If asked, “is your life focused on pursuing happiness?”many people will readily say, “Yes.” If asked, “Have you found and been able to sustain that happiness?” the same people would likely confess they have not. Hinduism directly addresses the fleeting nature of happiness. My guru, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, stated, “True happiness and freedom cannot be found in the world, for earthly joy is inextricably bound to sorrow, and worldly freedom to bondage.”
The Mundaka Upanishad (3.11.1-2) presents this truth in a story. “Two birds, united always and known by the same name, closely cling to the same tree. One of them eats the tree’s sweet fruit, while the other looks on without eating.” The bird enjoying the fruit represents the jivatma, the embodied soul, and the bird simply witnessing represents Paramatma, the transcendent Self. The story continues, “While enjoying the fruit, the first bird moans, bewildered by his limitations. But when he beholds the Other, the glorious Lord worshiped by all, he becomes freed from sorrow.”
In these verses, the Vedas indicate a way to overcome the cycle of joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness that we experience when living in our outer, instinctive/intellectual consciousness. It is overcome by becoming aware of our innate Divinity and abiding in spiritual consciousness. Paramaguru Yogaswami describes this in one of his Natchintanai songs: “Joy and sorrow—both are maya. The atman, never from love divided, is the very form of knowledge. Therefore, these two will not touch you. Can a mirage wash away the earth? At the gracious, holy feet of the true, all-knowing guru, to the limit of your power, let your heart grow soft and melt.”
Let’s imagine that we can step inside ourself, deep into our spiritual nature. Let’s imagine further that this journey consists of four steps. After taking those four steps, we find ourself immersed in endless inner space, pure awareness and the transcendent source of that awareness. This is the realm of the deepest samadhis. Three steps within take us to the level of brilliant inner light and the possibility of visions of Deities and rishis. Two steps bring us to the level of divine love for all beings. One step inward takes us to a consciousness that is content, creative and intuitive.
Initially, it could be frustrating to try to take four, three or even two steps within, as we are not yet able to move to those rarefied levels. A more practical approach is to master taking the first step within during our early morning sadhana time and strive to hold that creative consciousness throughout the day. The other steps are always there, awaiting our future mastery.
Our analogy of four steps within relates directly to the chakras. These are the nerve plexuses or centers of force and consciousness located along the spine within our inner bodies. There are seven primary chakras. The first three relate to the instinctive/intellectual mind, which is being experienced by the fabled bird who is enjoying the tree’s fruits. The first chakra (located at the base of spine) is the muladhara, which governs memory. The second is the svadhishthana (below the navel), governing the realm of reason. The third is the manipura (solar plexus), the center of willpower. Without going within, it is natural to live our daily life in the confines of these first three chakras, rarely experiencing anything beyond them.
The fourth chakra, anahata (at the heart), the center of direct cognition, is the realm we experience by taking the first step within. It is referred to in scriptures as the lotus of the heart.
The fifth chakra, vishuddha (at the throat), the center of divine love, is the realm experienced when we take the second step within. The sixth chakra, ajna (at the third eye), the center of divine sight, is experienced when we take three steps within. The seventh, sahasrara (located at the crown of head), the center of illumination and Godliness, is experienced when we take the fourth step within.
Let’s explore what we experience when we take that first step and function in the anahata chakra. Gurudeva described it as the realm of artists, inventors, creators of all kinds. Each time you design or create anything, you are bringing the beauty of the within through your nerve system into manifestation. It is a beautiful place to be, and you can be there all of the time by feeling the power in your spine. The minute you feel that radiant energy, you disconnect from instinctive/intellectual consciousness and soar into inner consciousness.
A few minutes of breath control will help you to feel the energy in the spine. One simple technique is to breathe nine counts in, hold one count, then breathe out nine counts and again hold one count. After a few minutes of this pranayama, become aware of the spine and the spiritual energy within it. Visualize a clear tube in the center of your spine being filled with yellow light coming down from the top of your head. Then inwardly see this pure life force flowing through the spine and out into the nerve system.
Having begun our day in a consciousness of contentment, creativity and intuition, we soon encounter the many ways that security can be lost. How can we sustain the sublime state we achieved by taking one step within? The most basic requirement is following the yamas, Hinduism’s ethical restraints. Adharmic actions, such as lying and hurting others, disturb the mind and emotions and draw us out into the swirl of external consciousness.
Not letting disagreements turn into arguments is also crucial. Disagreements are natural, but they should be handled in an intelligent and harmonious way. We must always be willing to compromise to keep discussions from turning into conflicts. Domestic arguments are the most destabilizing. A major cause of such strife is the misguided view that the home is a natural place to let off steam, to vent frustrations that have built up through the day at work or school. For the sake of harmony, we must change that approach and instead consider the home a sanctuary for the entire family, never regarding it as a place where we can upset others with our emotions. Gurudeva insisted that the home “should have an even higher standard of propriety than the office, the factory or the corporate workplace.” To avoid contention in the home, we can choose other ways to throw off stress: walk through a park or along a beach, visit a yoga studio or workout facility or stop to pray at a temple on the way home.
contentment & gratitude
Every day we are assaulted by a barrage of advertisements promising greater happiness if we acquire whatever they are promoting. This constant enticement presents a major challenge to sustaining a contented consciousness. Fancy new cars, faster computers, attractive clothes—all promise the ever-elusive state of mind called happiness. We can rise above this false allure by holding the perspective that we are content with what we currently have. If we acquire something more, it will not be because we think it will make us happier but because it will benefit our family in a meaningful way.
Gratitude is an important aspect of holding an inner consciousness. A key to nurturing gratitude is giving thanks for all the good things in our life. We are grateful for our family and friends, grateful for our job or school, grateful for the home we live in, grateful for the wisdom and practices of our religion.
“I’m All Right, right now”
The affirmation “I’m all right, right now,” a metaphysical tool that Gurudeva gives us in Merging with Siva, is also helpful in sustaining an inner consciousness. It is a way to live in the eternity of the moment, where we feel perfect in the now, with no future to worry about and no past to regret. You can perform this excellent practice now and again throughout the day. Practice it by asking yourself, “Am I not all right, right now, right this instant?” And answer, “I’m all right, right now.” Keep asking and answering until you feel positive, self-assured and centered in the anahata chakra.
When we look at the world as providing our happiness, life is a constant series of emotional ups and downs. When we derive our contentment from within, life is joyous, and we can share that joy with others.