How can I be happy, according to Hinduism

The time for our ancient philosophy to become relevant in the digital age is back – and why not? Unlike the Gregorian system of calculating/measuring time, we believe that everything in life (the good times and the bad times) is cyclical.

Yoga is on everyone’s lips and hips, self-help and self-awareness books in the West package and promote our ancient traditions vigorously/avidly/enthusiastically and we have gurus who can not only earn the devotion of corporate honchos,  but start corporate empires as well!

Mythologists have got our stories, not just at bedtime, but  to boardrooms and work spaces as well.

The basic question: How can I be happy?

Everyone is asking, even if in differing ways, how can I be happy? How can I minimise the bad and sad stuff (whether it’s having an odd numbered car on an even day or the loss of a loved one)? How can my plan for my life be played out in the way I want it to?

We ask this question almost as if sad and fearful events are not good and need to be not only reduced but eliminated altogether.

I ask these questions of myself as I flip through Facebook posts during the morning drive to work, posts from gurujis, quotes from sacred texts, tweets from mythology, life experiences from friends across the globe – all give me various answers, and what with WhatsApp groups adding to the pile of suggestions, by 9am, my mind is overwhelmed with information for that most basic of my questions: How can I be happy?

I would really love to have a simple formula, that helps me sort out the quotes, lessons, images and video clips in a way I can easily understand and apply when my boss yells at me for no fault of mine, when I have to console a colleague who feels unfairly treated or when a candidate to whom I have made an offer changes her mind at the last minute on joining my team.

At these times, it’s hard to recall the lovely quotes, stories and dictums. I just want to tear the little hair I have, fling things around and scream.

Spiritual and philosophic traditions have been around since Hinduism started. They focus on knowledge, existence and what is real around us. Surely, then, some bright spark in the old days would have thought of an answer to my basic question: How can I be happy?

Indeed they did, and offered a simple four-level model that in turn can be translated into a three-step action process.

Recognise the model in your life and you can easily put into practice all the quotes and stories, and since it is not connected directly to any one religion, it’s universal.

The focus of the model is philosophic and spiritual, so it’s not as much about closeness with God as closeness with oneself. My happiness is in my hands.

The core of Hindu philosophy lies in the Upanishads. Although Vedic hymns are incantations to gods or rules for performing sacrifices, the Upanishads deal with the ultimate consciousness and make no mention of any God.

Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhava wrote commentaries for the principal Upanishads, and these form the core of  ancient HIndu philosophy. They are couched in a complex language for they were, as their name indicates, meant to be learned through dialogue with a teacher.

So how do we net junkies who read, watch, hear, and have no teacher except a computer screen, learn how to be happy?

That’s where the Dharmashastras of Manu, Yagnavalkya and others help. They give us the two part model of how all of us aim for moksha but we are constantly motivated by the twin desires of artha andkama. It is our reality that we live in a world of animate and inanimate objects, and, therefore must be guided by dharma to satisfy our desires but not be enslaved by them.

In the model, every constituent part is important and supports the other. As always, in philosophy, Ayurveda or food, it’s about balance and not one being more important than the other.

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