Yes, you read it right. We need to overcome happiness. Though we are bombarded since our childhood with the idea that to be happy is the goal of human life, the human condition does not show signs of being at peace with happiness. We would now attempt to briefly discuss this apparent paradox.
Since the period of cave dwellers, history has shown us that human beings have gone out of their way to seek disturbance. The cave dweller, for instance, could have merrily whiled away one’s time by just sustaining the body with the bountiful that the trees offered in the forest. No, that was simply not enough for the human being.
A static state of happiness is in reality a miserable
state for any human being.
The growth of ideas in human civilisation can be traced to the human pursuit of suffering. Ironically, almost all of the sources of global agony that we face today like climate change are the creations of the human intellect. So, while many motivational speakers and pop psychologists take pride in offering the soothing pill of ‘authentic happiness’ to one and all as the onestop solution to all human failings, there is nothing authentic in happiness.
Recent attempts of the governments of some countries to offer salaries to their citizens without their doing any work were met with great protest and rejection. Yet, every worker around the world does come to a point at the workplace, when she or he frantically fumes about the work overload! This shows a rather quixotic behavioural trend of the human beings. This is best summed up as the pursuit of something that constantly eludes us, much like the food dangling in front of the beast of burden so that the poor animal continues to carry its load with the never-ending hope that it will reach the delicacy.
Thus, the goal of human life appears to be more to pursue happiness than to actually attain it. The human condition truly gets it meaning only when the human being understands that happiness is something one can attain and work hard for. However, the moment a person attains a state of happiness where all pursuits of happiness come to an end, the very meaning of human life is lost.
This is the reason spiritual giants have emphasised that the knowledge of the ultimate Truth does not lead to ultimate happiness, but such a knowledge leads to everlasting bliss. The distinction between happiness and bliss is that happiness always presupposes the presence or absence of misery or suffering. On the other hand, bliss is a state that is not dependent on any other state of the mind, because such bliss is attained only after transcending the mind.
Here, it would be pertinent, particularly for the non-Indian mind, to clarify the meaning of bliss in the present context. Though the words ‘happiness’ and ‘bliss’ are used interchangeably around the world, particularly in the English language, the Sanskrit equivalents of sukha and ananda mean diametrically opposite conditions. Sukha is dependent on the other, while ananda is a state free of all instances of the other.
If happiness is to be only pursued and not really attained, what is the function of such a meaningless, Sisyphean endeavour? The answer to this question is found in the teachings of the numerous saints that this world has seen. Be it Sri Krishna, be it Lord Buddha, or be it Kabirdas, all have stressed the importance of suffering in turning the human mind towards the journey of finding one’s true nature.
It was when the holocaust brought a futureless bleak before millions, who had suddenly nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to aspire for, and in general no utility for life, that they looked at the human condition from a completely different perspective. The World War II created innovations in weapons and warfare; it also brought paradigmatic shifts in human understanding of life.
The goal of human life then is definitely not attaining happiness. Such a static state of happiness is in reality a miserable state for any human being. Imagine a person, who is provided everything she or he wants and has to do nothing at all to get anything. Such a person will not only have no idea of the value of the big and small things that life and Nature offers, there will be nothing for this person to do and she or he will soon turn into a vegetable.
This is why many dictator regimes charted out the exact way of life and provided for their citizens so that there was not any dearth of necessities. In effect, such regimes aimed to create an utopian society and failed every time. This was the case even with some political approaches. The human being can only imagine utopia but can never attain it because any semblance to utopia can only be dystopic for the human condition. It is the stunting of the creative human intelligence to even think of a state where nothing more would have to be done. That would be the end of the human being.
If we even have a quick glance at the different cultures of the world, we would soon understand that the best in cinema, literature, poetry, philosophy, performing arts, painting, and all other endeavours that have brought the human being to the present position in the scheme of Nature, were produced in cultures that constantly struggled with strife and penury. The content mind never produces anything profound. It is only the state of spiritual fulfilment that is attained by transcending the mind that can provide words of wisdom for the entire world.
Much like the mother of pearl which starts the development of pearl only when an irritation is introduced in the form of a catalyst, it is only disturbance and discontent that brings growth and creation. The spiritual message of the seers of the past and present is not to attain a utopic, content, static, vegetable-like state of no endeavour, but to use the constant state of discontent and disgust of the human mind as a ladder to attain heights of spiritual realisation that are much beyond the ambit of the human being, or any living being, beyond the universe.
However, as long as we deal with the ignorant state of perceiving this universe, we have to acknowledge and appreciate the significant role of suffering. Starting from scientific inventions and discoveries to new forms of fiction to engrossing screenplays to new varieties of dishes at your dinner table, everything that we do and encounter is the result of some dissatisfaction. As the mental state of the disciple in the first chapter of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, it is only an acute abhorrence of the present condition that would lead us towards our true state.
Now, do you really want to be happy?