Happiness and the Art of Being

filed under: 
Issue: 
Image caption: 
Sri Ramana Maharishi

Happiness & The Art of Being

Can one define happiness? Can it be measured? Is it an individual’s inherent disposition? Are feelings of well-being linked to our earnings or situation in life? These are questions that humankind has been grappling with for eternity.

By Rema Kumar

The common perception today is that happiness is something we obtain when we get what we seek – high marks in an exam, a car or a house, a job or anything else.

In contrast, that happiness is our true nature, our essential being, is the teaching of Sri Ramana. The book ‘Happiness and the Art of Being’ by Michael James is an in-depth exploration of both the philosophy and practice of the spiritual teachings of Sri Ramana. James spent more than eight years studying the original Tamil writings of Sri Ramana and his foremost disciple Sri Murugavar in minute detail. The voluminous book is divided into ten chapters and ends with ‘The Practice of the Art of Being’. This article attempts to present the essence of the first chapter, ‘What is Happiness’?

Sri Ramana, according to the author, led seekers towards the art of keen selfinquiry and self-attention by raising some fundamental questions, and answering them to raise yet another question.

For whom do we desire happiness? First and foremost, we seem to want happiness for ourselves.

Why do we love only those things or people that are potential sources of happiness for us? Because our greatest love is for ourselves – and we love our families or even do altruistic deeds only because it gives us happiness. Our love for ourselves is natural and unavoidable. We love whatever gives us happiness.

If all our happiness ultimately comes only from within us, is it not clear that happiness is something inherent in us?

Intricately woven into the issue of happiness is the question “Who am I?” Am I my body or my mind? If I identify myself with my body or my mind, when I get what my body / mind wants, I feel happy for a while, till the next desire arises. Or I may be restless or miserable if I do not get what I want.

Either way we wrongly believe that we derive happiness from objects of our desire. But when I am in deep sleep, i.e., not identified with my body or mind, I am at rest, perfectly happy, free from misery, hankering or unhappiness.

Then is my real self, which is naturally happy, beyond my body or mind? When our mind is stilled through meditation, not caught up with the restlessness of body or mind, we feel calm and peaceful, we feel happy.

If we let go of our identification with what our body or mind wants, we can experience our natural state of happiness – it is meaningless to pursue happiness, as if it exists outside of us. This is not to say that we do not pursue anything – our bodies and minds may continue to engage with various wants and needs – but can we be aware that we do not ‘get’ happiness, but own up our natural state of happiness? We experience perfect, unlimited and absolute happiness only when our mind is perfectly still. “Happiness is a state of being and unhappiness is a state of doing.”

Sri Ramana’s message therefore is that happiness is our natural state, our essential nature - its eternal source is within us, if only we align ourselves with an infinite consciousness.

If all our happiness ultimately comes only from within us, is it not clear that happiness is something inherent in us?

The reader may be left asking if this is as simple as it sounds then why do we not feel perfectly happy at all times?

Understanding Ramana’s teachings intellectually, or through our power of reasoning is not enough – we need to learn them experientially. We need to turn our attention inwards to know our true consciousness (which is other than our body or mind) and discover the delight of being happy without cause or reason.

How does one break out of this vicious cycle of experiencing momentary happiness? As long as we feel our self to be a limited individual consciousness, i.e. that we are our mind (that experiences relative degrees of happiness and unhappiness) we clearly do not experience the truth that we, ourselves, are absolute happiness.

The author illustrates our struggle for happiness with this passage:“At the foot of a tree the shade is delightful. Outside the heat of the sun is severe. A person who is wandering outside is cooled by going into the shade. Emerging outside after a short while, he is unable to bear the heat, so he again comes to the foot of the tree. In this way he continues, going from the shade into the sunshine, and going [back] from the sunshine into the shade. A person who acts in this manner is someone lacking in discrimination. But a person of discrimination will not leave the shade.”

So, in essence what Sri Ramana said is that there is no meaning in the pursuit of happiness. It is up to us to choose how much we wish to commit ourselves to “Happiness and the art of Being”.

Rema Kumar is the Director of Prakriya Green Wisdom School, Bangalore. She is a passionate teacher and conducts programmes focusing on self – exploration, eco-projects and creative teaching.