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Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part LXIII
|by Dr. Jaipal Singh|
Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah (Let All Be Happy)
Continued from Part LXII
With its rich tradition of quest for the knowledge and wisdom of the spiritual and metaphysical sciences, India has also traditionally been a land of scriptures and scholars (Rishis) since ancient times. No other religion has ever talked of the universal brotherhood or the world as a family (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam) and no other religion ever thought of the happiness and well-being (Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah) of the entire mankind. This practice started by the rishis and spiritual teachers in ancient India has continued till now, where a significant population still believes in these concepts despite constant onslaught on its culture and religion by the Islamic and colonial rulers, and religions patronized by them. The best illustration could be cited as the current Covid-19 pandemic: While the affluent and resourceful Christian and Islamic world have remained largely focused on the cure and vaccination of own citizens, India endeavoured to simultaneous cure and vaccination by suppling medicines, equipment and vaccines to about 95 countries during the same period.
Origin and Meaning (Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah)
Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah is listed as one of the Shanti Mantras (Peace Verses) in Indian texts: In fact, all the Shanti Mantras are gems of the Vedic culture and Sanskrit Language but the one (Om dyo shantirantrikshah shantih Prithvi; Yajurveda) that is recited while concluding the worship/yajna and talks about the sustained peace in the world among the all living beings including animals, plants and nature and the other this one that prays for everyone to be happy and healthy in this world, are perhaps the best ones that pray for not only the followers of the Sanatana Dharma but the entire mankind and the living world. While trying to find the origin of the verse so commonly used among Hindus, the author found few references of its being derived from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad but it was ultimately located in the Garuda Purana in a slightly modified version as under.
(May there be well-being for all, may everyone be free from infirmities; may everyone see goodness in things, may none partake suffering.) (Garuda Purana: Uttarkhanda, Chapter 35, Verse 51)
The verse in circulation and common usage is as under:
(May everyone be happy, may everyone be free from infirmities; may everyone see goodness in things, may none partake suffering. Om peace, peace, peace!)
As can be seen from the above, the meaning in essence of the original verse from the Garuda Purana and its derived version is same despite slight difference in text in the first line and, in fact, some other later scholars too have used modified versions of the verse in their subsequent writings but the spirit has remained the same. Like mentioned earlier, it remains as one of the most beautiful and well-meaning verses of the ancient Hindu texts, which address the well-being and welfare of all living beings in the nature and, in a way, represents the universality, Dharma (righteous duty) and spirituality that make the Sanatana Dharma unique and distinct from all other cultures and religions.
The literal meaning of Sukh or Sukha is happiness, pleasure, ease or comfort but none of these words conveys exact meaning in English vocabulary and Sukha is much more than mere happiness. However, for the ease of usage and understanding, the author may use happiness as synonym and substitute of Sukha in this piece. Sukha is comprised of two terms “Su”, means good, and “Kha”, means aperture or space i.e., having good space. This could be understood with the illustration of a moving cart; so long its wheels move in centre (i.e., within space or aperture provided), it maintain balance with smooth movement but once the space is distorted, the cart would experience jerky and erratic movement. This “good space” is essential for everything being in place – in order, happiness being only a part and product of it, else the life may face opposite and unpleasant experiences, denoted as Dukha (suffering). In Rigveda too, the Sukha denotes running swiftly and easily.
When we are in equilibrium with the nature, and physically and emotionally synchronized with the external world, we experience the harmony and bliss called Sukha. On the other hand, when we fail to align with these objects owing to our unhealthy body and unstable mind, we lose our balance of the life too and, in turn, experience the opposite i.e., Dukha. Precisely, this is what the aforesaid Shanti Mantra conveys to the adherents. The Shanti Mantras are so often closed with three peace utterances, which are basically intended for the peace in the world, peace in our heart and mind, and peace in between the aforesaid two realms. Another important point that needs to be flagged is that the prayer for all being happy, healthy and stable is not merely for humans but all inclusive of humans, animals, plants, quanta, atom and energy that exist on the material level in the universe.
Hinduism Followed A Structured Approach
When the author considers the aforesaid Shanti Mantra and great Vakya, he finds Sukha and Dukha are only parts of a much bigger canvas or structured design visualized in four Hindu Vedas. For instance, much before the advent the aforesaid Shanti Mantra, the Atharvaveda talked about “Jivem Shardah Shatam”, the complete hymn is as under:
(We may see hundred autumns; we may live hundred autumns; we may be awake for hundred autumns; we may grow for hundred autumns; we may prosper for hundred autumns; we may continue for hundred autumns; we may adorn for hundred autumns; we even more than hundred autumns.) (Atharvaveda: Canto 19, Hymn 67)
Here one autumn denotes one full year because the second autumn will come on completion of a year; In Indian subcontinent, we have six seasons each comprising of about two months, the autumn being only one of them. So, it’s obvious that if a person lives for hundred autumns, he (or she) would obviously have lived for hundred years. One can live for one hundred years if only he experiences Sukha with a sustained happiness and health of the body and mind.
To secure Sukha (happiness or bliss) in the material and spiritual realm, Hindu Shastras had identified certain objectives of the human life as also stages of the life span to be known as Purushartha(s) and Varnashram(s), respectively, already explained in Part IV of this series. The four Purusharthas included Dharma - righteousness or moral values; Artha - prosperity or economic values; Kama - pleasure, love or inherent psychological values; and Moksha - liberation or spiritual values. Similarly, the four stages of Varnashram were Brahmacharya – the order of students as learners; Grihastha – the order of householders for material bliss and looking after others; Vanaprashtha – the order of ascetics by staying in woods or household; and Sanyasa – the order of hermits completely renouncing material life in the woods. The blissful life of the human beings was envisioned as hundred or more years in Vedas broadly divided equally into four Ashramas stated above.
The pursuit of Artha and Kama by every Grihastha under the constraints of Dharma during the life was permitted so as to secure happiness (Sukha) in material life but the true Sukha was considered in pursuing the spiritual life at any stage that necessitated renunciation of both i.e., wealth and pleasure to attain the Moksha (liberation). The concept of Purushartha also defined ethics and values according to which human action and behaviour is performed and measured during the course of life. In essence, the concept of Purushartha was to create a synergy between the temporal and spiritual life, and it found its true expression and implementation through the Varnashram. For human being, the aforesaid objectives of human life prescribed under Purushartha and implementation of the same through Varnashram were considered as the best instruments of securing Sukha (happiness) in the material world while simultaneously laying a foundation for the ultimate bliss (Moksha) in the Brahman’s (God’s) realm.
Happiness in Hinduism: Bird’s Eye View
Various Hindu scriptures have endlessly talked about the happiness in human life. As the cycle of birth-death-reincarnation is the key pathway of human life and eternal journey of soul in Hinduism, the happiness is linked with present actions of the person, past life karma, divine interference and grace of the God. Many Hindu scriptures and texts refer to three types of happiness, namely Bhautika (material or physical), Manasika (mind related) and Adhyatmika (Spiritual). The physical happiness arises from the material comforts of life and body pleasures derived from the interaction of senses with the sensory objects. The happiness one experiences in mind is often related as Anandam which arises from the sense of fulfilment and being free from anxieties and afflictions. Finally, the spiritual happiness or Atmanandam is experienced when the person achieves equanimity and equipoise in life that leads to freedom from the vicious cycle of birth and death, thereby attaining Moksha, as Advaita concept, which is possible both as Jivan-mukti while still living, and the Videha-mukti - liberation after death.
Thus, Hinduism recognises happiness in many forms, the material happiness is allowed by granting Artha and Kama for the householders under the watchful vigil of Dharma but it is clearly held that this happiness is only transitory and fleeting. Therefore, scriptures also encourage people of all ages to shun mundane pleasures in pursuance of the spiritual happiness leading to Atmanandam (bliss). According to Yogasutras (2.7), mere pursuit of happiness in a bound state leads to attachment and consequent bondage, which constantly restricts and deprives soul from attaining the blissful state. Therefore, the ultimate goal for every human being (soul) should be to avoid temptations that lead to bondage in the vicious cycle referred to in the foregoing paragraph.
Many people who do not indulge in bad deeds but remain entangled with the worldly pleasures through good Karma, are unable to escape the vicious cycle of death and rebirth. Such people must realize that true happiness and peace is not guaranteed forever unless it is secured on a lasting basis which can come only by shunning the desires and cravings of things, and attaining the state of an equipoised mind. This is the reason why Hindu scriptures have clearly delineated that the sufferings are inherent to the worldly life and the root cause of these sufferings are the desires and cravings that people more often fail to resist and control. Consequently, they tend to attach themselves with the transitory and fleeting things unable to resist their attraction and aversion for them. This impermanence manifests people’s life and inflicts misery and pain in the form of separation, loss, aging, sickness, decay, destruction and death.
Thus, all along life, people have to deal with the umpteen pairs of opposites driven by their desires binding them with impermanent things. This duality is the cause of most human miseries and unhappiness in the manner that people feel happy and accomplished when they experience the desired things, and dejected and deprived when faced with undesired things or situations. Therefore, seeking happiness in the world in material and impermanent things is like chasing a mirage. This predicament can be avoided only through substituting material happiness to spiritual happiness, and thereby the material goals to spiritual goals. True happiness is a divine experience which can be achieved only when the person is free from all attachments and impurities of desires and delusions, thereby achieving equanimity and equipoise while still alive upon earth.
Srimad Bhagavad Gita and Happiness
Although Sukha (happiness) finds a mention in several Hindu scriptures and texts, perhaps none of them describe it as much comprehensively with absolute clarity and precision as the Bhagavad Gita did in its umpteen verses. Shree Krishna made it clear to Prince Arjuna about the significance of being steady and equipoised in the beginning of his discourse by telling him that it was the mundane contact and interaction of the senses and objects that gives rise to various feelings including pleasure and pain, which are transitory and must be ignored.
(Wisest among men, the person who is not verily affected by happiness and distress, and remains equipoised in both, becomes eligible for liberation.) (BG: Chapter 2, Verse 15)
Any person may have curiosity as to why Shree Krishna insists on rising above the pleasure and pain to become equipoised when almost every person aspires for happiness in this world. To unwind this tangle, one needs to understand why people seek happiness as also why the material happiness does not satisfy and always leaves something amiss. The answer lies in the science of the soul (individual Self) and Supreme Soul (God). According to Sanatana Vedanta view, the God is an infinite ocean of bliss while individual souls are like tiny fragments which are naturally drawn to this bliss. Being part of God, the soul too has a divine nature which will naturally seek the happiness which is divine. On the contrary, the body it occupies is transitory that can only experience happiness that comes through the contact of the senses and their objects. So obviously, the material happiness never satisfies the soul, scriptures insist for Moksha and Shree Krishna teaches to remain equipoised in material happiness and distress to attain it.
The position of an equipoised mind can be equated with the ocean which possesses a unique ability to maintain its undisturbed state by neither getting overflowed nor depleted, despite an incessant flow of many rivers into it. Same way, a man has incessant flow of desires and resultant pleasure or pain but one achieves real peace if not perturbed or overtaken by these desires and resultant happiness or distress. This peaceful mind is in fact the key for the true happiness.
(Just as the ocean remains undisturbed by the incessant flow of waters from rivers merging into it, likewise the sage who is unmoved despite the flow of desirable objects all around him attains peace, and not the person who strives to satisfy desires.) (BG: Chapter 2, Verse 70)
In the Bhagavat Gita, Shree Krishna has also classified and summarized the three kinds of happiness as follows:
(And now hear from me, O Arjun, of the three kinds of happiness in which the embodied soul rejoices, and can even reach the end of all suffering. That which seems like poison at first, but tastes like nectar in the end, is said to be happiness in the mode of goodness. It is generated by the pure intellect that is situated in self-knowledge.) (BG: Chapter 18, Verses 36-37)
(Happiness is said to be in the mode of passion when it is derived from the contact of the senses with their objects. Such happiness is like nectar at first but poison at the end.) (BG: Chapter 18, Verse 38)
(That happiness which covers the nature of the self from beginning to end, and which is derived from sleep, indolence, and negligence, is said to be in the mode of ignorance.) (BG: Chapter 18, Verse 39)
Thus, the Sattvic or pure happiness is one that arises from the elevation of the soul, but attaining this state is not so easy because it would necessitate a lot of discipline of the body and mind as also restraint from the material cravings. This is also the reason why Shree Krishna said that in the beginning, it might look like poison which would turn out to be nectar at the end. The second is Rajasic happiness that comes from the materialistic pleasure which is enjoyed through own sensory organs in interaction with the external objects leading to a sense of gratification. However, this happiness remains transitory and fleeting because it doesn’t touch soul. The third and last is Tamasic happiness which is the lowest form too derived from the maximum inactivity, excessive sleep or laziness. The soul remains completely untouched and people erroneously think it to be the true state of happiness.
Srimad Bhagavad Gita doesn’t need any introduction and over a period its concepts have increasingly gained universal attention and acceptance both in the Eastern and Western cultures in the context of the metaphysical science. It addresses well almost all good human attributes including material and divine happiness and peace, as also all negative attributes such as anger, depression, greed, confusion, pride, laziness, envy, fear, loneliness, lust, sin, death, and so on. Many scholars agree that Gita includes the essence of all the Vedas and Upanishads representing Brahmavidya and Yoga Shastra. As mentioned earlier, Shree Krishna repeatedly spoke about attaining the happiness and peace during his discourse to Prince Arjuna. It is not feasible to incorporate all such verses in this short piece, however, a few relevant and more important quotes from Shree Krishna’s discourse are briefly enumerated here.
Hinduism has a very rational and balanced approach towards the happiness and peace in human life. From the face of it, one might get a feeling as if the mundane pleasures are in vain and should be discarded forthwith in favour of spirituality. On the contrary, Hinduism has clearly laid down the objective of human life as Purushartha, well defining each objective, and stages of life, as Varnashram for its scrupulous implementation. In that sense, every householder has been allowed to earn money and other resources to judiciously spend it for own pleasure and dependents’ needs. After enjoying the material happiness, they are expected to relinquish it voluntarily in spiritual pursuit as a Vanprasth and/or Sanyasi. However, the futility of the material happiness is explained at the Brahmacharya stage itself when the person is learning the lessons of life as student, that gives him option to seek spiritual bliss at any stage of life.
To be continued...
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