Friday, 11 November 2016

Happiness and Freedom

Acting in the World 

Having checked what the world is about we are now in a position of asking an important question. Given this world, and a body made up of worldly stuff, what is the optimal way to act here?  In simpler terms, how should one live his life in the best possible way? The short version of the answer is - actions must be such that they lead to more and more happiness and freedom. The long version is the following article. As long as there is a Mind, there will be worlds and bodies, and actions will follow. Our actions determine the quality of our worldly experience. So it is imperative to learn how to act here. Needless to say that our actions must be aligned to our goals, namely - happiness and freedom.

Why happiness and freedom? 

I'm glad you asked. Never accept blindly whatever they feed you. Question the teachings and then question the questions. What else you'd want, if not happiness and freedom? If you dig a bit here, you'd find that every human being or the Self having human experiences wants nothing but happiness and freedom. This is a necessity, not a choice. In other words, whatever you do, you do it for happiness and freedom. You are incapable of doing anything else. Lets examine more.

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Its very obvious that most of us want pleasures and avoid pain. This is the obvious choice for happiness. Pleasures diminish when we get them (please see articles on pleasure etc.), so people look for new ways to please themselves. This is a choice for freedom, the freedom to get whatever they want and whenever they want, freedom to discard what they do not want and so on. All the rat race in this world is about this. Money, power, looks, talents, abilities, knowledge, you name it - are means to get more and more of pleasure and happiness. So even the ignorant, by default, choose freedom and happiness. Its another matter that they have no clue how to get that and they are not aware why they want that.

What about those who are not after worldly pleasures, such as explorers, artists, inventors, writers, and all such “cream of the society” types? Surely, their pleasure lies in achieving their goals in their respective fields. This is how they get happiness. Of course they need to be free from the usual burdens of labour and menial tasks essential for their survival, and manage to remain as free as possible in order to achieve their goals. This is their choice of freedom. Such people do appear simple, humble and devoid of luxury to the people who get their pleasure from purely material life and habitually flaunt their material belongings. They'd imagine that in spite of the extraordinary talents and abilities, those people are unhappy, but they fail to grasp that these types derive their happiness from non-material things and acts. Some do achieve money and fame, but I guess they don't care too much about that. Prevent them from creating or achieving and you'll make them very unhappy. So consciously or not, the so called intelligentsia also opt for happiness and freedom.

What about those who take great pains in order to accomplish something impossible, such as climbing a mountain or exploring the south pole? Well, their happiness comes from overcoming the otherwise insurmountable difficulties. This is how they choose happiness. Obviously, one would not travel to south pole if he found that adventure boring and not worthy of risking his life. Ordinary people have no idea how much happiness it provides to explorers. Its certainly more than watching a documentary about Antarctica on their expensive TV. For the same reasons some people fly high in space or dive deep into oceans. Its not that they choose pain and danger, its because these acts give them ample happiness and a sense of immense freedom.

Some people choose a direct route to happiness and freedom, which means they cut out the mediators and reach their goal directly. We call them wise men. They are most free and are in a perpetual state of bliss. How is that even possible? Don’t you need to do something to be happy and free? Ah, this belief is the root cause of suffering. Happiness and freedom is our natural state, we don't need to do anything to get it, all we need to do is not do the actions that take us into suffering and bondage. It is as simple as that.

Why don't people know this? If they knew, there would be no ignorance. Ignorance is exactly that - not knowing. Just accept that there is ignorance and it is on a massive scale. Almost everyone is ignorant, including you and me, else we wouldn't be here.

How can one know that happiness and freedom is our essential nature? It is easy. Sit down quietly and observe. The introspection goes like this - what happens when you get an excess of stuff, people and activities that make you very happy? E.g. if you like sweets and you are fed sweets every day, every hour and every minute, what is the result? Assuming you manage to survive, one would suspect that you'd be very unhappy about this situation. You will demand the freedom to eat other foods or to not eat at all. Now something else would make you happy. If sweets caused happiness, one would expect that an excess of them would cause more happiness, but we see the opposite. What went wrong here? Nothing wrong, just our friendly P2P, a trick of mother nature to keep you alive and healthy. If you try to have too much pleasure, it turns into pain. Too much pleasure does not translate into too much happiness. And therefore the objects or relations instrumental for pleasures do not supply the promised happiness after a while. Eventually one starts demanding freedom to choose objects or people. Objects or people without any choice, without any freedom, lead to misery. This is the essential realization here.

If you observe closely, unhappy states of the Mind are caused by unfulfilled desires. Fulfilment of desires leads to happiness. It is not that the object of desire causes happiness, it is because once you get that object, the Mind is relieved of the burden of that desire. It needs to do nothing now, it enters a state of contentment. This state causes happiness, the freedom from desire brings the Mind back to its natural state, which is perceived as happiness. Observe closely.

Here is the key. If you keep your Mind free from the burden of those thousands of desires and afflictions, it will abide in happiness on its own. Nothing else needs to be done.

Happiness and freedom, and their opposites pertain to the Mind. Its the Mind that demands happiness and freedom. If you look from the point of view of Self, the Self is eternally content, happy and absolutely free. It allows everything, every experience, even the unhappy ones on its screen. It merely witnesses them unconditionally. The Self needs no goals, no paths, it is already there where it must be. Mind struggles to remain in its natural state when bombarded with worldly stuff, and hence needs a goal, a way to stay happy and free. It tries to achieve that by acting, and therefore one needs to act in a way so that the Mind does not deviate too much from its natural state. If the Mind remains steady and equanimous, you have achieved that goal.

So the bottom line is - whatever you decide to do, however you choose to act in a world, you will gravitate towards only two goals - happiness and freedom. This is by necessity. One cannot desire anything else, because all other desires necessarily lead to these two again.

Happiness or freedom?  

Which is more desirable when a situation forces us to choose one? We can always have both. The trick is simple - always choose freedom, because freedom always leads to happiness. Actually one can discard the goal of happiness totally. Be free, and happiness will follow automatically.

How is this possible? If you are perfectly happy but if you discover that you are in some kind of bondage, the happiness disappears in seconds. This is human nature. It follows directly from the nature of the Self, which is eternally free and does not care too much about this ephemeral state of the Mind known as happiness. Sadness is yet another state of the Mind, and there are many more. So why place so much weightage on a particular state - the state of happiness? Strictly speaking, it doesn’t matter what state the Mind is in. Happiness is its ground state and it stays happy there. So you will find that whatever state you are in, you tend to gravitate towards happiness again and again.

One can argue that Equanimity is the most natural state of the Mind, not happiness. A new student will find that idea boring, so teachers usually prescribe a stepping stone, which is happiness. It is easy to understand and is a great motivator. Constantly being happy brings about the state of equanimity naturally. In my experience, equanimity is nothing but happiness, a more peaceful one.

Some situations demand that you delay your happiness in order to be free later. You must choose to suffer for the time being, so that you don't have to suffer forever. For example, your job is a suffering (lets say) but you must finish today's job, so that you enjoy the benefits later. Not working can have undesirable consequences. Similarly, one needs to suffer an arduous journey in order to enjoy a heavenly landscape or vacation. Sometimes suffering leads you to freedom and the resulting happiness is much more. Avoid the local minima of suffering, search for the global minimum.

How to get there? 

As I said, you are already free, already blissful. But you may say that its not your experience, at least not now. This is a major confusion such teachings cause. When I heard that for the first time, I was confused too, I thought it was pure BS. It needs some explaining.

As I said, there is an ignorance that you are not free and happy. And the cause of this ignorance is beliefs. What else can cause ignorance, obviously. Beliefs, or partial knowledge, that you need to do such and such act, or need this or that thing or a person to be happy and free is a belief. It mostly originates out of the Ego. But the poor Ego is just doing its job - providing you a human experience. The problem is that you are not aware what it is doing. You run after whatever the Ego points at, like a stupid dog. It is a mistake to make the Ego your master and fetch the stick it throws around, mindlessly. The solution is to be aware, be conscious, be attentive, 24 x 7. Choose consciously, act consciously, be the Self, not the Ego. Take control. Be free instead of being a slave of Egoic impulses and desires. The happiness will follow automatically. Its magic!

This is the most direct and pithy way to say it all. If you get it, you don't need to read the rest of the article. This is the essence. So again, we see that a conscious attitude is the key. If you are reading the past articles here, you must have noticed that this solution comes up again and again. Because there is no other solution, at least not a permanent one. If you have not read the articles on the Mind and Ego, and specifically about their afflictions, its time to do so now. I won't repeat the details here. Those articles have all the details you may need. In essence, if you free yourself from the afflictions, you will be free. The condition is permanent, it does not return. The happiness and freedom are inversely proportional to the amount of afflictions and beliefs. This is the formula.

Be my guest 

A seeker lives in this world as one lives in a hotel. He arrives here for some reason, work or vacation or to meet someone. The hotel is the world. His stay here is the life. His job is to experience the hotel and accomplish whatever he is here for, that is his path. The path of his heart, to which he is naturally drawn to. Once the stay is over, he simply checks out.

An ignorant guest would be one, who has no clue why he is in a hotel. He sees others having fun, enjoying the vacation and mimics them, or tries to. He sees others doing something important, he tries to copy that too. He finds some people have better rooms and he instantly becomes dissatisfied with his own. He finds that some people have better food or complementary breakfasts. He gets furious. Complains to the management, fights with the staff, troubles those who are actually enjoying. Tries to get a pretty roommate, just because others have one, so on and so forth. His entire stay is a struggle and suffering. At the time of leaving he refuses to pack up, insists on staying forever and behaves like a cry-baby. He tries to steal stuff from the hotel, wants to take it with him. Not only he makes his own stay a mess, he causes troubles for others and ruins their holiday also.

Some ignorant guests are somewhat more reasonable, they don't complain or fight, they get busy fixing their room. Try to make theirs into a deluxe room or something. The manager tells them, they need to pay more money to get better food and facilities, and so they spend most of their vacation trying to earn money, rather than enjoying their current package. Some other guests take advantage of such people and offer them money in exchange of services or work. Some guests hunt for rich guests and offer their bodies in exchange of a better room and good food. Their whole vacation is spent in making the hotel a better place. Even then, they are not fulfilled, they always find that someone else has even more. They do not know that the hotel will be like this always, and they do not know what else to do but to run after stuff. They have no meaningful job there, no idea why they are in hotel. When the time for checkout arrives, they depart with a heavy heart, they see that they had a miserable and meaningless stay. They cling to the room and stuff it contains, after all they spent the entire vacation collecting stuff for this room. When they are told that they can't have it, it multiplies their misery many times.

A wise man does not try to fix the hotel, its not his job. Someone else owns the hotel, he has his own agenda, his path. He uses the facilities as best as he can. Ignores the shortcomings. If he gets something better he does not hesitate to use that too, but he never struggles for it, never clings to it. He keeps his own room neat and tidy, doesn’t care too much how others keep their rooms or how much more stuff the other rooms have. If he needs something to accomplish his goals he makes efforts to get it. He is not distracted by other choices, however tempting they are. He makes friends with other guests. Chooses those who are like him and who are also here for something similar. These are the guests that are aware, they know very well that they are in a hotel. His friends help him to accomplish whatever he is after. If he is here just to enjoy his vacation, he does exactly that. When its over, he leaves everything in the hotel as it is, packs up his stuff, if any, throws away that which will be only a burden for his journey and happily awaits for his tickets and taxi to the airport. He leaves other guests behind, and wishes them well.

A wise man lives in a world like a guest in a hotel, it is not his hotel, the room is not his own, the things in the room are to be left and same for other people, they are guests too, some will leave before you do and some will stay behind for a while. He has no business with them once he leaves. He does not complain about the hotel. Does not kill others to take over their pretty rooms. Has meaningful and light friendships with all, he demands nothing from anyone. It is not the hotel, but his experience of the stay that is important. Enjoy your stay in the hotel - The World Intercontinental.

Menu please 

Lets assume you are visiting a restaurant for the first time. First way is to simply demand a particular dish you like and ignore the menu. Second way is to read the menu and choose a dish.

The first way has the advantage that you may get exactly what you order, but there is no guarantee that you will get it. It is also uncertain how it will taste, because the chef may need to cook it up from a cooking book. And perhaps it will cost some unexpected value, unless you already know what it costs there. The second way is more laid back and like an exploration rather than a demand. You choose something, ask for waiters advice, find out the chef's special, reject something that makes your wallet unhappy and so on.

The first way shows that the customer is too certain about what is best. He is not open to learn about other recipes. He is unwise in regard to what he spends. But perhaps that’s what makes him happy. One can guess that if he comes again and does the same thing, he would be perhaps more confident and happy, but if he continues doing this on his every visit, his happiness would start to fade and he may complain one day that the food tastes bad there. He may demand something else, perhaps whatever the other guest is having, but you can imagine where its going.

A wise guest lets the restaurant serve its menu, he simply chooses something out of what they have. When he arrives there again, he chooses something else and slowly learns what tastes best there. His future trips are more satisfying, the waiter awaits his visit with expectation, as he gets a good tip every time.

There are two ways to live a life. First is to demand stuff out of it, to insist that you get only that at any cost and you are bent on spending whole of your life time to get it. Second is to choose from stuff this life has to offer, choose wisely, with intention and awareness. Know what it will cost, what are the consequences. Weigh it in terms of time it takes, whether its worth spending 40 years to get it, and so on. If its not as per your liking just don't choose it. There is no use demanding its removal from the menu of life. It is for someone else. You have a choice, you are free to pick something else. Pick something else, the happiness has no name and shape, its independent of the instrument you use to get it. Once you know how to exercise your freedom to choose, you always arrive at happiness.

Let the life serve you a menu. Bon appetit.

But I’m not free 

You are not free (in this world) but you are free to choose. The choices are limited due to ignorance and beliefs. More beliefs you have less choices you get, because now you cannot see the other choices. What you choose depends on your wisdom, the current level of your evolution. There is a big difference in ways a wise person makes a choice when compared to an ignorant person, assuming similar situations. The choice of a wise man always leads him to more freedom, not less. Happiness follows naturally.

For example one who believes that only a big car can make him happy completely ignores the fun of flying in an airplane [1]. He suffers the pain of not having a fast car to reach his destination and looks at people who have one with envy. The belief that he cannot reach somewhere without a car is his bondage.

The fact is that the choice to be happy is always present. One may or may not get the exact instrument one desires to reach the state of happiness. But that does not matter, you can always find something else to reach there. The ignorance lies in believing that only a particular instrument will make you happy.

You may say, you don't have money to fly - no freedom you see. But you are then free to change your destination. Go somewhere else, use your bike. See that flying or driving a new car is only a desire, and desires are dime a dozen, have some other desire. They are plenty and are free. The bondage lies in a belief that only a particular desire needs to be fulfilled in order to be happy. This kind of attitude is of course stupidity, or immaturity at most.

But that other fellow was so happy when he travelled there and had a vacation or something. The belief here is that what makes others happy will make you happy too. The truth is you don't know, you just assume so. In such cases the person has no clue how to be happy and is simply doing the monkey see monkey do thing. His ignorance makes it impossible to choose something else and he complains that he is not free.

But I want only that kind of happiness, why can't I have it? Again, there is a belief here, that happiness has kinds, its all same, its a mental state. It does have degrees or amounts, there can be more or less of the happiness, but its tastes the same. The instruments of happiness have kinds, and no, you are not free to choose an arbitrary instrument, not here in this world. The reasons for this limitation are beyond the scope of this article. They are good, because they ignite your desire to be free. Means do not matter anyway, because the happy state can be arrived at via any means whatsoever. The problem is, people equate happiness with the means for arriving at it. Such beliefs imprison them and suffering ensues.

The “ifs and buts” type of questions can go on indefinitely, ignorance has no limits. The Ego will jump back every time and will again entice you into desiring something which brings suffering instead of happiness. Remember that you are not free to desire, the desires arise out of the infinite storehouse of impressions in your Mind, mostly Egoic tendencies, but you are free to choose or discard any desire. The only condition is - you need to be very aware of the content of your Mind. Witness it as Self. This demands practice and so we arrive at the idea of Cultivation again. Simply knowing the mechanisms of the Mind will not liberate you from suffering, this knowledge must be applied to the day-to-day situations. Attention and awareness will show you that below the thick layers of ignorance lies total freedom and freedom naturally puts happiness at your feet.

A wise man is also free to discard happiness and remain equanimous if he prefers. Happiness is a state of Mind, one can choose equanimity and get rid of the need to be happy all the time. You are not free to set the world as per your liking, the world is wild, it has its own will. If the life situations turn out to be happy, be happy, else equanimity is the obvious choice. The freedom to remain steady and equanimous is always there, no matter what situations the life presents.

I fell again 

My Ego is too strong, I fall every time and make a stupid choice. What to do?
This is a common problem. Do not panic, there are some corrective actions, some tricks one can employ to come out of the mess. We will discuss those in the next article.


[1] One can accuse me of taking a cheesy example. Cars and airplanes - cause of suffering? You may ask. The real life is not all rainbows and unicorns. What about some dark situations like a disabled person, a starving child in Africa, or a war victim? Can they just choose to be happy? It depends on how conscious they are, and obviously, the chances of that are almost nil. Extreme situations demand that the Ego takes over, and it causes extreme suffering. Even a moderately conscious person, when placed in extreme situation loses poise. Usually what happens is, if people survive the trauma, they come out of it after a few months or years and the Mind calms down a bit to allow conscious introspection. They can start making conscious choice from here on and avoid further suffering. If the injuries are physical, then the life experience will be limited, and hence the choices will be limited. One will need to choose the best possible out of that. Its never too late to start choosing consciously. Another thing to meditate on is - why do some people find themselves in extreme situations? Why does a child, an expression of the fully aware Self, take birth in bad conditions with no food? Why would the Self choose pain and suffering? If the world is perfect, what kind of perfection is this? You will find that such questions arise out of beliefs. The answers are actually simple.

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