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Untangling happiness; Yajñavalkya & Maitreyi

Untangling happiness; Yajñavalkya & Maitreyi

The search for happiness is a universal human desire that reflects our innate need for meaning and purpose in life. While happiness can be elusive and difficult to define, it remains a powerful force that drives us to seek joy, fulfilment, and a sense of connection.

Pursuing happiness has been one of the most sought-after desires throughout history. It is the most fundamental desire for humans as it is associated with a sense of well-being and also a measure of success. With digital technology's affordability and wide reach, social media has replaced our natural world. Social media has created a buzz around happiness; people are pressured to be happy or look happy. This pressure to conform to the societal pressure of looking happy created by social media, advertising and popular culture of immediate gratification has made people more unhappy than ever before.

The world's most developed nations are contemplating making happiness a policy subject. This also makes us realize that material prosperity and happiness are not directly proportional. Money or material possessions can bring a sense of well-being but not happiness.

Since antiquity, philosophers and great thinkers have put forth theories about happiness, but the search continues. The search for happiness in the world is similar to the pursuit/ chase of musk deer (कस्तूरी मृग) for the smell which accompanied him since it was born. The story is about a musk deer who is never at peace and constantly anxious. While all other musk deers of its age played and enjoyed, this deer was restlessly busy searching for the source of the peculiar smell he had smelled since he was born. Desperate to search for the source of the scent, the deer left its family and travelled far and wide alone, but all the efforts went in vain. One day out of frustration, it decided to end its life by jumping into a well. At that moment, a sage saw the deer and asked why it looked sad and low. The deer described the pain of his life and how it failed to find the source of this smell, which has always been with him since he was born. Then the sage laughed at the deer and said that for it, you don't need to jump in the well but rather see your reflection in the water. You will get the answer. The smell is within you.

The musk deer did deep and wide searches in the outside world but did not introspect or reflect on the possibility of finding it within his own body. Such is our search for happiness. We run after some or the other things hoping it will make us happy, but we don't delve deep into our mind to understand how it becomes happy. Happiness is a state of mind and not a state of possession. So despite the musk deer possessing the source of smell within itself, the deer wasn't happy. Musk deer believed that the source lay somewhere outside. A similar situation arises in our quest for happiness.

Rather than searching within, we are running after external objects for happiness. We have artificially created a narrative that happiness is related to external entities. However, if we reflect deeply, we will understand that there can be no relation between physical objects and the internal mind where happiness lies. If happiness as a value were in external things, it would have given everyone the same intensity of joy. But we know that is not true. The state of happiness in the mind because of possessing an external object is short-lived, as external attachment is temporary and transient.

An incident from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad ( बृहदारण्यक उपनिषद्) and a discussion between Sage Yajnavalakya and his wife, Maitreyi, perhaps offers insight into the abovementioned question. The famous learned Sage Yajnavalakya (याज्ञवल्क्य )had two wives. Maitreyi(मैत्रेयी) and katyayani(कात्यायनी). So when it was the appropriate time to renounce the social and family life, sage Yajnavalkya informed and sought permission from both his wives. He said, "It is the right time for me to renounce the world. I will divide my material possessions equally so you can spend the rest of your life comfortably. " Katyayani accepted the proposal, but Maitryi had a few questions about his proposal. She asked the sage if the material possessions he left for her would make her happy and immortal. The sage replied that these material possessions would neither make her happy nor immortal. So Maitryi wonders what she will do with these valuable possessions if they can't make her happy and immortal.

Yājñavalkya tells her that these material possessions will neither make her happy nor immortal as these possessions are temporal, and so is the feeling of happiness on acquiring these material possessions. Material Possessions can give her comfort in life but cannot make her happy

We feel happy when we possess, own, or achieve certain things because of an altered state of mind on acquiring or possessing the object which was desired by our Self. No actual physical connection ( between the object and the mind) happens outside the mind. So it is our Self which is defining the relationship, and it is for the happiness of our Self that we attach value to outside things. Nothing is dear in this world on its own. What is dear is the condition that our Self intends to create or project in our mind by an imagined contact with the object. So, a person is not special to us, but what is dear is that condition imagined to be present after possessing that object or relationship.

Yājñavalkya goes on with his exposition to Maitreyī: Neither the husband is dear to the wife, nor the wife is dear to the husband. What is dear is a condition they try to bring about in their mind by that relation. That condition, if not achieved, will not lead to expected happiness. A wife loves her husband not because the husband independently has that value of happiness attached to him but because the wife's mind has perceived that imaginary value. The husband doesn't love the wife for the wife's sake but to make himself happy. Suppose the husband ( as an external object) independently carries the value of happiness within himself. In that case, the husband's presence should always lead to the exact condition of joy for the wife. But we know it is not valid, as is the case when various couples get divorced and say they no longer feel love and happiness. So love was the state of mind as a response to the specific condition of the mind. So Yajnavalakya explains this further by giving more examples.

-स होवाच याज्ञवल्क्यो न वा अरे पत्युः कामाय पतिः प्रियो भवत्यात्मनस्तु कामाय पतिः प्रियो भवति न वाअरेजायायै कामाय जाया प्रिया भवत्यात्मनस् तु कामाय जाया प्रिया भवति। न वा अरे पुत्राणां कामाय पुत्राःप्रियाभवन्तियात्मनस्तु कामाय पुत्राः प्रिया भवन्ति। न वा अरे वित्तस्य कामाय वित्तं प्रियं भवत्यात्मनस्तु कामायवित्तंप्रियं भवति। न वा अरे ब्रह्मणः कामाय ब्रह्म प्रियं भवत्यात्मनस्तु कामाय ब्रह्म प्रियं भवति। न वा अरेक्षत्रस्यकामाय क्षत्रं प्रियं भवत्यात्मनस्तु कामाय क्षत्रं प्रियं भवति। न वा अरे लोकानां कामाय लोकाःप्रियाभवन्त्यात्मनस्तु कामाय लोकाः प्रिया भवन्ति। न वा अरे देवानां कामाय देवाः प्रिया भवन्ति। आत्मनस्तुकामायदेवाः प्रिया भवन्ति। न वा अरे भूतानां कामाय भूतानि प्रियाणि भवन्ति आत्मनस् तु कामाय भूतानिप्रियाणिभवन्ति। न वा अरे सर्वस्य कामाय सर्वं प्रियं भवत्यात्मनस्तु कामाय सर्वं प्रियं भवति। आत्मा वा अरेद्रष्टव्यःश्रोतव्यो मन्तव्यो निदिध्यासितव्यो मैत्रेय्यात्मनो वा अरे दर्शनेन श्रवणेन मत्या विज्ञानेनेद सर्वं विदितम्॥

(sa hovāca yājñavalkyo na vā are patyuḥ kāmāya patiḥ priyo bhavatyātmanastu kāmāya patiḥ priyo bhavati na vā are jāyāyai kāmāya jāyā priyā bhavatyātmanas tu kāmāya jāyā priyā bhavati| na vā are putrāṇāṁ kāmāya putrāḥ priyā bhavantiyātmanastu kāmāya putrāḥ priyā bhavanti| na vā are vittasya kāmāya vittaṁ priyaṁ bhavatyātmanastu kāmāya vittaṁ priyaṁ bhavati| na vā are brahmaṇaḥ kāmāya brahma priyaṁ bhavatyātmanastu kāmāya brahma priyaṁ bhavati| na vā are kṣatrasya kāmāya kṣatraṁ priyaṁ bhavatyātmanastu kāmāya kṣatraṁ priyaṁ bhavati| na vā are lokānāṁ kāmāya lokāḥ priyā bhavantyātmanastu kāmāya lokāḥ priyā bhavanti| na vā are devānāṁ kāmāya devāḥ priyā bhavanti| ātmanastu kāmāya devāḥ priyā bhavanti| na vā are bhūtānāṁ kāmāya bhūtāni priyāṇi bhavanti ātmanas tu kāmāya bhūtāni priyāṇi bhavanti| na vā are sarvasya kāmāya sarvaṁ priyaṁ bhavatyātmanastu kāmāya sarvaṁ priyaṁ bhavati| ātmā vā are draṣṭavyaḥ śrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyo maitreyyātmano vā are darśanena śravaṇena matyā vijñāneneda sarvaṁ viditam||)

Yajnavalkya said: " As a matter of fact, it is not for the sake of the husband, my dear, is the husband loved, but he is loved for the sake of one's own Self which, in its true nature, is one with the Supreme Self. "Undoubtedly, not for the wife's sake, my dear, is the wife loved, but she is loved for the sake of the husband's Self. "Verily, not for the sons' sake, my dear, are the sons loved, but they are loved for the sake of their own Self. "Realistically, not for the sake of wealth, my dear, is wealth loved, but for the sake of the Self. " not for the sake of the Brahmin, is the Brahmin loved, but he is loved for the sake of their own Self. "Truly, not for the sake of the Kshatriya, my dear, is he loved, but for the sake of their own Self. "Verily, not for the sake of the worlds, my dear, are they loved, but for the sake of the Self. "Verily, not for the sake of the gods, my dear, are the gods loved, but they are loved for the sake of our own Self. "Verily, not for the sake of the beings, my dear, are they loved, but for the sake of the Self. "Verily, not for the sake of the All, my dear, is the All loved, but it is valued for the sake of the Self. "In reality, my dear Maitreyi, it is the Self that should be realized-should be heard of, reflected on and meditated upon. By the realization of the Self, my dear-through hearing, reflection and meditation-all this is known.

आत्मनस्तु कामाय सर्वं प्रियं भवति( ātmanastu kāmāya sarvam: priyam bhavati')

Everything else becomes dear or desirable for the sake of the Self. This line sums up the long discussion between Yajnavalakya and Maitreyi, and hence the wise learned said that happiness is a state of mind and can be achieved by practice

The feeling of happiness due to owning and possessing is temporal, not eternal, as possession is not permanent, and the condition created by our mind is wavering. So things and people are not dear to us; they are precious because our mind has been conditioned to their presence as happiness.

Hindu philosophy distinguishes between various kinds of happiness to further clarify the confusion. We have different ways to express them. Ananda (आनंद) is the state of mind achieved by yogic practices and meditation following any one path of Karm marg (कर्म मार्ग), Bhakti marg (भक्ति मार्ग), or Jnana marg( ज्ञान मार्ग). Ananda is that happiness which is not dependent on material possessions. It does not increase or decrease with an increase or decrease in material wealth. Material possessions provide us with the comforts of life, commonly called sukh (सुख). So the standard Hindi terms like sukh, samriddhi(समृद्धि), and saubhagya (सौभाग्य)  are about material possessions, but Anand or Param Ananda is a permanent happy condition of mind.

Sukha is more akin to sensual or material pleasure, but Ananda is the mental state adopted after practice and isn't affected by the increase or decrease of material possessions. Dukh will always accompany Sukh, but Ananda is a permanent state of happiness and bliss. Vedanta talks about ways to achieve Ananda. Even Brahman, or the divine consciousness, is defined as sat( सत्), chit(चित्), and Ananda(आनंद).

Happiness or Ananda is the state which can be achieved when we are not narrow and limited. So the more we attach happiness to our Self's desire, the lesser it will last—the more holistic and broader our approach to life, the more prolonged happiness. There is no happiness in fragmented life. The more we identify our lives with others and understand that we all are part of that bigger reality, the nearer we move to the state of Ananda. Differentiation is the cause of sorrow, so we must aim to achieve a state of self-sameness with all beings; this is the path to happiness. Happiness is the state beyond duality.

Happiness is characteristic of Brahman, so it purn( पूर्ण) whole and not fragmented. It is interdependent. It's not a standalone element. Belief and practice of Self-sameness will lead to the realize the philosophy of interdependence on the larger whole. The below-mentioned famous prayer also has the underlying philosophy that fragment is not the nature of happiness, but completeness or wholeness is.

सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः।
सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु मा कश्चिद्दुःखभाग् भवेत्।।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥ (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.14)

Sarve bhavantu sukhinaha, sarve santu niramaya Sarve bhadrani pasyantu, ma kaschid dukhabhaga bhavet.”

(May all be happy, may all be free from disease, May all perceive good and may not suffer from sorrow)