Saturday, 30 March 2019

Vedic view of happiness

(adapted from the lecture of Swmi Paramarthananda)    

All human beings without exception seek as their primary goal, happiness.  “Sukam  me  Sarvadha  Bhooyaath (May I enjoy happiness all the time)” is their constant wish and prayer.  But they have a problem.  The problem is that they do not know what exactly gives them lasting happiness.  They assume that certain things will give them lasting happiness but when they analyze their experiences they find that it is not so.  When one turns to scriptures for guidance, one learns Vedas divide happiness into three categories, based on the means by which the happiness is acquired by a person.  Those three types of happiness, are kama ananda, dharma ananda and mokṣa ananda.  Let us see them one by one.

Kama ananda / Kamananda - The word kama in this context means, all the sense objects in the world which are capable of giving one sense pleasures when one contacts them through one’s sense organs.  So here, the word kama means, not desire; but, the desired or desirable objects i.e. kamyate iti kamaḥ.  And the sense objects can give us ananda through sabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa, and gandha i.e. sound, touch, form, taste and smell.. That happiness is called kamananda. In simple English, all forms of sense pleasures will come under kamananda.  This kamananda, sense pleasures, are not entirely condemned by the Vedas; but, are advised in moderation. All legitimate, dharmic, sensory enjoyments are accepted by Vedas. Vedas even prescribes pujas to get those pleasures. There is a homa, called avahanti homa that is mentioned in anuvaka 4. sikshavalli of Taittriya upanishad which is performed for prosperity that brings clothes, cattle, food and drink forever and also for good Brahmacharis as disciples. Kamananda is the most popular ananda, all over the world.  In fact, when one talks about happiness, the world understands it only as kamananda!

Dharma ananda / Dharmananda -  This ananda and moksha ananda are introduced by Vedas only. Dharmanandaḥ means the happiness that a person can enjoy by following a dharmic way of life.  And, dharmic life means, a life style governed by dharma, a life style that is prescribed by Vedas.  Dharma means, Vedic instructions or Vedic teachings. Swami Paramarthananda presents the vaidika dharma in 3 categories; sadbhavana, sadguṇa, satkarmaṇi i.e. healthy attitudes, healthy values and noble actions or activities. These three put-together is called dharma. All the three limbs are equally important and complimentary.
Sadbhavana - Healthy attitudes. While talking about healthy attitudes Vedas repeatedly mention, that we should have a healthy attitude towards the very world in which we are living i.e. appreciate the universe; admire the universe; revere the universe. The entire universe should be seen as Visvarupa Iswara.   And Visvarupa bhakti is a part of dharmic life.  And therefore, our attitude towards the universe must be one of love and reverence. So, the first component of dharma is a healthy attitude of reverence to the entire universe of things and beings, as an expression of Iswara, as a manifestation of Iswara, and as a gift from Iswara
Sadguṇa - Healthy values.  We can see that all the healthy values are derived from one fundamental principle, ahimsa.  All the living beings, including human beings, have got two instinctive desires. Being instinctive, they are universal.. They are: 1) Sukam me Sarvadha Bhooyaath i.e. Let me be happy,always; 2) Dhukkam Maa Bhooth Kadhachana i.e. I should never have sorrow.   And therefore Vedas say, dharmic life is a life which is led by taking into account these two universal desires. So, when one’s life is based on these two basic desires of every living being, and  does not violate or contradict that, one’s life is in harmony with the universal craving i.e.Sukha bhava and Duḥkha abhava i.e. prescence of happiness and absence of unhappiness.  Vedas say; since nobody wants unhappiness, let your aim be not to give duḥkhaṃ or pain to others; even by thoughts or words or deeds never give sorrow.  In this context  Swamii Dayananda Saraswati’s words are relevant.  Swamiji says, 'all other values are nothing but an extension or derivative of ahimsa only' . When it is said, "satyaṃ vada", what is the message? By telling lies, by giving wrong information, one is hurting others; therefore, 'don’t tell lies'.  So "satyaṃ vada" means, ahimsa.  In the same way 'Don’t cheat others' means, ahiṃsa. Thus, all values are based on one fundamental seed value, which is ahimsa. Therefore dharma consists of ahimsa as the fundamental value.
Satkarmani – Noble actions.  Noble actions are that which fulfills the basic desires of all living beings.  Nobody wants sorrow. Therefore, what one does to alleviate or remove the pain of others is a noble karma.  Even though one cannot spend money, a few nice words or whatever help one can give to alleviate the pain of others, duhkha abhavarthaṃ, will do  Everybody wants happiness. So whatever help one can do to give or improve the comfort and joy of others comes under noble karma.  So whatever one does for para duhkha nivrtti or para sukha prapti, directly or indirectly, they are all satkarmani.

Thus, dharma consist of three principles: sadbhavana = visvarupa bhakti; satguṇaḥ = ahiṃsa; satkarmani = para upakara.  If these three one follows to the extent possible, that life is called a dharmic way of life. Vedas say, this dhārmic way of life itself will give immense joy; a joy derived by giving joy ! Because, in paropakara, one gives joy and through giving joy increases one’s joy.  A win-win situation in which both benefit.  This ananda is called dharmananda.  And Vedas say, dharmananda is quantitatively and qualitatively much superior to kamananda.  Materialistic society promotes kamananda and Vedic society promotes dharmananda.

Moksha ananda/ Mokshananda. - Just as In kamananda, kama is the means of ananda; in dharmananda, dharma is the means of ananda; in mokṣhananda, mokṣha is the means of ananda.  Mokṣha means, liberation or freedom or release.  This liberation is from self-ignorance and self-misconception that makes one think that one is a limited mortal, which gives rise to the thought that, to be happy one has to get happiness from the external world.  Moksha is attained through knowledge of one’s Self, Athma Jnanam. With Athma Jnanam one realizes one’s identity with Brahman, which is described as Sat,Chit Ananda, pure existence, pure knowledge and pure happiness. The ignorance and misconception about one’s Self makes one believe that for one’s happiness one has to depend on the external sources    Really speaking the external things are not giving one happiness; they are only bringing out the happiness which is already in one, as Athma.  So, Vedas say those happiness-giving-objects are nothing but a mirror to reveal one’s own happiness. They are only reflecting one’s inner happiness!  With mokshananda all the struggle for ananda will cease.  Lord Krishna speaks of such a person who has attained mokshananda thus:
Yastwaatmaratir eva syaad aatmatriptashcha maanavah;
Aatmanyeva cha santushtas tasya kaaryam na vidyate (Gita 3-17)
For that man who rejoices only in the Self, who is satisfied in the Self, who is content in the Self alone, verily there is nothing to do.

That is Liberation; freedom from struggles to get happiness.  So we can take Vedic formula for happiness as “Enjoy kamananda but always with dharmananda, keeping mokshananda as the goal”

Monday, 25 March 2019

Sanyasa, a study


        (adapted from the lectures of Swami Paramarthananda)   

In Vedic way of life one goes through four asramas in life, namely Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa, the last one being solely devoted to working for one’s liberation, Moksha.   The primary means of liberation is spiritual knowledge. Next to spiritual knowledge, Sanyasa or renunciation is almost as important as spiritual knowledge.  One enters the Brahmacharya asram early in life, mostly before seven, and takes to Grihastha asram after the studies are over, thus enabling one to take to Sanyasa asram with faculties in good condition.  Those who take to sanyasa asrama are classified in four groups as below:-
1)    Kuteechaka
2)    Bahudhaka
3)    Hamsa
4)    Paramahamsa

Kuteechaka Kuteechaka sanyasi is a Grihastha who takes to sanyasa but lives with the family.  He lives in a separate Kutiya or place apart from the house, but within the compound.  He takes his food from the house but does not involve or interfere in family matters.  He wears Yagnopaveedham and has stick and carries three thandas put together as one, each danda representing discipline at Kayika, Vachika and Manasa level.  He wears ochre robe.  He does not travel.  He does Puja and Vedanta study and parayanam

Bahudhaka Bahudhaka sanyasi is like Kuteechaka sanyasi but lives outside the family fold.  He does not travel much.  He takes food from the village on Biksha basis.  He is also Trithandi.  He also does Puja and Vedanta study and parayanam.

Hamsa -  He does not have Yajnopaveedam as well as shikha.  All his pujas are manasam,.  He spends his time in Sravanam, Mananam and Nitidyasanam.  He also does not travel much.  More committed to Jnanam and less and less to ritual

Paramahamsa – Paramahamsa sanyasi is a more advanced Hamsa Sanyasi and there are two types of Paramahamsa sanyasis.  
1     Amukya ParamahamsaVividisha Sanyasi
He carries one DandaEkadanda.  He does not travel much .  He does parayanam of Veda Bashyam, Upanishads and does japa on Mahavakhya.
2     Mukya Paramahamsa - Vidwat Sanyasi
Even the minimum discipline prescribed for Vividisha Sanyasi is not for him.  No puja , no rituals.  Only Nitidyasanam.  He gives up Danda and Kamandala as well and he wears minimum clothes if he chooses to.  He travels freely and is also known as Paramahamsa Parivrajaka SanyasiVidwat Sanyasa is the highest form of Sanyasa and the word Sanyasi generally refers to Vidwat Sanyasi only. For Vidwat Sanyasi owning up Brahmanhood comes naturally. He is the ideal model for Bramhan as he is asanghaha, relationship free; karma mukthaha, free of performance of duties; belongs to everyone and does not depend on external source for security.

Even though it is said Sanyasa is ideal for study and assimilation of Vedanta knowledge, one in Grahastha asrama,  with an attitude that all belong to Lord and Lord only and has mentally freed himself from all attachments and relationships and has an attitude of inner surrender, called Saranaagathi, is also an ideal student for Vedanta.   Such a person is called internal sanyasi, Aantara Sanyasi.  As per the Sastras it is said that to become an Aantara Sanyasi, one should renounce three things as follows:
1     Sarva Abhimana Parityagaha
2     Sarva Chinta Parityagaha
3     Sarva Vishesha Prarthana Parityagaha

Sarva Abhimana Parityagaha - The word Abhimana means the sense of ownership and controllership.  From the study of Vishwarupa Darshana in the Bhagavad Gita, one learns that Bhagawan is everything and the owner of everything. Bhagawan has temporarily given certain things for one’s spiritual growth and use.  Bhagawan can give anyone anything at any time and Bhagawan can also take away anything from anyone at any time, whether it is tangible things like people and property or intangible things like name, fame, honour, prestige, health etc.  So when one claims ownership of anything, he is only misappropriating Bhagawan’s property which is a serious spiritual offence, for which he suffers the punishment of imprisonment in Samsara jail.  And not only one renounces the sense of ownership, one also renounces the sense of controllership as well.  Everything and every event is controlled by Bhagavan according to the Laws of Karma.  One is only a contributor. One’s freewill is limited to the extent of making a choice to become a contributor only.  This mental renunciation of ownership and controllership of everything with the understanding that only Bhagwan is the owner and controller is Athma Nivedana Bhakthi, also called surrender.

Sarva Chinta Parityagaha - The word Chinta means anxiety or worry. If one analyzes, all the anxieties and worries are only centred on those things and beings where one has got Abhimana. Abhimana and worry are interconnected.  Greater the Abhimana, greater is the worry and vice-versa.  Therefore as Aantara Sanyasi, not only should one renounce all the Abhimana,, but  also should renounce one’s support for all forms of worry. One cannot avoid the arrival of worry, but as Aantara Sanyasi, one uses all one’s resources to disengage the mind from all forms of worry.

Sarva Vishesha Prarthana ParityagaVishesha Prarthana means all forms of special prayers, vows etc, which are meant for special purposes. If one studies the psychology of special prayer, one will note that one offers special prayers only with regard to the things and the people where one has Abhimana.  Just as worry is integrally connected to Abhimana, all special prayers are also integrally connected to Abhimana. Therefore, they reinforce each other. More the Abhimana, more will be the special prayers.  More the Abhimana, greater is the spiritual offence.  Greater the spiritual offence, Samsara is more perpetuated.

Further as Abhimana is the seed of raga and dwesha one free from Abhimana is free of raga and dwesha as well.  Lord Krishna calls such a person ‘nithya sanyasi’ in Gita 5-3
gneyah sa nitya sanyasi yona dweshti na kankshati
nirdwandwohi mahabaho sukham bandhat pramuchyate    (5 – 3)
He should be known as a perpetual Sanyasi who neither hates nor desires; for, free from the pairs of opposites, O mighty-armed Arjuna, he is easily set free from bondage!

But one taking to internal sanyasa should bear in mind a few points.  Since there is no formal Sanyasa and so no initiation, one adopting internal sanyasa should choose a day and take a formal Sankalpa on that day before his Ishta devata to renounce the three; Abhimana, Chinta and Visesha prarthana thereafter. He should remember this renunciation includes the three in respect of his own body mind complex also i.e, Deha Abhimana Parityagaha,  Deha Chinta Parityagaha,  Deha Vishesha Prārthana Parityāgaha.  He can continue his pujas and pilgrimages as before but they all must be undertaken on Nishkama basis, only as a thanks giving for all that he has received in life.  He can continue his Nithya karmas on a Nishkama basis with no guilty feeling as his Sankalpa is not in conflict with them. Further adherence to the Sankalpa will purify the mind and make it fit to absorb Vedantic studies.

So to conclude Sanyasa can be either internal or external.  Of these external Sanyasa with its emphasis on seclusion and spiritual studies is ideal for the pursuit of spiritual goal of Athma jnanam and liberation, while internal Sanyasa also provides a conducive infrastructure for spiritual pursuit, with its emphasis on Abimana Thyaga and forsaking of raga and dwesha. 

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Handling sorrow

(adapted from a lecture by Swami Paramarthananda)

There is a Sanskrit verse which runs as follows:
Sukam  me  Sarvadha  Bhooyaath
Dhukkam  Maa Bhooth Kadhachana
Ithi  Ichche  Sarva  Saamaanye
Te Jnaanadeva  Sidhyathaha
May I enjoy happiness all the time.  May I not face unhappiness at any time.  These two desires are common to all the human beings and they are fulfilled thru’ Jnanam.

These two desires, seeking happiness and avoiding unhappiness, are basic and universal and are common to all human beings.  The verse itself tells how this can be achieved.  It states that through Jnanam and Jnanam only one can reach this state of happiness and happiness only.  Before proceeding to discuss how Jnanam could help one to attain this state of ‘only happiness and no unhappiness’, let us try to understand how happiness and sorrow arises in one’s bosom. Happiness arises when one goes through any experience that one would like to go through. In other words happiness can be defined as going through a wanted experience.  On the contrary one experiences sorrow when going through an experience one wants to avoid.  So sorrow or unhappiness can be defined as going through an unwanted experience.

As one probes deeper one finds wanted experience need not always be pleasant ones.  They can also be painful experiences but they are definitely loved ones. One example to illustrate this statement is mountaineering.  Mountain climbing is full of pain and tension. It is highly risky as well. Human error like a misstep or an avalanche can cause death to the mountaineer. Notwithstanding all the hardships, pitfalls, and risks, mountaineers enjoy the suffering. It is a wanted experience and so becomes happiness. Another common example is motherhood for women.  Motherhood is a painful experience involving discomfort during pregnancy, intense pain in the form of delivery and numerous hardships later in bringing up a child.  Yet most women after marriage aspire to become mothers and enjoy the motherhood when it happens because it is a wanted experience and so brings happiness.

Similarly there can be experiences which in normal circumstances can be termed pleasant and cause happiness but in special circumstances can be viewed as unpleasant and cause sorrow.  When a self-employed person with self-respect suffers a setback in business and loses fortunes and has to be rescued by the in-laws to find his feet again he does not feel happy about regaining the fortunes but feels sorry about the way it is achieved and this experience brings him only sorrow.

In one’s life, one is all the time struggling to get wanted experiences (pleasant or painful) and avoid unwanted experiences (pleasant or painful).  But even though one puts in one’s best efforts, one finds that many a time unwanted experiences impinge upon one and wanted experiences elude him. If one without getting frustrated and sinking in despair analyses calmly, he will discover the truth that only the experience happens and labelling it as wanted or unwanted is done by one’s mind only.  As the labels are one’s creation only, they are within one’s control unlike the experiences themselves which depend on many factors over which one has little or no control. So if one through attitudinal change avoids wanted-unwanted classification, one can get rid of the mental misery and accompanying sorrow. 

This change in attitude that guides one to get rid of the labelling can be achieved through Jnanam, scriptural knowledge.  Scriptures point out that the entire universe is an orderly and harmonious whole implying everything happens perfectly according to universal laws. Nothing is odd or chaotic.  Everything in creation, from the tiny microbe to the giant sun, has an assigned role to play in this universe.  One can see this from the example of childbirth. When the baby is in the mother’s womb, it gets exactly the food it needs from the mother through a beautiful, naturally well-designed connection called the umbilical cord. After the baby emerges from the mother’s womb, the umbilical cord is snapped. The baby has delicate health to regular food, food that adults consume. At that time the mother secretes milk – at the right time and right temperature containing the right nutrition with all the antibodies the baby needs to fight the diseases. It is a biochemical marvel and this happens naturally without human intervention.

This reveals that the entire universe is orderly and well-designed by an omniscient and omnipotent Lord.  All experiences of all people at all times, without any exceptions, are also an integral part of the universe. So every experience in the world is perfectly in order as part of the wonderfully designed universe and one classifies an experience as unwanted only out of emotional immaturity or out of intellectual arrogance. So one should regard every experience that one goes through as a wanted experience only, needed for one’s spiritual nourishment and growth.  In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad there is an entire section (5. 11) called Vyahita Brahmanam advising one to look upon even diseases as sadhana or tapas (meaning a wanted experience).

Fasting (on Ekadasi) and remaining without sleep (on Sivaratri) are wanted experiences that one is happy to undergo.  But fasting due to lack of food on a train stranded in floods or lack of sleep due to a noisy neighbour are unwanted experiences that plunge one in misery.  The difference is just in perspective.  If one is a spiritual seeker with Jnanam, he will consider every experience as a wanted experience and let no experience upset his tranquillity. The benefit is that there are no regrets, no resistance, and no frustration. So if one changes one’s perspective to any experience one can be happy all the time, is the knowledge to be gained from the scriptures.  With this knowledge one will accept every experience as wanted for one’s growth, and be thankful and grateful to the Lord for the experiences with the prayer “Let me consider every experience as a wanted experience especially designed by the Lord for me just like mother’s milk designed for me when I was an infant and therefore I welcome all experiences whole heartedly and am thankful to You for all the experiences”.  This is the Jnanam required for one’s spiritual growth as well as for a happy life free of sorrow.