A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 6th December 1980
I would like today for all of us to consider together a subject which will appeal to every heart, the subject of happiness. All the world suffers from a peculiar superstition. The superstition is simply this, that to live the religious life means to be miserable. How that superstition came about is not difficult to see, because people fight shy of the fact of existence that, as we grow up from childhood to adolescence and then to adulthood and then approach middle age and old age, changes take place, and there is a very strong tendency for people not to accept change. They do not realize that no growth is possible unless there is change, and change means literally the death of that which is actually present at the moment. When that which is actually present has grown — not become forcibly changed — into the new and more advanced state, then the old state has died. The more completely it dies, the more valuable is the growth that has taken place. People do not realize that, they like to stay put where they are, to be secure, as they call it, being quite ignorant of the fact that there is no such thing as absolute security anywhere in the universe. If people experience a certain state of life, whatever their age may be, in which they feel, “We are secure now, things are allright, we can get along, and if nothing drastic happens this is what I would like to have for the rest of my days,” this is quite absurd. That is quite the wrong conception of security.
Another point is that practically all human beings, with very few exceptions — literally very few exceptions — have quite a mistaken conception of happiness. They regard happiness as the experiencing of sensational excitement with its accompanying sensuous delights. I say “sensuous” rather than “sensual” because all this applies to the functioning and experiencing of all the senses at work and whatsoever they bring to us, so that the whole field is the field of sensuousness. They associate therefore happiness with sensuous delight, and they plan for it and they long to repeat it over and over again. This is where all humanity constantly makes a mistake. When the deep teachings of religion come along and point out to us human beings (we are not really human; to us sub-human beings), that there is a way of life by which we free ourselves from thraldom to sensuous excitement and delight, that freedom enables us to experience a profounder mode of awareness of our existence, of what we actually are, and of our relationship to all other human beings and to the world in which we live. We begin to taste joy, or happiness if you like to use that word, in a much profounder sense commensurate with the fact that as we grow older we are changing into something different, and something which can be better, a change which is progressive, not regressive or just a fortuitous change which has no special significance or value for anybody. The great religious teachers, the founders of the religions, explicitly declared that they were concerned with man’s happiness, the happiness of all mankind. If one goes into the deeps of religious teaching, one sees quite clearly that they had a very clear vision of the meaning of human happiness. Human happiness to them meant human fruition, and these are words which we as we are use in our mistaken way, our fruition or our well-being as we call it. But they understood exactly what human well-being meant, and how human well-being can be released into our lives through perceiving the truth of ourself, of existence, our relationship to it and bringing it about in our everyday life.
Let me just quote from various religious texts. First of all let us hear what Kaśapa, the son of Marici, one of the poet-seers of the Ṛg-veda, wrote. He said, “Make me immortal in that realm of eager wish and strong desire, the region of the golden Sun, where food and full delight are found.” We have to be careful in reading these translations from the original Vedic. “In that realm of eager wish and strong desire.” But a person in the world will say, “I am full of eager wishes and strong desires and so forth, and I haven’t found immortality or happiness thereby.” The eager wish and strong desire spoken of here refer to the passionate aspiration towards true human fulfilment, always bearing in mind the true meaning of the word human — the Blissful Creator. Do not forget that. The Blissful Creator is the true human being, the word ‘human’ means precisely that. So eager wish and strong desire have to be related to that passionate aspiration for the highest, for the supreme, and not the ordinary worldly passions and whims and fancies and pursuits and so forth which drag us down into the mire literally. “The region of the golden Sun.” The golden Sun referred to here is the supreme state of consciousness, the supreme state of awareness of existence. We are all aware of existence in our own limited way, in our own self-centred, self-oriented way, and because we are aware of our existence in that way, we are in a state of conflict. Being self-centred we set up in opposition the not-self, as we call it, and this is one of the main roots of conflict and sorrow in our lives. So the region of the golden Sun means that state of awareness of existence which is the utterly purified state, the complete state, the state in which the psyche offers no obstruction whatever to the free inflow and expression of Transcendence in us , and the outflow of Transcendent energy through us to our environment and surroundings. Then Kawyapa goes on, “Make me immortal in that realm where happiness and transports, where joys and felicities combine, and longing wishes are fulfilled.” These “transports” refer of course to that extraordinary state of bliss, of a peaceful bliss, which is associated with one’s state of consciousness when one has freed the psyche from all imperfection. Then everything in the world, the very next object, the very next person, the very next event or situation, is one in which the Perfected Holy One inevitably experiences the bliss of realization, of the fact and the truth of the actual situation or experience. Those are the last few verses of the hymn in the Ṛg-veda. It is in the ninth book, the 113th hymn, verses 7 to 11. It is one of the most wonderful hymns of the Ṛg-veda, provided that you understand it. Do not understand it like the clever scholar understands it and says, “All these old Ṛg-vedic teachers were hedonists.” They were not hedonists by a long chalk. They knew that the relinquishment of clinging to that which belongs to the realm of the mortal means the relinquishment of sorrow and suffering.
Then there is another hymn by the Ṛśi Bṛhaddiva. (Ṛśi means the Singer, a Singer of the Song of Eternal Life. That is the true meaning of Ṛśi, not someone that gets up on a stage and gives you a pop performance of some sort. Bṛhad means expanded or expansion and diva means light. That is the pseudonym which the Holy One uses for himself.) He declares, “Bṛhaddiva, the foremost of light-winners, repeats these holy prayers, this strength to Indra. He rules the great self-luminous fold of light, and all the doors of light hath he thrown open.” Then in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad, when the disciple Nārada asks his teacher Sanatkumāra to expound the nature of the Ātma, Sanatkumāra has a long discourse with him, and towards the end of it he says “Where there is the Infinite there is joy. There is no joy in the finite. Only in the Infinite there is joy; know the nature of the Infinite.” Then he goes on to talk about the nature of the Infinite and so forth.
There is a remarkable significance to this. To know the Infinite means to be conscious in such a manner, to be super-conscious — or supra—conscious if you like to use that word — to be supra—conscious in such a manner that one is aware of existence as a unitary whole, as one great Totality, although our senses convey to us only the multitudinous separate things, people, events and so on which we experience. We experience existence in terms of separateness, but if the psyche is utterly purified then Universal Mind functions freely through this purified psyche, and one is aware of the One Total Reality as a whole, as the fundamental background, the basis through which we experience all the separate objects through the use of our senses. Our senses, and particularly our brain, analyse the one Whole into innumerable separate parts. The brain synthesizes these, and that is especially the task of the left side of the brain. The right side of the brain integrates later on in life all that we have gathered through the left side of the brain. It is not a synthesizer. John Moore† uses the word synthesizer for the right side also. I think integrator would be a better word for this reason; synthesizing applies principally in our everyday experience in life to a mechanical putting together, a mechanical joining together. If you get hold of all the parts which make up a motor car and put them together in the right way, then you have synthesized all those items and produced one motor car. It is a mechanical thing and it applies in the realm of that which, because it is put together, will also be taken apart. It belongs to the realm of the finite and the mortal. Synthesis is specifically there. The brain synthesizes the sense impressions. The sense impressions attempt to tell us the nature of the universe in which we live and the nature of our relationships with people and our surroundings. The senses convey all these impressions to us and the left side of the brain synthesizes these, and out of that synthesis all our concepts and our knowledge, as we call it, and so on, are formed. But they all belong to the realm of the finite, and we live our lives in terms of that kind of consciousness, of the consciousness of finitude, of mortality, of temporality, and therefore the realm of sorrow and suffering. This sorrow and suffering and the use of the senses also imply the deliberate pursuit of sense pleasures. We may of course have rather more elevated types of sense pleasure, art and science and philosophy and intellectual discourse and all that kind of thing. But it is all mortal, it is all temporal, it fades away, dies, it is not the true Infinite. Only where there is the utter purity is one’s consciousness able to be in complete atunement with the One Primordial Creative Energy. In that there is the atunement with that which is the Infinite as such. It is an extraordinary thing really that in our own lives sometimes we do experience that, but not everybody recognizes that this is it. One cannot recognize it when it is happening because description belongs to the realm of the finite, to the realm of the analysed and separate, not to the realm of Totality and the Whole. Description belongs to the realm of death, not to the realm of deathlessness. But there is that state of awareness in which deathlessness is realized. So, that is what Bṛhaddiva says.
Now listen to the Buddha’s assurance. He is talking with a Brahman called Poṭṭhapāda who came asking questions on various matters, and the Buddha answers them, and seeing that Poṭṭhapāda is really in earnest he reveals to him the Noble Eightfold Way, as he called it, by which Enlightenment can be realized and which leads to Nirvana ultimately. In this discourse towards the end he says, “Now it may be, Poṭṭhapāda, that you think that evil dispositions may be put away, the dispositions that tend to purification may increase, one may continue to see face to face and by himself come to realize the full perfection and grandeur of wisdom, but one may continue sad. Now that O Poṭṭhapāda, would not be accurate judgement. When such conditions are fulfilled, then there will be joy and happiness and peace and, in continual mindfulness and self-mastery, one will dwell at ease.” That is a lovely expression, it is so matter-of-fact, it is so ordinary: to dwell at ease, to dwell in true comfort, in the true state of strength, the full strength of the soul, virtue. (Virtus means the strength of the soul). That is the state of comfort, and that strength is the strength which is characterized above all by infinite resilience. It is not the strength that fight against anything, that it imposes its will upon a situation or a person or whatever it may be. It is infinite resilience, and that infinite resilience can never be overcome by anyone who opposes it. You cannot oppose infinite resilience.
Then we come to this statement in connection with happiness, firstly with respect to individual happiness, for the individual person who lives the religious life. Zarathushtra declares, “He who expounds to the wise the Holy Word is indeed blest with supreme joy.” It is rather interesting; “He who expounds to the wise.” Why he selected the wise and left the rest out I don’t know. This is a quotation from one of the scriptures. The Buddha said the same shortly after the beginning of his ministry when he was thirty five, and also toward the end of his life, when he addressed the bhikkhus and said, “Therefore, O bhikkhus, ye to whom the truths I have perceived have been made known by me, having thoroughly made yourselves master of them, practise them, meditate upon them and spread them abroad in order that pure religion may last long and be perpetuated, in order that it may continue to be for the good and happiness for the great multitudes, out of pity for the world, to the good and the gain and the weal of devas and men, for the happiness of the manyfolk.” So you see that in all these affirmations we observe that the great Teachers were concerned with our happiness and our fulfilment in the true sense, something which belongs to the realm of the Immortal, not of the mortal, the passing pleasures and excitements which people seek and through which so often they ruin their health and well-being, and squander their wealth and all the rest of it.
But of all the affirmations of happiness and joy I think that the Zarathushtrian scriptures have perhaps the most optimistic presentation of all. In the Zarathushtrian prayers, particularly in the Gathas, you will find Zarathushtra teaching the people this, when he prays to Ahura Mazda. (Ahura Mazda is the name for God in the Zarathushtrian religion. Ahura means Lord of Life and Mazda means Lord of Wisdom. “O Lord of Life and Wisdom” is the first and fundamental meaning of the name Ahura Mazda.) “Raise up the life of man to the height of bliss, O Mazda, through Vohu Mano, Kṣatra and Asha.” Vohu Mano means the Good Mind, good in the sense of the Absolute Good, not the relative good which is the opposite of evil. Mano as you will appreciate is Mind, manas in India; Kṣatra means the creative energy through which Ahura Mazda brings forth the universe, that is his Kṣatra, his absolute power; Asha is righteousness, purity, holiness, and the law of Asha is the law of living the good life for all Zarathushtrians.
Then there is another statement. “O Lord of Life, for my joy and far reaching vision, reveal unto me thy incomparable gifts of Kṣatra which are the blessings of the Good Mind” (the absolutely Good Mind). He asks Ahura, “O Ahura, for whom didst thou fashion this abundant joy-giving creation? How may I walk in beatific joy hand in hand with you, O Mazda, and be your intimate companion?” In another of the Gathas he says, “Through the Holy Spirit thou art indeed he who moulded this joyous creation for man’s sake.” It is very interesting that the Lord “moulded this joyous creation for man’s sake.” In the first of the great Gathas (there are five in all), there is an extraordinary and wonderful redemptive promise for good doers and evil doers alike. I do not think that in any other religion you get quite this sort of statement, not quite this, though you get something approaching this. He says, “So understand, O mortal men, the decrees which Mazda has ordained regarding happiness and misery. There will be a long period of suffering for the wicked and rewards for the pious, but thereafter eternal joy shall reign everywhere.” That is an extraordinary statement altogether. I have not come across it in any other of the scriptures of the world, but just this one mention. After the dualistic experience of joy and suffering through right doing and wrong doing, there is eternal joy everywhere. It is one of the most powerful statements regarding joy, regarding happiness, that I have come across in the scriptures.
Now Zarathushtra also says, “How is true happiness to be attained; what is true happiness?” There is a very short prayer which those of us who are born Parsis and Zarathushtrians learn. It runs thus, “Virtue is the supreme good, the only true happiness, the happiness that emerges out of him who is foremost in virtue for the sake of the Supreme Virtue.” The Supreme Virtue is the creative power of God himself because God is the Absolute Good. “Indeed it is only the good man who is the happy man and only the happy man who is the good man.” That is quite a remarkable little prayer. So we come to consider, how does one live the virtuous life? What sort of a life do we lead, is it a truly virtuous life, or is it apparently so, or actually not so? Our ideas of virtue are based dualistically, virtue as the opposite of vice, and we associate virtue with that which is pleasant and vice with that which is unpleasant. If something is harmful to ourselves or to other people we call it a vice, cruelty, deceit, dishonesty and all that sort of thing. We call them vices and rightly so, they are defilements of the psyche, as the Buddha used to teach. Virtues are regarded by us as the opposite of those, harmlessness, truthfulness, loving kindness, abstention from all evil and so forth. The value of presenting virtue in the negative form as abstention from the opposite, vice, is psychologically very sound. We do not know what the Absolute, the Real Good is: we think we do. Our criterion always is, “What do I as the human being gain by it? How do I improve myself by it? What happiness or pleasure does it give me?” That is our criterion deep down in our psyche. We do not live virtuously entirely for virtue’s sake, which would mean to live virtuously because virtue is the absolute fact of our existence and of our real nature. But we do not see that and we do not accept that. It means sometimes accepting a certain amount, and at other times a great deal, of pain and misery and suffering, and we are not prepared to accept that. So our concept of virtue is a very limited concept as such. Nevertheless, although a limited concept, it is like a still photograph, or it is like the shadow of the living reality of virtue in itself. But virtue, as I said earlier, is the strength of the soul, the strength of the mind. The root from which the words ‘mind’ and ‘man’ comes is the Sanskrit word man, meaning not merely to think in our sense of the word ‘thinking’. Our sense of the word ‘thinking’ is extremely limited, it is just a series of words spoken silently, of ideas, concepts, plans, of various considerations. If we observe our thinking processes as such, we will see that it is extraordinarily self-oriented and it is self-concerned, something for our gain and for our pleasure and for our possession, to satisfy our desires, our whims, our fancies, our beliefs or whatever it is. But that kind of desire, the desire for the self, whether it be at an exalted level or at an ordinary low level, as such, is the desire which separates us from the rest of existence. It is something which produces division between myself and the rest of the world, and therefore it is the root source of conflict, all desire for the self, that kind of desire.
There is the other aspect of desire, the passionate aspiration for the truth to come to life within us and to function freely. The truth comes to life in us only when we become fully awake to the fact that actually we are extraordinarily self-centred and self-concerned. We do things, we study things, we work for things because we believe that we will be happy. We want a reward all the time. Let us not deceive ourselves that we are free of that, that we are truly self-less. We may be unselfish to a certain extent and that happens because we define unselfishness as the opposite of selfishness, and we know that selfishness means to do things for oneself even at the expense of others. In fact all too often it is at the expense of others. But self-lessness is a totally different thing from unselfishness. Selflessness comes into being when we have fully seen, clearly seen, the nature of selfness, that is self-concernedness, self-orientedness. When we really see that, and see how it functions in our everyday life and affects our surroundings and other people around us, then the psyche naturally gives up that state of selfness. Selfness, as any other evil as such, disappears naturally. How, and why? Because all these things are expressions of our psychical energy. The wrong expression of our psychical energy is a vice, and the right expression, the beautiful, the perfect expression is a virtue in the real sense of the word. So when we see the nature of the evil thing very, very clearly and see that it is a part of our own constitution, then that clear sightedness enables that vice to fall off like a scab falls off after you have had a wound, and the skin heals. We cannot fight against vice or evil. We do attempt to do that and the result is only conflict, confusion, difficulty in the long run. We must not fight against these things, we have to understand, and in clear understanding and in clearly seeing the fact as the fact, then the truth is there, and the truth does not counteract or produce a palliative, as far as the evil is concerned, but it heals that wrong expression of the psychical energy.
It is the healing of the psychical energy in ourselves which is the important thing and therefore we remain free from any conflict in connection with all this. This means of course that we have to utilise our power for salvation, our power for attentiveness, constant and intense attentiveness to all that is taking place in our thoughts and feelings, in our actions and in whatsoever happens in our life and in our circumstances. We have to attend to that very clearly. In that attentiveness, that state of consciousness which is capable of being completely at one with the truth, with reality, lights up. That is the En-lightened State, and the En-lightenment which takes place enables us to realize the Infinite, and to realize the joy of the Infinite, which is the bliss of the creative activity of the whole universe.
† Author of Make-Believe, Sexuality Spirituality, But What About Men?, and Being in your Right Mind.