Saturday, October 27, 2001
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Finding Lasting Happiness  The vedic mix   IMAGING BY GAURAV SOOD

Sai R. Vaidyanathan
gives us the recipe of happiness concocted by vedic philosophers.

THE desire of every human is to somehow achieve happiness and every form of philosophy and religion endeavours to provide this recipe in some form or the other to its adherents. Vedic philosophy begins with the understanding that the happiness (and sorrow) of this material world is impermanent (maya) as it is dependent on material dynamics which keep changing.

So these philosophers set out on the path of finding lasting happiness, which is to eliminate its opposite — unhappiness, dejection, anger and fear.


Elimination of the opposite

This philosophy has six steps: control desire, practice detachment, achieve renunciation, rationalise (one's) action, regulate (one's) energy and cultivate all-round knowledge.


who strives to
satisfy his desires cannot achieve peace and


Become capable of withdrawing senses from sense objects like a tortoise draws its limbs within


Despite being in water, the lotus leaf remains untouched by it. Despite living normally, attempt renunciation


Put all-round and ever-increasing knowledge to use in optimising actions constantly


Intelligent is he who can see action in inaction and inaction in action


With practise, one can channelise one’s energy usefully by putting reins to it

The cause of unhappiness is the pursuit of desire, successful or otherwise. Unsuccessful pursuit of desire leads to anger and delusion which results in nothing but foolishness. Successful pursuit of desire only kindles this fire of desire more.

It is the result of the 'blind' fulfilling of everyone's desire for more money, more comfort, more power that has led to the ruination of our environment, more and more tension in society, wars, increasing personal isolation etc.

The cause of dejection is the expectation from the efforts that we put in. So, put in your best efforts always but don't depend on its fruits.

Possessions produce fear. Inversely, one who has no possessions, is completely renounced, is without fear.

So control desire, practice detachment to the fruits of one's action and, finally, renounce everything. Thus, one can achieve the blissful state of uninterrupted happiness.

Renunciation through knowledge

But renouncement is not as easy as walking away from everything. In reality, one cannot walk away. One cannot forget the obligations to one's physical self as long as one lives.

This process of renunciation is not of denial either. All of us are trapped in countless desires and needs.

It is the basic needs of food, shelter, sex and sleep that this human society is based on. All other needs and desires are but extensions of these.

One must render these extended needs unimportant one after the other. This can be done only through all-round knowledge.

Krishna in "karmanyevadhikaras te...", the most famous couplet in the Gita, instructs Arjuna not to depend on the fruits of his actions. He advises Arjuna to be ever-satisfied and act only for the bare necessities of life. All other actions should be independent of the result.

Apart from actions which fulfil the four basic needs for survival — food, shelter, sex and sleep — one shouldn't be dependent on the rest.

The idea is similar to what the industrial community does today — create backups.

As Murphy's law states, "If anything can go wrong, it will." There is always a Plan B if Plan A fails; there is always another route if the first one is blocked; there is always another machine if the one working doesn't do so anymore.

Just as a householder takes up life insurance so that his family survives even if he doesn't.

Creating backups and preparing for the unforeseen requires all-round knowledge and foresight. Why all-round knowledge? Because if anyone wants to control a particular procedure, he has to know about all factors effecting it. The knowledge of only a few factors will not give him control

Knowledge is...

The worship of Ganesh is done by the breaking of the coconut which signifies the breaking of the thick skull of mere intellect. So with intellect has to be wisdom and common sense.

Detective Sherlock Holmes considers the brain to be an attic (with limited storage space). Vedic philosophy recommends all-round knowledge but also edits extra knowledge out by saying that knowledge not put to use only amounts to ignorance.

For example, the knowledge of the Chinese language to a person who is not going to China, nor going to read Chinese literature, nor meeting Chinese people nor interacting in Chinese ever is only a waste which has to be edited out.

Vedic philosophers have also revealed the two enemies of knowledge: lethargy and arrogance.

Lethargy comes under the mode of ignorance, and knowledge in this mode is limited and a person with this meagre knowledge can never be in control in an ever-changing environment.

Arrogance (of power, knowledge) is what makes people into demons. Ravana qualifies as a demon because he interferes with Sita's prerogative of choosing her husband. Duryodhana in his arrogance didn't accept Yudhishthira's right to the throne and made them suffer 13 years in exile and the loss of loved and respected ones through 18 days of war.

One's arrogance makes one feel that he knows too much and thus causes a blockage to further knowledge. It has led to many heads like Ravana, Hitler etc rolling in dust.

Importance of action

One gets knowledge through one's actions. Krishna's philosophy in the Gita recommends, "Always act using your ever-increasing determination, understanding and knowledge." Any action that doesn't lead to an increase in knowledge amounts only to inaction. So, actions have to constantly increase knowledge.

But all of us have so many actions to do (responsibilities to take care of) and Vedic philosophy recommends achieving perfection (See box: Achieving perfection...), how can one do it all in a lifetime? By rationalising actions and regulating energy.

Krishna defines intelligent as one who can see action in inaction and inaction in action. By using one's knowledge, one should optimise one's actions and thus regulate one's energy so that he can do more with what he is left with.

So, knowledge has to optimise actions constantly and actions have to contribute to knowledge always.

So illuminated by all-round knowledge and then mentally achieving total renunciation, even though living normally and doing all sorts of activities in this world, one can achieve the state of Godliness, the state of uninterrupted bliss.


Achieving perfection through countless births and deaths

THE broken tusk of Ganesh is symbolic of the broken-ness of worldly life against the complete-ness of eternal life. We, living organisms on this Earth, do not know where we came from at birth and where we would go to after we die. It is only after a considerable effort that we get this connection.

The aim of life is to achieve Perfection and thus obtain moksha (release from the cycle of births and deaths) and merge with God. God is perfect in everything and if we have to merge with Him, we ought to be perfect too. But, achieving perfection in one field requires so much time and effort, how can one be perfect in everything in a lifetime?

This quest of perfection doesn't end in death as it didn't begin in birth either, contends the Vedic philosophy. According to Lord Krishna in the Gita, the soul has no birth and no death and it changes bodies just as we change clothes.

But what is the soul doing with this continuous life? Trying to achieve perfection and attain unity with God. Wouldn't perfection in everything require more lifetime than one?

But we come with nothing to this Earth and take nothing from it, right? At least materially, yes. The soul cannot be perceived by the senses. Similar is the case with knowledge. We take our knowledge (in the mode of goodness) with us after death because it has a similar nature to the soul.

Knowledge in the mode of goodness is the one by the virtue of which one can see common principles behind everything. This knowledge is not dependent on material conditions. Contrary to this, the knowledge in the mode of passion and ignorance is dependent on material conditions.

After death, why and where are we reborn? God, the examiner, takes a look at our scoresheet and places us with the sages or the wealthy, the people engaged in fruitive activities or in the animal kingdom accordingly.

If anyone on the path of perfection dies mid-way, explains Krishna, he is born in a wealthy family where his material needs are taken care of and he can continue on his path or in a family of intellectuals where he gets this environment straight away at birth.

If anyone has stayed put, he gets reborn among the people engaged in fruitive activity and the one who has done badly gets reborn amongst the animals.

By this argument, there seems to be a movement involved. But Krishna takes this point further, ie, beyond this Earth. According to Him, there are other earthly, heavenly and hellish worlds.

To understand heaven and hell, consider a number of habitable planets each with different standards of living. The one with the best standard of living can be considered as heaven and the worst as hell.

From being amongst the sages, one can graduate to the next in series of heavenly planets by doing well and from the animal kingdom, one could fall further to the next hellish world by doing badly, both these worlds being beyond our earth.

But what is the role of desires and temptations in this regard? God not only checks your scoresheet at death, He constantly puts one to test during a lifetime. Desires and temptations are obstacles which can be cleared by ones who have true knowledge. The others would succumb to them and fall down.

When one reaches absolute perfection beyond the level of heaven, he merges with God and thus obtains moksha.

Is ambition wrong?

KRISHNA, in the Gita, claims that desire is the world's greatest enemy. Is being desirous or ambitious wrong? Or better put, what is wrong with desire? Isn't it desire that leads to personal growth?

Like the principle of conservation of energy in modern physics and conservation of mass in modern chemistry, and Einstein's principle of conservation of the sum total of energy and mass, is the concept of Shiva and Shakti in Vedic science.

Shiva is matter and Shakti is energy. It is by the combination of both that life is formed. Shiva and Shakti are considered to be the parents of the universe. They combine in different ways to produce this diversity but the sum total always remains same.

There is always a conservation of the sum total. Put in other words, it can be expressed as in the English maxim, "No pain, no gain."

Desire in somewhat similar. Whatever one may achieve, it is always at the cost of something else. For a middle class person to own a house, he may have to work harder and as a result, spend lesser time than before with his family.

Human society desires to have constant electricity at its disposal. But it is also at the cost of something else. In nuclear electricity, it is nuclear waste; in thermal electricity, it is our forests; in hydroelectricity, it is the submergence of the catchment areas. What the Vedic philosophers are trying to impress upon is that every action that one does has a lot of results just as for every result, there have occured a lot of actions.

It is imperative to calculate all the inputs and all the outputs and see what we finally got is beneficial or not. For example, when humans invented the motor car, it was a great achievement. But, on the input side, we did not calculate petroleum to be a non-replenishable source of energy. On the output side, we didn't take the noise and air pollution into consideration.

So, when one is pursuing desires, it is imperative to prioritise and maintain a balance and also to consider all the involved factors. Otherwise, desire may do more harm than good.

Contentment is within, not without

KING Yayati, after enjoying a thousand years of uninhibited pleasure with women, wine, gold, possessions and comforts declared, "There is no end to desire: it grows and keeps growing; there is no such thing as satiety...the satisfaction each affords is short-lived and you lust for more and more of them."

Vedic philosophy contends that desires cannot be quenched, they have to be controlled and, finally, one has to be free of them. Krishna says, "Only a person who lives free from desire can attain real peace."

Then, where does one find contentment? It is within, not without, the philosophers say. The pot-belly of Ganesh is a visual representation of contentment. A person who has eaten his fill is not worried or desirous of anything else. Find contentment inside oneself.

All of us are trapped in countless desires and needs. Contentment means reducing these, right? All desires and needs start off from the basic instinct of self preservation. All living beings have four basic needs: food, shelter, sex and sleep. To preserve oneself, one needs food (drink and air) and shelter (and clothes).

Death is inevitable. So how does one preserve oneself after death? By procreation. That is the third basic need.

For food, shelter and sex, one endeavours a lot and so one needs rest and so happens sleep, his fourth basic need. All other needs and desires are nothing but extensions of these four.

As soon as one understands this, he knows that he actually needs so little. This is the state of minimal existence where the absence or presence of all other things except food, shelter and sleep doesn't matter to an individual. Contentment is achieved!