I have been asked to address a small group of people in Madurai on 12-12-2009. This is an outline of what I have thought of to tell them.
Is it possible to lead a life without sorrow? Life without problems is not possible. But should we sink into sorrow at any problem? If we decide not to grieve at any time under any situation, can anything or anyone make us sorrowful? Who can rob us our freedom to be happy and cheerful? At any point, we really have the choice to be cheerful or sorrowful. When such choice is available, isn’t it foolish to grieve? This exactly is the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna faces a tremendous sorrow and depression at the thought that doing his duty involves killing Bhishma and Drona. Not being to find a way out, he asks Krishna to help him. The opening verse of the Gita teaching is a short summary of the entire Gita, which is the solution to all human problems: na anusocanti panditaah (wise people don’t grieve) (2.11). The rest of Gita is an explanation of this.
First we should understand what is meant by a life without sorrow. How does a wise man live his life? How does he face problems in life? Does he face problems in life at all? This question is asked by Arjuna. Krishna says, “The wise man is free from desire. He is happy with himself, independent of external situations. He is neither depressed by problems, nor is he elated by pleasures. He always maintains the poise of his mind. He is free from attachment, fear, anger, etc.” (2.55, 2.56) So, the wise man too faces problems in life. But he does not lose himself to the problem. How? He is happy with himself. Does his body not fall sick? Does his memory not fail? How can one be free from these? Yes. One cannot have a perfect body and mind. Even the most perfect body and mind are subject to disease, old age and death, as Siddhartha discovered. But, they don’t matter if the emotional aspect of man is stable. At the emotional level, perfection is possible. There have been thousands and thousands of saints all over the world, especially in India, to prove that it is possible. This is our ideal of perfection. This moment if death calls him, he is ready to leave without a second thought. No unfinished agenda. No regrets. No desire. He has no agenda of his own. He is always fulfilled. He is fully satisfied with himself. If God appears before him and asks him what he wants, he will not have anything to ask.
There is a story of King Alexander. The king wanted to stroll along the river Indus. His soldiers saw a naked sage lying on the sand on the shore of the river. They asked him to move. The sage refused. The soldiers told Alexander that a holy man was on the river banks and is refusing to move away. Alexander wanted to talk to the sage. Alexander asked the sage, “What are you doing?” The sage said, “Nothing.” Alexander told the sage, “I am the world conqueror Alexander.” The sage replied plainly, “OK.” Alexander became angry that he did not get the recognition that he has been used to and said, “I can kill you with one sweep of my sword.” The sage said, “No, you can’t.” Alexander said, “Yes, I can.” The sage said, “You can kill only my body. You cannot kill me.” Alexander was taken aback. Alexander’s teacher, Plato, had told him about sages of India. Alexander remembered that and talked to the sage with humility on various ideas of Vedanta. Finally, Alexander wanted to give something to the sage and told him, “I want to give you something. Please ask anything you want.” The sage said, “Thanks for your kindness. I don’t want anything.” Alexander insisted. Finally the sage said, “I was enjoying the sun. Now you are blocking the sun. Can you please move slightly aside?” This is the condition of the men of wisdom. No fear. No desire. Alexander was very much influenced by the ideas of the sage. He pondered on the fact that his great victories, wealth and fame were not worth anything in the eyes of the sage, and the sage was the most happiest person he had met in his life. He died on his way back. He asked his friends to bury him with hands wide apart and open, with a epitaph on his grave, “Here lies Alexander, the world conqueror. He had to leave this world empty handed.”
Can we also be like the sage? How?
We should have the right understanding of who we are. Are we this mass of flesh and bones? Are we this bundle of likes and dislikes? The body keeps changing. The mind keeps changing. We are the witness to all the changes. So we should be different from these. The first step to this is to dis-identify with the body. The body is only an place of living. Krishna calls it as nava dvaara puri – a city with nine gates (two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, one mouth, two organs of excretion). The person who lives in it is called dehi – the resident of the body. We identify with body so much that the biggest fear for us is death. Krishna calls it mahatah bhayah – the great fear. Krishna says, “As the person in the body undergoes changes like childhood, youth and old age, he also casts off the body and takes another one. Wise people are not bewildered by it.” (2.13) “Just as we remove off dirty clothes and wear a fresh one, the person in the body drops off one body and takes on a new one.” (2.22) The body is an instrument like a pen or a knife or a vehicle. The fruit of our good deeds and bad deeds follow us after death. Death is only to the body and not to the person. The next step is to go even beyond this and understand that this cycle of birth and death is only to the mind. As we can objectify the mind, that is also not our true identity. We are beyond the mind also. We are pure consciousness. As consciousness, we are infinite. So we don’t depend on anything for our happiness. This realization of our true nature will give us complete freedom from all sorrow. How to assimilate this knowledge and be free? The knowledge and freedom is always with us. We are not able to tap it. There are blocks. Attachment to the world is the main block.
Attachment is different from love. Attachment is bad. Love is good. How are they different? Attachment always expects and demands from the other person. Love is always giving to the other person. Attachment binds and restricts the other person. Love gives freedom and support to the other person. What is wrong is expecting? Well, if your objective is to be free from sorrow, it will not lead you there. Otherwise, there is nothing wrong in it. Any expectation or emotional dependence on people, objects or situations will lead to sorrow. Any dependence on something over which we do not have full control is a recipe for disappointment and sorrow. sarvam paravasam dukham sarvam aatmavasam sukham – All external dependence results in sorrow, all self-dependence results in happiness.
Attachment is nothing but strong desire. All problem starts with this desire. If desire is fulfilled, we want more and become greedy. We become proud. If it is not fulfilled, we become angry. When we see others having our object of desire, we feel jealousy. All these cloud our discrimination between right and wrong. When that is gone, everything is lost. These six are called enemies – kaama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada and maatsarya. All of them have desire as the root. So, is desire bad? Not all desires are bad. Legitimate, moderate and non-binding desires are OK. Legitimate – legal and ethical desires are fine. Moderate – desires that do not stand in the way of our goal are fine. Non-binding – weak preferences are fine. It is only strong attachments that are problematic.
How to become free from desires? Desire starts with a conviction that an object will give us happiness. Analyze the object of desire. Is it really the source of happiness? If an object is the source of happiness, it should give happiness to everyone at all times. But this is not so. The same object gives happiness to some people and sorrow to some others. Even the same object gives happiness to a person at one time and sorrow at another time. So, how can we say that objects are the source of happiness? The happiness got out of an object is proportional to the desire for that object. But objects do not satisfy desire. They only increase the desire like fire being fed by fuel, or the desire switches to another object. But constant observation of the nature of desire and happiness got out of fulfillment of a desire, we should learn.
The plain fact is that there is no happiness outside. Once a dog got a dry bone. It started chewing the bone. The dry bone created wounds in the mouth of the dog and started bleeding. Tasting the blood, the dog thought that the blood came from the bone and started chewing it harder. The harder it chewed, the more blood came from its mouth. This is the situation. We think happiness comes from the objects, whereas we are the actual source of all happiness. We can be happy without dependence on the objects. That is real happiness. We should not work for happiness. We should work with happiness. Our life should not be in search of happiness. Life should be an expression of happiness.
It is a simple understanding of the fact. Let us just refuse to be sad. Let us take cheerfulness as a vrata – penance. Let us always smile. Let us stop being beggars. Not understanding our real nature, we have been knocking at all doors for happiness. We are all kings. Let us move around the world helping people, serving people and giving people peace and joy. Let us just stop the search for peace and joy, and start spreading peace and joy.
We always have the freedom to be happy. Being happy or sad in any situation in life is a choice. If we are wise, we will naturally choose to be happy – na anusocanti panditaah. This is the message of the Gita. Krishna himself is the practical example of the teaching.