Monday, July 18, 2011

Spirituality 6

And Happiness, what is that at all, at all?

Spring peace - Malahide Estuary, March 2011
This title above is a age-old question.  When I was young I used to think that the goal of life was to be happy, but I never set about defining what happiness was for me.  Nowadays, I don't even consider happiness, because it is such an elusive and mercurial kind of concept to define, as even one of my goals in life.  Why?

Well, let's start by asking what is happiness anyway?  I shall just brainstorm responses to that question in bullet points below as a way into answering this important question:

  • a healthy mind in a healthy body
  • long and healthy life
  • being a success career-wise
  • getting an education - though the level will vary according to any individual's ideal of what a good education is.
  • enjoying one's rights fully - as in the UN declaration of human rights.
  • exercising one duties which correspond to each and every right we are entitled to.  It gives one a good feeling to know that one is just and honourable in one's actions to society and to others.
  • fulfilling the tenets of the various religions for those who belong to them.
  • finding a partner, settling down and raising a family.
  • your health is your wealth.
  • peace of mind, being able to live with oneself and being able to sleep with an easy conscience.
  • being enlightened, aware, awake.
You, dear reader, could add to this list.  There are as many definitions, all descriptive of course, of what happiness is, and this in itself renders it quite a useless concept in the first place.  In other words happiness as defined in the above bullet points is a very relative thing anyway.  It is relative on many levels, too.  Firstly, it is relative from person to person as people differ in their opinions.  Secondly, it is relative over time as one's body does not, and indeed cannot, remain healthy all the time as ageing and dying are intrinsic to human existence, marriages break up, people hurt, injure and even murder others.  Thirdly, it is relative insofar as the individual can and does change his/her view over time.

Here is what the psychiatrist Dr. Ivor Browne has to say on happiness in an interview with the Irish philosopher, Stephen J. Costello, when the latter asked him whether he was happy or not at this stage of his life:

No, I don't think so. As John McGahern said, "If there is a heaven, there aren't any writers in it."  I'm probably more contented than at any other period of my life, but I don't think this is a situation of happiness, nor do I think it is particularly important.  That's where we have gone wrong now, that we are searching for it.  This need to be happy is an absurd notion.! (The Irish Soul In Dialogue (The Liffey Press, Dublin, 2001, p. 29)
Ivor Browne is not the first person I have heard in my life say the above.  It's rather a thoughtless position for anyone of us to say something like, "the goal of my life is to be happy" without giving due attention to what we mean by the statement in the first place.  A good philosopher will ask the question:  "Why should one want to be happy in the first place?"  Then, the obvious question, "What is happiness anyway?" will most definitely have to be asked and then answered.

What are my personal goals in life?  Certainly not happiness.  A central goal for me would be to grow in self-knowledge (of the bad points as well as the good), to become more personally integrated, more individuated (Carl G. Jungmore balanced in life, to grow ever less disturbed by outside events, that is by events that are beyond my control, to grow ever more accepting of things I can do absolutely nothing about like the processes of ageing and dying - meditation on these last two are central to Tibetan Buddhism, and more than likely to all types of Buddhism.  And paradoxically, this is in no sense a morbid or morose thing to do.  In fact it is quite an objective and liberating observation that this is the way things are - they grow and wither and die, and then the cycle starts over and over again.  And we humans are not beyond nature - we are part of nature!!  To grow dependent on or to cling to the elusive and passing things of life is to be in denial of the transitory nature of things.  Hence meditation is all about learning to stop clinging to our illusions - stop clinging to Maya.  I will quote in full what the WIKI says here as I believe it is succinctly and wonderfully put:

Maya (Sanskrit माया māyāa), in Indian religions, has multiple meanings, erroneously quoted as "illusion", centered on the fact that we do not experience the environment itself but rather a projection of it, created by us. Maya is the principal deity that manifests, perpetuates and governs the illusion and dream of duality in the phenomenal Universe. For some mystics, this manifestation is real. Each person, each physical object, from the perspective of eternity, is like a brief, disturbed drop of water from an unbounded ocean. The goal of enlightenment is to understand this — more precisely, to experience this: to see intuitively that the distinction between the self and the Universe is a false dichotomy. The distinction between consciousness and physical matter, between mind and body (refer bodymind), is the result of an unenlightened perspective. (See this link here: Maya_(illusion) )

A de Mello Story:


"I am in desperate need of help - or I'll go crazy.  We're living in a single room, my wife, my children and my in-laws.  So our nerves are on edge, we yell and scream at one another.  The room is hell."

"Do you promise to do whatever I tell you?" said the Master gravely.

"I swear I shall do anything."

"Very well, how many animals do you have?"

"A cow, a goat and six chickens."

"Take them all into the room with you.  Then come back after a week."

The disciple was appalled.  But he had promised to obey!  So he took the animals in.  A week later he came back, a pitiable figure, moaning

"I'm a nervous wreck.  The dirt!  The stench!  The noise!  We're all on the verge of madness!"

"Go back," said the Master, "and put the animals out."

The man ran all the way home.  And came back the following day, his eyes sparkling with joy.

"How sweet life is!  The animals are out.  The home is paradise - so quiet and clean and roomy!"

(See One Minute Silence, Anthony de Mello, Anand, India, 1985, 1990, p. 23)

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