Living Gita: 31: No Happiness in Small Things

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“Our contacts with objects outside, Arjuna, cause heat and cold, pleasure and pain. But they have a beginning and an end. Endure them bravely. Only the brave man who remains unaffected by these but stays calm in pain and pleasure is qualified for immortality.” Gita 2.14-15


The sultan was leaving the great Sufi after spending some time with him and wanted a parting gift from him. The Sufi gave him a ring with a locket on it and told him not to open the locket until his condition was truly wretched and he could find no way out. Years passed and the king found himself in such a condition. The people he trusted most had plotted against him, his enemies had surrounded him, his health was failing, all strength had deserted him and his faith in himself was fading. And then with trembling hands he opened the locket, his heart beating wildly. What could be inside it? There was a short message from the Sufi inside. It said: “THIS TOO SHALL PASS.”

The sultan kept looking at the locket, the message playing in his mind again and again, and then slowly his breath calmed down, his body calmed down, his pulses calmed down, and coolness started spreading inside his head that was earlier ready to burst. A smile appeared on his relaxed face and he got up, ready to face whatever happens, telling himself: “THIS TOO SHALL PASS.”



The Mahabharata tells us that Krishna and Arjuna are eternal companions. They have been together in lifetime after lifetime, performing austerities in the Himalayas. Each of the eighteen books of the Mahabharata begins by offering salutations to them.

naaraayanam namaskrtya naram chaiva narottamam
deveem sarasvateem natvaa tato jayam udeerayet

“Bow down to Narayana and to Nara, the best of men. Bow down to Goddess Saraswati. Then begin the recitation of Jaya.”

Jaya is the original name of the Mahabharata.

Jaya means victory. But true victory is not victory over enemies out there, but over the enemies within us. Our true enemies are the asuri pravrittis within us, our negative urges, emotions, feelings, drives and ambitions – the lust, anger, jealousy and so on within us, which are in constant war with the positive feelings within us. Minus these negative tendencies, we are divine in nature, daivi. We do not have to do anything to achieve the daivi nature of goodness, nobility, kindness, compassion, love, fearlessness and so on. As beings born of the divine, these are natural to us. That is what we truly are. The asuri tendencies in us are like dirt collected on a vessel. When we wash them off, the vessel becomes clean again.  Or like water that has remained stagnant for a long time – when the water starts flowing, it becomes clean again.

While the daivi tendencies belong to us, to our true nature, the asuri tendencies belong to our ego, what is called ahamkara in Sanskrit, the notional “I”. And the stronger the ahankara is, the more the negative qualities are. So people with powerful ahankaras, like those who want to rule over vast populations or enslave the whole earth to satisfy their egos, people like Hitler and Stalin, are chockfull of asuri tendencies. And these asuri tendencies deny them joyfulness because there can be no joy in a heart filled with asuri tendencies. Joyfulness and asuri tendencies cannot co-exist.

It is a strange, vicious circle. Because they are filled with asuri tendencies, they are denied of all happiness and since they are denied of all happiness, they are constantly in search of happiness. Unfortunately they know of only one way of searching happiness: through their asuri nature, through asuri activities, by acquiring things outside, by making achievements out there, by enslaving others, attempts which further deny them all happiness.

In an earlier essay we saw how Saint Rabia through her search for a lost needle under a street lamp taught people to seek happiness within themselves and not outside. In an essay called The Secret of Happiness, Thich Nhat Hanh, the world famous Vietnamese monk and Nobel Prize winner, one of the most respected teachers of meditation in the world today, says: “If we are able to quiet the cravings within us, we see that our true desire is not wealth or fame but happiness.  Because we want happiness, we search for power outside of ourselves. But as long as we seek power and happiness in fame, money, and sex, we will not find it.  Only by coming back to ourselves and purifying our minds can we experience true, lasting happiness.”

In the same essay Hanh says, “Is it possible for those of us who are poor, who are unknown, to have happiness? Many of us think that if we have no money and no fame, we have no power and therefore cannot be truly happy. Of course, our basic material needs for food, water, shelter, clothing, physical safety, and livelihood must be met for us to be happy. Abject poverty leads to suffering, disease, and violence. So I am speaking here of the desire to have money above and beyond our material needs.”

The error we make is in assuming the more pleasures we have, the more wealth and fame we have, we more power we have, the happier we will be. And motivated by this erroneous assumption, we run after them. As Hanh pointed out, we do have our basic needs, certain things are essential for happy living, but it is not true that the more we have of these things, the happier we will be.

There is beautiful description of absolute bliss experienced by a poor farmer in one of Robert Silverberg’s books. There is a character in the book who can experience what other people are experiencing and it is through the ‘eyes’ of this person, David, that we get to see the happiness in the soul of a farmer:

“David … slides down through dense layers of unintelligible Deutsch ruminations, and strikes bottom in the basement of the farmer’s soul, the place where his essence lives. Astonishment: old Schiele is a mystic, an ecstatic! No dourness here. No dark Lutheran vindictiveness. This is pure Buddhism: Schiele stands in the rich soil of his fields, leaning on his hoe, feet firmly planted, communing with the universe. God floods his soul. He touches the unity of all things. Sky, trees, earth, sun, plants, brook, insects, birds—everything is one, part of a seamless whole, and Schiele resonates in perfect harmony with it.  How can this be? How can such a bleak, inaccessible man entertain such raptures in his depths?  Feel his joy! Sensations drench him! Birdsong, sunlight, the scent of flowers and clods of upturned earth, the rustling of the sharp-bladed green cornstalks, the trickle of sweat down the reddened deep-channeled neck, the curve of the planet, the fleecy premature outline of the full moon—a thousand delights enfold this man. David shares his pleasure. He kneels in his mind, reverent, awed. The world is a mighty hymn. Schiele breaks from his stasis, raises his hoe, brings it down; heavy muscles go taut and metal digs into earth, and everything is as it should be, all conforms to the divine plan.”

This of course is fiction, science fiction, and I am quoting it for the beauty of the experience described here. But there are thousands of real life stories too about enlightened masters that tell us that it is possible to live our entire life in the kind of bliss that Schiele is experiencing. And for all we know that is what the Ananda Mimamsa, enquiry into happiness, in the Taittiriya Upanishad speaks of when it describes the happiness possible to the man not enslaved by desire.

The Mimamsa asks us to visualize a young man in the prime of his youth, who is cultured, educated, who is in perfect health and has strong limbs, whose death is nowhere near, who owns the entire earth with all its wealth. The Mimamsa asks us to further assume that the highest happiness possible to him as a single unit of human happiness. And then it tells us that the happiness of a man not tormented by desires is the same as this man’s. The Mimamsa next tells us of still greater happiness experienced by beings more evolved, and says that the man who is not enslaved by desires experiences the same happiness. Finally the Mimamsa speaks of the happiness experienced by Brahma, the creator, which is endless times the highest possible human happiness and says that when a man is not a slave to desires, his ananda is equal to that of this limitless happiness of Brahma.

What the Upanishad means is that if you are not a slave to your passions, your happiness is boundless, you experience absolute bliss without limits.

The path to ananda is through passionlessness, desirelessness, not through desire and passion. In the absolute stillness of the mind that is not disturbed by waves of lust, passion and desires we experience absolute bliss. It is this ananda we seek constantly through all we do. Every search we make, whether it is through wealth, pleasures, fame or whatever, is actually an attempt to get back to our true nature, for union with our true nature, which happens when the mind is quieted.

Krishna is reminding Arjuna, his eternal companion, that he should not give much importance to external events and keep his mind still, undisturbed, not just because only then is true happiness possible but also because awakening is possible only with a still mind. Matra-sparshas is the word Krishna uses for experiences in the outer world – a word that means contact of the senses with objects outside. And he reminds Arjuna that the results of all such contacts are impermanent: whether it is pleasure of pain, heat of cold, success or failure, loss or gain, or anything else. Krishna asks his disciple Arjuna to endure them with fortitude. And he gives the reason why such vacillating conditions should be bravely endured: because only those men of courage, dheeraah,  who are unaffected by them, who are not tormented by them, people who get no vyatha from these, who remain the same in sukha and duhkha, sama-duhkha-sukham, are entitled by immortality.

The word immortality here stands for a lot of other things too. It is with inner awakening, through waking up to our true nature, that we go beyond death, become immortals. The word become is not right there, what Indian wisdom means is that it is only through awakening to our true nature that we realize we are immortal, that we have always been immortal, that we are never born, that we never die. When we awaken, we also realize that we have already achieved all we have been seeking throughout our life, throughout all our past lifetimes: bliss. When we awaken we realize that we are beyond all changes, beyond all limitations; that we are all-knowing, all-powerful, present everywhere:  omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Mortality and all the things that accompany mortality are a dream we have been dreaming. Like Shuangzi’s dream – in which he dreamt that he was a butterfly. It is like a man who has eaten too much and is unable to sleep dreaming he is hungry, hasn’t eaten for days.

But this waking up is possible only when our mind becomes still. That is what Patanjali speaks of as the aim of yoga – yogah chittavritti nirodhah, yoga is making the mind still. Once our mind becomes still, we have nothing more to achieve. All our sorrows, all our sufferings, all our wants, all that we run after, are because of our mind that is not still.  Bhagavan Shankaracharya’s Vivekachudamani puts it brilliantly when he says in a single verse:

na hyasty-avidya manaso’tirikta
maho hyavidya bhava-bandha-hetuh
tasmin vinasthe sakalam vinashtam
vijrimbhite’smin sakalam vijrimbhate.

“There is no avidya other than the mind; the mind itself is avidya, the cause of bondage to samsara. When it is destroyed, everything is destroyed; and when it manifests, everything becomes manifest.

Avidya is primal ignorance that is the cause of samsara, the world where nothing is permanent, everything is a constant flex, where we feel we are limited, where we suffer and constantly seek happiness in the world outside.

Awakening is waking up from this avidya, primal ignorance. That waking up happens not through the study of scriptures, not through memorizing books, not through anything else than by making the mind still. Just as when we wake up from a dream the entire dream world disappears with all its content: with its joys and sorrows, with its successes and failures, with its losses and gains, with its fame and infamy, with its powers and powerlessness, with its heat and cold, and all other dualities.  

That is what Krishna means when he says only those who are sama-duhkha-sukha, the same in duhkha and sukha, the same in happiness and sorrow and are not tormented by these are entitled for immortality.

Krishna wants Arjuna to fight the war for the sake of dharma. But he also wants Arjuna, his friend, to wake up to his true nature, about which he will be speaking more in the verses that follow these.

You can fight for dharma even after waking up to your true nature, even after enlightenment. That is what Krishna is doing, it is for that that he took this avatara, this incarnation.

Enlightened masters come down to our dimension, to our world, for the good of the world, for lokasangraha. When an enlightened master comes down to our world, it is always for lokasangraha, the good of the world. He has no purposes to achieve for himself.


Keeping the mind calm is important for other reasons too. Particularly in our world where calmness of mind has become such a rare incident. Academic success needs calmness of mind. Corporate success requires calmness of mind. Success in the market needs calmness of mind. Happy family life needs calmness of mind. Even something as simple as cooking a meal requires calmness of mind.

Unfortunately the greatest casualty of the modern world is this calmness of mind. The most tragic thing that has ever happened to man is what has happened to us during the last few hundred years – ever since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Calmness of mind is related to calmness of the brain. In the language of neurobiology a calm brain is said to be in the alpha or the theta state and a disturbed brain is in the beta state. The beta state is when electric waves in the brain are moving between 14 Hz and 100 Hz or more. The brain then consumes huge amounts of energy, the output is of poor quality, you are aggressive and restless, you don’t trust people, you see people in general as enemies threatening your ego, you don’t communicate well, you express high levels of hostility to those around you, you lose control over yourself and become slaves to your negative emotions like anger, jealousy and so on. In the alpha state which is calmer, your brain becomes relatively calm, electric waves move at a much lower frequency, between 4Hz and 8 Hz,  and you are far more intelligent, imaginative, creative and so on, much more friendly with people, highly flexible, mellow, yielding and fluid. And in the theta state that is still more relaxed you become really calm and centered, are able to focus effortlessly on what are doing, have the highest intelligence and imagination, have amazing creativity and problem solving ability. The theta is the state of peak learning, peak intelligence, peak performance, peak everything that is positive. Delta is the most relaxed state, but we will not be talking about it at the moment because in delta frequently you are in touch only with yourself and not with the outside world.  

It is delta that you are closest to your own nature, the mind that separates you from yourself becoming very thin, the brain calm and relaxed. In theta you are still close to your true nature, the mind streamlined and thoughts running smoothly like oil flowing from a bottle and unlike water from a tap. In alpha the positive qualities of theta are reduced, but you are still relative calm and centered, much intelligence and imagination still available to you. But in beta you are far from your true nature, the mind has become a thick curtain between your true nature and the functional you, thoughts are running chaotically at an alarmingly high rate in your mind, electric waves inside the brain are giddying fast, you are like a planet moving off-course and erratically.

And modern medical science, stress management studies and neurobiology all tell us that the modern urban man spends most of his waking time in the beta state. Which explains why the whole world is on the brink of insanity, as wisdom points out. When Brenda Shoshanna wrote her beautiful book on Zen, the title she chose for her it was: Zen Miracles – Finding Peace in an Insane World.

Our world is truly going insane. Violence is growing every day. Rapes are on a constant increase. People are more unhappy than ever before. All kinds of diseases are on the rise and new ones are born every day. There are new epidemics appearing more frequently than ever before, as the covid-19 pandemic. Road accidents are more common in spite of much better vehicles and superior roads. People are perpetually irritated. And the rates of depression and suicides are at an all time high.

Krishna’ words here have a powerful message for all of us. Learn to accept small things as small things. Taams titikshasva – endure them bravely.

Personal clashes are a regular feature of workplaces. Some of the issues that cause clashes are important and have to be taken seriously. In such situations the reason for the conflict should be looked into deeply. But a lot of the time being inflexible in your stand is not always the right thing to do, though that is what we frequently do. Nor is giving in to the other person’s ways or demands in an effort to avoid conflicts the right thing to do. The attempt should be to find collaborative solutions wherever possible, win-win solutions.  

Also please remember, when you insist on winning every battle, a lot of the time you end up losing the war itself. Insisting that you should win every battle is the way of the ego. Wisdom is ignoring small things and focusing on the larger things.

One of the most important things to do when conflicts arise, and to avoid the arising of conflicts itself, is to listen to the other person fully and try to understand him and his standpoint. This listening can not only avoid conflicts but also create lifelong friendships. Try to understand the other person.

A joke we as children used to love in our place is about a conversation between a Tamilian and a Keralite. In Tamil the word aamaa means yes and in Malayalam, it means a tortoise. Both men were having a bath in a temple tank when the Keralite pointed out something large moving underwater to the Tamilian and said, “See, a huge fish!” and the Tamilian said aama, aama, meaning yes, yes. But the Malayali said no, not aama, it is not an aama but a fish and the Tamilian again said aama, aama. To which the Malayali responded by again saying not an aama but a fish! Our fights are often like that. We don’t understand the ‘language’ of each other.

Attacking the problem and not the person too is helpful. When you attack the person, it becomes an ego issue – and ego issues are always touchy and explosive. Avoid them. Learn to respect the fact that people have egos – that will take you a long way in avoiding clashes.

Also, everyone has the right to have his own feelings. Respect the other person’s right to have his feelings even when you feel very differently.  Also, remember to respond rather than react. Reactions are born of our blind unconscious and responses, from our wakeful intelligence.

Couples fight over the silliest things much of the time. What to have for dinner or which hotel to go to for it, what to wear for a party and when to leave the party, taking out the trash, not jumping up in happiness about a gift you received from the other person, forgetting to greet the other person on a particular anniversary, forgetting your mother-in-law’s or father-in-law’s birthday, the reasons are endless. Before picking up a quarrel about one of these, think if that quarrel would be important to you a year from now. Most of these issues, most of the time, are extremely simple though at the moment they look momentous to us. Learn to treat molehills as molehills. They don’t have to become mountains.

In the 1970s a word became the most important word for an entire generation: yield. Today yielding is unacceptable to the ego. But remember, yielding is starving the ego. And starving the ego is feeding the soul.

Taams titikshasva bhaarata, Krishna tells Arjuna. Endure them. Endure heat and cold, endure success and failures, endure them with fortitude. They are small things.

Endure them so that your mind remains calm. So that you remain undistracted from the larger journey you have to make. So that you become entitled for amritatva – so’mritatvaaya kalpate.

Immortality and all that go with that word are far more important than these small things. And they are all really small. You do not have constantly bicker about the weather, about taxes, about what the media presents us in the name of breaking news most of which you will not remember after two minutes.  I remember once a leading national channel was presenting the top ten headlines in a news bulletin, and one of them was that a police jeep tire went flat in a north Indian city!

When Adi Shankaracharya speaks of the essential virtues a sadhaka needs in Vivekachoodamani he lists titiksha as one of those qualities and defines it as sahanam sarvaduhkhanaam aprateekaara-poorvakam chintaavilaapa-rahitam saa titikshaa nigadyate: Titiksha is enduring all distresses without a thought of vengeance, without worrying about them, without wailing over them. 

The purpose of such endurance is clear: keeping the mind unaffected by them, keeping the mind calm.

It is for this reason that Krishna speaks of the need for keeping the mind calm even when sukha comes. Just as we have to remain calm in losses and failures and sorrows, we have to remain calm in happiness and victory too.

What awaits us is huge: ultimate freedom, bliss, discovery of the empire of our own true nature, swaaraajya-saamraajya. Heat and cold, our daily successes and failures are all puny before that.

Remember what the Chhandogya Upanishad tells us: yo vai bhoomaa tat sukha?, naalpe sukhamasti, bhoomaiva sukha? [7.23.1]. There is no happiness in small things. Happiness is only in the boundless.

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More by :  Satya Chaitanya

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