We all experience moments of happiness. If you think about it, it is not easy to define what is happiness. You feel it, but it is not that easy to express it. Some people define happiness as a type of emotion which gives joy or contentment or satisfaction. Usually, this emotion is in response to an experience. If you like the experience, you are happy, and if you dislike the experience, you are unhappy. Not only happiness but any emotion is usually a response to an experience.
If you look around, you will find that there are a wide variety of reasons that give happiness. For some people, money gives happiness; for others, having a nice meal or meeting old friends gives happiness, and so on. The reasons and causes are numerous. It seems there is no single cause which gives happiness to all people. It varies from person to person.
External Objects and Happiness
We have five sense organs—eyes (for sight), ears (for sound), nose (for smell), tongue (for taste), and skin (for touch). These five senses are connected to the mind. All thoughts, perceptions, and emotions—all these happen in the mind. Each of these senses sends signals to the mind. The sense organs by themselves do not make any judgements; they just forward the signal of the external world to the mind. For example, the tongue forwards the sweetness or bitterness of objects to the mind. By itself it does not make any judgement. The mind decides if it likes the sweet taste or the bitter taste.
During the waking state the five senses do not rest. They are continuously sensing the external world and sending signals to the mind. The mind processes these input signals and sends them to the ego. The ego can handle only one experience or input at a time. Normally, it tries to select the experience which it finds agreeable and avoids any experience which will give unhappiness. The experience which is agreeable will give happiness and the experiences which are not agreeable will give misery.
Vedanta calls this process raga (like) and dvesha (dislike). When the ego interacts with sense objects, it adds like and dislike to these objects. It runs after objects it likes because they give it a sense of happiness. Sometimes it is not possible, but it always tries to run away from experiences which give unhappiness.
Since the mind is continuously dealing with these external objects through the five senses, it is therefore looking for happiness from these external objects. The mind feels that happiness can be found only from these external objects. Do you think this is a successful strategy? Our experience will tell us that it is not. Happiness from these experiences is always momentary. It does not last long; it comes and goes. This happiness is always for a short duration. When this happiness disappears, you feel sad because you do not want it to end. In a way, misery always follows happiness. You want to repeat these moments of happiness. You want to repeat the same experience. You try to create the same conditions so that the moment of happiness can be repeated. You know it—this is not always possible.
The goal of every living being is to find an ultimate solution to achieve happiness and contentment. A solution which is permanent and everlasting. Right now, the effort is to find this never-ending happiness from external objects. This is happening because people think that external objects are the source of happiness. This is the fundamental error made by people. External objects are not and can never be a source of happiness. The following examples will highlight this issue.
1. People think that eating chocolate will give them happiness. They eat one piece; they enjoy it and find momentary happiness. The second piece will also give the same enjoyment. But if they continue eating chocolates, the happiness will start reducing. After a point, they will feel too sick to eat any more chocolates. As they eat more chocolates, the happiness keeps reducing. This means that happiness is never a part of the chocolates. If you study the ingredients of chocolate, happiness is not an ingredient. Milk, sugar, cocoa are some of the ingredients, but happiness is never part of the chocolate. So, how does happiness become part of the chocolate? It happens because the ego/mind likes chocolates, and it superimposes that happiness onto the chocolate. A chocolate by itself is a chocolate; the liking and disliking of chocolates is added by the mind.
2. Many people think that money is the source of happiness. The impression is that if you have lots of money, you can buy all sorts of objects and lead a life of unlimited happiness. This is not true. We all know that rich people are also unhappy. They may have many other problems which cause unhappiness. Also, if they have too much money, they are worried that they will lose their money, that people will cheat them, etc. Besides, they are too busy making money and have no time to enjoy life and be happy. In contrast, an ordinary person with limited money could be happier. There is no denying that money does have value; it is required to live in the world. But money being a source of happiness is once again a superimposition by the mind. Happiness is not an ingredient or part of money; it is the mind which adds that value.
Source of Happiness?
So, it seems that the mind is the source behind happiness. Is this correct? The mind is so fickle, it keeps changing. One day it will think this object is the source of happiness, the next day it could feel that the same object is a source of misery. There is nothing steady about the mind. It jumps from one thought to another. Many scriptures have compared the mind to a monkey, jumping around from one thought to another with no purpose. This erratic and unsteady mind can never be the source of happiness. If you follow Vedanta, you will realize that the mind is the only obstacle to finding everlasting happiness. Yes, it seems the mind does provide moments of happiness, but it can never provide the permanent happiness that we are seeking.
So, what is the source of happiness? It is neither the external objects nor the mind. Then what is it? You will find the solution if you properly understand deep sleep. When you go to sleep, you usually undergo the following two states:
Dream Sleep: In dream sleep, you have dreams. You do not experience the external world but a dream world. Your sense organs are no longer active, but you view a dream world based on the past experiences stored in your subconscious mind. Sometimes the dreams are pleasant, and at other times they could be nightmares. So, the dream world is not the source of happiness.
Deep Sleep: In this state, you do not have any dreams, nor do you experience the external world. You experience nothing. You have no perceptions, no thoughts, no feelings. There is no mind, there is no ego, no body, and no external world during deep sleep. There is nothing; but still, you are happy and content after a bout of deep sleep with no dreams. Ask anyone after deep sleep, and they will reply that they had a blissful sleep. Deep sleep is enjoyed by everyone.
Notice, there are no external objects, there is no mind, no ego during deep sleep, but you still experience bliss or happiness during it. This indicates that the source of happiness is not the external objects or the mind, but something within you. What is that source? If you are a student of Vedanta, you can answer this; the only thing present during deep sleep is you, the Real Self. Your innermost core is present in deep sleep. Nothing else. No, your ego is not present during deep sleep. Ego pops up during the waking state when you have a body. In deep sleep you do not have a body, no external world, no mind, no ego. The only thing present is your Real Self. Bliss and Happiness is the nature of this Real Self.
This Bliss and Happiness is always present within you and is the nature of the Real Self. Vedanta teaches us that your Real Self is SatChitAnanda.
- Sat = Real
- Chit = Awareness
- Ananda = Bliss or Happiness
Sat: Sat means Real. According to Vedanta, for anything to be Sat, it must exist and be present in all the three tenses—past, present, and future. If you investigate Nature, you will not find anything which is Sat. This universe was born 13.7 billion years ago, and therefore it did not exist before that, so it cannot be Sat. In the same way, there is nothing within the universe which is Sat. Everything comes and goes.
The only thing which is Sat is your inner core. This inner core is always present; it was present before your body was born and will remain even after you are rid of this body. This is not an easy concept to grasp but it is the only Truth. The Real Self or your inner core is the only Sat—it is uncreated, uncaused, and unchanging. It is always present.
Chit: Chit means Awareness. When the mind encounters Chit or Awareness, that mind becomes Conscious. That is the built-in power of Chit. We know the mind is full of thoughts, and these thoughts become conscious in the presence of Awareness. The mind/ego becomes aware of the thoughts because of the power of Awareness. If you look at Awareness more closely, you will realize that Awareness must always have two elements.
- If you are Aware, then there should be someone who is Aware. Awareness needs a subject.
- To be Aware, there must be some type of object of which you are Aware. Awareness needs an object.
Subject and object are needed to complete the Awareness process. Usually subject and object are separate, but in Chit there is no separate subject and object. Chit is always Self-Aware; it is Aware of its Awareness (it is witnessing its Awareness). It is both the subject and object rolled in one. Subject = Object, and Object = Subject. Chit is therefore self-sufficient and complete.
Ananda: This term can be confusing because we do get momentary bliss in our day-to-day lives, but this is not the Ananda we are talking about. Ananda means your essential nature; your inner core is Ananda or Bliss. We saw earlier that the Chit is both the subject and the object. The Real Self is both the subject and the object. This means that the Real Self is complete and full; it is self-sufficient and does not need anything else. This condition of completeness and fullness gives the Real Self continuous and unbroken Ananda or Bliss.
Sat or the Real Self is like a bulb shining within us. The nature of this Sat or bulb is to radiate Chit (Awareness) and Ananda (Happiness). To understand this, you can compare it to the sun. Just like the sun is continuously shining light, in the same way your Real Self is shining Awareness and Happiness. If an object encounters Awareness, you (the ego) become aware of that object. In the same way, you (the ego) feel happiness or bliss when you come in touch with the light of happiness.
A simple question can be asked: if our inner core is shining Happiness continuously, why don’t we feel it and why don’t we know it? There are two reasons for this.
1. Thoughts: Thoughts are the main culprit. The thoughts block the light of happiness and we (our ego) do not notice it or feel it. When we are awake, our mind is active with thoughts. Most times the thoughts are because of the perception through the five senses, and at other times we could be daydreaming, etc. The mind is usually full of thoughts. These thoughts keep stopping the light of happiness from reaching us. This is the main problem.
You have a desire to eat ice cream. This thought is active in your mind, and it is blocking the light of happiness. This desire will not allow you to do anything else. You want the ice cream. To satisfy this thought, you go to the fridge and eat the ice cream. Once you complete the eating, the thought wave of the ice cream is satisfied and therefore it subsides or disappears. When this thought subsides, the mind has no thoughts. This thoughtless mind allows the light of happiness to pass through. When this happens you (the ego) feel that happiness. Notice that happiness is not part of the ice cream, but it appears when the ice cream thought subsides and comes in contact with the light of happiness. The light of happiness penetrates through the mind when there are no thoughts. When we have no thoughts, we feel happy. Unfortunately, this happiness does not last very long, because another thought pops up and blocks the light of happiness. This process happens on a continuous basis. So, we see that thoughts are blocking the light of happiness and preventing it from reaching us.
If you analyze your thoughts, you will realize that there is a finite time gap between two thoughts. During this gap, the light of happiness does penetrate through, and you will have a feeling of happiness. However, the time gap between two thoughts is so small that we do not notice it. If you can increase the gap between two thoughts, the chances of feeling happiness will increase.
A mind that is calm compared to an agitated mind will have fewer thoughts and the gap between the thoughts will be larger. This mind will be happier. So, the goal is to reduce the number of thoughts, to calm the mind. Any technique which can calm the mind is good. Prayers, meditation, breath control, and other similar techniques are proven to calm the mind. Since the mind is calm during prayers or meditation, we feel happiness then. This is a good solution, but it is usually temporary. When we complete our prayers or meditation, we are back in the real world and our mind is no longer calm and is full of thoughts. Once again, these thoughts block the source of happiness. We need a permanent solution.
2. Ignorance: We are born ignorant of our true nature. The source of happiness is within us, and we look for happiness in the external world. This is indeed a tragedy. Our ignorance of our Real Self is the root cause. This ignorance covers the true source of happiness within us. Ever since we are born, the mind is trained to deal with the external world. This is the only world we know. This is very deep-rooted within each of us. This ignorance is blocking the true source of happiness within us, and we are looking elsewhere.
How do we remove this ignorance? The antidote to ignorance is knowledge. The solution is to gain knowledge of the Real Self. This is the only way ignorance can be removed. This should be the ultimate goal for everyone —remove ignorance and gain knowledge of our inner core. By gaining this knowledge, we will discover the permanent source of happiness within us. So, how do we proceed to gain this knowledge? This is usually a two-step process. Find below a quick overview of this process.
Step 1—Gain Theoretical Knowledge
Step 2—Convert to Direct Experience
Step 1—Gain Theoretical Knowledge: Vedanta, the Upanishads, and the scriptures are the best resource to gain this knowledge. Studying these by yourself is not easy. This knowledge must be gained under the guidance of a qualified guru. As mentioned earlier, our inner core is SatChitAnanda. We have to learn the nature and powers of SatChitAnanda. We must purify our mind to be fully convinced that the source of happiness is within us and not in the external world.
Step 2—Convert to Direct Experience: Having theoretical knowledge is a good starting point. The next step is to assimilate this knowledge and discover the inner core within us. This is not easy; it requires a sustained and continuous effort. We have to direct our mind from the external world to look within us. We have to learn to internalize the mind. The scriptures guide us on how to proceed, but all the effort must be done by us. We must discover our inner core on our own. No one else can do it for us.
The scriptures teach us many ways to achieve this goal. You have multiple choices. I find the methodology taught by Sri Ramana Maharshi to be the most direct and logical way to achieve this goal. Self-enquiry and self-surrender are the two methods taught by Sri Ramana Maharshi.
Self-enquiry is the path of jnana or knowledge. It is the path to discover “Who am I,” to discover your inner core. We have so many thoughts. You should ask the question, “To whom do these thoughts appear?” The correct and obvious answer is, “To me.” When you answer this, look for the feeling of me or “I” within you. Follow this feeling of “I,” and with repeated practice it will take you to your inner core, your Real Self.
Self-surrender is the path of bhakti or devotion. This bhakti or devotion must be toward your inner core. This usually does not happen; the devotion is directed toward an external God. This is helpful, but it does not take you inward toward your inner core. Devotion should be toward your inner core, toward the feeling of “I” within you. Self-surrender means that you must have complete, unquestioning love and devotion toward your Real Self.
Once you discover and realize your inner core, you become part of the light of happiness. The source of happiness becomes part of you. There is no separation between you and happiness. This source is a permanent solution. Once you become part of this source of happiness, the misery which is experienced with external objects does not affect you in any way.
Self-Love and Happiness
Love and happiness are connected. You love something because it gives you happiness. We all love many different things. If you analyze this, you will conclude that you love these things because they give you happiness. You will not love an object if it does not give you happiness. This is a fact. A question can be asked: what do you love the most? The surprising answer is that you love yourself the most. This self-love is greater than the love for your parents, children, friends, etc. You love them because they provide you with happiness. You would not love anyone or any object if they did not provide you with happiness.
Most people will deny this because they think it is selfish and self-centered. Many people will say, “My love is not for myself; I am working for the happiness and welfare of others.”
Let us discuss some examples to show how this really works.
1. Parents make a number of sacrifices to take care of their children’s education, wants, and needs. When the children grow up and when they prosper and are successful, the parents are happy and have a sense of satisfaction. So, you can see all the effort and sacrifices of the parents are for their own happiness and satisfaction. They want this happiness. It seems that self-satisfaction is the driving force of all the selfless work and sacrifice.
2. Many people work selflessly for their country, community, religion, etc. Here again if you analyze, all the selfless work is done because it gives happiness to the person. The work they are doing makes them feel good. This self-happiness is the reason this type of selfless work is undertaken.
To support this, there is an interesting story about former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. He once jumped into a mire to rescue a stranded pig. In the process, he dirtied his clothes. People asked him why he undertook this action. His answer was that he got involved not so much to relieve the suffering of the pig but to relieve himself from the suffering he experienced at the sight of the pig. He did it only for his own peace of mind. So, you can see that it is only this self-satisfaction—one’s own happiness—that is the hidden motive behind all kinds of selfless acts.
The famous verse 2.4.5 from Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upanishad explains this concept brilliantly. In this Upanishad, the sage Yājñavalkya is teaching his wife Maitreyi how to discover the inner core. As part of the teaching, he explains to his wife the true source of love or happiness. A part of this verse is summarized here:
“It is not for the sake of the husband, my dear, that he is loved, but for one’s own sake that he is loved.
It is not for the sake of the wife, my dear, that she is loved, but for one’s own sake that she is loved.
It is not for the sake of the sons, my dear, that they are loved, but for one’s own sake that they are loved.”
You love your husband, wife, sons, etc. not for their sake, but because you love the happiness within you. You love these people because they give you happiness. You love the source of happiness within yourself. This is the only fact. Unfortunately, because of our ignorance, we feel and think that external objects are the true source of happiness. They are not. The true source of happiness is within us. We need to discover this to realize this happiness.