We assume that our happiness is the result of an interaction with external objects. But everybody knows that after being in contact with an object for some time, the happiness terminates. Afterwards, one does not even desire to come into contact with it for quite some time. If it is true that happiness is the result of contact with objects, why should the happiness terminate even while the contact with object is still there? Or at the very least, why doesn’t the desire to come into contact with the object arise again soon after the termination of the happiness?
A non-believer may explain it like this: There is no question of reconciliation here, because that is the nature of the process. The only meaningful pursuit in life is to extend the duration of the pleasure by some means. Efforts should be made only to that end.
This is not correct. Suppose that an individual is deprived of sleep and food and pleasurable objects for a long time and then all of them are simultaneously offered to him. It is known that the first thing he would seek is sleep and then food and then the pleasure from outside objects. Even when the pleasurable objects and food are in good supply and he is deprived of the pleasure of sleep, he would give up everything and take pills to get sleep. If there is an obstruction for sleep, he would rather reject his wife or children or wealth. Therefore, it is clear that the pleasure from outside objects, the pleasure from food and the pleasure of sleep are in their increasing order. Therefore sleep, known in Sanskrit as sushupti, is the greatest happiness.
Objection: How can there be happiness when there are no objects at all?
Reply: Are you not getting happiness in dreams where there are no objects at all?
Objection: The object of happiness in dreams is the vasana of objects.
Resolution: But you are happy in sushupti where there is not even a vasana?
Question: In that case it means that there is no connection at all between happiness and the objects. Then how is it that one gets happiness while in contact with the object?
Answer: Actually, seeking the answer to this question is the most significant pursuit in life. One will have to make deep introspection to get the answer given by the Vedas to this question. One thing is certain however; in the presence of objects there may or may not be happiness. Therefore, it cannot be unambiguously stated whether or not the happiness comes from the object. But the experience of happiness in sushupti (deep sleep without dreams), where the objects are totally absent is well known. This shows that happiness has no connection whatsoever with external objects.
Without knowing this, the jiva in wakeful state hankers after pleasurable objects according to his vasanas. When he comes into contact with the desired object, he gets happiness because of his identification with it (tadatmya). At the time of contact he is unaware of everything, even the object. Indeed the transient happiness he experiences is a consequence of the removal of the veil on his own ananda during that period. This happiness was triggered by his past punya. The moment the punya that triggered this happiness is exhausted, the happiness terminates. The veil comes up again and the duality returns.
Therefore, the reason for happiness in sensual contact with an object is not the object, but the removal of the veil on one’s ananda swarupa (essential nature). Nevertheless, it is called vishaya-sukha, or happiness derived from external objects because because the process was triggered by contact with the external object (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.5.4). In this way, we realise that even sensual happiness is only a fragment of Brahmananda and is not the result of contact with the object of happiness.
The Nature of Dukha
In this background, we can now analyse the nature of dukha (grief). It occurs when we are unable to attain a desired sensual pleasure or we are deprived of some pleasure which we already possess. We have seen above that material pleasure is the result of the temporary removal of the veil over one’s own swarupa. This implies that grief or dukha is the result of the veil on our swarupa. Thus we realise a significant difference between grief and material pleasure. In material pleasure, though the notion that it is coming from a particular object is wrong, the pleasure is only his swarupa. On the other hand, grief has no connection with the swarupa at all.
This article is based almost entirely on the teachings of Pujya Swami Paramanand Bharati Ji. However, any errors are entirely the author's own.
References & Further Reading:
- Bharati, Swami Paramananda. Vedanta Prabodha - The Most Exhaustive Book Ever Written on Shankaracharya's Advaita Vedanta: Bangalore 2014