ABOUT HAPPINESS, the Bhagavad Gita tells us: "One whose happiness is within, who is active and rejoices within and whose aim is inward, is the perfect mystic. Such a person is liberated in the supreme and ultimately attains the supreme." These are times of great stress and pervasive secularism. We desperately want happiness and peace of mind. We look for jubilation in movies, sex, intoxication, adventure, financial success, TV and web-surfing. But after the highs come the lows, and there is always the unpleasant aftermath when the film is over, the alcohol or drugs wear off, the sexual activity ends, the adventure finishes or the programme stops.
For most, life is a series of ups and downs, crests and troughs. And yet we seek a permanent form of contentment on this roller-coaster. Pharmaceutical companies advertise dozens of tablets as cures for depression. These firms spend billions to help sell their products to eager public. Happiness is what we all want. If only we could just take 'happy pills' that worked!
But happiness does not come cheap and easily. Unless there is a spiritual dimension to pleasure, we never realise contentment. A recent study by the London School of Economics found that the happiest place in the world was Bangladesh. India was fifth. The affluent US and UK didn't fare very well, coming in at 96th place and 32nd place respectively The moral is one we've heard before: money can't buy happiness.
Happiness is, as we know it, like karma. It is hard to get a handle on it. It's fleeting and restless. It comes and goes like the fortunes of Laxmi and her unpredictable ways.
Certainly we feel happiness when we are with people we love, and we want to retain that feeling always. Some, like King Henry II of England and his Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Thomas Becket (the two had been close friends in youth), felt that real love and happiness could only exist between human beings, and that love of God was ethereal, mysterious and absent of the milk of human kindness. This is where eastern philosophy and the Judeo-Christian concept of God are often seen to be at odds. In Gita, in the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, we find that Shri Bhagwan becomes the chariot driver for His warrior student and friend, putting Himself in the lower position out of love for His intimate devotee.
This love and happiness is available in the transcendental realm, but the Gita tells us how to apply that ultimate happiness in the here and now and how to turn the material world into the transcendental abode.
The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON Governing Body Commission)