Don’t put the key to your happiness in someone else’s pocket.
– Swami Chinmayananda
What is Real, Lasting Happiness & how do we find it?
It costs nothing and you can’t buy it in a store. Yet we all hanker for it. We are talking, of course, about “Happiness” and everyone wants it. There’s nobody who says “I want to be unhappy. I want sorrow.” Yet, happiness is elusive. We all think we will be happy if only we could change our job, our spouse, our status, our lives. If only, if only!
The change happens and initially we are happy but very soon we are once again needing some other change to be really happy.
But what is real, lasting happiness – and how do we find it?
Recently Swami Tejomayananda, head of the Chinmaya Mission, a global spiritual organization with 250 centers worldwide visited New York. Down-to-earth and humorous, he gave an insightful talk on Tips for Happy Living, and has also written a book on this. He is the master of conveying the great, complex truths of the Vedanta in simple, easy to understand language, often through stories which all of us love to hear, like this one:
Once there was a young boy who lived with his mother who was very poor. She was so poor that whenever he asked her for milk, she always fed him water mixed with wheat flour. He was happy – he thought I have had milk to drink! Once he went to stay with an uncle who had plenty of cows and there he got to drink real milk. When he returned and was once again given the water and wheat flour – he said, mother, this is not milk!
The Boy Who Had Never Tasted Real Milk
This, in a way, is our situation too; we have never tasted real happiness so we think that a new job, new relationship or new house will bring us the happiness we crave. As Swami Tejomayananda points out, “We think this place or object is making me unhappy – if I change it, I will be happier. I want a challenge – a challenging job, and yet when a challenge comes, we say it’s too challenging! So we keep changing jobs, people, relationships. The more we change, the more we remain the same. We have to pretend to be happy, and after some time we are in the same rut again. Some external change has taken place but an internal change has not taken place.”
As he observes, what we think is a cause for sorrow is not a cause for sorrow really. What you think is a source of happiness is not a source of happiness either: “Both are projections of the mind. This mind of ours alone is the cause of all our problems and our sorrows.”
Like the boy who had not tasted real milk, we too do not know what is real happiness and so we get absorbed in make-believe happiness, in worldly pleasures and sensations, thinking they are the real thing. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of real happiness, when by chance we wake up very early – everything is calm and peaceful and we feel very good. Sometimes, we get this same sensation at a satsang or spiritual gathering.
The Real Source of Happiness is to Do the Right Thing
We tend to connect with objects, situations and people that we like and run away from those we don’t, but it’s not possible to always do this. Another problem is that our likes and dislikes, our wants and desires keep changing – what made us happy earlier may no longer make us happy. Says Swami Tejomayananda, “Appeasement of your senses or other people’s will get you into trouble for there will be compromises. Do not come under the sway of your personal likes and dislikes because, as it says in the Bhagavad Gita, these are the looters of your knowledge, your being, your happiness. Your action should be guided by what’s the right thing to do, not by gratifications. The real source of happiness is to do the right thing.”
Have you ever noticed that when you’re angry with someone you tend to shout at him, even if he’s standing right in front of you? That is because psychologically you have created a distance between the two of you. Can there be happiness when the mind is agitated and restless? For real happiness, objects are not necessary – you need just a peaceful state of mind.
The Wayside Looters
Be mindful of giving in to desire, anger and passion because these are the destroyers of mental peace which is the true wealth – hard to find, and so easy to lose. Says Swami Tejomayananda, “We will recognize them as wayside looters (paripanthinau) who destroy our knowledge and wisdom (janana-vijanana-nasanam). Remember that a rajasika (agitated) mind and tamasika (dull) mind create sorrow whereas sattvika (alert) mind bestows peace.”
“We give what we have. A peaceful person spreads peace. He or she can motivate and inspire others by their thoughts, words and deeds. Peace and joy in others get reflected as peace and joy within us. Hence in developing virtues in oneself and others, all are benefited.”
He quotes the great mountaineer Edmund Hillary who said, “I did not conquer Mt. Everest. I conquered myself.” Indeed, says Swami Tejomayananda, when the great mountain stands before us, beckoning us, we can more easily overcome our moments of weakness. Therefore, the higher the goal, greater is the ability we manifest in overcoming the obstacles from within and without.
The Musk Deer and the Thirsty Fish
So we should not be like the musk deer who runs here and there in search of the fragrance emerging from its own navel, nor like the thirsty fish in the pond which searches everywhere for water. As Swamiji observes about all human beings, “Not only is the treasure trove with me, but the key to open it is also with me. In fact, both are the same. The key IS the treasure. My inherent potentials themselves enable me to progress.”
He says the wisest move is to make our life a continuous learning experience, gaining from each interaction: “We need to open an account in the Bank of Learning and deposit each day our earnings and learnings from each experience, thereby increasing our balance of knowledge and wisdom. The capital can be banked upon in facing the trials and travails of life.”
Finally, we all have to remember that there will always be some incompleteness in life, be it in wealth or a life partner or the lack of a child. In accepting God’s will, we realize that finite objects or beings cannot make us complete. We have to turn to God for that fulfillment, and once we do that, life’s questions and longings all fall into place, like the pieces of a puzzle, and there will be true happiness.
Some tips from Swami Tejomayananda:
1. Be tender towards the faults of others, be strict towards your own.
2. Meditate on God, rather than playing God.
3. Thoughtless actions and action-less thoughts are the cause of failure.
4. Valuables are valuable but values are invaluable.
5. Don’t tell God how big your trouble is. Tell your trouble how big your God is.
This article first appeared in Beliefnet.com
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