The reason why we experience perfect happiness in deep sleep is that our mind has then become perfectly calm and peaceful, having subsided by withdrawing from all its activity. Since no thoughts rise in deep sleep to disturb our natural state of peaceful being, in that state we experience our inherent happiness without the least obstruction.
Is it not clear, therefore, that happiness is a state of being, and unhappiness is a state of doing? So long as our mind is active or doing something, thinking one thought or another, we experience only a mixture of happiness and unhappiness, and whatever happiness we do experience in the midst of that mixture is imperfect, limited and relative. We experience perfect, unlimited and absolute happiness only when our mind becomes perfectly still.
Our own essential being is therefore happiness. When we remain merely as being, without rising to think or do anything, as in deep sleep, we experience perfect happiness, untainted by even the least sorrow, unhappiness or discontent. But as soon as we rise as this thinking mind, we experience restlessness, discontent and unhappiness.
Since we thus experience perfect happiness in the absence of all mental activity, as in our deep sleep, is it not clear that such happiness is something that is inherent within us, and that our mental activity is the only obstacle that prevents us from experiencing it in full in our waking and dream states? Therefore whatever limited happiness we may experience in the waking and dream states when our mind becomes comparatively calm and peaceful, is only a fraction of the happiness that is already inherent within us.
Happiness is something that arises from within ourself, and not something that comes from outside us. Why then do we think that we derive pleasure or happiness from material objects and external circumstances? Does happiness actually lie in any material object or any external circumstance? No, happiness is obviously not something that exists in any object or circumstance outside us.
How then do we seem to obtain happiness from certain objects and circumstances? Whatever relative happiness we may seem to obtain from them is actually a state of our own mind. Happiness is something that is latent within us, and it sometimes becomes manifest when we experience certain material objects or external circumstances. How does this happen?
Whenever we obtain something that we like, and whenever we avoid or get rid of something that we dislike, we feel happy. Conversely, whenever we lose or are unable to obtain something that we like, and whenever we cannot avoid or get rid of something that we dislike, we feel unhappy. In other words, we feel happy when our desires are fulfilled, and unhappy when they are not fulfilled.
Thus the real cause of the happiness that we seem to obtain from external objects and circumstances is not those objects or circumstances themselves, but is only the fulfilment of our desire for them. Whenever we experience a desire, whether in the form of a like or a dislike for a certain thing, our mind is agitated by it. So long as that desire persists in our mind, the agitation caused by it persists, and that agitation makes us feel unhappy. But when our desire is fulfilled, that agitation subsides, and in the temporary calm that results from its subsidence, we feel happy.
The happiness that we thus experience when one of our desires is fulfilled is a fraction of the happiness that always exists within us. When a desire arises and agitates our mind, our inherent happiness is obscured, and hence we feel restless and unhappy until that desire is fulfilled. As soon as it is fulfilled, the agitation of our mind subsides for a short while, and because our inherent happiness is thus less densely obscured, we feel relatively happy.
Therefore, though happiness is our own true nature, and though in reality there is no happiness at all in anything outside us, we nevertheless feel happy whenever our desire for anything is fulfilled, and hence we wrongly believe that we derive happiness from the objects of our desire. We feel love or desire for other people and for external objects and circumstances only because we believe that we can derive happiness from them. And we believe this only because we experience happiness whenever any of our desires for those external things are satisfied.
Our delusion that happiness comes from the things that we desire, and that therefore by desiring and acquiring more things we will become more happy, is thus a vicious circle. Because we desire something, we feel happy when we obtain it, and because we feel happy when we obtain it, we desire more of it. In this way our desires are always continuously increasing and multiplying.
The raging fire of our desires can never be quenched by the objects of our desire. The more we acquire those objects, the more intensely our desire for them and for other such objects will rage. Trying to quench the fire of our desires by fulfilling them is like trying to quench a fire by pouring petrol upon it.
The objects of our desire are the fuel that keeps the fire of our desires burning. The only way we can extinguish this fire of our desires is by knowing the truth that all the happiness that we seem to derive from the objects of our desire does not actually come from those objects but only from within ourself.
However, we should not think that understanding this truth by means of our intellect or power of reasoning is the same as actually knowing it. We cannot actually know this truth without experiencing ourself as happiness. So long as we feel ourself to be a limited individual consciousness that experiences relative degrees of happiness and unhappiness, we clearly do not experience the truth that we ourself are absolute happiness.
No amount of intellectual understanding can give us the true experiential knowledge that happiness is our own true nature, and is not something that we obtain from the objects of our desire. We can understand something intellectually, but nevertheless actually experience something that is quite contrary to what we understand. For example, if we see water in a desert, we may understand that it is only a mirage, but we nevertheless continue to see it as something that looks quite real, and the mere sight of it continues to make us feel thirsty. Similarly, though we may understand intellectually that happiness is our true nature and that we do not actually obtain happiness from anything outside ourself, we nevertheless continue to feel ourself to be somehow lacking in happiness, and therefore continue to experience desire for things outside ourself, as if happiness could really be obtained from them.
Intellectual knowledge is only a superficial and shallow form of knowledge, because our intellect is only a function of our mind, which is itself just a superficial and shallow form of consciousness. Our delusion that makes us feel that happiness comes from things outside ourself and not from within us is, on the other hand, deeply rooted in our mistaken identification of ourself with a physical body, which is in turn rooted in our lack of clear self-knowledge.
In fact, the delusion that makes us feel that happiness comes from things outside ourself is the same delusion that makes us feel that we are something that we are not. This fundamental delusion of ours arises only because we do not clearly know what we really are, and hence it can be destroyed only by a clear and correct knowledge of our own real nature. No intellectual knowledge, therefore, can destroy this deep-rooted delusion of ours. The only knowledge that can destroy it is true experiential knowledge of what we really are.
When by true experiential self-knowledge we thus destroy the delusion that we are anything other than the fullness of absolute happiness, the fire of our desires will automatically be extinguished.
Though no amount of intellectual understanding can destroy our deeply rooted delusion, a clear intellectual understanding of the truth is nevertheless necessary, because without such an understanding we would not know how to discover what true happiness is. A clear and correct understanding of the true nature of happiness will enable us to know not only where we should seek happiness, but also how we should actually endeavour to seek it. Let us therefore analyse more deeply how our delusion that we obtain happiness from external objects and circumstances arises.
Let us suppose that we like chocolate. In our mind we associate the bittersweet taste of chocolate with the feeling of pleasure that we are accustomed to experience whenever we taste it. But does the taste of chocolate necessarily create a feeling of pleasure? No, it creates such a feeling in us because we like it so much, but it will create no such feeling in a person who is indifferent to it, and it will create a feeling of disgust in a person who positively dislikes it. Moreover, if we eat too much chocolate and thereby make ourself sick, we will begin to feel an aversion for it, at least temporarily, so if we eat more of it at that time, it will not create any feeling of pleasure but only a feeling of disgust. Therefore it is clear that the happiness we think we derive from eating chocolate is determined not by the actual taste of chocolate, but only by our liking for that taste.
The same is the case with any of the pleasures that we experience through our five senses. Our senses can only tell us the impressions created by a thing, for example the taste, aroma, texture and colour of chocolate, and the crinkling sound of the silver foil in which it is wrapped, but it is our mind which determines whether or not we like those impressions. If we like them, we do not even have to taste chocolate to feel pleasure from it. Even the sight or smell of chocolate, or the sound of its silver foil being opened, will give us pleasure.
In fact we often seem to derive more pleasure from the anticipation of enjoying something, than we do when we actually experience it. Therefore even the thought of some object of our desire can give us pleasure, though that pleasure will always be mixed with a restlessness to experience it actually. Only when we actually experience it, will our desire for it be fully satisfied. However, since that satisfaction is usually experienced only momentarily, we may sometimes appear to enjoy more pleasure from the cumulative build-up of our anticipation for it than we actually enjoy when we experience it.
Moreover, if our mind is distracted by other thoughts, we may not feel any particular pleasure when we eat chocolate, even though we have so much liking for it. Only when our mind is relatively free of other thoughts can we really enjoy the taste of chocolate, or the pleasure of satisfying any of our other desires.
A clear illustration of this is something that most of us have probably experienced. If we are watching a good film or an entertaining programme on television while eating a meal, no matter how tasty and to our liking that meal may be, we will hardly notice its taste and we will experience no particular pleasure in eating it. After the programme and meal are both finished, we may notice that we failed to enjoy that tasty meal at all, and we may wish we had eaten it when we were not distracted by watching the television. Because we were more interested in the programme or film we were watching than in the meal we were eating, we failed to enjoy the meal. And the reason why we took greater interest in enjoying the film than in enjoying our meal was that at that time our desire for the enjoyment of the film was greater than our desire for the enjoyment of the meal.
However, if we had been really hungry before sitting down to eat that meal and watch that film, we would probably have enjoyed the meal with great relish and would therefore have hardly noticed the film we were watching. Even if the meal were not particularly tasty, if we had been really hungry we would have enjoyed it nonetheless. When we are really hungry, that is, when our desire for food is very intense, we can relish and enjoy even the most tasteless meal.
Our hunger or real desire for nourishment is the best of all condiments. The spice of real hunger will give the pleasantest taste even to the most tasteless food, and even to food that would normally taste positively unpleasant. Conversely, if the spice of real hunger is missing, we can eat even the most tasty food without particularly relishing it.
Is it not clear, therefore, that the relative degrees of happiness that we derive from enjoying the objects of our desires are not only entirely subjective and dependent upon our relative degree of liking for those objects, but are primarily determined by the fluctuations of our mind and of the successive waves of excitement of our desires, our anticipations and our ultimate satisfactions?
In the midst of all this excited activity of our mind, how do the fragments of happiness that we experience appear? These successive waves of our mental excitement have their peaks and their troughs. They rise to their peaks when our mind is most agitated by its desires, and they subside to their troughs when our mind experiences the satisfaction of anticipating or actually enjoying the objects of its desires. During the brief troughs between the successive peaks of our desires, our mind is momentarily calm, and in that calmness the happiness that is always inherent in us is less densely obscured and therefore manifests itself more clearly.
So long as our mind is active, it is constantly fluctuating between the peaks of its desire or dissatisfaction and the troughs of its contentment or satisfaction. Our desires and our fears, our likes and our dislikes, our cravings and our aversions, all agitate and impel the activity of our mind to the peaks of its intensity, and such intense peaks of activity obscure our inherent happiness and thereby make us feel dissatisfied, discontented and unhappy.
The more intense and agitated the activity of our mind becomes, the more rapidly it rises from one peak to another, and hence the briefer and shallower the troughs between those peaks become. However, if we are able to restrain our desires, fears, likes, dislikes, cravings, aversions and other such passions, the activity of our mind will become less intense, that is, its peaks will be less frequent and will rise less high, and the troughs between those peaks will be wider and deeper. Thus, when the agitated and passionate activity of our mind becomes less intense, we feel calmer and more contented, and hence we are able to experience more clearly the happiness that is always within us.
The happiness that we derive from eating a piece of chocolate comes not from that piece of chocolate itself, but only from the satisfaction we feel as a result of the gratification of our desire for it. When such a desire is gratified, from where does the resulting feeling of satisfaction or happiness actually come? It clearly does not come from the object of our desire, or from anything else outside us, but only from within ourself. If we carefully observe the feeling of happiness that we experience when we eat a piece of chocolate, or when we enjoy any other object of our desire, we will clearly see that it arises from within ourself, and as a result of the temporary subsidence of our mental agitation caused by that desire.
Our satisfaction and the happiness that seems to result from it are both subjective feelings that arise from our innermost being, and that we accordingly experience only within ourself. Since all happiness thus comes only from our own innermost self, is it not clear that happiness already exists within us, at least in a latent form? Why then should we waste our time and energy trying to experience that happiness in a roundabout manner by gratifying our desires for external objects and circumstances? Why should we not try instead to experience it in a direct manner by turning our attention within to discover the source from which all happiness arises?
Desire arises within us in various forms – as likes or dislikes, as cravings or aversions, as hopes or fears – but in whatever form it rises, it disturbs the natural peace of our mind, and thereby obscures the happiness that is always within us. All the misery or unhappiness that we experience is caused only by our desires. Therefore, if we wish to experience perfect happiness, untainted by even the least misery, we must free ourself from all our desires.
But how can we actually do this? Our desires are deeply engrained within us and cannot easily be changed. Though we may be able to modify them to a certain extent, our ability to do so is nevertheless limited. Our present desires, or likes and dislikes, have been formed by our previous experiences, not only in the lifetime of the physical body that we now identify as ourself, but also in the lifetimes of all the physical bodies that we formerly identified as ourself, whether in our dreams or in some other states of consciousness similar to our present so-called waking state.
One of our strongest desires is our desire for sexual pleasure. Though the intensity of this desire may vary with age and circumstances, it always exists within us, at least in the form of a dormant seed. As anyone who has tried to ‘conquer’ lust knows only too well, we can never entirely overcome it.
Like all our other desires, our lust or desire for carnal pleasure is rooted in our wrong identification of ourself with a physical body. Because we mistake a physical body to be ourself, we mistake the natural biological urges of that body to be our natural urges. All our desires will therefore remain at least in seed form so long as we continue to have the habit of identifying ourself with a physical body, whether our present physical body in this waking state, or some other physical body in dream.
Therefore the only way to put an end to all our desires is to put an end to their root, which is our mind, our limited consciousness that feels ‘I am this body’. Unless and until we know what we really are, we cannot be free from our desires, which arise only due to our mistaking ourself to be what we are not.
By fighting our desires we can never get rid of them, because we who try to fight them are in fact the cause, source and root of them. That which seeks to fight our desires is our mind, which is itself the root from which all our desires spring. The very nature of our mind is to have desires. Without desires to impel it, our mind would subside and merge in the source from which it originally arose. Therefore the only way to conquer our desires is to bypass our mind by seeking the source from which it has arisen. That source is our own real self, the innermost core of our being, our fundamental and essential consciousness ‘I am’.
Our mind is a limited form of consciousness that arises within us, and that mistakes a particular body to be itself, and all the other objects that it knows to be other than itself. In fact all that our mind knows, including the body that it mistakes to be ‘I’, are only its own thoughts, products of its own power of imagination. Therefore nothing that is known by our mind is actually other than itself. However, because it mistakes the objects of its imagination to be other than itself, it feels desire for those objects that it thinks will contribute to its happiness, and aversion for those objects that it thinks will detract from its happiness.
So long as we experience otherness or duality, we cannot but feel desire for some of the things that we see as other than ourself, and aversion for some of the other things. Because we mistake a particular body to be ourself, certain things are necessary for our survival and our comfort in that body, and certain things are a threat to our survival and our comfort in it. As a general rule, therefore, we feel desire for those things that contribute to our bodily survival and comfort, and aversion for those things that threaten our survival or detract from our comfort.
However, even after we have secured all the things that we require for our bodily survival and comfort, we still do not feel satisfied. Because we fear for our future, we strive to acquire more than we actually require at present. Because of our restlessness caused by our concern for our future happiness and wellbeing, we seldom enjoy the present moment to the fullest, but instead think constantly about what we may or may not enjoy in future.
Most of our thoughts are not concerned with the present moment, but only with what is already past, or what may or may not happen in future. We live much of our life in varying degrees of anxiety, mostly about what may happen to us in future, but also sometimes about what we did or what happened to us in the past. We wish the past were other than it was, and we hope the future will be better than it probably will be.
Because our mind is filled with thoughts about the past, and with aspirations for or anxiety about the future, we seldom feel completely satisfied with the present moment, and with all that we now enjoy and possess. All our lack of satisfaction or contentment with the present moment is caused only by our desires, and by their inevitable consequences, our fears.
Desire and fear are in fact not two different things, but just two aspects of the same one thing. So long as we desire whatever things appear to contribute to our happiness, we will inevitably fear whatever things appear to detract from our happiness. Fear is therefore simply the converse side of desire. Every fear is in fact a form of desire, because our fear of a particular thing is simply our desire to avoid or be free of that thing. However, whatever form our desire may take – whether it manifests as a hope or a fear, a like or a dislike, a craving or an aversion – it always deprives us of our natural peace or contentment. Therefore so long as we have any form of desire, we can never be perfectly satisfied.
However favourable and pleasant our present circumstances may be – however much material wealth we may have, however many possessions we may have accumulated, however much security we may have surrounded ourself with, however many friends and admirers we may have, however affectionate and kind our relatives and associates may be – we still do not feel perfectly satisfied, and we restlessly search for something more. Even if we do not attach much importance to wealth and material possessions, we still seek satisfaction and happiness outside ourself, in some form of external pursuit or entertainment such as a social activity, an involvement in politics, an intellectual pastime, a religion, a philosophy, a science, an art, a profession, a sport or a hobby. Through all our mental and physical activities, of whatever kind they may be, we are seeking to obtain happiness and to avoid misery, and our activities will not cease permanently until we experience happiness in full, untainted by even the least misery, sorrow or unhappiness.
All our efforts to attain happiness will continue until our all-consuming desire for perfect happiness is permanently satisfied. We know from experience that this fundamental desire of ours is never completely satisfied in spite of all our efforts to obtain happiness from external objects and circumstances. Nothing and no person in this material world can ever make us perfectly happy. However happy we may sometimes feel ourself to be, our happiness is nevertheless imperfect and short-lived, and hence we continue to search restlessly for more happiness.
Every effort that we make through our mind, speech and body – every thought, word and deed of ours – is impelled only by our desire for happiness and our fear of unhappiness. Because of our mistaken conviction that happiness and unhappiness both come from external objects and circumstances – a conviction that is so strong and deep-rooted that it persists in spite of all our intellectual understanding that happiness actually comes only from within us, and that unhappiness is caused only by the agitated activity of our mind – we unceasingly direct our attention and efforts towards those external objects and circumstances.
Whenever we experience something that we desire, the agitation of our mind caused by that desire subsides temporarily, allowing us to experience for a short while the happiness that always exists within us. However, because we fail to recognise that the happiness that we thus experience already exists within us, we always wrongly associate it with the objects of our desire, and thus we have developed a strong and deeply rooted conviction that we obtain happiness from people, objects and circumstances outside ourself. Because of this strong conviction, we continue to desire those things that we believe to be potential sources of happiness for us. Our desires can therefore never be satisfied fully, because whenever we experience a little happiness from the satisfaction of one of our desires, our fundamental desire for complete and perfect happiness impels us to seek greater happiness by attempting to satisfy more of our desires.
Therefore, the happiness that we experience when one of our desires is fulfilled is very short-lived, because some other desire immediately arises in our mind. That is, we experience such happiness only in the temporary period of calm that results from the satisfaction of one of our desires, and such a period of calm creates an opportunity for some other desire to arise. Innumerable desires exist in our mind in a dormant or latent form, and each one of them is awaiting a suitable opportunity to rise to the surface of our mind.
At any single moment our mind can attend to only one thought. Therefore each of our thoughts can rise only when our previous thought has subsided. However, since our thoughts rise and subside in rapid succession, we feel that we are thinking of several things simultaneously. That is, just as the speed at which the frames of a movie film are projected on a cinema screen is so rapid that we are unable to perceive the gap between two consecutive frames, and hence we see a continuous moving picture, so the speed at which our thoughts rise and subside is so rapid that we are unable to perceive the extremely brief gap between two consecutive thoughts, and hence we experience a continuous and unbroken flow of thoughts.
However, though our thoughts rise and subside so rapidly, there is nevertheless a limit to the number of thoughts that can rise in our mind during each fraction of a second, because at any precise moment only one thought can be active. Hence, in order to rise to the surface of our mind, each of our many latent thoughts or dormant desires must await a suitable gap between the subsiding and rising of our other thoughts or desires. Therefore, as soon as a relative quiescence occurs in our mental activity due to the satisfaction of one of our desires, many of our other desires will clamour to rise in its place.
This process of some thought or other rising as soon as a relative quiescence occurs in our mental activity can be clearly perceived by us if we deliberately try to quieten the activity of our mind by some form of meditation. Whenever we try to avoid thinking of one thing, the thought of some other thing will rise in our mind. The more we try to quieten our mental activity, the more vigorously other thoughts will arise to take the place of the thoughts we are trying to avoid. All such thoughts that arise in our relatively quiescent mind are impelled by our desire to obtain happiness from things other than our own essential self.
So long as we mistake ourself to be this limited form of consciousness that we call our ‘mind’, we will experience desire to obtain those things other than ourself that we believe will make us happy, and to avoid those things that we believe will make us unhappy, and so long as such desire persists, our mind will continue to think one thought after another. Whenever our mind becomes tired of this restless activity of thinking innumerable thoughts, it subsides temporarily in deep sleep. But from such sleep it will soon be roused once again by its dormant desires, and will thereby experience either a dream or a state such as our present one, which we take to be a state of waking. Therefore, until we put an end to our mistaken identification of ourself with our mind, which is the root of all our desires, we can never put an end to all our desires, and hence we can never remain without either thinking of things other than our essential self, or instead falling temporarily into the state of deep sleep.
Throughout our waking and dream states, our mind experiences an unceasing turmoil of desires. One desire or another is always raging in our mind. All our mental activity is driven only by desire. Every thought that rises in our mind is impelled by some desire, and every desire is a form of thought. Desire and thought are therefore inseparable. In the absence of desire, as in deep sleep, there is no thought or mental activity, and in the absence of mental activity, there is no desire. The more intensely we experience a desire, the more active and agitated our mind becomes.
Whenever our mind is active, that activity obscures to a greater or lesser extent the happiness that always exists within us. The more intense our mental activity becomes, the more densely our natural happiness is obscured. Therefore, since all our mental activity is caused only by our desires, is it not clear that desire is the sole cause of all our unhappiness? Whatever form of unhappiness we may experience, we can always trace its origin back to some desire that exists in our mind.
The raging of countless petty desires in our mind is usually so intense that we fail to notice how they obscure our natural sense of peaceful happiness, and how the fragments of happiness that we experience in the midst of all our restless mental activity result only from certain moments of temporary slackness in the intensity of that activity. Often so many desires are active in our mind that we are not fully aware of most of them. That is, because our mind is usually so busy thinking so many different thoughts in such rapid succession, it often fails to notice all the desires that are niggling away inside it. Only when a certain unnoticed desire is fulfilled and we experience the resulting feeling of relief or pleasure, do we actually become aware how strong that desire was and how much it was irritating our mind.
For example, when our mind is busy with some activity that engages its entire attention, we may not notice that we have a strong urge to go to the toilet. Only when we go to the toilet and experience the resulting relief, do we actually become aware how strong our urge to do so was. The satisfaction of our unnoticed desire to relieve ourself may be so intense that for a while we consciously feel a positive pleasure arising from our sense of great relief. In this way, we sometimes become aware of one of our desires, and discover how strong it is and how much uneasiness or agitation it causes in our mind, only when we experience the happiness that results from the perhaps quite accidental satisfaction of it.
When a desire rises, our mind becomes agitated, and that agitation obscures the happiness which is our true nature. When no desire rises, as in deep sleep, our mind remains perfectly inactive, and hence we experience not even the least unhappiness. Therefore, if we were perfectly contented – free of all desires and fears – our mind would remain perfectly calm, and hence we would experience in full the absolute happiness that always exists in the very core of our being.
In reality, in the innermost core or depth of our being we are always perfectly calm and happy, no matter how much our surface mind may be agitated. All our agitation and unhappiness is experienced only by our mind, and not by our real self – our fundamental and essential self-consciousness, which is conscious only of our own unqualified being, ‘I am’.
Our essential being always remains calm and peaceful, just like the eye of a storm. No agitation of our mind can ever disturb it even in the least, because it is perfectly non-dual self-consciousness, and hence it knows nothing other than ‘I am’. No matter what our mind may be doing, we are – that is, we exist, and we remain essentially as our own self-conscious being, ‘I am’. No amount of doing can ever prevent us from being.
Being is what underlies all forms of doing, just as consciousness underlies all forms of knowing, and happiness underlies all forms of love or desire. Our essential being is consciousness, and our essential consciousness of our being is happiness. Thus our essential being, our essential consciousness and our essential happiness are all one and the same reality – the one absolute reality, which is our true and essential self.
Relative existence and non-existence, relative consciousness and unconsciousness, and relative happiness and unhappiness, are all only a distorted reflection of our own absolute being, absolute consciousness and absolute happiness. Because we are distracted by all the superficial activity of our mind, we overlook our own essential being, consciousness and happiness, which are our own true self or fundamental nature. And because we overlook this essential and fundamental nature of our own true self, we mistake ourself to be the limited consciousness that we call our ‘mind’, through which we experience our absolute being, consciousness and happiness only in their relative forms as the pairs of opposites: existence and non-existence, consciousness and unconsciousness, and happiness and unhappiness.
Therefore, if we wish to experience complete and perfect happiness, free from even the least taint of unhappiness, all we need to do is to know our own true self as it really is. So long as we experience ourself as anything other than absolute being, consciousness and happiness, we cannot experience true and perfect happiness. So long as we continue to seek happiness outside our own essential self, we will continue to experience only relative happiness and unhappiness.
Since the activity of our mind is what seemingly obscures our essential nature as absolute being, consciousness and happiness, in order to experience our essential nature we must put an end to all our mental activity – to all the thoughts that are constantly rising and raging in our mind. All forms of thought or mental activity are nothing but the attention that we pay to objects – to things that are seemingly other than ourself. Throughout our waking and dream states, we are constantly thinking only about things other than our own essential being or fundamental consciousness.
So long as we attend to anything other than our mere consciousness of being, ‘I am’, our mind is active. However, if we try to turn our attention back on ourself to know our own essential self-conscious being, the activity of our mind will begin to subside. If we are able to focus our attention wholly and exclusively upon our consciousness of being, ‘I am’, then all our thoughts or mental activity will subside completely, and we will clearly know the true nature of our own real self, which is perfect and absolute being, consciousness and happiness.
Did we not see earlier that happiness is a state of being, and unhappiness is a state of doing? In deep sleep we remain as mere being, without rising to do anything, and hence we experience perfect happiness. In waking and dream, on the other hand, we forsake our essential and natural state of mere being by rising as our mind, whose nature is to be constantly doing, and hence we experience happiness mixed with unhappiness. Whereas deep sleep is a state of mere being, and therefore a state of perfect happiness, waking and dream are states in which our essential being is mixed with and obscured by all our doing, and are therefore states in which our essential happiness is mixed with and obscured by varying degrees of unhappiness.
Since our being is permanent and our doing is impermanent, our being is natural and all our doing is unnatural. Hence our happiness is natural, because it is our essential being, and all our unhappiness is unnatural, because it is a result of our doing or thinking.
The root of all our doing, and hence the root of all our unhappiness, is only the rising of our mind. Whenever our mind rises, it is active, thinking thoughts of innumerable different kinds. Our mind cannot remain for a moment without activity – without thinking of something other than our own essential being. As soon as our mind ceases to think of anything other than our own being, it subsides and merges motionlessly in our natural state of mere being, which is the source from which it rose. Thus, whenever our mind becomes inactive, it ceases to be the thinking entity that we call ‘mind’, and remains instead as our essential self-conscious being, which is its own true nature.
Though in deep sleep our mind subsides and remains merely as our essential being, the perfect happiness that we experience in that state appears to be short-lived, because our mind driven by its dormant desires eventually rises again to experience a state of waking or dream. Therefore in sleep our mind and its inherent desires are not destroyed completely, but have merely subsided in a state of abeyance, dormancy or temporary quiescence.
If we wish to experience our natural and perfect happiness permanently, therefore, we must not merely make our mind subside temporarily in a state of abeyance like sleep, but must destroy it completely. Since the rising of our mind is the rising of all our unhappiness, the temporary quiescence of our mind is the temporary quiescence of all our unhappiness, and the destruction of our mind is the destruction of all our unhappiness.
Why is our mind, which is the root of all our desires and therefore the cause of all our unhappiness, not destroyed in deep sleep? Why does it rise again from that state? To answer this, we must understand why it rose in the first place.
As we saw earlier, this individual entity that we call our ‘mind’ is a limited form of consciousness that always identifies a physical body as itself. In our present waking state, our mind mistakes this particular body to be itself, whereas in each dream it mistakes some other body to be itself. Because it takes one body to be itself in the waking state, and another body to be itself in dream, our mind clearly does not know what its real self is.
Therefore, so long as we mistake ourself to be our mind, and the particular body that our mind at any given time mistakes to be itself, we do not know who or what we really are. In sleep we do not mistake ourself to be our mind or any particular body, whereas in waking we mistake ourself to be our mind and this particular body, and in dream we mistake ourself to be our mind and some other particular body.
In sleep, when we do not take ourself to be our mind or any body, what do we take ourself to be? As we shall see when we address this question in more detail in later chapters, all we know of ourself in sleep is ‘I am’. However, though in sleep we know that we are, we do not clearly know what we are.
For some inexplicable reason, our knowledge of ourself in sleep is somehow obscured and vague. In sleep we definitely know that we are, because if we did not, we would not be able to remember so clearly in the waking state ‘I slept happily and peacefully, and did not know anything at that time’. What we did not know in sleep is anything other than ourself – our own essential self-consciousness, our fundamental consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’. However, just as in waking and dream we appear to identify our fundamental and essential consciousness ‘I am’ with our mind and some particular body, in sleep we appear to identify it with a seeming lack of clarity of self-knowledge.
Because we do not clearly know our real self in waking, dream or deep sleep, we are able to mistake ourself to be our mind and some particular body in waking and dream. Thus our lack of clear self-knowledge is the root cause for the rising of our mind, and the consequent rising of all our desires, thoughts and unhappiness. If we clearly knew what we really are, we could not mistake ourself to be anything other than that. Therefore the only way to put an end permanently to all our desires, thoughts and consequent unhappiness is to know what we really are.
Since our mind is a form of false or wrong knowledge, a knowledge or consciousness that wrongly knows itself as ‘I am this body’ and that wrongly knows all its other thoughts as being objects other than itself, it can be destroyed only by our experiencing a true or correct knowledge of our own essential being, ‘I am’. Until and unless we know the true nature of our own real self, we cannot free ourself from the self-delusive grip of our mind, and we therefore cannot permanently experience the natural and absolute happiness which is our own real nature.
All that we have examined and discovered in this chapter about the nature of happiness is expressed succinctly by Sri Ramana in the opening sentence of his introduction to his Tamil translation of Sri Adi Sankara’s great philosophical poem, Vivēkacūḍāmaṇi:
Since all living beings in the world desire that they should always be happy [and] devoid of misery, just as [they desire] that they should be happy as always [by] getting rid of those [experiences] such as illness which are not their own nature, since all [living beings] have love completely only for their own self, since love does not arise except for happiness, and since in sleep [all living beings have] the experience of being happy without anything, when what is called happiness is [therefore] only [their own real] self, only due to [their] ignorance of not knowing [their real] self do they rise and engage in pravṛtti [extroverted activity], whirling in boundless saṁsāra [the state of restless and incessant wandering of the mind], forsaking the path [of self-discovery] which bestows [true] happiness, [believing] as if attaining the pleasures of this world and the next were alone the path to happiness.
Sri Ramana expresses the same truth even more tersely in the opening paragraph of Nāṉ Yār? (Who am I?), a brief twenty-paragraph treatise that he wrote about the need for us to attain true self-knowledge, and the means by which we can do so:
Since all living beings desire to be always happy [and] devoid of misery, since all [of them] have greatest love only for their own self, and since happiness alone is the cause of love, [in order] to attain that happiness, which is their own [true] nature that they experience daily in [dreamless] sleep, which is devoid of the mind, knowing [their own real] self is necessary. For that, jñāna-vicāra [scrutinising our consciousness to know] ‘who am I?’ alone is the principal means.
The crucial practical conclusion with which Sri Ramana ends this paragraph, ‘jñāna-vicāra “who am I?” alone is the principal means’, was highlighted by him in bold type in the original Tamil. The term jñāna-vicāra literally means ‘knowledge-investigation’, and is the process (or rather the state) of investigating our essential self-consciousness ‘I am’, which is our primary knowledge and the base of all our other knowledge, in order to attain true knowledge of our own real self.
What Sri Ramana means here by the term ‘knowledge-investigation “who am I?”’ is therefore not a mere intellectual analysis of our knowledge ‘I am’, but is an actual examination or deep scrutiny of our fundamental knowledge or consciousness ‘I am’ in order to know through direct experience what it really is. Such an investigation or scrutiny cannot be done by thinking, but only by turning our attention back on ourself to know our own essential consciousness of being. When our attention or power of knowing is turned outwards to know things other than ourself, it becomes our thinking mind, but when it turns back inwards to know our essential self, it remains in its natural state as our essential self – that is, as our true non-dual self-conscious being.
Further on, in the fourteenth paragraph of the same treatise, Sri Ramana explains more about the true nature of happiness:
What is called happiness is only svarūpa [the ‘own form’ or essential nature] of ātmā [self]; happiness and ātma-svarūpa [our own essential self] are not different. Ātma-sukha [the happiness of self] alone exists; that alone is real. Happiness is not obtained from any of the objects of the world. We think that happiness is obtained from them because of our lack of discrimination. When [our] mind comes out, it experiences unhappiness. In truth, whenever our thoughts [or wishes] are fulfilled, it [our mind] turns back to its proper place [the core of our being, our real self, which is the source from which it arose] and experiences only the happiness of [our real] self. In the same way, at times of sleep, samādhi [a state of intense contemplation or absorption of mind] and fainting, and when a desired thing is obtained, and when termination occurs to a disliked thing [that is, when our mind avoids or is relieved from some experience that it dislikes], [our] mind becomes introverted and experiences only the happiness of self. In this way [our] mind wavers about without rest, going outwards leaving [our essential] self, and [then] turning [back] inwards. At the foot of a tree the shade is delightful. Outside the heat of the sun is severe. A person who is wandering outside is cooled by going into the shade. Emerging outside after a short while, he is unable to bear the heat, so he again comes to the foot of the tree. In this way he continues, going from the shade into the sunshine, and going [back] from the sunshine into the shade. A person who acts in this manner is someone lacking in discrimination. But a person of discrimination will not leave the shade. Similarly, the mind of a jñāni [a person of true self-knowledge] does not leave brahman [the fundamental and absolute reality, which is our own essential being or self]. But the mind of an ajñāni [a person lacking true self-knowledge] continues to undergo misery by roaming about in the world, and to obtain happiness by returning to brahman for a short while. What is called the world is only thought [because all that we know as the world is nothing but a series of mental images or thoughts that we have formed in our mind by our power of imagination]. When the world disappears, that is, when thought ceases, [our] mind experiences happiness; when the world appears, it experiences unhappiness.
What Sri Ramana here describes as the restless wavering or oscillation of our mind, fluctuating repeatedly between going outwards and turning back inwards, is the same process that we described earlier as the rising and subsiding of our thoughts. Each moment of our waking and dream lives innumerable thoughts rise and subside in our mind in rapid succession. With the rising of each thought our mind or power of attention goes outwards, leaving our real self or essential being and thereby forgetting the happiness that is always within us, while with the subsiding of each thought our mind turns back towards ourself to experience momentarily the happiness of just being.
However, because this rising of our mind or thoughts is impelled by innumerable strong desires, no sooner does one thought subside than another one rises in its place, and hence the gap between the subsiding and rising of two consecutive thoughts is so extremely brief that we are hardly aware of the peaceful being or happiness that we experience in that gap. This is the reason why in our waking and dream states our attention is so absorbed in thinking of other things that we barely notice our own peacefully self-conscious being, and the happiness that is inherent in it. Generally, the only occasion on which we are clearly aware of the peaceful happiness of being that we experience between two consecutive thoughts is during sleep, because sleep is a comparatively long gap between two consecutive thoughts, brought about by the sheer exhaustion of our mind.
Nevertheless, though we may hardly notice it, even during waking and dream, in the extremely brief moment between the subsiding of each thought and the rising of the next, we do in fact experience our own essential self-conscious being or brahman in its true and perfectly pure form, uncontaminated by thinking or doing. Moreover, whenever one of our desires – whether a desire to experience something that we like or a desire to avoid experiencing something that we dislike – is fulfilled, the momentum with which thoughts rise in our mind slows down temporarily, so not only does each thought rise with less vigour, but also the momentary gap between two consecutive thoughts becomes slightly longer. Thus for a short while we are able to experience the peaceful happiness of our own being more clearly, until some other desire takes hold of our mind, thereby reanimating the momentum and vigour with which our thoughts rise, and thus once again obscuring our happiness of being more densely.
The true, motionless, unadulterated and thought-free form of our own essential being or brahman, which we experience momentarily between each two consecutive thoughts, is both our fundamental consciousness of being, ‘I am’, and the perfect happiness of our thus being conscious only of our being. Therefore, if we wish to experience our own natural and perfect happiness constantly, our attention must penetrate beneath the wavering or oscillation of thoughts on the surface of our mind in order to experience in its pure unadulterated form our essential and fundamental consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’, which always underlies our wavering mind.
Thus we can permanently experience perfect and absolute happiness only in the state of true self-knowledge – the state in which we always remain merely as our own essential being, our fundamental self-consciousness ‘I am’, without rising to think or do anything. Therefore, let us now examine the knowledge that we have about ourself at present in order to understand not only how it is a wrong knowledge, but also what the correct knowledge of ourself really is, and how we can attain immediate experience of that correct knowledge.