4 steps to happiness – from ancient yogic wisdom
Re-posted from Heathistia.com
To celebrate Mindfulness Day today, Ram Banerjee, co-founder of the World Yoga Festival, shares his exclusive wisdom on how to be happy with Healthista.
Vedanta is a philosophy based on the Vedas, an ancient body of knowledge that was categorised into for sections called Rig-Veda, Sama-veda, Yajur-Veda and Atharva-veda.
The Vedas are supposed to convey the entire blueprint for life. The first part is mainly rituals designed for the vast majority of [materialistic] people who believe that their happiness is to be found in outside objects. Thus this first part (called Veda Purva) is intended to help such people achieve what they want though worship.
The wise who realise that no amount of objects can make them permanently happy then turn to the final stages of the Vedas (Veda Anta) – the ‘end’ of the Vedas from which we derive the name Vedanta – for knowledge on the Self and thus live a more spiritual life.
Three books are considered essential to Vedantic study – the Bhagavad-Gita, The Upanishads and The Brahma Sutras. Together, these are known as the foundation books on self-knowledge. The four basic steps to a life of happiness and plenitude, known as the ‘Purusharthas’, are discussed through the Upanishads.
It’s a universal question asked by people of all cultures – we ask it because fundamentally we all want to be happy. ‘What do I need to do, be or have to be happy’ is the perennial question asked by all of us at some time or another. It’s a universal question asked by people of all cultures – we ask it because fundamentally we all want to be happy. Indeed, all our actions have a primary driver and that is a drive for happiness. Not just for the moment but permanently. Unlimited happiness is a tall order and it seems improbable that when the ancient Rishis (wise men or ‘seers’) of the East contemplated upon this, they came up with only four goals in life, in any life, to achieve happiness.
Every life is different. How is it possible to have only four general purpose goals? Hold that thought, and see if you agree with the Rishis – following are the four goals they came up with for happiness. In Sanskrit these four goals are known as Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha.
Step 1: DHARMA – follow the path of least harm
Dharma in this context means ethical, which itself is difficult to define and best explained as the path of least harm. This does not mean much on its own but in the context of a life, it means live your life in an ethical manner. If you choose not to do so and harm others in trying to benefit yourself, your momentary gain will be turned into a heavy loss as guilt takes over. All happiness is lost when one has to worry about guilt. Above all, your life must be ethical to be happy. That is why Dharma is the first of life’s goals.
Step 2: ARTHA – share all your fortunes with the less fortunate
Artha means wealth or security. Wealth need not be just monetary wealth but anything (such as time, power or knowledge) that one has in sufficient quantity to be able to share for the benefit of others. Security is in the context of shelter, food and clothing as well as its classical meaning of safety from harm. The ancient wise ones recognised that you cannot help anyone if you are in need. You need money to help the poor, you need health to help the ill and you need strength to help the suppressed. If you cannot provide the essentials of life for yourself, your dependants and fellow man then you cannot be happy. Artha therefore is the second of life’s goals.
Step 3: KAMA, desire as a motive force for accomplishment
Kama means desire and may seem an odd goal to strive for. After all isn’t desire the root of all evil? No, because without desire there would be no resultant action. It is because of your desire to get up that you leave your bed in the morning. All of our actions are driven by desire. In other words, there can be no action without desire. A life without action is meaningless, so have desire but – and this is the tricky part – do not be attached to the result of the action. Perform actions by all means with the very best of intentions but do not be dejected if the result of the action is not what you sought. You initiate actions though your power of will but the result is largely beyond your control.
Suppose that every day after work you cross the road and take the bus home – simple desire of wanting to get home, and simple action of crossing the road to get to the bus stop. Most days, the result is as expected, that is, you cross the road, a bus comes and you get on to go home. Once in a while the result is worse than expected since buses are full or on strike so it takes you hours to get home. On rare occasions, the result is better than expected as a friend sees you at the bus stop and agrees to take you directly to your doorstep. In the fourth and final scenario, the result may be completely opposite to expectation in that while crossing, you slip on a banana skin and wake up in hospital three days later. Same desire (wanting to cross the road) but four potential outcomes which are all outside your control. When a result is beyond my control why should I be dejected when the result is not to my expectation? Together with the recognition of acceptance of what IS, desire becomes the third goal in life.
Step 3.5: DHARMA (ethics) as a qualifier of Artha (wealth) and Kama (desire)
Dharma (again). Hang on, didn’t we do this one? Yes, but now ethics becomes a qualifier to artha (wealth or security) and kama (desire). Stay with me here. You may desire and achieve anything you wish in life but do so in an ethical manner. Without ethics, anything you desire or anything you possess soon loses its value. That is why dharma is quoted as the first or primary goal in life.
Step 4: MOKSHA, free yourself from materialism
Moksha means liberation or freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from the above three goals! When you have ethically achieved all that you desire from the world, you will come to a realisation that objects are not the source of happiness. A pistachio ice cream may bring you incredible joy but a gallon of it will surely bring sorrow. Same ice cream but different outcomes. The joy cannot be in the ice cream.
So where does happiness come from if it is not from the outside world? It comes from within us. We can get a glimpse of it when we are totally engrossed in our favourite music or share laughter with a baby. That is the happiness we seek, permanently. If happiness is our own intrinsic nature then we can never be separated from it just as you cannot separate heat from fire or wetness from water. But if happiness is always within me, why am I not permanently happy? Because your innate happiness is covered by ‘stuff’ – thoughts, opinions and possessions that you assume are necessary for happiness. In other words, you ARE the permanent happiness you have always sought, you just cannot recognise it. This insight is a discovery of what is already there. You cannot achieve it though action. You can only realise it through knowledge and all knowledge has to be taught by those who already poses it. Seek out such teachers if you really want to be happy. The fourth and final goal of life is therefore Moksha. May you discover the permanent happiness that is already YOU.
About the author
At a young age, a fundamental thought came to Ram Banerjee, ‘What if everything I know is wrong?” This ‘reset’ and the abandonment of judgement that followed started an extraordinary journey of discovery culminating in the study of the Upanishads from Pujya Swami Dayanada Saraswati of Rishikesh, India, one of the true great giants of Vedanta, as well as many of his senior disciples.
As this knowledge continues to unfold, Ram utilises his skills in perception and articulation to pass on this wisdom to others through regular face-to-face classes and online. Ram and his wife Sonali co-founded the World Yoga Festival as a platform for great masters to introduce their priceless wisdom to all those willing to listen. As they have said on many occasions, “the festival is not by us, it happens though us.” World Yoga Festival takes place 18th-21st July 2019 at Beale Park in Berkshire. To find out more visit www.yogafestival.world and @WorldYogaFest