New year or same old story

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People change their externals to make things better, but what truly is ‘happy’

With a New Year just round the corner, “Happy New Year” greetings echo everywhere. Can this sincere wish for happiness be transformed into reality? Let’s analyse.

What’s New?

Let’s consider the word ‘new’. All of us have an inherent attraction for new things. Why? Is it not because the old is, in some way or the other, unsatisfactory? The old lifestyle, the old relationships, the old job—all these leave us feeling incomplete and unfulfilled. And the fond hope is that the new will change that same old story.

But what’s actually going to be new? People change their externals to make things better. Now what is the most dramatically ‘new’ thing that a person can do? Maybe enter a new relationship or change their environment — (new house, new car, new job, and the like) But once the initial excitement fades away, new problems creep up, too, and then one finds that life is not as better as one might have hoped—and happiness still remains elusive. Which brings us to the question…

What is Happy?

Happiness is another fundamental reality of life that is beyond the realm of human understanding. Noble Laureate Physicist Erwin Schroedinger pointed out that the entire world of emotions remains inaccessible to science, “Science cannot tell us a word about why music delights us, of why and how an old song moves us to tears.” How can we hope to attain something that we cannot even define? Therefore let us be open to all branches of knowledge—including the Vedic– that can help us to get a more complete understanding of reality.

Explore The Vedic Dimension

The Vedas agree with the common understanding that to become happy something new has to be done. But the understanding of new as given in the Vedic wisdom is significantly different from the general understanding.

The Vedic scriptures explain that all living beings eat, mate, sleep and defend. In fact, the subhuman beings do nothing but these four activities. And modern man is also doing just these four activities, although in a sophisticated way. Even most scientific advancement is impelled by these four fundamental drives. Let’s see how.

Among the first things that man did after unravelling the mysteries of the atom is to use the atomic bomb; that’s defending in the most horrendous form seen in the contemporary times. A major result of the advent of the information age is the Internet, which has sex (and its related words) as the top search object on Google; that’s mating. The leaps in genetic engineering have mostly been actuated by the desire for better meat and other foodstuffs; is that anything higher than eating? Dunlop beds, nowadays water beds and what not; they are all obviously for sleeping. So a little thought will reveal how all the “advanced” activities done by the modern man eventually boil down to eating, sleeping, mating and defending. And there’s nothing new in them, no matter how we do them externally. The Srimad Bhagavatam (7.5.30) describes this in graphic terms: punah punas carvita carvananam “Chewing the chewed”.

But humans are not meant to live the same old life of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. A hog cannot understand the difference between its body and soul; a human being can. A dog cannot practice meditation; a human being can. Spirituality is not just a different ability that we humans have; it is our defining privilege. A privilege that we have been granted because we possess a higher intelligence compared to any other form of life.

Therefore the Vedic scriptures encourage us to sublimate our attraction for the new by directing it to the realm of spirit. Athato brahma jijnasa — This starting aphorism of the Vedanta-sutra means “Therefore, inquire about the higher dimensions of life.”

Why does it start with the word “therefore”? Because implied is a clarion call, “Now, O spirit soul, who has acquired a human body, cease from the animal business of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Now you are endowed with a higher intelligence in the human form. Therefore inquire about the higher truths of life.”

The Real Happy New Year

This higher enquiry is not a fruitless armchair speculation. The answers to it constitute a practical way of life which bestows upon the seeker unlimited happiness from the spiritual stratum. This in fact is the Vedic mission Sarve janah sukhino bhavantu — Let everyone be happy—not superficially and temporarily by success in the rat race for sense gratification, but deeply and eternally by absorption in loving service to God.

Spiritual life culminates in the development of love of God, Krishna. Love of God is our original and real nature, but due to prolonged and excessive contact with matter, it has become completely obscured and is now misdirected towards various material objects. All genuine spiritual practices are meant to revive this love of God, which is presently dormant in our hearts. Among all such practices, the most potent in the present age is the process of mantra meditation—chanting of the maha mantra Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.

God being infinite is eternally new (nitya navanavayamana) and so loving Him is an eternally new and happy experience. Hence, revival of our love of God is the ultimate fruition of the wish “Happy New Year!”

This article was originally published by the writer, a renowned author, speaker and travelling monk. He can be followed on https://www.thespiritualscientist.com

 

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