Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Neti neti and Happiness

I- like many others- have often thought about happiness, and what really makes people happy. The concept of happiness as a state of mind sounded right, in a superficial sense, and I've had the chance to catch glimpses of others and myself happy in many different situations. But I could only grope when it came to a deeper understanding of happiness.

But I found help along the way in these contemplations.

In the Upanishads (apparently especially in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad), a process of negation and elimination ("neti neti", or "not this, not this") is effectively employed to define the Absolute Truth. Loosely speaking, in the words of Sherlock Holmes, "When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” It seems plausible that oversimplifying and adapting this method could be used to define and find happiness: by discovering and eliminating unhappiness in the process. Thus, when we remove any thought or feeling that gives us unhappiness, what remains eventually must be happiness. And because the range of human thoughts spans time, every thought must necessarily be about the past, present or the future. If we superimpose this temporal classification on the neti neti concept, we could simplify all unhappiness related to the past as a form of ungratefulness (because if you were truly grateful to your past, the memories from the past would not make us unhappy) and all unhappiness related to the future as a form of impatience (again, if you were truly patient, you would have no room for anxiety or impatience). The present is just a moment, a fulcrum about the past and present which only affords an awareness of now, and as such cannot be a source of much unhappiness.

So, what this means is that if we want to increase our happiness at will, we must decrease our ungratefulness for our past, and decrease the impatience for our future.

Its a choice.

We are never really happy or sad, but only at different levels of happiness, or unhappiness. An analogy may be heat and cold. In reality, there is nothing like heat or cold by itself, but only different levels of temperature.

These concepts of patience and gratitude are related to the twin ideas of gratitude and patience that are popular in Islam as "Sabr" and "Shukr". And they come together as contentment in the now.

I was told to give up attachment,
in pursuit of enlightenment,

but shouldnt I give up resentment
and not seek even contentment?