Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Everything You Know Is Wrong (About the Pursuit of Happiness)


The following piece was published in the Huffington Post on May 7, 2013

You may be shocked to learn that the supposed essential principle that this country was founded upon -- "The Pursuit of Happiness" -- is nothing more than an impossible vainglorious wild goose chase. All the saints, sages and wise men of history agree: The way to be happy is to stop trying to be happy.

We are by nature pleasure-seeking entities. Everyone seeks happiness, but the problem is we don't know what real happiness is. There are only two people who are happy in this world: The drunk and the self-realized soul. Everyone else in-between is miserable, trying to be happy by gratifying the senses, but making the mistake of trying to sever the pleasure of the senses from the needs of the character.

The ingenuity of man has always been dedicated to the solution to this one problem. How to detach sensual gratification from the service of God, Who is the Self of ourselves. The soul says Eat; the body would feast. The soul says, The man and woman shall be one flesh and one soul; the body would join the flesh only. The soul says, Have dominion over all things to the ends of virtue; the body would lord it over nature to its own ends.

The nature of this material world is duality. Unless we are serving God on the transcendental platform of self realization and true happiness, we can't have one side (material "happiness") without the other (material "distress"). Ralph Waldo Emerson described this duality succinctly in his essay on karma called "Compensation":

"Men seek to be great; they would have offices, wealth, power, and fame. They think that to be great is to possess one side of nature, -- the sweet, without the other side, -- the bitter. This dividing and detaching is steadily counteracted. Up to this day, it must be owned, no projector has had the smallest success. The parted water reunites behind our hand. Pleasure is taken out of pleasant things, profit out of profitable things, power out of strong things, as soon as we seek to separate them from the whole. We can no more halve things and get the sensual good, by itself, than we can get an inside that shall have no outside, or a light without a shadow. "Drive out nature with a fork, she comes running back."

A materialistic person, thinking himself very advanced in intelligence, continually acts for economic development. But again and again, as enunciated in the Vedas, he is frustrated by material activities, either in this life or in the next. Indeed, the results one obtains are inevitably the opposite of those one desires. No one has ever achieved the results he desired from material activities. On the contrary, everyone has been frustrated again and again. Therefore one must not waste his time in such material activities for sensual pleasure, either in this life or in the next. So many nationalists, economists and other ambitious persons have tried for happiness, individually or collectively, but history proves that they have all been frustrated. In recent history we have seen many political leaders work hard for individual and collective economic development, but they have all failed. This is the law of nature, as clearly explained in the following verse.

"In this material world, every materialist desires to achieve happiness and diminish his distress, and therefore he acts accordingly. Actually, however, one is happy as long as one does not endeavor for happiness; as soon as one begins his activities for happiness, his conditions of distress begin." - Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 7.7.42

Everyone begins his activities with some plan and ambition, but actually, from the beginning of one's plan to the end, one does not derive any happiness. On the contrary, as soon as one begins acting according to his plan, his life of distress immediately begins. Therefore, one should not be ambitious to dissipate the unhappy conditions of life, for one cannot do anything about them.

"The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature." - Bhagavad-gītā 3.27 

 Although one is acting according to false ambitions, he thinks he can improve his material conditions by his activities. The Vedas enjoin that one should not try to increase happiness or decrease distress, for this is futile. One should work for self-realization, not for economic development, which is impossible to improve. Without endeavor, one can get the amount of happiness and distress for which he is destined, and one cannot change this. Therefore, it is better to use one's time for advancement in the spiritual life of Krishna (God) consciousness. One should not waste his valuable life as a human being. It is better to utilize this life for developing Krishna consciousness, without ambitions for so-called happiness.

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