ACHARYA DAS: Namaste and welcome. So today we are continuing the series on the Bhagavad-gita life lessons or eight life lessons from the Bhagavad-gita and the series title, “From the vision of eternity” and the life lesson today that we’ll discuss is something that most people are very concerned or interested in or concerned about and that’s happiness. But before we start, I’d like to invite you all to join with us in a few minutes of mantra meditation, in order to clear the mind and the heart.
Gopala Govinda Rama Madana Mohana kirtan
ACHARYA DAS: So happiness; if we look at conventional definitions of happiness or if I ask you to define happiness, how would you define what it is? I mean everybody is seeking happiness. What, what is it? What is that state? And I think if I asked you that question directly and you have to think about answering it, most people get a little bit stuck. They’re not quite sure how to define it. The general definition is a sense of well-being and joy or contentment. So if we go with that for now and use that as what it is that we are speaking of—The fact is that everybody is looking for happiness in their life. In fact, this is the—almost the object of life. Nobody wants to be miserable; we all seek this experience. And what is quite amazing from the perspective of the Bhagavad-gita, it describes how generally in this world people’s quest for happiness begins with an outward journey. We look outside of ourselves and we are always looking for some thing or some one that we hope will fill us with this experience of happiness and that is quite extraordinary if you think about it.
It’s kind of unfortunate, I guess is the best way to describe it, that we actually have so much invested in this quest for happiness. It’s really what’s driving us in our decisions but we are not very thoughtful about it. We take so many things for granted. This quest for pleasure, I mean this has been going on since time immemorial and it is something that we seek. I can remember in the 70s, one of the major rock bands - still around - the Rolling Stones, they had this huge hit, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” and the refrain, “and I tried, and I tried and I tried, I can’t get no satisfaction.” That’s quite a stunning admission. Here we are talking about people that were not known to be very subtle or very restrained. We’re talking about people that were leading massively hedonistic lifestyle and just going for it in terms of all the demands of the senses, all forms of stimulation and yet there was this admission that in spite all of this endeavor I’m not experiencing what it is that I am looking for. I’m not feeling fulfilled, I’m not feeling satisfied.
And unfortunately, most people, instead of trying to question why, why is it that I am having such difficulty finding this state of happiness or pleasure? All I can think of doing is, okay, let’s try something different. Let’s turn up the volume. Let’s amp it up, increase the voltage, do something. Let’s try, you know, and increase, do it harder and maybe that’s where we are going to find it. But if we actually examine from a yogic perspective this experience of happiness, the attempt to find happiness, it becomes very telling, because we learn that something can at one time appear to be quite heavenly to us. And exactly the same thing can also become very—a hellish experience and it’s like, how did that happen?
And in—of course an example of this would be the idea, we’ve used the example so many times before of a certain piece of music that we really like or a certain type of food that we really like and so then you’re just going to be subjected to hearing that music over and over and over for 24 hours straight and let’s see how heavenly that is and, “I just love it and now I hate it.” And the same thing; your favorite food and that’s what you will eat for the next three days. You’re not gonna have anything else, just that. And the more you do it, the less pleasurable it becomes. And that’s kind of really astonishing! I mean, if somebody gives me one dollar, “Okay, I got one dollar,” and somebody else gives me another dollar now I got double. Then somebody else gives me ten dollars, “Okay, now I’ve got twelve dollars.” As somebody gives me money, what I have increases but this pleasure or the quest for happiness experience, the more I do it, it’s not that I actually become happier. In fact, the opposite tends to happen and then the question is, why? Why is this happening?
Well there’s a few reasons from a spiritual perspective. One reason is that if we break down any material thing like this iPad here or a candy or whatever, any material thing. We break it down to its smallest parts, its atomic parts; those atoms do not contain one ounce of bliss in them, it’s not the nature of the material energy to possess blissfulness. So it doesn’t matter how I rearrange it and what form it takes, by putting it into my body through my mouth, or eyes or ears or rubbing it against my skin or whatever, no matter what; I can stimulate my senses, I can stimulate my mind but actually nothing rubs off, nothing enters, nothing penetrates. There is no real bliss or happiness contained within the material energy; it’s not its nature.
The other thing that needs to be considered is, as we’ve discussed many times before, this foundational spiritual principle is that I am not this body which I am wearing. I am wearing this body. This body is a vehicle that I am using, my mind is a vehicle that I am wearing or using. It is not me; therefore, no matter what I do to my body it actually doesn’t affect me, the spiritual being within. So I can be exposed to just vast amounts of material stimulation, sensual stimulation, material experience but in spite of it all, I am left actually feeling quite, quite empty.
So one of the observable things in the quest for happiness or satisfaction, fulfillment in this world is that many of the things which we mistakenly think are giving us joy, in fact, what they may be doing, those experiences maybe doing is kind of relieving us from the boredom or the emptiness of the experience of life in general that most people are feeling and most people are experiencing - something to take our mind off things.
They used to have this form of, kind of pretty inhumane punishment in the old days. They had this thing called the Dunking Stool. And it was like a long pole with a chair on the end and then there was like a fulcrum on the bank of the river or a pond and somebody gets tied to the chair, and they put them out over the water and then as part of their punishment they just, they lift this end up and this end goes down and the person goes underwater and they come to the point of almost drowning, and they’re just struggling, and it’s just like this horrible experience of suffocating and then just before they take a big gulp of water into their lungs, they’re thrust up and as they come blasting out of this water there’s this, “Aaaaahhhhhh!” this gasp for air. And that moment, that gasp of air is like, “Hhhaaaahhh!” it feels so good. (Laughs)
But in that situation, everybody else that’s standing around watching this happen, they’re already breathing and they’re not feeling any great joy from breathing but the person that was deprived of it and then now suddenly could get a big gulp of air becomes like, “Aaaahhh!’’ like it was a wonderful experience to be able to breathe.
So if we are quite analytical, we think about things very closely, we’ll find that a lot of the stuff that we say gives us happiness or is bringing joy to our life may quite often be a temporary relief from a generally suffering or boring condition and because this is like a bright moment, meaning it takes my attention away from my regular life, therefore I consider it to be happy. I can remember on this TV show one time, these interviews of people, and this woman was talking about her life and how she tries to maintain a very positive outlook on her life so every single day when she gets up, she really thinks, “I am going to look for that moment of happiness in my life and I’m always going to be on the lookout for it. And at some point during the day I will have a happy experience and I will really seize that and hold it close to me and value it. And by doing that,” she says, “it helps me deal with the rest of my day.”
Well I don’t mean to be disrespectful but that doesn’t sound like a really good deal to me. Most people if you ask them, “How often are you happy every day? How much time in one day do you actually feel some happiness?” and it kind of surprises me that most people when they actually have to think about it and then they start actually thinking and they are trying to figure it out; you try to help them along by saying, “Okay, when was the last time you really felt happy? There was some joyfulness and, you know, you laughed out loud? Or you just felt really contented. When was the last time it happened?” And then they are deep in thought again trying to remember when it was and it gets down to this point where you ask most people, “Well, would you say on a good day maybe you have like 15 minutes of actual joyfulness in your life?” then most people will go, “Yeah, maybe something like that.” You know, it’s not a very good deal. We have about 1,440 minutes in a day and of 1,440 minutes if we’re only experiencing 15 minutes of happiness that doesn’t sound like a very good deal to me. But we often don’t want to be that kind of analytical. It’s sort of like gets us down, I think.
The Bhagavad-gita actually really looks at the subject of happiness in some detail. In the very beginning of the Bhagavad-gita, one of the principal personalities - his name was Arjuna - he was a great warrior prince and he was about to participate in a huge battle. Arjuna was known for his heroism. He was a quite an outstanding personality and he was suddenly—it dawned on him in this particular battle that he was about to enter - and he had just had his chariot drawn in between the two opposing armies and he was eyeballing everybody - and it suddenly dawned on him that in the opposing army his grandfather, who he honoured, who is actually a very saintly person, a very elevated yogi as well as a great warrior, his cousins, who are in the Vedic system are considered as brothers, brother-in-laws, father-in-laws, he just saw all this mixture of relatives that he was going to face on battle and kill and he became very overwhelmed and he was considering, “How will I be able to live? How will I find happiness or anything of value in my life if I must now live at the cost of other’s lives?” and he became so overwhelmed that he totally lost his composure. He was breaking down, he was quivering, he was crying, he could not hold his bow and arrow, he was feeling unsteady. So in many ways the Bhagavad-gita begins with and actually ends with this subject of happiness and where and how we are too find it.
So as we have spoken about in some of the earlier talks that we’ve given previously particularly in relation to the question of who am I, the science of identity. We have spoken about the fact that our natural condition - and we are talking about our natural spiritual condition apart from this gross material body - is to live and to exist in a state of not just little bit okay-happy but a state of great blissfulness. In Sanskrit this is called ananda. So to be able to exist in this condition and to experience this condition is what is actually most natural for us and this is why each of us is, we feel driven, we feel compelled to search and to look for things because it is part of our spiritual nature to exist in this state.
We have also spoken in the past about this quest for happiness, this quest for joy. It must actually be undertaken on a spiritual level. Simply running after things in this world and chasing experiences in this world will not provide us what it is that we really look for.
In the Bhagavad-gita, there is one verse in the 5th chapter, the 21st verse. It says:
Such a liberated person is not attracted to material sense pleasure but is always in trance enjoying the pleasure within. In this way the self-realised person enjoys unlimited happiness for he concentrates on the Supreme.Bhagavad-gita 5.21
So in this verse we are being told that we need to direct the search for happiness actually inward rather than out to this world, the world in which we find ourselves. It has to become an internal quest where we are actually in touch with our true identity. In the Sanskrit for this verse I just read out there is this term: Brahma-yoga. And it means to be absorbed, to be focused, concentrated and absorbed on another experience, another world. We have this external world that we see all around us and is subject to change and is constantly changing; it’s never going to remain the same. It is made up of a substance - material energy - that doesn’t matter what we do with it, how much we cram into our body or on our body, will not fulfill us and give us that experience that we are seeking. And the Bhagavad-gita is shining light on the fact that there is another world, a world that is within and an intelligent person does not chase the ephemeral or fleeting idea of happiness in this world but rather goes within to seek out another source of spiritual experience and joy of what is described as ananda. So in the next verse it says:
An intelligent person does not take part in the sources of misery, which are due to contact with the material senses. O son of Kuntī, such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise man does not delight in them.Bhagavad-gita 5.22
I mean it’s like, wow. This is quite a novel concept for most people because of the society in which we live and the way in which people view this world, we do not actually hear these types of ideas but there is a couple that really, really jump out. One is the nature of so-called material happiness, the little joys that we can get in life. They have a beginning and therefore they must have an end; you cannot have a beginning without an end. That is the nature of things, part of this duality. So if something has a beginning and we know that it surely will end, of course putting a lot of effort into that experience is obviously not going to be very smart. It’s like we become so invested and then we get so disappointed when our happiness comes to an end. And here Krishna is saying that we should understand that this experience that we’re having is coming about simply because we are getting a little stimulation somehow to our senses or the senses of the body and it might provide some element of joyfulness but we must know that this joy will pass. It will not fulfill us; it will not satisfy us and it will pass.
Then the next verse I’ll read is two verses beyond that last one. This is from the fifth chapter, 24th verse:
One whose happiness is within, who is active and rejoices within, and whose aim is inward is actually the perfect mystic. He is liberated in the Supreme, and ultimately he attains the Supreme.Bhagavad-gita 5.24
So this rounds out now this idea of this journey within; that there is a genuine real spiritual experience that is to be had. The process of yoga is the process of undertaking this journey and fortifying ourselves and re-directing this quest for happiness to a place where we can actually genuinely find this—a very high level of fulfilment.
So these are actually quite big subjects and we’re just touching them very briefly because this subject is actually quite a big subject but of course you have the opportunity to go back and review these talks again online and maybe look at the verses and consider and contemplate and you will find that if you are engaging in a spiritually directed life, if you have spiritual practices that you are adopting - the foundation of which is this process of chanting this transcendental sound, this spiritual sound, this kirtan meditation or japa meditation - that it brings a transformation and a purification and you will find that when we revisit these topics as we are growing spiritually our understanding and our appreciation of them broadens and deepens.
But there’s a whole new thing now being introduced, a very unique perspective on happiness that the Bhagavad-gita speaks about and it’s in the very last chapter, the eighteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita. Speaking to Arjuna, Krishna says;
O best of the Bharatas, now please hear from Me about the three kinds of happiness by which the conditioned soul enjoys, and by which he sometimes comes to the end of all distress.Bhagavad-gita 18.36
It’s like, okay, well we’re talking about three different types of happiness, three different categories of so-called joy or joyful experience. And sometimes by experiencing one of these particular types of joy, it may help a person come to the end of all distress. So what has been spoken of here is the actual liberated condition, a full spiritual awakening.
Material life is acquainted with distress. It doesn’t matter how so-called perfect your life is, how privileged you may be, what sort of opportunities you have and experiences that you have. Number one, these things will not fulfil you and even if you are unrestricted in trying to enjoy these different opportunities, eventually your body ages and your ability to have these experiences becomes severely limited or restricted. And then eventually, you are forcibly dragged away from this body by the experience of death. Therefore, the whole journey is regarded as being unnecessary and definitely undesirable. It just does not end well. So what are these three types of happiness?
In the Bhagavad-gita they have–they speak of a common thing that is spoken about in the Vedas in general. It is what is called in Sanskrit, three guna, which means the three qualities. Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad and his Gurudev also used the English terminology, the modes of material nature; the three modes of material nature. What it does is described three types of completely–you cannot see it anywhere. It’s invisible but powerful forces, energetic forces that permeate the material world and the material experience.
One of these forces is called sattva-guna, is translated as the mode of goodness. And in this condition, you’ll see people being more attracted to simple lifestyle, natural kind of lifestyle, not being overly agitated and driven crazy by so many desires and things. People that live in a more peaceful existence. I mean, in music, food, the type of house or living environment that you have, your work experience; all of these things are influenced by these three modes.
The mode of passion is usually epitomized by intense desire and longing; so this is intense agitation. The creative impulse is because of this mode of passion and so people are driven to build massive cities and to engage in passionate undertaking. But the result, the end result of this mode of passion, raja-guna, is distress; it’s inescapable. If you become, if you pursued, become influenced by this energy, this passion and energy, it will always end in distress.
Then the third one is called tama-guna, which literally means the mode of ignorance and it’s epitomized by laziness, sloth in general, a very depressed mental and physical state or a state of intoxication when you cannot think clearly and you’re unaware of how you’re behaving and what you’re doing and it always ends in darkness; in darkness and great distress, in different forms of craziness or insanity.
So it’s not that a person—even within a day, a person may be feeling in different times the influence of these three different forms of energy in different times and responding differently to different types of stimulation. The quest for happiness or pleasure is also very shaped by which one of these types of energy or a combination of them that we’re being influenced by.
So I will speak about the mode of passion first because it’s kind of like–this is actually kind of quite far out. It says;
That happiness which is derived from contact of the senses with the objects of the senses and which appears like nectar at first but poison in the end is said to be of the nature of passion.Bhagavad-gita 18.38
I mean how many times have I’ve been through this in my life? How many times have we all had this experience where we entered into something; whether it was, you know, an attempt to really enjoy ourselves somehow. You know, people go off to the beach and they’re just like so excited. I mean, you got the family in the car, and the kids and everybody is just going to have a good time. Disney world, whatever. You’re out there and then you’re going for it and you go and just running around and you’re eating and drinking and doing all the stuff then you come to the end of the outing. And how’s everybody doing? Cloud 9? No. Everybody is tired. If you’ve been out in the sun, people are sunburnt, the kids are in the back and they’ve gone from just excitement, “Yeah, yeah!” to (elbowing each other), “Stop it, stop it!” (laughs) Everybody’s bitching at each other and fighting and it’s just like, you know, everybody’s tearing their hair out and the drive home is just like completely miserable and it’s like you can barely drag yourself in the door and it’s like really, was that worth it? I mean, really was that actually worth it?
Relationships, people enter into relationships with such ideals and such hope for happiness that which in the beginning appears like nectar but in the end tastes like poison. (laughs) So, I mean, we can just use so many examples. If you reflect on this in your own life, it’s kind of like, okay, well then why would you pursue this? Even though it maybe sensually quite stimulating, stimulating into my senses and I’m kind of anxious and anticipating and just later going for it. Why would I do that if I know where it’s going to go? It’s not smart but we usually don’t think like that; we just act on these impulses and these hopes and aspirations.
Speaking about another type of happiness, the one in the mode of ignorance, it says;
And that happiness which is blind to self-realization—Bhagavad-gita 18.39
Blind to self-realization; meaning, there is no point where a person goes, “What am I doing?” and thinks about an alternative. They just dive into it, get lost, go for it. And you think of different types of drug addiction, alcoholism, different types of addictions and everything.
That happiness which is blind to self-realization, which is delusion from beginning to end and which arises from sleep, laziness and illusion is said to be of the nature of ignorance.Bhagavad-gita 18.39
It just does not end well and you think of, you know, people—I mean the worst cases that you can think of, you know, drunks or drug addicts that are living in the street have actually given away their life opportunity, their health, their peacefulness of mind. They live in squalor and it’s just, you know, delusional existence thinking that somehow I’m going to find happiness at the end of this; somehow my life is going to be better.
So the third form of happiness that is discussed is,
That which in the beginning may be just like poison but at the end is like nectar and which awakens one to self-realization is said to be happiness in the mode of goodness.Bhagavad-gita 18.37
And it’s like, what? You know, an example is often given in relation to this subject is when a person gets yellow jaundice, they have hepatitis A and they suffer from yellow jaundice because of inflamed liver and gall bladder and bile duct and the body starts becoming yellowish, you actually lose your taste for sweetness. In that condition, anything sweet that you put in your mouth tastes bitter, I mean, really bitter and foul. I know, speaking from experience. It’s happened to me when my first time I lived in India. And it’s quite shocking. I mean, you can’t imagine what it’s like to be in this diseased condition and where something that is naturally sweet like a piece of rock candy tastes so foul and bitter. But part of the Ayurvedic cure for somebody who’s suffering from yellow jaundice, apart from medication that’s taken, is to suck on rock candy. Keep it in the mouth at all times and it gradually helps to reverse the condition. And what happens is suddenly you realize one day that the bitterness has gone away and you may not taste yet the sweetness but the bitterness is gone. And then the more your body heals and eventually, it’s like, okay you regained the taste of sweet again and it’s a very pleasant experience.
Material life conditions us to this idea; this idea that the immediate gratification, where we are going to get this big rush right in the beginning. And then we pursue it and we chase it, and chase it. And then it all just falls apart and becomes very unpleasant, a very unpleasant experience. Even very tragic and can be very sad. And we are not very familiar with this idea that perhaps we are existing in a diseased condition - meaning being conditioned by material conception, material consciousness. And what we need to do is undergo a process that is going to change our consciousness - the way we are thinking and what we are interested in, and what we want to do, and where we want to focus our life.
And so these spiritual experiences are often likened to that. We may find that when we, for instance, chant this spiritual sound that we use in the beginning and end of the classes. Sometimes for some people first time they hear it, it kind of really touches them. But then when you ask somebody to try and practice it—I can remember myself. I was taught how to use these, these beads, Japa beads, for the meditation process. And trying to sit down and hold these beads. And on each bead chant one mantra and then go to the next. I felt like I was dying. It was like really an unpleasant experience. I was very attracted to singing. That seems like really easy. I was, I was very drawn. But the—doing japa meditation was like, “Oh my God do I really have to do this?”(Laughs) It was extremely difficult for me. But what happens is over time, as the purification of the heart and mind takes place, the sweetness of spiritual life, the sweetness of the flavor of the spiritual experience begins to awaken. And begins to increase to the point where one actually becomes bathed in like an ocean of transcendental nectar.
So, you know, this is completely different from the material experience. Material experience, where everybody wants happiness, they don’t understand that material happiness has another side to it; distress. I mean can you get a coin that just has heads on it or tails and nothing on the other side? We know that that—if you try to give that to somebody nobody will take it. It’s got to be fake. The coin has two sides. And the coin of material life has two sides to everything. You cannot have what we are calling material happiness. The happiness—small amount though it may be. Or even some joyfulness from the material experience. You cannot have that without the distress that accompanies it. This material experience, the happiness is not lasting. Anything that has a beginning also has an end. And the fundamental reality is it will not completely satisfy us. It is not what we are actually seeking and wanting and desiring.
So how should a yogi view material happiness? Fundamentally we are advised to live through this world and to accept happiness and distress that comes from the material experience. To simply accept it for what it is. Not to be elated and chasing or looking for the happy experience and trying so hard to avoid the distress. You cannot avoid it. It will come. The happiness will come. The distress will come. The thing is to accept it at face value for what it is and not make that the focus of your life but rather to dive deeply inside. Go on a spiritual inward journey and discover this great ocean of unlimited happiness that resides in the very core of our being.
So Krishna, He advises Arjuna, He says;
Oh son of Kunti, the nonpermanent (nonpermanent) appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.
O best amongst men [Arjuna], the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation.Bhagavad-gita 2.14-15
Then later in the Gita in the 5th chapter 23rd verse He says,
Before giving up this present body, if one is able to tolerate the urges of the material senses and to check the force of desire and anger is well situated and is happy in this world.Bhagavad-gita 5.23
So, I mean, this is like—actually a radical conception for the average person in this world. We are taught and we think that chasing the material experiences, the sensual experiences of this world is where we will find happiness. And here we are being told no, no, no that’s not a good place to go. It just does not end well. Rather it’s better that you attempt to exercise control and discretion. To accept things that come of their own accord and don’t be overly, overly obsessed with them. But rather to be seeking your eternal well-being, your actual happiness in a different place - a spiritual place.
So this condition that we are speaking of is true harmony. Harmony is not—mean to live in so-called harmony with this world; meaning to try to find a balanced way of living so you can maximize enjoyment here. Real harmony means to live in your spiritual state where this becomes the foundation.
Merely renouncing all activities yet not engaging in devotional service of the Lord cannot make one happy. But a thoughtful person engaged in such devotional or loving service can achieve the Supreme without delay.Bhagavad-gita 5.6
So this is speaking to the subject of what is our eternal function. You know this need for happiness, the need for love, they arise from the very core of our being. They are truly spiritual needs and can only be completely fulfilled in relation to the Supreme Soul.
So in another verse from the 6th Chapter, 27th Verse, it says;
A yogi whose mind is fixed on Me (this meaning Krishna) verily attains the highest perfection of transcendental happiness. He is beyond the mode of passion, he realizes his qualitative identity with the Supreme, and thus he is free from all the reactions to past deeds.Bhagavad-gita 6.27
This reference to past deeds is important because it deals with the law of karma. The fact is that every single action that you undertake will result in some karmic result. Even in this lifetime if you are trying to give out positive vibes and just thinking positively and acting nicely and being a good person, it doesn’t mean you won’t get hit by a train. You know a train load of bad karma may be coming down the track from past activity which you cannot avoid. But here He talks about when a person is able to attain this highest perfection, this condition of real transcendental happiness where one is living in spiritual harmony. That spiritual harmony is with the Supreme Soul, the actual Lord of our heart. Engaging in a relationship of love and a relationship of service. In that condition one becomes actually freed from the reactions of all past deeds. And it is only in this state that one will find and experience true and lasting happiness.
So with that I would like to thank you all very much for joining us today. I hope—you know there are some people that will hear the things I’ve spoken about and even though they are spiritual, transcendental and completely truthful subject, and even though we are shining a torch light on where to find real happiness because some of the ideas we’ve spoken about may be contrary to what a person holds to be true, their own belief, therefore they might be a little bit upset and I’m very sorry if in speaking I have actually upset anyone. That is not the intention.
We feel great distress seeing how people unnecessarily suffer in this world, in their lives. And how it does not have to be that way. The actual things that we are looking for within our heart of hearts can be achieved but will require some change in how we are thinking, how we are looking at things, and where we are going in our life.
So I am humbly asking that you would consider these things because they are for your eternal benefit.
So thank you very much. And I’ll invite you to join with us here in closing the talk with the chanting of this transcendental sound.
Thank you very much for joining us today and we look forward to seeing you next week when we continue with this series on the Bhagavad-gita. Thank you. Namaste.