Author Topic: Michael James about what is happiness based on teachings of Ramana Maharshi  (Read 1328 times)


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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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’.

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.

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.

Sri Ramana expressed succinctly about the nature of happiness in the opening sentence of his introduction to his Tamil translation of Sri Adi Sankara’s great philosophical poem, Vivekachudamani:

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 pravritti [extroverted activity], whirling in boundless samsara [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 Nan Yar? (Who am I?), a brief twentyparagraph 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, jñana-vichara [scrutinising our consciousness to know] ‘who am I?’ alone is the principal means.

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 svarupa [the ‘own form’ or essential nature] of atma [self]; happiness and atma-svarupa [our own essential self] are not different. Atma-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, samadhi [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 jñani [a person of true selfknowledge] does not leave brahman [the fundamental and absolute reality, which is our own essential being or self]. But the mind of an ajñani [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.

Source: Happiness and The Art of Being Book
which is a layman’s introduction to the philosophy and practice of the spiritual teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana By Michael James