Monday, April 9, 2018

Happiness

The secret of happiness.
Rich man, poor man, Beggar man, thief, Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief.—The limerick, reflecting a child’s wondering: What will I be when I grow up? Every child thinks about that question. Every adult continues to wonder. It seems like a game of chance. The more important question; the one that is never asked, is not what but how. The “what” presumes the “how” but it rarely works out the way we imagine. We really ought to think more about the latter and less about the former.

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness….” So wrote Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.

Every time I contemplate those words an image pops into my mind of a mule trying to catch the carrot on the end of a stick attached to his head. The faster he goes, the faster the carrot moves away. Everyone wants to be happy yet the pursuit takes us further and further away. The carrot is never eaten and the mule starves in his pursuit.

It seems axiomatic that the fruit of whatever work we choose should result in happiness, if not immediately then certainly after a time of diligence and perseverance. It’s the bargain we make with life, yet more times than not the bargain goes adrift. Could it be we are looking in the wrong direction? Forwards? Backward? Which way? How about within? And just maybe we need to first answer a more fundamental question of being because until we know who and what we are, we’re all chasing shadows and thinking all the while that happiness is a reward.

The greatest wisdom says otherwise. This is what Krishna tells Arjuna in The Bhagavad Gita: 

“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself—without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.

Seek refuge in the attitude of detachment and you will amass the wealth of spiritual awareness. Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do. When consciousness is unified, however, all vain anxiety is left behind. There is no cause for worry, whether things go well or ill.”

Thich Nhat Hanh ends a talk in The Art of Mindful Living (Sounds True, 1992) with this: “There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way. There is no way to peace, peace is the way. There is no way to enlightenment, enlightenment is the way.

All good words yet none of them will take us to happiness until we unveil our essential Selves (Atman). “Those who mistake the unessential to be essential and the essential to be the unessential, dwelling in wrong thoughts, never arrive at the essential. Those who know the essential to be essential and the unessential to be unessential, dwelling in right thoughts, do arrive at the essential…We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”The Dhammapada. 


Until such time as we awaken to our essence, our thoughts will be wrong, we’ll dwell on the unessential, happiness will remain a figment of our imaginations and we’ll continue to chase the carrot.
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