From Relative to Real Happiness
Author: Vraja Bihari dasa holds a master’s degree in International Finance and Management (MBA). He serves as a full-time resident devotee at ISKCON Chowpatty and teaches Krishna consciousness to students at universities. He also conducts devotional seminars and training programmes for the temple’s congregation members.
Continued from the previous issue…Are Humans more miserable than animals?
From ‘Relative’ to ‘Real’ Happiness
We need to first ask ourselves what is the kind of happiness that we are looking for? Most people would agree that they seek happiness that is permanent, ever increasing, that which can be shared with others and that which offers variety. If these four characteristics are present we can refer to the state as ‘Real Happiness’. If these are absent, they can be called as ‘Relative Happiness’.
We can now analyse the experiences of pleasure we get in this world. Are they relative happiness or real happiness? Almost all our experiences of happiness are relative because they are not permanent, and are dependent on many other factors. For example I may celebrate India winning a cricket match and that happiness is relative because some others are mourning at their team’s loss. I may be happy at watching a movie but that happiness is lost after some time, for it’s not permanent. Sometime later I need to see another movie or even while watching the same movie that caused us so much happiness earlier, we are miserable due to some other bad experiences.
Happiness has intrigued men over millennium. If we have to identify one factor that prevents us from being happy, it’s the existence of ‘problems’. We are constantly beset with problems, and that stops us from being happy. Even if we get what we want, the simultaneous existence of problems keeps us from being always happy. I once saw a friend relish samosas, his favourite food, at a college canteen. Just then another friend arrived with the bad news that both of them had flunked the exams and the friend who was enjoying samosas in particular, has to repeat a year. The news hurt him and he sulked in pain, while his samosas were finished by another samosa enthusiast. I saw he loves samosas, yet he is now miserable. This means happiness doesn’t depend on things or food but on the ‘problems’ that plague our mind. To understand the subject more deeply, let us now study the subject of problems and relate it to the two types of happiness- ‘Real’ and ‘Relative’.
‘Relative’ and ‘Real’ problems
Problems can also be either ‘Relative’ or ‘Real’. By solving relative problems, we experience relative happiness and by countering real problems we can attain real happiness.
Relative problem simply means ‘one man’s food is another man’s poison’. For example if you ask a dentist, “How’s business” and he replies, “Fantastic”, what do you conclude? His prosperity is dependent on other’s dental problems. The dental problem is then called as a relative problem of this world because it isn’t a problem for all. For the dentist, dental problems in society are a blessing in disguise. Are rains problem or a boon? For an umbrella seller, rains are a benediction and he wishes it rains the whole year. A vegetable producer or a farmer could be miserable if the rains shower the whole year; his produce is then negatively affected. What about corruption, over population, unemployment and a plethora of other issues plaguing the Nation? Are they real problems affecting all or are they relative problems. I once read an interview of a multi-millionaire industrialist from Mumbai who was asked what his heart’s deepest desire was. He wished to go to a remote village in the Northern India and relax amidst Nature and a life of minimum necessities. I then wondered if you ask a simple villager living there what his heart-felt desire was what would be his reply? I reasonably assume he would wish to make it big in Mumbai. Both men would seek to trade places for the grass is greener on the other side!!
If most of these problems are relative, what then are real problems? For a problem to be real, it has to fulfil three criterions; a) the problem in discussion must be common to all, b) Nobody should want it, and c) Nobody can avoid it.
Consider the various problems of this world and see if they are real or relative. Relative problem is ‘one man’s food is another’s poison’ and real problems are those that are common to all, nobody wants them and nobody can avoid them.
The Vedic Scriptures declare seven problems to be ‘Real Problems’ for they meet the above criterion. Besides, if we can solve them, we are allowing ourselves to access real happiness- happiness that is permanent and increases over a period of time. Remember the Mahabharata call imploring us to seek perfection of our human lives by solving real problems and attaining real and eternal life of unending happiness.
Solving the seven ‘Real’ Problems
The first of these seven is ‘Birth’. The process of birth is called as labour pain; it’s not referred to as labour pleasure because birth is painful for both the mother and the child. When the child is born he cries in pain. And if he doesn’t cry, the doctor slaps the child till he cries. Why does the child cry? Unless he’s uncomfortable, he won’t cry. Thus all who take birth are miserable during the process. It’s common to all. And none of us could avoid it. We also didn’t want it. The Srimad Bhagavatam, a Vedic epic on the treatise of science of God, describes the plight of the child in the womb of his mother. The child constantly prays for deliverance and seeks not to suffer in the womb. The womb is a constricted place where the child is miserable. In a fun fair we have roller coaster rides, and pregnant women are discouraged to ride on the Ferris wheel. The child inside wouldn’t be able to take it. Even if we are asked to sit inside a well-furnished room for nine months, we will be miserable. We would desperately want to get out and experience fresh air and freedom. It’s like being inside a sack, and bathed in various acids and fluids.
‘Old Age’ is the second Real problem. Old age affects not only the physical body but the resultant emotional pain is heavy. An activity like running up the stairs or down may seem effortless for a young teenager but an old person may take hours. A young boy has good digestion and can eat a variety of foodstuffs. An old man or woman has to think twice before eating any food. He has to analyse if the food is agreeable with his system. I once saw an old man cut his nails. With blurred vision he struggled to connect the nail cutter with his toe and he repeatedly failed. Later with some external help he could accomplish the task. Some may argue that old age is not common to all for many do die young. Old age is defined as proximity to death. If a ninety year old man is destined to live another ten years while a five year old is to die tomorrow, then the child is older than the ninety year old man. One may avoid the symptoms of old age but the proximity and nearness to death is a reality for all. And nobody for sure wants the proximity to death.
‘Disease’ is also an unavoidable reality of the world. One may get cured of a disease or even eradicate certain diseases like small pox, but can we avoid getting diseased per se. Is there anyone who has never fallen sick? The flourishing pharmaceutical industry is evidence of growing diseases. Diseases are common to all and nobody can avoid them either.
Both old age and diseases are now common amongst youth. I have heard of seventeen year old young men suffer from arthritis, a twenty four year old lady die of a heart attack, and lower back pain is now common amongst professionals working on their computers for long hours. These symptoms were earlier plaguing only the old, but now the distinction between young and old is fading away. Thanks to the modern lifestyles the miseries are catching up with the youth faster.
‘Death’ is the fourth of the real problem. ‘As sure as death’ is an old maxim. We may have the best doctors treating us with the best medicines in the best hospital and we could be cared for by the best nurses. Yet, amidst all of it we could die. When death comes, a rich man can’t bribe death, a beautiful lady can’t charm it away to escape death. Neither can a scholar debate with death nor can a strong man wrestle with death. As the Chinese say, “after the game of chess, both the king and the pawn lie in the same box”. The Vedic Scriptures reveal the pain of death to be equivalent to the biting of 40,000 scorpions. Sometimes to win an argument people say, “I don’t fear death at all”. However their actions prove otherwise. After a series of Bomb blasts in Mumbai, people were fearful, yet they masked that fear in the name of Mumbai spirit and courage. The trains continued to be filled with crowded passengers going to work, and one could be easily fooled to believe that these people don’t fear death. One of our friends during this time forgot his huge bag containing Bhagavad Gita’s in the local train and he got off at Dadar. Later he realized his lapse and took another train and rushed to Church Gate to only discover a huge crowd gathered at a long distance away and fearfully staring at the bag. Nobody had touched the bag. It lay there surrounded by police men and sniffer dogs. Our friend coolly walked up and took the bag, much to the surprise of all the anxious passengers and police. Death is especially painful because it means an end to all our attachments and possessions. Very few are able to face it bravely. Equipping ourselves with spiritual technology helps us face this inevitable reality of life maturely and soberly.
Besides the above four there are three more miseries: Miseries caused by a) one’s own body and mind; b) other living entities, and c) natural disturbances.
There are innumerable examples from our daily lives that reveal our fragile state of being exposed to at least one of these three additional miseries always. Psychiatric illness is now a common phenomenon; the female Anopheles mosquito is one amongst many of the ‘other living entities’ that can make our lives miserable with a bout of malaria. Tsunamis, droughts, and earthquakes can strike anywhere at any time. The seven miseries affect the residents of this planet constantly; thanks to the abuse of mother earth, the disturbances will get more acute and more frequent in the coming years.
In our quest for real happiness, we need to first identify these real problems; then discuss how to seek relief from them. As long as we are plagued by these miseries, real happiness will elude us.
To be continued… Happiness- From superficial attempts to permanent solution
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