Gatha Ushtavad, 1386
The pursuit of happiness in a never-ending nightmare. We all want to be happy, or in other words, free from suffering. But how? Given the number of books written on this topic, it’s obvious that quite a few seem to know how it works, but given the amount of unhappiness in the world, it’s also obvious that their methods don’t seem to be working. As we step in to the New Year, here are a few of my own thoughts and remedies to this seemingly unsolvable problem.
Understanding what is happiness
Many times, we mistake happiness as the absence of suffering. But that is wrong. Happiness is not the absence of suffering, but rather the acceptance of suffering. There is no realm in this material world where there is no suffering. Because of the inherent duality of our existence, where there is joy, there has to be suffering and vice versa. Even at the darkest moment of our lives a faint glimmer of hope is always present. The true art of happiness is actually the art of suffering well. When we learn to acknowledge, understand and even embrace our suffering, it loses its painful impact on us. Through the understanding that the suffering we receive is of our own doing, through our past thoughts, words and deeds, we are able to go further and transform that suffering into compassion for those we may have hurt. Through that compassion and forgiveness, we ultimately transform our suffering into joy and happiness.
Understanding what is not happiness
Too often, we mistake consumption for happiness. We believe that an endless supply of material goods or services would lead us to everlasting happiness. Retailers and marketing geniuses use this fake promise to separate us from our hard earned money and take us further away from happiness. The bitter truth is that greater consumption leads to shallower moments of happiness and contentment. There is no perfect car, cosmetic, appliance, food, gizmo or home. As there is no perfect father, mother, spouse or friend. Acknowledging the imperfections which lie in others, and more importantly, the greatest which lies within us, enables us to manage our interactions with those who are close to us and whom we claim to love. Happiness is not expecting others to behave the way we want them to – true happiness lies in accepting each persons’ imperfections as their distinct beauty spot.
Tools for achieving happiness
Mindfulness is the capacity to dwell in the present moment. To be mindful means to be aware. Too often we are stuck in the past – what someone did or did not do to us, what should or shouldn’t have happened. Or we fantasize about the future – with someone, somewhere in an impossibly perfect setting. This obsession with our past and the future brings out a feeling of inadequacy in the present – which causes us suffering. But with mindfulness we can change all that. Being mindful, we not only become aware of the inadequacy within us, we learn to embrace it, to love it, and ultimately, to fashion something beautiful out of it.
Letting go means to cast off, to leave behind. Just as the butterfly casts off its cocoon and transforms its ugly past into a dazzling beauty of the present, so also we must learn to cast of the past and to let it go. We are all bound by the chains of our beliefs. Attachment in the emotional dependence we put on things, or people, with some degree of our survival interwoven into that thing or person we hold so dear. Oh, I must have this to be perfect, I can’t do without him or her, I have to live in this part of the city…But when circumstances in life force us to let go of those chains of attachment, we realize, to our wonder that we can do without them, not just do without, but even thrive without them. Similarly, we need to break free of our past experiences, both good and painful, and be liberated from their overpowering hold on our psyche. That moment when we realize that a particular experience or memory no longer pulls us down into the depths of despair – that is true happiness.
We all have within us many kinds of ‘seeds’ – good and bad. But we also have the choice as to which seed we shall water. The seeds we choose to water will be the ones that will sprout out of our bodies and minds and make us what we are. So in our consciousness there is wisdom but also arrogance, truth but also falsehood, fear but also valour. Which we choose to water and cultivate is our personal choice. We cannot blame anyone else for that. Whenever the temptation arises to do a wrong, immediately the mind should picturise the watering can moving to the opposite trait, not the weak one. In this way, through systematic efforts, the bad habits and weaknesses can be changed into our strong points. Replace arrogance with compassion, falsehood with truth and fear with valour. As each positivity arises, our level of happiness increases manifold.
Faith has a bad name today. People associate faith with weakness. But faith has the ability to be our strongest asset. Do we pay attention to how we breathe? If we didn’t have faith, how would we breathe, because one breath following the other is purely a matter of faith! We need to keep the faith – that there is a Divine and Perfect Order, that there is someone who is watching over us, that there is someone who is monitoring us all the time and whose sole interest is our salvation. When we submit our lives to such a Divine and Perfect Order, to the wishes of Our Lord, when we put our hands up in surrender and say ‘pa farmane to Khavar!’ – whatever you wish, my Lord!, that is the moment of pure liberation, of eternal happiness. When we stop worrying about what will come next, when we entrust our future to the good, safe and most compassionate hands of our Prophet Zarathushtra, then we become truly free. Then we experience Oneness with Him, we enter into eternal friendship with Him! That is the ultimate Happiness!
May the coming New Year be one of such spiritual bliss for all of us!
Ervad Marzban J. Hathiram