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Consciousness and health

The Pursuit of Happiness

Lopa Mukherjee


One of the most cherished goals in life is happiness. It would seem to solve the problem of pain, or at least explain it in some way. Many spiritual paths have tried to deal with suffering and have offered happiness as an antidote. There have been some paths that have made happiness their foremost aim. We can all experience happiness of various kinds coming from different parts of our being and from various outward circumstances. We also experience the ephemeral nature of happiness but keep aspiring for a permanent joy. One can as well say life is the pursuit of happiness, and this seeking takes us through many worlds to the Supreme Ānanda. This article explores the many facets of happiness, the many paths that lead to it, and in particular what the Upaniṣads have revealed about it, which includes Sri Aurobindo’s vision, as written in his Sanskrit aphorostic text, now called the Sriaurobindopanishad.

Everybody wants it, but nobody can buy it, steal it, or barter anything in exchange to get it. Nobody can gift it to anybody else. Nobody can demand it from anybody else. Even God can only offer it to you, but cannot make sure you get it. Such is happiness. You have to create it for yourself, and it takes enormous effort to keep unhappiness at bay. “Anityam asukhaṃ lokaṃ, this world that is constantly changing is full of suffering,” says Kṛṣṇa, “Having come here, pray to me. Imaamm prāpya bhajaswa mām.” It is easy to be happy when things are going well, but when you face a loss — of health, or home, or job, or livelihood, or a loved one — can you still be happy?

And yet the Vedānta says the substratum of this conscious existence is Delight, which is why the Supreme is called Sat-Chit-Ānanda, Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. And the Vedānta also says that we are a portion of This, whose quintessence is Delight. Just think about it. Tears rolling down your cheeks, with an aching heart and body, mind tortured by memories, you sit with this thought — that we are That Delight, Tad Vanam (Kena 4.6). It is a paradox,which is why life is called a mystery. Only in sorrow can you practise happiness. Only the negative shows you how close you are to the positive. Even if everybody is struck by the same grief, each individual is affected by it differently, and reaps a different lesson. So how does one best cope with grief? If the more you are united to the Satchidananda, will you be closer to his Ānanda, even as you see the sorrows of this world? Will you deploy a portion of yourself in this anityam asukhaṃ lokaṃ to wallow in the mud and help a lotus grow out of it? And will this avalokiteśvaar of yours be happy, knowing that perhaps it is doing the divine’s bidding? Will you be happy having disconnected with the world’s sorrows? Or are you thinking happiness can co-exist with unhappiness, or that satisfaction can be cultivated no matter what we get?

Worldly happiness depends on the gap between our expectations and reality. Something we ought to be able to manage our self without external dependence. What can be better than to be in control? A perfectly happy person will be happy all the time, because he has woven his happiness himself with his own soul-stuff. Apart from worldly joys, we have glimpses of a higher quality of happiness. Being in Nature makes us happy, looking at a flower, a flash of lightning that brings the promise of rain. Helping others, loving others, seeing them happy makes us happy. A good fight for justice makes us happy, even if the process is painful and the goal is far off. Creating art, enjoying dancing and playing good music, eating and cooking, everything that puts us in a flow state, make us happy. These are the many ways we exceed our ego-sense. We are then expanded beings and this brings us great joy because we are indeed bigger beings than the individual ego. And when we can be connected to the universal Ātman, the transcendental being, we feel most expanded, and then our delight is greatest. Which is why we follow a spiritual path, and even the most external ritual gives a joy that brings with it the Divine’s peace and love.

How does one create one’s own happiness? It needs self-confidence, perserverance, diligence, courage, patience, a positive attitude, and some more. This is the practice, the yoga, the hard part. Book knowledge is helpful to know, and apply when the time comes, but not the real thing. It is someone else’s perception, a wise man’s darśana. But this is where we have to start — weaving with borrowed threads. It is the safety-net that will catch us in our downward fall. It is the trampoline that will throw us up from the bottom. Chances are that the stronger the safety-net, the smaller will be the fall, the fewer will be the falls, and the higher and safer the climb. And so let’s explore this safety-net, the theory of delight, that the wise Elders have left us.

The Kena Upaniṣad says:
The name of That is “That Delight”; as That Delight one should follow after It. Know it. Towards That all existence turn.

तद्धतद्वनंनामतद्वनमित्युपासितव्यंसयएतदेवंवेदाभिहैनम्सर्वाणिभूतानिसंवाञ्छन्ति॥ (Kena Upanishad 4.6)

But is that delight a far-off star? No, says the Taittirīya Upaniṣad (3.6), it is so near we are breathing it all the time, and were before our birth and will be after we pass on.

All these creatures are born from delight.
They are sustained by delight
And return to delight when they pass on.
Really, we are bathing in this ocean of delight, and yet experience sorrow? How is that possible? Desires, expectations, lack of union with the Soul, as Kṛṣṇa says:

‘When one can conquer desires born of the mind, and one is satisfied in the S/self by the S/self, then one’s wisdom is well established’.

आत्मन्येवात्मनातुष्ट: स्थितप्रज्ञस्तदोच्यते|| Bhagavad Gītā 2.55

To be satisfied in the self, independent of circumstances, takes more than the satisfaction brought by the ephemeral self. The little self can be selfishly complacent, uncaring of other’s joys it may be overlooking to keep itself happy. But its joy is transient, precariously dependent on circumstances and people. When the true Self can make us satisfied we can then truely be satisfied, for the true Self is an eternal portion of the divine. This delight is constant, independent, self-sustaining.

So should we reduce our expectations and accept whatever life offers us? Even if it is painful or ugly? No, on the contrary, dream big for various kinds of joys are available to us. In the body these vividha-ānandas are: Kama-ānanda, the joy of fulfilled desires, viṣaya-ānanda the joy of objects of sense, tīvra-ānanda acute joys, raudra-ānanda passionate joys, and vaidyuta-ānanda electrifying joys of the nervous-system. In the heart, one can feel the joy of love, prema-ānanda. In the mind, the joy is without any reason, ahaituka-ānanda. And in the higher planes; the joys are many: constant joy sada-ānanda, joy of consciousness chid-ānanda, joy of the all conscious beings around us chid-ghana-ānanda, pure joy śuddha-ānanda, joy of union kaivalya-ānanda.

Not only are these many pleasures and joys accessible to us in this lifetime, there are more in different lokas or realms of the being. The Taittirīya Upaniṣad’s Brahmānandavallī has a way to measure the delight of the different beings that live in these worlds. As we climb the ladder of delight, the śloka tells us that the one who is veda-wise and free from attacks of desire, can access the delight of any realm. This is how the śloka (2.8) reads:

Let there be a young man, excellent and lovely in his youth, a great student; let him have fair manners and a most firm heart and great strength of body, and let all this wide earth be full of wealth for his enjoying. That is the measure of bliss of one human being.

मानुषआनन्दाः Now a hundredfold of this bliss is one bliss of men that have become angels in heaven.

मनुष्यगन्धर्वाणामानन्दः and those who are veda-wise and free from attacks of desire श्रोत्रियस्यचाकामहतस्य।: A hundredfold of this bliss is one bliss of Gods that are angels in heaven.

देवगन्धर्वाणामानन्दः and those who are veda-wise and free from attacks of desire.

श्रोत्रियस्यचाकामहतस्य।: A hundredfold of this bliss is one bliss of the Fathers who live in heaven forever.

पितृणांचिरलोकलोकानामानन्दः And those who are veda-wise and free from attacks of desire.

श्रोत्रियस्यचाकामहतस्य।: A hundredfold of this bliss is one bliss of the Gods who are born as Gods in heaven.

आजानजानांदेवानामानन्दः। And those who are veda-wise and free from attacks of desire श्रोत्रियस्यचाकामहतस्य।: A hundredfold of this bliss is one bliss of those who have become gods by their deeds.

कर्मदेवानांदेवानामानन्दः And those who are veda-wise and free from attacks of desire.

श्रोत्रियस्यचाकामहतस्य।: Similarly, every new level of delight is a hundred times that of the previous level, and these are: the delight of the gods.

देवानामानन्दः The delight of Indra, the lord of the illumined mind; the delight of Bṛihaspati, teacher of the gods; the delight of the supreme father Prājapati; and finally the delight of the Supreme Brahman. And those who are veda-wise and free from attacks of desire can reach any level of delight.

This journey of levels of Delight in the Taittīriya Upaniṣad is followed by the last verse of the chapter on the Delight of the Brahman:
‘Words nor the mind can grasp the Eternal’s delight. But one who experiences it fears nothing.


He is not tormented by “Why have I not done that which is good and why have I done that which is evil?” For to his spirit, they are both alike. एतंहवावनतपति।किमहंसाधुनाकरवम्।किमहंपापमकरवमिति।सयएवंविद्वानेतेआत्मानंस्पृणुते।उभेह्येवैषएतेआत्मानंस्पृणुते।(2.9)


Mortals were called children of Immortality by the Śvetāśwatara Upaniṣad (2.5):
‘O children of Immortality, who occupy celestial regions, listen to me.

Śṛinvantu viśve amṛitasya putrāḥ, ā ye dhāmāni divyāni tasthuh

When Sri Aurobindo wrote his Upanishadic aphorisms, he called us children of delight, ānandasyaputrāḥ.

For this whole manifested world is but the delight.
एवंयत्प्रकाशतेजगदानन्दएवतत्॥ (10)

That which appears to be devoid of delight, as suffering and weakness and ignorance, it is the deformation of that delight and the play of delight.

यत्तुनिरानन्दमितिभासतेदुःखमितिदुर्बलमित्यज्ञानमितितदानन्दस्यविकारआनन्दस्यक्रीडा॥ (11)

The Jīva, the individual soul, is the all-delightful Divine in disguise.

He has descended to enjoy the self-luminous World-Brahman. स्वप्रकाशमयंजगद्ब्रह्मभोक्तुमवतीर्णः।
Suffering is an experience of delight. All this is how the all-delightful enjoys its delight.

यःएषदुःखभोगःसभोगएवानन्दमयस्तस्यानन्दमेवानन्दमयोभुङ्क्ते॥ (12)

Blissfully laughs the Jīva, सानन्दंहसतिजीव Blissfully cries, sheds tears, सानन्दंक्रन्दत्यश्रूणिमुञ्चति
He enjoys a dark Ānanda while being tortured, तमोमयआनन्देभासमानइवयातनाभिश्चेष्टमानःसानन्दंस्फुरति।
He enjoys by being racked by violent pleasures सानन्दंस्फुरतिचेष्टमानःप्रचण्डाभीरतिभिः

For the full enjoyment of the dark ignorant portion of that Ānanda the Jīva hides the delight, becoming obscure and ignorant. पूर्णभोगार्थंतस्यानन्दस्यतामसस्यांशस्यतामसोभूत्वानन्दंगोपयति॥ (14)

The world exists for the joyous play
He is the playful one. You too play, O children of delight.
Being united with Him, play; enjoy the delight

Having attained the one enjoyable Divine, enjoy Him in all things एकंभोग्यंभगवन्तंप्राप्यभुङ्ग्ध्वंसर्ववस्तुषु॥ (18)

The Sriaurobindopaniṣad ends with an encouragement that acts as the touch of a magic wand:

I have been commanded by the Divine to speak about the delight

Remove the darkness, manifest delight, O children of delight!
तामसमपावृत्यानन्दःप्रकाशतांतस्यपुत्राः॥ (19)

Lopa Mukherjee is a psychologist and educator. She conducts workshops and teaches culture, soft skills and related subjects. She lives in Pondicherry.

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Bhagavad Gītā






Sri Aurobindo