Existence, Awareness, Bliss: Why you shouldn’t seek happiness
Many of us search for happiness in the external world. While we may attain it momentarily, it always fades and we are left in a cycle of perpetual seeking. In Hindu Vedanta philosophy, it is said that fundamentally, you are happiness and bliss. Our original state as human beings is described as Satchidananda. This is a compound word in Sanskrit and is broken down as such:
Sat ~ Being/Existence. Chid~ Awareness/Consciousness. Ananda ~ Bliss
Inherent within all of us is a deep, all pervading bliss. To realize this is said to be simple: we must untether our identification with thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations and simply rest with the bare experience of pure being.The difficulty is that we are so conditioned to attaching ourselves to our minds that this becomes an enormous task.
Notice what it is like to simply exist without identifying with the contents of experience. Instead of thinking about something, notice the qualities belonging to thought as a mental modality.
The nature of a thought is simply to arise and pass away. The Mahasatipatthana Sutta, a famous Buddhist text speaks at length on how realizing and embodying the truth of impermanence helps you realize your true nature. Noticing how ephemeral thoughts are loosens their grip on our being, and doing this slowly allows our natural bliss to shine forth. You may notice im equivocating bliss and happiness, for I think true happiness is bliss. This bliss I’m speaking of is not merely a pleasant sensation, but something more profound. A sense of total comfort in reality, the knowledge that there is nothing to fear and that deep down, nothing can hurt us. We are always whole and complete. Such a blissful state can never be added to or taken away from…it is as it is. One becomes perfectly content in every situation.
Let us suppose that our natural state is indeed one of bliss, how would this change the way we act in the world? In Aristotle’s Nichomacean Ethics, he opens with the claim that all human activities aim at some good. The chief good, towards which all activity points is happiness. Humans seek it for its own sake, not as a means to attain something else. Given that we are taking as fact that we are bliss, it makes no sense to externally aim at achieving it. We are radically fearless, conquerors of existence. What then, should our actions aim at? Perhaps everything should be an end unto itself. Do something purely for duty, for friendship, for love, for passion. Carrying out a task for a friend can sometimes be burdensome and take up valuable time. But you are bliss, nothing can detract from your intrinsic happiness, so you give them your time purely out of duty and because they are your friend. No expectation of happiness.
You expect nothing in return, but also lose nothing by giving of yourself.
The presupposition of satchidananada appears to cause a shift in what constitues rational behaviour. Since happiness is inherent, should we still act as if it were not? When seeking to find a best outcome for ourselves while playing the games of the world, what metric do we now use? Since we are in a state of bliss, from which nothing can add or subtract, every outcome is the best.
Game theory suggests that life is a series of games where every interaction involves a balance of cooperation and conflict as each party attempts to maximize their personal outcome. Yet it appears that always being indifferent to the outcome would be no fun. If every outcome becomes optimal, since you are inherently blissful, there would be no friction or tension and no one would want to play with you! Would a lack of conflict lead to boredom?
Perhaps it would lead to boredom — or perhaps it sets the stage for the greatest game of all: the game of forgetting and remembering who we really are.