The Realization of Happiness
If we try to pick up all the splinters of the world, we cannot succeed. But if we have strong shoes on our feet, they do not bother us at all.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol III
There seems to be a continuing debate in newspapers and books, on TV and on the radio, about the pursuit of happiness, and how one can acquire it. Regarding happiness as something to be pursued or acquired makes it sound like a cabbage or a football – an object that can be held, passed around or owned. Implicit in this way of thinking is a sense of entitlement, that society (or even the universe) is supposed to supply us with happiness. In the more developed nations there often arises an ‘entitlement expectation’, whereby people come to believe they are entitled to receive benefits from the state, free healthcare and schooling, and so forth. Some of us may even think we are entitled to spiritual progress, as well as to happiness.
It may be helpful for us to examine our expectations about entitlement, and about happiness. We must wash out of our minds certain long-held stale thoughts and emotions and develop a more reflective consciousness about such things. If we do so, we may see that happiness is not like a cabbage or a football, it is not an object: but what is it? Is it an emotion, a state of mind, a personality trait, an abstraction? There are differing views. As the late Rabbi Hyman Schachtel said in his book The Real Enjoyment of Living, “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have”. The author George Orwell wrote, “Men can only be happy when they do not assume that the object of life is happiness.” These thoughts suggest that happiness is perhaps best defined as an attitude, a way of being in the world, or a way of relating to people, things and events. Margaret Lee Runbeck, the author of Answer Without Ceasing, observed, “Happiness is not a station to arrive at, but a manner of travelling …”
In The Master Answers Maharaj Charan Singh says:
Even if you live in a palace, you may have a thousand dishes before you, you may have many happy people around you, but you are not happy; nothing appeals to you. But when you are happy within yourself, then you find love and joy even from anything you pick up, every step you take, you just dance with happiness.
What determines whether you are “happy within yourself”? It starts with perception: how we look at, understand, and reflect on our situation and the world around us. In The Master Answers we read the story of the child at the fair who loses hold of his father’s hand and is lost, then begins to cry. Maharaj Charan Singh explains how the child then feels:
The same things are still going on in the fair, but nothing appeals to him. Then he realizes that he could get peace and joy from this fair only as long as he was holding the hand of his father…. As long as we remain in his Will, we are holding his hand, we love him … we will be happy and we will also find peace while in this world.
The child comes to see that his happiness depends on his father’s presence, and that he is miserable when separated from him. Through his perception of what has happened, the child becomes aware of what is important to him. The awareness he gains gives the boy the ability to choose to continue to relate to life “holding the hand of his father”. Having established that crucial relationship, it becomes easier to relate to everything around us in the world.
Happiness is thus found not through pursuit but through understanding in the wake of reflection. The experience of the boy shows that if our understanding helps us to relate to things more comfortably – be it life, people, things of the world or God – then we are likely to be happier.
Relating to anything is not an entirely logical process, nor is it entirely illogical. Rather, ‘relating to’ is a mixture of contradictions and, illogically, it brings together opposing forces. For instance, ‘to relate’ demands that if we give, we also learn to take; if we are being firm, we also need to be flexible; if independent, there are times when we need to accept dependence; if self-sufficient, we find ourselves learning how to accept help. There are as many opposites in ways of relating as there are grains of sand, all of which make up the actions that enable us to be related to life. If we can adapt to this flow between opposites, all manner of things become easier.
But this requires us to accept that ‘relating to’ is both rational and irrational – we accept that its nature is paradoxical. If we reject paradox we reject nature, which puts us in a very uncomfortable attitude to life because we are resisting so much of it, and then many issues become unnecessarily complicated and difficult.
Our inability to accept the paradoxes of life affects both our happiness and our ability to be comfortable in ourselves. Self-realization is a natural result of spiritual discipline, which embraces the nature of paradox and is concerned with the natural balance of matter, spirit, and soul. This is shown in the teachings of the mystics, who are both self-realized and God-realized souls. Their teachings inform and answer questions of how to relate to the paradoxes of living and how to achieve self-and God-realization. Through mystics we learn that God-realization is the goal of existence, and reaching towards this resolves the paradoxes of life and gives us a sense of what we may call happiness.
Part of this may be that spiritual development also develops our humanity, allowing us to be more natural. Maharaj Charan Singh said:
These days our problem is that we are living in so-called civilized society, where we can’t even weep.… We have forgotten how to laugh, we have forgotten how to weep.… If you are in agony or misery, just weep and cry and you will become light.
If you’re happy, you just laugh…. These are the natural safety valves the Lord has kept within everybody.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III
In a somewhat similar vein, Desiderius Erasmus suggested in the sixteenth century that recognizing and accepting one’s true nature was the key to happiness: “It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.”
In the book Buddhism: Path to Nirvana, the author explains that through the Buddhist concept of right view, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration, we can bring an end to suffering. In other words, we can become happy (end suffering) by looking at life with natural and healthy perceptions, beginning with how we view things and working up to how we interact with the world, understand ourselves, and relate to God. In basic terms, this means moving from negative to positive attitudes.
Maharaj Charan Singh, in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol III, explains how changing our attitude to life will bring us closer to happiness, by making us better able to deal with the paradoxes of life, those difficult ups and downs we encounter:
If we try to pick up all the splinters of the world, we cannot succeed. But if we have strong shoes on our feet, they do not bother us at all. The saints arm us with that meditation (the strong shoes), so that the ups and downs of the world do not bother us.… We come to that stage, that level, where the worldly situation makes us neither happy nor unhappy.… Whatever our store of karma is, good or bad, we have to go through it. But I can assure you that by meditation our will becomes so strong that these good and bad karmas do not affect us at all.
The mystics tell us that rather than being entitled to happiness, self-knowledge, self-realization, or spiritual fulfilment, we are totally dependent on meditation and on God’s grace. If we focus on meditation and wear its strong shoes on our feet, it changes our perceptions and the way we relate to life itself, which means we change our attitude to life and to the Creator. If we keep putting in our daily effort, then we come to realize that we are not what we once believed we were. And, as we begin to glimpse our spiritual self, we open to that happiness we feel when we see we belong to God.
In the words of Father Yelchaninov, a Russian priest:
The more a man gives up his heart to God, to his vocation and to men, forgetful of himself and of that which belongs to him – the greater poise he will acquire, until he reaches peace, quiet, joy: the apanage of simple and humble souls.