Call No Man Truly Happy Till He’s Dead
When our very survival is threatened, we have no time or inclination to think of such concepts as happiness. Managing to remain alive occupies our full attention, not wondering about our state of mind. Imagine asking someone in a famine area to name their favourite foods – it would mystify them, as they would be grateful for anything.
People with scant control over their lives are bound to place tremendous importance on the idea of fate. In virtually every modern day Indo-European language, the word for happiness is linked with luck, fortune or fate. One of the most deeply rooted philosophical ideas is that ‘things just happen’. The word ‘happen’ is echoed in words such as ‘happenstance’, ‘haphazard’, ‘hapless’, ‘perhaps’ and ‘happiness’. This view of happiness sees life as consisting of the things that happen to us: if more good things than bad happen, then we are happy.
“Call no man truly happy till he’s dead” was the rather stark way the ancient Athenian dramatists Aeschylus and Sophocles expressed this view. Only when someone had passed beyond this realm of chance and ‘happenings’ could the measure of his happiness be judged.
But the challenge to this idea also came from classical Athens, a culture that emphasized self-reliance and self-control. Socrates himself wrote critically about the condition of happiness, and in doing so he probably changed the way people thought about it. Socrates made happiness a matter of full accord between an individual and the good: to be happy was to lead a good life, one in keeping with higher patterns of being. And he discussed at length the question of what a good life might comprise.
Sant Mat also lays great emphasis on how life should be lived. Baba Ji says we often tend simply to react to events without considering whether or not our actions take us closer to our goals. He wants us to be what he describes as “objective”: having a target that we keep in mind and always strive towards. In our day-to-day thinking, we assess worldly success in terms of achieving targets. We feel we need to be successful in our working lives and find lasting love in order to have a fulfilled life. These measures are fine, and can apply to satsangis too, but what our Masters emphasize is that we must look beyond this world for higher goals.
Why? Because it is absolutely certain that we shall leave this life one day, even though our mind cannot conceive of this fact and tends to rebel against it. That avoidance of reality is based on fear – of the experience of dying, and of the unknown that lies beyond. Yet Maharaj Sawan Singh said in Spiritual Gems that, for the followers of Sant Mat, “the time of death … is the happiest time of all”. And Guru Nanak said, “The whole world is miserable. Only he is happy who has taken to Nam.”
Our Masters encourage us to focus not on this life but on what comes after. Maharaj Charan Singh used to say (for example, in Divine Light) that we are in this world because our karmas are a mixture of good and bad – if they were all good we would be in some kind of heaven, all bad and we would be in some kind of hell. Since we have to go through our allotted karmas anyway, he would explain, then we may as well do so smilingly. He would conclude by saying, “Above the eye centre all is peace and bliss.”
Whilst the classical Greek idea was that life here is not pleasant and so we should simply look forward to a future life of delight in the Elysian Fields, the saints take a more positive view. Hazur Maharaj Ji liked to emphasize that this human life is a rare opportunity of which we should make best use. By this he did not mean furthering our worldly goals. He wished instead that, through our unique possession of wise discrimination (vivek), we would come to recognize that our life here is not eternal and consists of what is destined for us – rather than trying to make it a non-stop succession of our chosen pleasures.
Our destiny includes the fact that we shall one day die and leave this world. We cannot consider it our real home, so why should we feel such an involvement with this life? The saints say that it is actually our involvements here that lead to unhappiness – and that includes the pleasures that we seek, since we mistake pleasure for happiness. As Sardar Bahadur said, “Happy is he whose wants are few. The fewer the wants, the happier the person.” Hazur Maharaj Ji referred to these sensations that we seek as “the insipid pleasures of the senses”, and contrasted them with the far greater joy that can be experienced once our attention is turned towards spirituality.
For the saints, happiness is not something that happens to us but a state achieved through taking another approach to life – namely, “dying while living”, meaning that we become detached from this world and awake to the higher worlds through devotion to the Satguru and focusing at the eye centre. As Hazur Maharaj Ji says in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol I:
Whatever you may get in this world you can never be happy. The inclination of the soul will always be towards its own source, and unless the soul merges into that source it can never be happy in this world.
Nonetheless, we are here in this world, and making best use of this opportunity does not mean the Master expects us to spend every minute in meditation. To support our meditation we are encouraged to attend satsang and do seva, but also to live our worldly life in a way that is harmonious with the atmosphere of meditation. Although our life is destined, the Masters say we have limited free will and thus the ability to make choices. In making these choices, we are encouraged to be sensitive to the needs of our fellow creatures, subduing our ego by lessening our tendency towards self-centredness.
Wanting more than our destiny
Hazur Maharaj Ji often reminded us that there is more happiness in giving than receiving, and that the Great Master told him his hand should always be extended towards others palm down (in the gesture of giving) rather than palm up (in expectation of receiving). Baba Ji says we humans tend to be the most ungrateful of all species, complaining about what we lack rather than being glad for what we have. He says that our problem is that we tend to want more than is in our destiny, and this leads to discontent.
The Great Master wrote in Spiritual Gems that as recipients of the gift of Nam from the Satguru we have a richer inheritance than if we had been given many millions of dollars. That should be for us the fountainhead of great and undying happiness.
For, as Hazur Maharaj Ji explains in Quest for Light:
You have been given the passport to go back to your own home where your Supreme Father is waiting to receive you. What greater joy, blessing or bliss can one have in this world of misery and suffering? In fact, no other person should be so happy in this world as an initiate who is on the path. We should always keep his final goal in sight – the treasures, the joys and the bliss that await him in his true home.