Discovering the True SOURCE of Happiness – Intro to Advaita Vedanta – Part 1

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Welcome! In this series of videos, I’d like to share with you
some insights about the teachings of advaita vedanta. These presentations will introduce various
topics in a sequence that follows the methodology used by most traditional teachers. These presentations will also show how
Vedantic teachings are to be incorporated into your own process
of spiritual growth. First of all, let’s briefly define the word,
Vedanta. This sanskrit word literally means the final
part or anta of each of the four Vedas. The first parts of the Vedas are dedicated
mostly to prayers and rituals, whereas the last part is focused on the spiritual
wisdom of the ancient rishis. The particular texts that
form this last part are called upanishads. So, Vedanta consists of the wisdom of the
ancient rishis as found in the upanishads, and in other scriptures
based on the upanishads, like the Bhagavad Gita. From the standpoint of spiritual practice,
Vedanta is understood to be moksha shastra, which means scriptural teachings
that lead to liberation, moksha. Moksha literally means freedom, but not merely
freedom from rebirth, as some people think. Moksha also means
freedom from suffering, here and now. An enlightened or liberated person is one
who’s been completely freed from suffering through the
teachings of Vedanta. Simply speaking, Vedanta is a solution to
the problem of human suffering. But then, is it even possible to be completely
free from suffering? Everyone experiences physical and
emotional pain. Is moksha like an anesthetic that somehow
numbs our bodies and deadens our emotions to eliminate any kind of pain? Huh.
That wouldn’t be desirable at all. In fact, pain calls our attention
to problems that need our attention. It’s kind of a warning system. In the absence of pain, serious physical
and emotional problems could go unaddressed. But, there’s a difference
between pain and suffering. When you feel pain,
you also react or respond to that pain. When you have a splitting headache,
you might think, “When will this awful throbbing stop?” Or, when a loved one dies and you
feel deep sadness and loss, you might respond to such painful feelings by thinking,
“How can I go on living without him? My life will never be the same.” These anguished responses and tormented feelings
are examples of suffering, the suffering that arises as a reaction
to physical or emotional pain. To be clear, pain is a basic
physical or emotional feeling, but suffering, on the other hand, is the distress
or anguish that arises in response to pain. When we experience pain,
however bad it might be, the feeling of suffering that accompanies it
will makes us feel even more miserable. For human beings, pain is inevitable. But fortunately, suffering can be avoided. It’s possible to
experience pain without suffering. That is, you can feel physical or emotional pain without all the distress or anguish
that usually accompanies it. This isn’t as improbable as it might seem. You, yourself, experience this
when you watch a sad movie. Even though it’s just a movie, the sadness you feel
is real sadness, and your tears are real tears. But, when you cry during a movie, you don’t experience the distress or anguish
of suffering. If a character tragically dies
in a heartbreaking scene, you’ll feel really sad, but you won’t think,
“Why did this have to happen to me? Why me?” You don’t suffer during the movie,
because nothing truly happens to you. You’re absolutely ok
in spite of the tragic death. In fact, you actually enjoy the
sadness you feel during a movie. So, if you can enjoy movie-theater-sadness,
do you think it might be possible to experience real-life-sadness without any suffering? It might be possible, but only if physical
and emotional pain doesn’t truly affect you. And that is exactly what the
ancient rishis discovered – that the truth or essence of who you are
is utterly unaffected by pain. They used the word atma to designate what
is sometimes called “the inner divinity,” or “your divine nature,”
or “the presence of God within you.” According to the rishis, atma,
your essential nature, is full, perfect, complete. It’s the true, inner source of happiness. However, this inner reality
is usually well-hidden. It’s concealed or covered
by a dark veil of ignorance. That inner reality, then, remains unknown,
unrecognized, unrealized. But, that inner reality is actually the truth
of yourself, so how can you remain unknown? There’s a problem here,
a problem that we can call self-nonrecognition. Self-nonrecognition means the failure to know
your true nature to be full, complete, and the source of happiness. Self-nonrecognition is a fancy term that simply
means ignorance of your true self, atma. This veil of ignorance conceals the divine
reality hidden within you, so it must be removed. Ignorance, of course,
is removed by knowledge. And ignorance in the form of self-nonrecognition
is removed by knowledge of the true self, atma. This self-knowledge, or atma vidya, can
be gained through the teachings of Vedanta. These teachings lead you step by step to discover
what the ancient rishis discovered. The discovery of your true nature
is called liberation or moksha, because it results
in complete freedom from suffering. You yourself can be free from suffering
when you discover that your essential nature is utterly untouched
by pain, and that you are ok, no matter what. Now, we all want to be free from suffering. We all share that desire. Desire, or kama, is a basic,
universal feeling. We desire whatever it is that can remove suffering
and produce happiness. In fact, desire seems to drive
everything we do. Think about it. Going to work, what you do at home,
your time with friends and relatives – all this, in one way or another,
is driven by your desire to avoid suffering and enjoy happiness. Desire ultimately provides the stimulus or
motivation for all our actions. It’s true that your desires are likely
to be different from the desires others have, but, all these desires have
something in common. That is, when our desires remain unfulfilled,
we suffer. We feel deficient or
incomplete. We feel that something is missing. But by fulfilling desires, we seek to remove that
feeling of being deficient or incomplete. In other words, by fulfilling our desires,
we seek fullness, completeness, and contentment. OK, now we’re ready for one of the most
important questions in this inquiry, a question about the actual source
of the happiness and contentment we seek through fulfilling our desires. Is it true that the fulfillment of a desire itself
produces happiness and contentment? At first, this might sound reasonable,
but on examination, it’s easy to spot a problem. When you see a cute baby smiling sweetly,
or when you watch a beautiful, golden sunset, you’ll probably feel happy
and content at least for a few moments. But, what desire did you fulfill
by seeing that smiling baby or beautiful sunset? Now you can see;
without fulfilling any particular desire, you CAN feel happy and content. So, we have to conclude that fulfilling desires
is not the actual source of happiness and contentment. Then, what is the actual source of happiness
and contentment? The answer to this question is found in
a universal truth that you already know: the true source of happiness lies within you. The same truth
was expressed by the ancient rishis. And even though many people
understand this intuitively, it’s really important
to know how and why it’s true. Here’s an anecdote that will help. Long ago, when I was teaching
a group of schoolchildren, I asked them, “What is the source of happiness?” One boy replied,
“Chocolate ice cream.” “OK,” I said, “if a scoop of ice cream is the
source of happiness, what would you say about two scoops?” The boy said,
“That would make me twice as happy.” So I asked, “what about three scoops?”,
and he answered, “I’d be three times as happy.” Then I said, “suppose you ate the entire
5-gallon container of ice cream from which all those scoops were served.” His eyes grew wide and he said,
“That would be totally awesome!” Of course, he’d be totally sick
before eating even a part of that. But, if ice cream truly were
the source of happiness, then he should indeed
find it “totally awesome”. This little story shows us something
we already know about eating ice cream. Happiness is not an ingredient in the ice cream,
along with the milk, sugar, and chocolate. So, because any happiness you feel
can’t come from the ice cream, it can only come from within you. Here’s a Vedantic explanation about how
ice cream makes you feel happy. Eating it fulfills your desire for ice cream, but you continue to have many other desires
that remain unfulfilled. You’ll still want a better job,
a new car, a nice vacation, etcetera. And, these unfulfilled desires usually make
you feel deficient and incomplete, as we discussed before. But, while you’re enjoying the ice cream, those feelings of incompleteness are temporarily
driven away by the pleasure of eating the ice cream. And, in the absence
of feelings of incompleteness, happiness naturally and spontaneously
arises within you. Even though happiness
is always present within, feelings of incompleteness
obstruct your experience of it. Like when clouds cover the sun,
it continues to shine, but you don’t experience
its warmth and brilliance. Then, when the clouds go away,
you experience the sun fully. In the same way, the true source of happiness
always shines within you, but it’s often covered up, so to speak,
by feelings of incompleteness. When a pleasurable experience
dispels those feelings of incompleteness, the ever-present happiness
within you shines forth. That means, contrary to what you might think,
happiness is not something you get. Instead, it arises naturally and spontaneously
when you get rid of something; when you get rid of your feelings of incompleteness
and the desires associated with them. Even though many people intuitively understand
that the true source of happiness is within, their day to day behavior
doesn’t seem to reflect this understanding at all. For example, how many hours a day do you spend
seeking happiness at its true source within, and how much time do you spend seeking
happiness outside of yourself, even though you know
the true source of happiness is within? Obviously,
there’s some confusion here. We’ve already discussed
the cause for this confusion, which is the veil of ignorance
that conceals your true, divine nature. This ignorance prevents you from recognizing
your innate fullness and completeness. And that’s why we call it self-nonrecognition. As a result of this self-nonrecognition,
you’ll naturally feel deficient and incomplete. And when you feel deficient and incomplete, you’ll certainly be driven by desire to seek out
those things and experiences that can make you feel less deficient
and more complete. Simply put,
you seek happiness and contentment. The problem is, as long as you’re driven
to seek out happiness and contentment outside of yourself,
your search will go on endlessly. You’ll never find lasting happiness
and contentment, because you’re actually looking in the wrong place. Self-nonrecognition leads to a life
of endless seeking. This search is punctuated
by moments of happiness, no doubt, but it never culminates in finding
perfect peace and uninterrupted contentment. There’s a delightful story that’s often
used to illustrate the problem of self-nonrecognition. It’s called the tenth man story,
even though it usually refers to 10 boys. These boys were brahmacharies,
religious students, who lived and studied with their guru in a traditional school, a gurukulam. When a particular religious festival
was approaching, the guru instructed his 10 young disciples to go on a pilgrimage
to a special temple for the celebrations. The guru himself was too old
to make the journey, which required several days of travel on foot
– over fields, through forests, and across rivers. When the boys were enroute, one of the rivers
they had to cross was too deep to wade across and no ferry boat was available. So, one by one,
they each swam across the river. Then, they wanted to be sure
that everyone got across safely, so one of the boys counted the others. Looking around, he counted,
1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, but he neglected to count himself. He said, “Where’s the 10th boy?” Another boy thought there was a
mistake in that tally, so he counted, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9… Huh.
He also neglected to count himself. Eventually, each of the boys counted the others,
and each neglected to count himself. They were soon stricken with fear, thinking that one of their classmates
had gone missing. Then they began to run about frantically,
looking for the missing boy. They looked upstream and downstream,
in the fields and forests on both sides of the river, but they couldn’t find
their missing classmate. Before we continue with the story, you can see how nicely it illustrates
the problem of self-nonrecognition. Each of the boys failed to count himself. And as a result, each of them
was actually searching for himself. In a similar way, WE fail to recognize
our own true natures as being full and complete. We fail to recognize the true source
of happiness present within. And as a result, we end up
searching for happiness outside of ourselves, looking for the happiness
that actually lies within. The boys’ frantic search
was doomed to failure, because they were all looking
in the wrong place. In the same way, our search for happiness
outside of ourselves is also doomed to failure, because we, too,
are looking in the wrong place. In spite of that, it wouldn’t be so bad
if our search for happiness was pleasant and enjoyable, like the game of hide
and seek that children play. But, our search for happiness
is often not much fun. The boys were miserable
while searching in the fields and forests. They felt terrible anxiety and they were eventually exhausted
by their frenzied efforts. In the same way, our search for happiness in the world
is often fraught with great anxiety and frustration. We face a variety of obstacles,
we struggle to overcome a great number of difficulties, and we may eventually find ourselves exhausted
by all this effort. Let’s return to the story. After several hours of panic-stricken searching,
the boys gathered together and started to weep. They had come to the conclusion that their
classmate had drowned in the river and was swept away by the current. A passerby happened to see
this group of brahmacharies sobbing on the riverbank. He asked what had happened,
and as they narrated their tragic story, he could easily see
that all 10 boys were standing there. He was able to surmise that each of them
had failed to count himself. So, he told the boys that their classmate
was indeed alive, and, that he was standing amongst
them right now. Each of the boys looked around
for their missing classmate, and were deeply disappointed
not to find him. They wondered if the passerby was playing
a cruel joke on them. The problem was,
they were still looking in the wrong place. Even though the passerby told them the truth,
that wasn’t enough. Something more was required
to dispel their ignorance. In the same way, when we are first
exposed to the teachings of Vedanta, we soon learn the great truth revealed by the rishis – that our true nature is divine,
full and complete. Yet, like the ten boys,
we too don’t really get it at first. Even though we understand the words
of the rishis, it’s not enough. Something more is required. What’s missing? The last part of the story will make it clear. One of the boys said, “How could our missing
classmate be here right now?” The passerby took him
aside and asked him to count once again. The boy counted 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9. And then the passerby said,
“You counted 9, but you didn’t count yourself. You are the tenth.” Then, the boys immediately realized
that each of them had failed to count himself. And, they were immensely relieved
to know that no one had actually drowned. This story not only illustrates
the problem of self-nonrecognition, it also demonstrates
a basic principle of teaching, a principle based on the difference
between telling and showing. Merely telling students
about something is not enough. Students must be shown. They must be led to personally discover what
the teacher wants them to understand. Therefore, the methodology used in teaching
is just as important as the material being taught. Without an effective teaching methodology,
students will never understand. And this is most certainly true of Vedanta. What makes Vedanta unique is not WHAT it teaches,
but rather HOW it teaches. Other spiritual traditions also profess that
your true nature is divine, full and complete. But what distinguishes Vedanta, is its powerful
and meticulous teaching methodology. At the heart of this methodology
is a practice called atma-vichara or self-inquiry. So, Vedanta doesn’t merely tell you
that your true nature is full and complete. Instead, it uses it’s unique methods
to lead you, step by step, by means of an inward-turned
process of self-inquiry, atma-vichara, which culminates in the discovery
of what the ancient rishis discovered – discovery of your innate fullness and completeness
which is the true source of happiness. That very process of self-inquiry
will form the basis for our next discussion.

 

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