Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 24: The Peace within You > Chapter 1: The Search for Happiness
The Search for Happiness
The limitations of life
Where is the person who has gained total satisfaction of all his needs, let alone his wants and desires? Therefore no one is totally happy. It is better not to be a candidate for happiness and suffer frustration. Then what is the next goal worth seeking? It is peace within oneself.
It is in the World-Idea that the living creature is made to undergo so many varieties of unhappiness along with its experience of so many varieties of happiness.
It is not really that Gautama declared life to be misery, as the earlier translators told us: the correct version is that he declared life to be unsatisfactory, insofar as limitations are imposed upon each separate person--limitations which bring loss, pain, disappointment. There is so much that he does wrongly through ignorance, so many things he wants but cannot have. Moreover no person finds himself in a perfect situation, a flawless environment, or a faultless set of circumstances. There is always something in each one which offsets to some extent the satisfaction it yields.
When people seek excessive entertainment and amusement what are they doing but confessing their lack of happiness and their need to forget this fact?
The more persons one observes, the wider one's acquaintance, the more one must conclude that few of them enjoy real happiness for long without some complementary source of unhappiness.
Too often does desire gain its object only to find that it still has not gained its happiness.
The frustration of our desires happens much more often than the satisfaction of them. The disappointment of our expectations of other people is more frequent than the fulfilment of them. The brevity of our happy periods when compared with the length of dull or distressed ones can be seen when viewed from the vantage of elderly age.
He has learned through the experiences of many births not to cling desperately to anything, not to hold on stubbornly when life's clear indication is to let go, not to get so attached to persons or objects that all his happiness rests solely upon them.
A happiness that is continuous and unbroken, we find nowhere among men: the circumstances of their lives simply do not permit it to exist, as Buddha saw.
The wisdom of experience teaches us that all things change. Friendship wanes and realized ambition brings its own new troubles or disappointments. A fixed and unalterable worldly happiness based on outward things is sought by many but found by none.
Whatever he grasps at in his search for happiness, it is only a substitute for the real thing and therefore must one day leave him discontented with it or bored by it.
The man who follows his ego's lead in his pursuit of happiness treads circles without end. He may attain fleeting pleasure but never lasting happiness.
A satisfaction which is substantial and lasting cannot be found in human life. Existence largely amounts in the end to some kind of disappointment. This was Gautama's discovery 2500 years ago and it is the same today.
The satisfaction, even happiness, got from any thing, situation, or person is certainly there. But it is only there for a limited time and in a limited way and to a limited extent. For by relaxing from the desire when it is first gained, the tension is dropped and there is inner peace. This may last a short or a long time, but other situations will arise which oppose, reduce, or even destroy and remove it. Whatever satisfies him now may bore him later on.
When one has received a terrible blow--such as losing someone very dear to him--he will understand better why the Buddha taught that all living is suffering. In pleasanter times, this truth goes unrecognized. It is only through heart-rending sorrow that many finally arrive at the gates of the Quest, for they have learned at last that only in seeking some knowledge of the Higher Power can they obtain an enduring measure of inner peace. In the calm heart of the inner life--in its strength and understanding--compensation may be found for our outward hardships, griefs, and losses.
Young souls look for happiness, older ones for peace, calm, and equilibrium.
No other person can bring us happiness if he or she does not possess it in himself or in herself. The romantic urge to seek in a second individual that which neither of the two has, can never find successful fulfilment.
You may make yourself happy, by spiritual or other means, but will other human beings let you remain so? Not having accomplished this feat themselves, they are notorious for their interference in their neighbours' lives.
Gautama succeeded in making a religion out of disillusion, as Schopenhauer succeeded in making a metaphysic out of it.
If it be true, as the pessimist says, that life moves us from one trouble to another, it is also true that it moves us from one joy to another. But it is a question whether the anxieties and miseries of life are sufficiently compensated by its pleasures and satisfactions.
To rest the whole of one's happiness upon the physical existence, the close presence, the emotional response, or the personal loyalty of a single individual is risky. If anything changes adversely, the happiness will change with it.
It may well be asked how could it be possible to find happiness if harrowing experiences and terrible griefs have been one's lot in the past? Or, for the more fortunate, if seeing or knowing of others who suffered them creates a sympathetic sadness not to be erased?
There is so much pain--mental, emotional, physical--in human life that the joy which is also in it is discounted by the Buddhist or Schopenhauerian pessimists.
If happiness is to depend on the caprice, the whim, or the desire of some other human being, it will not escape having uncertainty at the core.
One day the violence of hate, war, and revolution will spend itself and man will find by his own experience the meaning of peace of mind.
The Buddha tried to teach men to look only on the decay and death and suffering inherent in existence on this physical plane. This is as unfair and as extreme--if isolated--as the teaching of modern American cults which look only on the growth and life and joy which are also inherent here.
"Life could not be endured were it seen in reality," wrote Sir Walter Scott in his private diary, echoing Buddha, whose words he may never have heard, and anticipating Schopenhauer, whose writings appeared shortly after. We may flinch at this truth, but it is not the whole truth. Perhaps the great artist or composer who rises to incredible beauty offers a counterbalance.
It is pleasant to be so optimistic by temperament as to see a rainbow in every sky. But is it always TRUE?
Did Gautama magnify the sorrows he came across during his first free explorations of the world outside his palace? Was it fair to concentrate on them alone?
Gautama's assertion that "life is suffering" may be matched with Socrates' assertion that "life is terrible." But both Indian and Greek sage referred solely to life in the ego. Is it quite fair to stress the misery of human existence without pointing to its mystery? For that is just as much there, even if attention is seldom turned toward it. Man, in order to complete and fulfil himself, will and must rise to life in the Overself with the ego put into place, belittled and broken.
If some good fortune comes your way, before accepting it remember that everything has to be paid for, so it will be well to pause and enquire the price.
Sometimes they feel on the verge of suicidal despair. Lucretius' poems have been food for such people, as well as for those who, like the nineteenth-century English agnostic George Gissing, could find God neither in nature nor in themselves. His belief in, and following of, Epicureanism doubtless supported him for a time but in the end he returned to his melancholy and, if Jerome is to be believed, killed himself.
The criticism of life which the pessimists like Gautama and Schopenhauer make, is too negative. This is not because it is not true but because it is not complete and hence is lopsided.
Those who can concentrate their thoughts only on the difficulties of the problems which confront them, the dangers of the solutions which are offered to them, or the sacrifices which are demanded of them, will never solve their problems.
"Sadness does not befit a sage" is the reminder of an ancient Confucian text. "He is a man inwardly free of sorrow and care. He should be like the sun at midday--illuminating and gladdening everyone. This is not given to every human--only one whose will is directed to `The Great' is able to do it. For the attribute of `The Great' is joyousness."
Because he is seeking the ultimate source of true joy, he is more likely to find it if he searches for it with a cheerful heart than if with a miserable one.
The attitude of Emerson, which induced him to call himself "a professor of the science of Joy," is more attractive than that of Schopenhauer, who taught the futility of life, proclaimed the vanity of existence, and spread the mood of despair. Emerson declined to accept the massive Oriental doctrine of melancholy resignation along with the Oriental gems of wisdom which he treasured. "This world belongs to the cheerful!" he said.
Gautama Buddha thought that even mere existence was needless suffering whereas Emily Dickinson thought it to be one of the greatest gifts. "The sense of living is joy enough," she told a visitor.
Happiness is not to be hoarded but to be shared. This is not only a responsibility but also a joy.
If man's innate nature is exalted peace, then it is logical to presume that melancholy and pessimism are but alien accretions which do not properly belong to him. The smile is man's true expression and not the scowl.
"I enjoy life and try to spend it in peace, joy, and cheerfulness," Spinoza wrote to a correspondent.
It is easier to solve problems and overcome difficulties if they are met positively and courageously, and that means, or leads to, meeting them cheerfully and hopefully.
Buddha continually recurred to his tragic theme whose ending is gloomy for some of his readers but starbright for other ones.
Han Suyin writes, "Sadness is so ungrateful."
He who preached the misery of life is, despite that, depicted on the ancient statues with a faint beatific smile--Buddha.
Despite the prevailing pessimism of today, he may find a peace and steadiness that will well support him.
Hung Chou often said: "Since I received enlightenment in the infinite wonders of truth I have always been cheerful and laughing." (Zen)
If anyone wishes to practise the inner life, he should try to reflect its quietly joyous character. Father John of Kronstadt--a priest who was a true mystic, an instantaneous healer, and beloved by thousands whom he helped--went so far as to say that to sorrow is to fall away from God.
Whether he is sad because of his troubles or sullen because of his temperament, the gloomy man is not in touch with his Overself.
The man who knows and feels the Overself's bright light and beneficent love cannot go about habitually gloomy, cannot show a dreary face to the world, cannot hold a wretched pessimism as his leading thought.
There is sufficient reason for Confucius' saying: "The superior man is always happy."
If some people find an underlying melancholy in life, a few find an underlying joy in it.
He will cultivate not only an equable mind but also a sunny one.
When this happy peace is real, so that it does not depend on ideological or emotional moods, and is permanent, so that it does not depend on fortune's changes, it is entitled to the designation of "philosophic happiness."
It is a quiet kind of happiness, not so apparent as the gay and exuberant kind but much more worthwhile because much more solid and permanent.
It is not a boisterous hearty optimism but a quiet perceptive calm.
It is a hopeful faith which neither war nor revolution, calamity nor retrogression, can destroy or even diminish.
It is not a hysterical bliss nor a wild delight; it is a serene, beautifully balanced happiness permeating a mind that effortlessly keeps itself in amazing equilibrium.
Philosophic happiness has its own sense of humour and bears its own signs. But these do not include noisy guffaws and cackling laughter.
Must he wear the fixed automatic smile of a Hollywood celebrity to show that he has found happiness?
It does not mean looking for hope in a hopeless situation. Philosophy is more sensible and more practical than that.
All previous experience should teach him that it is not safe to be too happy, that he cannot live on the heights of joy for too long with impunity. It is not safe to exult too freely in the good fortune which comes in the summers of life; it is not safe to forget the hours of bad fortune which came in the winters of life. Fate cannot be trusted to bring in only such pleasant hours, for it may equalize itself by hurting him now and then. He should temper his delight at fate with fear of it. But even this is not an ideal attitude. Serenity, which leaves him above both delight and fear, is immensely better.
It is seldom noted that the Buddha taught a disciple that his advance from the third degree to the fourth and final one depended upon "the passing away of any joy, any elation" he had previously felt. This is a curious statement but it is quite understandable as a resistance to the one-sided emotionalism which is carried away by the pleasanter states of the ego.
The joys have flapping wings but the sorrows have leaden feet. To bring himself to inner equilibrium, the midpoint of balance is the better way for a man.
He may still feel the need of certain things, he may even like to have them, but he will not feel that they are essentially important to his happiness.
He will accept the pleasant things of life if they come his way, but he will not long for them or be unhappy if they never come.
Without a peaceful mind and a healthy body, happiness must remain at a distance.
The man of deep thought and sensitive feeling cannot be happy in a world like ours. But he can be serene.
He enjoys a peace which is above passion, above many a desire, so that what the world runs after has no power to attract him. Indeed, the peace itself holds him because it has a greater power and gives a greater enjoyment.
The serenity inside a man's mind, the faith inside his heart--these can contribute to his happiness as much as his material surroundings or his way of physical living.
If peace, deep inner peace, is not found, then sooner or later moods of elation will reign for a while, only to be succeeded by moods of depression. As fresh events arrive or circumstances change, so the human being is pushed emotionally and mentally from one side to the other.
When one finds a constant happiness within oneself, the pleasures of the senses will not be missed if they are not there. They are no longer necessary to stimulate him, although they will still be appreciated if they are there.
Whereas the mystic rapture comes only at intervals, the mystic peace may be found forever.
The heart of joy
If you investigate the matter deeply enough and widely enough, you will find that happiness eludes nearly all men despite the fact that they are forever seeking it. The fortunate and successful few are those who have stopped seeking with the ego alone and allow the search to be directed inwardly by the higher self. They alone can find a happiness unblemished by defects or deficiencies, a Supreme Good which is not a further source of pain and sorrow but an endless source of satisfaction and peace.
Pleasure is satisfaction derived from the things and persons outside us. Happiness is satisfaction derived from the core of deepest being inside us. Because we get our pleasures through the five senses, they are more exciting and are sharper, more vivid, than the diffused self-induced thoughts and feelings which bring us happiness. In short, pleasure is of the body whereas something quite immaterial and impalpable is the source of our happiness. This is not to say that all pleasures are to be ascetically rejected, but that whereas we are helplessly dependent for them on some object or some person, we are dependent only on ourselves for happiness.
He will be honest enough to admit that he does care if things are going wrong, if possessions are falling away, and if his desires are ending in frustration instead of fulfilment. But he will also be wise enough to declare that he knows that peace of mind is still worth seeking despite these disappointments and that intuitions of the Overself are no less necessary to his happiness and well-being than are the comforts of this world.
If the mind can reach a state where it is free from its own ideas, projections, and wishes, it can reach true happiness.
The earth moves its cargo of four billion human creatures through space, but how few of them taste the Overself's peace and enjoy its happiness?
In those moments when he touches the still centre of his being, he forgets his miseries and enjoys its happiness. This provides a clue to the correct way to find real happiness, which so many are seeking and so few are finding. It lies within.
Letting himself be borne along by this inner rhythm of life will yield a contented happy feeling.
If his efforts to procure happiness have ended in frustration, discontent, or failure, what more sensible thing can he do than draw a line through them and try a different approach?
Buddha promised an "abounding bliss" to those who would give up their "little pleasure." These are his own terms.
There is immense joy in being released from the close-knit web of the ego, in escaping from himself.
Jules Renard: "I am a happy man because I have renounced happiness."
Artificial pleasures are not the same as enduring happiness. They come from outside, from stimulated senses, whereas it comes from within.
Out of these labours at self-elevation, he can create and keep a joy of the heart not less intense even though it is not derived from outward things.
The man who is not inwardly free cannot be inwardly happy.
No environment is ideal. Not in outward search but in deeper self-penetration shall we find true lasting happiness.
Any man can say he is happy, but few men are competent to appraise the quality of their happiness accurately.
He who has learned how to enter at will into this silent inner world will return to it again and again. In no other way can such calm holy joy be felt, such deep meaning be known, such release from personal problems be secured.
We think that this or that will bring us to the great happiness. But the fortunate few know that in meditation the mind is at its most blissful when it is most empty.
Galatians 5:22 says that joy is a fruit of the spirit.
He is happy even though he has no blessed consciousness of the Overself, no transcendental knowledge of it, but only secondhand news about it. Why, then, is he happy? Because he knows that he has found the way to both consciousness and knowledge. He is content to wait, working nevertheless as he waits; for if he remains faithful to the quest, what other result can there be than attainment? Even if he has to wait fifty years or fifty lifetimes, he will and must gain it.
The fully satisfying joy he is searching for in this or that thing, which always yields it coupled with disappointment in some way or at some time, is forever waiting for him deep within the heart's deepest silence. But he comes to it only when all else has failed him.
One of the oldest Hindu philosophic texts, one of the Upanishads, tells us that joy comes out of the deep inner peace of the Overself.
Only one who has intimately felt this divine peace, however briefly, can know its inestimable worth. Only one who has felt this divine love, however seldom, can know that its indescribable joy is above all earthly ones.
Whether or not he is living in a mystical fool's paradise or a genuine heaven depends upon how much ego and how little truth-seeking are present.
When we find the still centre of our being, we find it to be all happiness. When we remain in the surface of our being, we yearn for happiness but never find it. For there the mind is always moving, restless, scattered.
The Overself is present with man, and life is nothing more, in the end, than a searching for this presence. He engages in this activity quite unconsciously in the belief that he is looking for happiness.
Hidden under its miseries, life keeps incredible happiness waiting for one who will search and work for it.
Happiness is the desire of man but is it also the goal of life? So far as it is only an emotional condition, like misery, it cannot be the goal, for evolution keeps leading us upward to control and eventual conquest of all emotions. Therefore the true goal must be in those rarefied regions and the true happiness must be there too.
If suffering brings moods of dejection, it is only fulfilling its intention. This is part of its place in the scheme of things, leading to the awareness that underneath the sweet pleasures of life there is always pain. But thought would present only a half-truth if it stopped there. The other half is much harder to find: it is that underneath the surface sufferings which no one escapes, far deeper down than its counterpart, is a vast harmony, an immense love, an incredible peace, and a universal support.
In the universe there is joy and suffering: in that which transcends it there is only a higher pure joy. The pairs of opposites cannot be escaped in the universe.
Joy and sorrow are, after all, only states of mind. He who gets his mind under control, keeping it unshakeably serene, will not let these usurpers gain entry. They do not come from the best part of himself. They come from the ego. How many persons could learn from him to give up their unhappiness if they learnt that most of their sorrows are mental states, the false ego pitying itself?
They find relief in its explanations of compensatory knowledge or new qualities extracted from their suffering; they take refuge in its promise that somewhere along the route, if they remain faithful, grace will manifest its benign help.
If the divine presence is dwelling at the core of his mind, then the divine bliss, peace, and strength are dwelling at the core of his mind too. Why then should he let outward troubles rob him of the chance to share them? Why should he let only the troubles enter his consciousness, and withdraw all attention from the bliss and peace and strength? The conditions of this world are subject to the cosmic law of change. They are temporary. But the bright core within him is not. Why then give a permanent meaning to those conditions by a total surrender to the sadness they cause?
If the Overself is beyond all human conditions, it will be asked, how can the term "happy" be applied to it?
It is always hard to watch others who are near and dear to him suffer, but he must not let go of his own inner faith and peace, however little they be, because of having to witness such suffering. It ought not to take him by surprise if he remembers that earthly life is usually a mixture of pleasure and pain, and that only in the Overself is there lasting happiness.
The incentive to seek happiness will always be present so long as the consciousness of the Overself is absent. But so soon as that is found, the incentive vanishes. For then we are that which was sought--seeker, search, and object blend into one.
There is peace beneath life's pain and peace at the end of its pain.
He will see that no affliction and no misfortune need be allowed to take away his happiness.
It is not enough to achieve peace of mind. He must penetrate the Real still farther and achieve joy of heart.
Both grief and joy claim their shares of a man's life, do what he will to avert the one and secure the other. But by renouncing them emotionally he may find the supreme tranquillity. Gautama sought refuge from the searing sun under a branching leafy tree. There he found the secret which he had sought for six years. "There is no happiness higher than tranquillity," he announced later.
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