“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”- Buddha
In the 1960’s American kids were promised that science is advancing at such a rapid pace that three decades down the line people would have so many luxuries, and so much of free time that they wouldn’t know how to enjoy. Teachers in school assured the students that a lucrative career would be to become a ‘leisure time engineer’, one who devises methods to help us spend our leisure time happily.
Its end of 2012 now. Are people more relaxed now than they were fifty years ago? We have indeed advanced materially but the elusive search continues. People are working harder with the hope that one day they would live peacefully. But that day never seems to come. India has seen the proliferation of Business process outsourcing (BPO’s) and now night shifts are common place. One look at the men and women traveling in the local trains of Mumbai, and you know how disturbed people are. People work over sixteen hours a day and they are proud of it. The passion and break-neck speed at which people rush to office exposes the restlessness of the modern man; the rise of psychiatric cases and ever new inventions of anti-depressants confirms it.
An effort to seek happiness leads men and women to work harder, with the hope that money, fame and position may grant the much sought after bliss. However the more we seek happiness in external things of this world, the more it remains elusive. This has been brilliantly analyzed in the Bhagavad Gita which declares each living entity to be a spirit soul. “As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change” (Bhagavad Gita 2.13). It further states, “As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones” (Bhagavad Gita 2.22). Since we are spiritual beings- the driver of our car like body- our identity is separate from the gross body that we presently inhabit. Thus any amount of bodily pleasures can never deeply satisfy the soul who is different from matter. What really satisfies the soul is when we go deeper into our existence and pursue goals that add meaning to our lives; goals that bring us closer to God and the divinity within. These aspirations nourish the soul and while helping us serve others meaningfully, also give lasting and deep inner contentment.
The Bhagavad Gita also reveals that the absence of peace is due to our restless and fickle mind. “From wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the Self.” (Bhagavad Gita 6.26). While the rich and famous have access to all the pleasures, they are also victims of their own restless mind that goads them on to seek ever new delights, and in the process remain perpetually dissatisfied. Happiness has got nothing to do with our external possessions of wealth. I remember a friend in school who carried fancy pens, almost a dozen specially designed and coloured ones, for exams. However he invariably flunked all his tests. Passing an exam is not dependent on how many pens we have; similarly passing the challenge of lonely struggles, relationship hurdles, and emotional obstacles in life is not determined by how many mansions we own or cars we drive.
A contrasting example will illustrate this point better:
A man on the verge of a major success in his career met with a serious accident and burnt 65% of his body, and lost his ten fingers. Four years later in 1975, in another accident he injured his spinal cord that left him paralyzed waist down. There was another man, who as a twenty year old rocked the world with his music and at twenty four was a millionaire celebrity, with over fifty million copies of his album sold worldwide. If we are asked to judge who is more fortunate of the two men, and whose life would we wish to emulate, most would fall for the bait and opt for the second choice.
Let’s see the real story: the first man is W. Mitchell who since his devastating accident has decided to be an instrument of positivity and lend substance to everybody’s lives. He is a successful businessman and as a motivational speaker, transformed thousands of lives. He also become a small town mayor and authored It’s Not What Happens To You, It’s What You Do About It (1997). He leads a life centered on service, gratitude and prayer. The second man is Kurt Cobain who despite his wealth and fame was a victim of substance abuse. In April 1994, at the age of twenty seven, his heroin addiction consumed him; he committed suicide by a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head. Incidentally there are almost fifty top rock and blues musicians who have died at the age of twenty seven, and hence they are members of the famous ’27 club’ – the name for the group of influential musicians who all died at twenty seven. Most of them died either due to suicide, car crash caused by reckless driving, or an overdose of sleeping pills.
The world is indeed strange, for it rewards glamour and ignores substance. Whether it’s Michael Jackson, Kurt Kobain or Jimmy Hendrix , or any other Superstar, we are generally attracted by their talent, fame and wealth- all external indicators of success. These parameters constitute the personality, while the values and ideals we strive for, and our response to trying circumstances in life make up our character. Personality is what the world thinks about us, but it’s the character that determines who we actually are. If we ignore the character while developing our personality, it makes the foundation of our lives weak.
Lasting peace and happiness is discovered in our moulding the character on strong foundational principles of spirituality. The Vedic teachings extol a human to seek a spiritual goal of life. This quest is a unique endowment of human beings in comparison to animals, who can’t think beyond the four needs of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. The dormant spiritual spark in all of us needs to be fanned, and we need to go beyond mere bodily needs.
Without being reconnected in our natural position as lover of God we are at best like a fish out of water. A fish out of water wouldn’t be enticed with the best I-pod, succulent cakes or designer outfits. He’s desperate to be back in water. Likewise, a soul trapped in the human body and its related complexities maybe lured by exciting relationships, attractive cinemas, and promising career growths. However the soul always hankers for more than all that this world can offer. The soul’s water is the spiritual realm where he reunites with his loving Lord, and renders uninterrupted service to Him. This loving service and remembrance of God is the most natural position of freedom for the soul. It’s in this freedom alone that we can be peaceful and happy.