Friday, December 31, 2010

Arabian Nights, Ananda Mimamsa and Happiness













I know an executive whose income runs into several lakhs per month and yet rarely have I seen him smiling.

In contrast, one of the happiest faces I have seen is that of my milkman Ketan. It may be peak winter, as it is now, or it may be raining torrentially as it was a couple of months ago – but he invariably greets me with a cheery good morning as he comes to deliver milk packets every day without fail. In the rainy season he wears a rain coat and goes from house to house to deliver the milk, stopping his bicycle in front of each house and getting down to walk to the front door. His clothes will be drenched in spite of the raincoat and inside the clothes, his body will be drenched. In winter, he would be shivering inside the old windcheater he wears. But that does not reduce his smile or the cheerfulness in his voice.

I made a social visit to a doctor sometime last year. We were friends, sort of. He is on the staff of a large hospital as a fulltime senior doctor, and saw patients at home before he went to the hospital in the morning – private practice. When he came home for lunch, he again saw patients. In the evening when he came back from the hospital, there were more patients waiting for him at home – he spent two or three more hours seeing them then.

When I visited the doctor on that day, he had finished his consultancies for the day and was somewhat relaxed. His wife brought us tea and we talked over the tea. Or rather, he talked and we listened – his wife, my wife and I. And he talked for more than an hour and a half, until I said we had to go, it was getting late, and he reluctantly stopped.

What the doctor talked about for an hour and half was about how his lot was worse than that of a rickshawwalla. Literally. The bitter doctor bickered about how the riskshawwalla makes more money in terms of the investments he has made. Looking back later we found it difficult to believe this, but he had earnestly and sincerely argued for full ninety minutes that he earned less in terms of his investments compared to a rickshaw puller. He spoke of the years he had spent as a student working hard so that he can join medicine, of the years he had spent as a medical student, of the years he had spent as intern, of the years he had spent as a fresh doctor; he spoke of the hours he had to study during each of these years and of the hardships he had to put up with, of the nights of sleep he lost in the process, and of the money he had invested at each stage. What did a rickshaw puller invest, he asked me rhetorically. Wasn’t the rickshawwalla making more money than he was?

0o0

I have always loved the Arabian Nights, right from my childhood days when I read stories of Sindbad, Alladin, Hatim Tai, Harun al Rashid, and of course of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. [Once, some thirty years ago, I took a group of, mostly, executives from two of India’s leading corporate houses for a fifteen-day study and meditation camp in the Himalayas. The executives were all older than me, I was the youngest. I remember the group in a moment of fun naming me Ali Baba and themselves the forty thieves – they were forty in number. I enjoyed it.] I have with me different versions of the Nights and I love picking up a volume and reading a story randomly every now and then.

Yesterday I came across a volume of Powys Mathers’ translation of the Nights in a used books shop and purchased it – I have a particular affection for this translation, done from the literal and complete version of Dr JC Mardrus’ original French translation of the Nights. Later, in the evening, I began reading the volume. One of the stories I read was The Tale of The Two Lives of Sultan Mahmud. This is how the story, told by Scheherazade starting on the eight-hundred and nineteenth night, begins:

“It is related, O auspicious King, that Sultan Mahmud, who was one of the wisest and most glorious of the Egyptian rulers, used often to sit alone in his palace, weighted down by a causeless sadness and beholding the world black before his eyes. At these times, life was tasteless to him and without significance; yes, even though Allah had given him, without stint, health and youth, power and glory, and for his capital, the most delicious city of the earth, where his eyes might ever be rejoiced by flowers, serene skies and women gilded like the waters of the Nile. These gifts were forgotten during the hours of royal sadness and Mahmud envied the lot of drudges bent over the furrow, and travellers lost in the waterless desert.”

One day the sultan was sitting alone, lost in his own dark world. His was more deeply dejected than usual. His inner world was bleak and the world outside looked to him blacker than ever. He refused to eat and drink, or to attend to his duties as king. There was only one thing he desired: that dark object of desire for all men lost in bottomless melancholy – death.

It was then his chief wazir came to him, informing that someone was waiting to meet him – a very old man. “If I may judge by his words,” said the wazir, “he is the greatest sage, the wisest doctor, and the most extraordinary magician who has ever lived among the sons of men.” The sultan silently agreed to meet him.

The withered old man who entered did not kiss the ground in front of the sultan or bow down deeply, as was the custom. Instead he announced in a voice that reflected nothing but authority that he has come to make him, the sultan, conscious of the gifts which Allah had showered upon him. He then took the sultan by hand and dragged him roughly towards one of the four windows of the chamber in which they were. “Open!” he commanded pointing at the window. Obediently Sultan Mahmud opened the window. “Look!” the old man commanded again.

“Sultan Mahmud put his head out of the window and beheld a vast army of riders pouring down upon him from the mountain citadel, and waving naked swords. The first lines had already come to the palace foot and were climbing the walls with a clamour of war and death. Mahmud understood that his troops had mutinied, and came to kill him. He changed colour and cried: ‘There is no God save Allah! This is the hour of my destiny!’”

The old man immediately shut the window and opened it again in a single movement. The army had disappeared now. The whole palace stood enveloped in peace, as did the city around it with its four hundred minarets.

Without giving Sultan Mahmud time to recover, the old man then took him to the second window. What the sultan saw when he opened it and looked out made him recoil in horror. “The four hundred minarets of the mosques, the domes of the palace, the thousand fair terraces stretching as far as the eye could reach, were all one flaming fire, fanned by cries of terror, and belching up black smoke to hide the sun. A savage wind whooped on the flames towards the palace, until the fair building was only cut off from that red ocean by the fresh green of the gardens.” But when the old man shut the window and opened it again, the fire had disappeared and everything stood bathed in serenity everywhere.

Again the old man rushed the sultan to the third window through which he saw a furious Nile rushing towards the city to swallow it up. The waves were so tall that the tallest terraces were already under water and the river was rushing towards the palace in a violent rage. The flood had disappeared when the old man closed the window and opened it again.

What Sultan Mahmud saw through the fourth window to which the old man had dragged him without giving him time to relax was not the green fields that were there, carpeted with roses and sweet basil, narcissus and jasmine, thickets of orange trees. There were no sweet singing birds there that usually filled the whole place with their wonderful music. Instead, Mahmud saw “a red and white desert of terror burned by an inexorable sun; among its aching rocks laired starving jackals and hyenas; vile snakes sped swiftly to and fro upon it.” The sight disappeared and the green reappeared, teeming in flowers and fruits and singing birds as the old man closed and opened the window once again.

Mahmud was now utterly confused and terrified. He was no more sure whether he was awake or asleep, sane or insane. But the old man gave him no time to relax and collect himself. Instead he dragged the sultan to a small fountain that was in the chamber and commanded “Look!” pointing at the water at the base of the fountain. As Mahmud bent down to look into it, two old hands with unbelievable power forced his head under the water.

0o0

Sultan Mahmud now found himself shipwrecked at the foot a mountain that overlooked the sea. He still wore his royal clothes and his crown. At some distance were a group of rough looking people. They were looking at him and making rude gestures. He walked towards the group and announced: “I am Sultan Mahmud. Depart!”

The people laughed at him all the more. The chief of the group came to him and removed his clothes and picked up his crown. He threw the whole lot the sea, and told him, ‘Dress sensibly.” He forced the sultan to wear the coarse farmer’s clothes they were wearing. “Come and work with us,” he told Mahmud, “for in our country those who do not work must starve.”

“I do not know how to work,’ Sultan Mahmud objected. ‘But you can be an ass,’ retorted the man. ‘Anyone can be an ass.”

They dumped all their tools on him and he staggered along behind them, carrying their spades, harrows, pickaxes and rakes. When he reached the village, he was shut into an old stable and given an onion and some stale bread to eat. By the morning, he found that he had turned into an ass – but with all his human memories intact.

In the morning he was taken out for ploughing the field. He refused to budge from his place and they beat him brutally. He brayed in intolerable humiliation and agony. For braying was the only thing he could do now – he was a donkey and had no human speech. Finding him stubborn and useless, the farmers sold him to a miller.

The miller blindfolded him and tied him to the mill, forcing him to turn the mill for hours at a stretch without a break. The miller mercilessly used his goad and stick on him, apart from the constant shower of curses and kicks. His food was a daily ration of beans along with a bucket of water and his only rest was the time he took to eat the beans and drink the water. The former sultan now kept treading along from dawn to dusk turning around the mill, walking in his own dung and urine all the time.

It was five years later that an accident saved from the miller – one day the roof of the mill collapsed on his head. Sultan Mahmud found himself a human being once again.

He now found himself a stranger in an unknown city where an old man spoke kindly to him. The old man enquired if he would be staying in that city for long, adding that he would be welcome there since he was young, strong and handsome. “I would stay in any place where they did not feed me beans,” replied Mahmud.

The old man assured him that he does not have to worry on that account – he would be eating the best food possible every day of his life. “Now,” he continued, “go and stand outside the hammam at the corner of this street and ask every woman as she comes out if she is married or single. When one tells you she is single, you will become her husband instantly, for that is the law of our land. But be very careful not to omit a single woman from your questioning, or you will find yourself in grave trouble; for that is also the law our land.”

The first female Mahmud saw coming out of the hammam was a pretty girl of thirteen. “This would console me for all my troubles,” he thought. He asked her his question and the girl informed him she had already married a year ago.

The next woman to come out of the hammam was an ugly old hag. Mahmud shivered as he saw her – he had never seen a woman half as monstrous as she was. “I would rather die of hunger or become an ass again than marry this venerable ruin,” he thought. But the old man who had befriended him had talked of the consequences of leaving out any woman who came out of the public bath. He asked his question, and, to his relief, the woman told him she was married.

The next woman to come out was infinitely older and uglier than this one. Mahmud had never seen anything – anything at all – as disgusting as this one was. But he had to ask his question – he had no choice. “Are you married or single?” he asked her in a voice quaking with terror at the prospect of having to marry her. And pat came her reply, “Single, O eye of my eye.”

“I am an ass, good aunt, I am an ass! Look at my ears, look at my tail! Nice old women do not marry asses,” he told her in a begging voice. But she had already fallen in love with him. She was taking steps towards him, her mouth poised for a kiss, her harms spread out to gather him in them. Her hands were now holding his head in them and she was bringing her mouth to his.

Mahmud shook his head in violent disgust. He was finding it difficult to breathe. He fought for air, fought for his life with all his might and with a final frenzied struggle, pulled his head back.

He found he had pulled his head out of the fountain and was struggling to breathe again. He looked around. He was in his palace. His wazir was standing on his right and the old man was on his left. There was one of his favourite slave girls standing in front of him, holding out to him on a gold salver a cup of sherbet that he had commanded a few moments before the wazir had come to him to inform him of the old man wanting to meet him.

Relief flooded him. He was a king. He was not shipwrecked, he was not an ass, he was not the husband of that disgusting old, old woman. Of what a pleasure it was to be a sultan, what a privilege! Sultan Mahmud wanted to shout, he wanted to sing, he wanted to dance for joy.

But the old man had begun speaking to him. “Peace be with you, Sultan Mahmud! I am here to make you conscious of the gifts that Allah has showered upon you.” With that he disappeared, leaving no trace behind, as though he had never existed at all.

Sultan Mahmud fell to his knees, weeping; he banished sorrow from his heart, and being happy, began a life that spread happiness about him.

0o0

The Taittiriya Upanishad has something incredibly beautiful to say about happiness, ananda, which is the ultimate object of search of all beings. It speaks about it in a small section called the Ananda Mimamsa – an enquiry into happiness, a study of happiness.
The Mimamsa asks us to imagine a young man. He is young, he is noble, he is educated, firm in body and strong, and he is the master of the entire earth with all its wealth. Let’s call the highest joy such a man is capable of experiencing a single unit of human happiness, says the Mimamsa.

Multiply that happiness a hundred times, continues the Mimamsa, and that is one unit of happiness of the gandharvas of earth. And a hundred times the happiness of the gandharvas on earth is one unit of the happiness of the celestial gandharvas. And a hundred times the joy of celestial gandharvas is one unit of happiness of the manes and a hundred times that is one unit of happiness of the gods in the transient heavens and a hundred times that, one unit of happiness of the sacrificial gods.

And a hundred times that happiness, says the Upanishad, is the happiness of the gods; and a hundred times that, the happiness of Indra. A hundred times that is one unit of bliss of Brihaspati; and a hundred units of that, one unit of the bliss of Prajapati. The happiness of Prajapati, multiplied one hundred times, is one measure of the bliss of Brahma.

As the Upanishad makes this count, it tells us at each stage: and that is also the bliss of a man versed in wisdom and free from desires. That is, the young man, cultured, educated, healthy, owning the entire earth with all its wealth experiences no more happiness than the man versed in wisdom and is free from desires. Indra experiences no more happiness than the man versed in wisdom and is free from desires. Nor does Brihaspati, Prajapati or Brahma experience any more happiness than the man versed in wisdom and is free from desires.

The highest happiness belongs to a man versed in wisdom and is free from desires. A man who has learnt to accept things as they are and surrender to them. A man who is not a victim to the fires of insatiable desire.

As the cheery smile and happy greeting of my milkman shows, one can be happy in the most ordinary circumstances too.

And as the instance of the executive who makes several lakhs every month shows, and as the instance of my doctor friend who feels he is less fortunate than the rikshaw puller shows, one need not necessarily be happy in the middle of riches.

A sultan can be unhappy too, until he learns to count his good fortunes.

Happiness comes from being contented and accepting. Where there is no contentment or acceptance, there is no happiness.

Years ago a Christian nun who was then my student gifted to me a copy of the Bible. Giving the book to me she wrote on the front page, quoting the Bible itself: “Happy the man who finds wisdom.”

Wisdom is finding contentment. Wisdom is finding acceptance. Wisdom is counting one’s blessings.

It is not the rich man that finds happiness. It is not the powerful man that finds happiness. It is not the famous man that finds happiness.

It is only the wise man that finds happiness.

Happiness is finding contentment. Happiness is finding acceptance. Happiness is counting one’s blessings.

0o0














I know an executive whose income runs into several lakhs per month and yet rarely have I seen him smiling.

In contrast, one of the happiest faces I have seen is that of my milkman Ketan. It may be peak winter, as it is now, or it may be raining torrentially as it was a couple of months ago – but he invariably greets me with a cheery good morning as he comes to deliver milk packets every day without fail. In the rainy season he wears a rain coat and goes from house to house to deliver the milk, stopping his bicycle in front of each house and getting down to walk to the front door. His clothes will be drenched in spite of the raincoat and inside the clothes, his body will be drenched. In winter, he would be shivering inside the old windcheater he wears. But that does not reduce his smile or the cheerfulness in his voice.

I made a social visit to a doctor sometime last year. We were friends, sort of. He is on the staff of a large hospital as a fulltime senior doctor, and saw patients at home before he went to the hospital in the morning – private practice. When he came home for lunch, he again saw patients. In the evening when he came back from the hospital, there were more patients waiting for him at home – he spent two or three more hours seeing them then.

When I visited the doctor on that day, he had finished his consultancies for the day and was somewhat relaxed. His wife brought us tea and we talked over the tea. Or rather, he talked and we listened – his wife, my wife and I. And he talked for more than an hour and a half, until I said we had to go, it was getting late, and he reluctantly stopped.

What the doctor talked about for an hour and half was about how his lot was worse than that of a rickshawwalla. Literally. The bitter doctor bickered about how the riskshawwalla makes more money in terms of the investments he has made. Looking back later we found it difficult to believe this, but he had earnestly and sincerely argued for full ninety minutes that he earned less in terms of his investments compared to a rickshaw puller. He spoke of the years he had spent as a student working hard so that he can join medicine, of the years he had spent as a medical student, of the years he had spent as intern, of the years he had spent as a fresh doctor; he spoke of the hours he had to study during each of these years and of the hardships he had to put up with, of the nights of sleep he lost in the process, and of the money he had invested at each stage. What did a rickshaw puller invest, he asked me rhetorically. Wasn’t the rickshawwalla making more money than he was?

0o0

I have always loved the Arabian Nights, right from my childhood days when I read stories of Sindbad, Alladin, Hatim Tai, Harun al Rashid, and of course of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. [Once, some thirty years ago, I took a group of, mostly, executives from two of India’s leading corporate houses for a fifteen-day study and meditation camp in the Himalayas. The executives were all older than me, I was the youngest. I remember the group in a moment of fun naming me Ali Baba and themselves the forty thieves – they were forty in number. I enjoyed it.] I have with me different versions of the Nights and I love picking up a volume and reading a story randomly every now and then.

Yesterday I came across a volume of Powys Mathers’ translation of the Nights in a used books shop and purchased it – I have a particular affection for this translation, done from the literal and complete version of Dr JC Mardrus’ original French translation of the Nights. Later, in the evening, I began reading the volume. One of the stories I read was The Tale of The Two Lives of Sultan Mahmud. This is how the story, told by Scheherazade starting on the eight-hundred and nineteenth night, begins:

“It is related, O auspicious King, that Sultan Mahmud, who was one of the wisest and most glorious of the Egyptian rulers, used often to sit alone in his palace, weighted down by a causeless sadness and beholding the world black before his eyes. At these times, life was tasteless to him and without significance; yes, even though Allah had given him, without stint, health and youth, power and glory, and for his capital, the most delicious city of the earth, where his eyes might ever be rejoiced by flowers, serene skies and women gilded like the waters of the Nile. These gifts were forgotten during the hours of royal sadness and Mahmud envied the lot of drudges bent over the furrow, and travellers lost in the waterless desert.”

One day the sultan was sitting alone, lost in his own dark world. His was more deeply dejected than usual. His inner world was bleak and the world outside looked to him blacker than ever. He refused to eat and drink, or to attend to his duties as king. There was only one thing he desired: that dark object of desire for all men lost in bottomless melancholy – death.

It was then his chief wazir came to him, informing that someone was waiting to meet him – a very old man. “If I may judge by his words,” said the wazir, “he is the greatest sage, the wisest doctor, and the most extraordinary magician who has ever lived among the sons of men.” The sultan silently agreed to meet him.

The withered old man who entered did not kiss the ground in front of the sultan or bow down deeply, as was the custom. Instead he announced in a voice that reflected nothing but authority that he has come to make him, the sultan, conscious of the gifts which Allah had showered upon him. He then took the sultan by hand and dragged him roughly towards one of the four windows of the chamber in which they were. “Open!” he commanded pointing at the window. Obediently Sultan Mahmud opened the window. “Look!” the old man commanded again.

“Sultan Mahmud put his head out of the window and beheld a vast army of riders pouring down upon him from the mountain citadel, and waving naked swords. The first lines had already come to the palace foot and were climbing the walls with a clamour of war and death. Mahmud understood that his troops had mutinied, and came to kill him. He changed colour and cried: ‘There is no God save Allah! This is the hour of my destiny!’”

The old man immediately shut the window and opened it again in a single movement. The army had disappeared now. The whole palace stood enveloped in peace, as did the city around it with its four hundred minarets.

Without giving Sultan Mahmud time to recover, the old man then took him to the second window. What the sultan saw when he opened it and looked out made him recoil in horror. “The four hundred minarets of the mosques, the domes of the palace, the thousand fair terraces stretching as far as the eye could reach, were all one flaming fire, fanned by cries of terror, and belching up black smoke to hide the sun. A savage wind whooped on the flames towards the palace, until the fair building was only cut off from that red ocean by the fresh green of the gardens.” But when the old man shut the window and opened it again, the fire had disappeared and everything stood bathed in serenity everywhere.

Again the old man rushed the sultan to the third window through which he saw a furious Nile rushing towards the city to swallow it up. The waves were so tall that the tallest terraces were already under water and the river was rushing towards the palace in a violent rage. The flood had disappeared when the old man closed the window and opened it again.

What Sultan Mahmud saw through the fourth window to which the old man had dragged him without giving him time to relax was not the green fields that were there, carpeted with roses and sweet basil, narcissus and jasmine, thickets of orange trees. There were no sweet singing birds there that usually filled the whole place with their wonderful music. Instead, Mahmud saw “a red and white desert of terror burned by an inexorable sun; among its aching rocks laired starving jackals and hyenas; vile snakes sped swiftly to and fro upon it.” The sight disappeared and the green reappeared, teeming in flowers and fruits and singing birds as the old man closed and opened the window once again.

Mahmud was now utterly confused and terrified. He was no more sure whether he was awake or asleep, sane or insane. But the old man gave him no time to relax and collect himself. Instead he dragged the sultan to a small fountain that was in the chamber and commanded “Look!” pointing at the water at the base of the fountain. As Mahmud bent down to look into it, two old hands with unbelievable power forced his head under the water.

0o0

Sultan Mahmud now found himself shipwrecked at the foot a mountain that overlooked the sea. He still wore his royal clothes and his crown. At some distance were a group of rough looking people. They were looking at him and making rude gestures. He walked towards the group and announced: “I am Sultan Mahmud. Depart!”

The people laughed at him all the more. The chief of the group came to him and removed his clothes and picked up his crown. He threw the whole lot the sea, and told him, ‘Dress sensibly.” He forced the sultan to wear the coarse farmer’s clothes they were wearing. “Come and work with us,” he told Mahmud, “for in our country those who do not work must starve.”

“I do not know how to work,’ Sultan Mahmud objected. ‘But you can be an ass,’ retorted the man. ‘Anyone can be an ass.”

They dumped all their tools on him and he staggered along behind them, carrying their spades, harrows, pickaxes and rakes. When he reached the village, he was shut into an old stable and given an onion and some stale bread to eat. By the morning, he found that he had turned into an ass – but with all his human memories intact.

In the morning he was taken out for ploughing the field. He refused to budge from his place and they beat him brutally. He brayed in intolerable humiliation and agony. For braying was the only thing he could do now – he was a donkey and had no human speech. Finding him stubborn and useless, the farmers sold him to a miller.

The miller blindfolded him and tied him to the mill, forcing him to turn the mill for hours at a stretch without a break. The miller mercilessly used his goad and stick on him, apart from the constant shower of curses and kicks. His food was a daily ration of beans along with a bucket of water and his only rest was the time he took to eat the beans and drink the water. The former sultan now kept treading along from dawn to dusk turning around the mill, walking in his own dung and urine all the time.

It was five years later that an accident saved from the miller – one day the roof of the mill collapsed on his head. Sultan Mahmud found himself a human being once again.

He now found himself a stranger in an unknown city where an old man spoke kindly to him. The old man enquired if he would be staying in that city for long, adding that he would be welcome there since he was young, strong and handsome. “I would stay in any place where they did not feed me beans,” replied Mahmud.

The old man assured him that he does not have to worry on that account – he would be eating the best food possible every day of his life. “Now,” he continued, “go and stand outside the hammam at the corner of this street and ask every woman as she comes out if she is married or single. When one tells you she is single, you will become her husband instantly, for that is the law of our land. But be very careful not to omit a single woman from your questioning, or you will find yourself in grave trouble; for that is also the law our land.”

The first female Mahmud saw coming out of the hammam was a pretty girl of thirteen. “This would console me for all my troubles,” he thought. He asked her his question and the girl informed him she had already married a year ago.

The next woman to come out of the hammam was an ugly old hag. Mahmud shivered as he saw her – he had never seen a woman half as monstrous as she was. “I would rather die of hunger or become an ass again than marry this venerable ruin,” he thought. But the old man who had befriended him had talked of the consequences of leaving out any woman who came out of the public bath. He asked his question, and, to his relief, the woman told him she was married.

The next woman to come out was infinitely older and uglier than this one. Mahmud had never seen anything – anything at all – as disgusting as this one was. But he had to ask his question – he had no choice. “Are you married or single?” he asked her in a voice quaking with terror at the prospect of having to marry her. And pat came her reply, “Single, O eye of my eye.”

“I am an ass, good aunt, I am an ass! Look at my ears, look at my tail! Nice old women do not marry asses,” he told her in a begging voice. But she had already fallen in love with him. She was taking steps towards him, her mouth poised for a kiss, her harms spread out to gather him in them. Her hands were now holding his head in them and she was bringing her mouth to his.

Mahmud shook his head in violent disgust. He was finding it difficult to breathe. He fought for air, fought for his life with all his might and with a final frenzied struggle, pulled his head back.

He found he had pulled his head out of the fountain and was struggling to breathe again. He looked around. He was in his palace. His wazir was standing on his right and the old man was on his left. There was one of his favourite slave girls standing in front of him, holding out to him on a gold salver a cup of sherbet that he had commanded a few moments before the wazir had come to him to inform him of the old man wanting to meet him.

Relief flooded him. He was a king. He was not shipwrecked, he was not an ass, he was not the husband of that disgusting old, old woman. Of what a pleasure it was to be a sultan, what a privilege! Sultan Mahmud wanted to shout, he wanted to sing, he wanted to dance for joy.

But the old man had begun speaking to him. “Peace be with you, Sultan Mahmud! I am here to make you conscious of the gifts that Allah has showered upon you.” With that he disappeared, leaving no trace behind, as though he had never existed at all.

Sultan Mahmud fell to his knees, weeping; he banished sorrow from his heart, and being happy, began a life that spread happiness about him.

0o0

The Taittiriya Upanishad has something incredibly beautiful to say about bliss, ananda, which is the ultimate object of search of all beings, in a small section called the Ananda Mimamsa – an enquiry into happiness, a study of happiness. The mimamsa asks us to imagine a young man. He is young, he is noble, he is educated, firm in body and strong, and he owns the entire earth with all its wealth. The Upanishad then says let’s call the highest joy such a man is capable of experiencing a single unit of human happiness. Multiply that happiness a hundred times, and that is one unit of happiness of the gandharvas of earth. And a hundred times the happiness of the gandharvas on earth is one unit of the happiness of the celestial gandharvas. And a hundred times the joy of celestial gandharvas is one unit of happiness of the manes and a hundred times that is one unit of happiness of the gods in the temporary heavens and a hundred times that, one unit of happiness of the sacrificial gods; and a hundred times that happiness, says the Upanishad, is the happiness of the gods; and a hundred times that, the happiness of Indra.

A hundred times that, continues the Upanishad, is one unit of bliss of Brihaspati; and a hundred units of that, one unit of the bliss of Prajapati. The happiness of Prajapati, multiplied one hundred times, is one measure of the bliss of Brahma.

As the Upanishad makes this count, it tells us at each stage: and that is also the bliss of a man versed in wisdom and free from desires. That is, the young man, cultured, educated, healthy, owning the entire earth with all its wealth experiences no more happiness than the man versed in wisdom and is free from desires. Indra experiences no more happiness than the man versed in wisdom and is free from desires. Nor does Brihaspati, Prajapati or Brahma experience any more happiness than the man versed in wisdom and is free from desires.

The highest happiness belongs to a man versed in wisdom and is free from desires.

As the cheery smile and happy greeting of my milkman shows, one can be happy in the most ordinary circumstances too.

And as the instance of the executive who makes several lakhs every month shows, and as the instance of my doctor friend who feels he is less fortunate than the rikshaw puller shows, one need not necessarily be happy in the middle of riches.

A sultan can be unhappy too, until he learns to count his good fortunes.

Happiness comes from being contented and accepting. Where there is no contentment or acceptance, there is no happiness.

Years ago a Christian nun who was then my student gifted to me a copy of the Bible. Giving the book to me she wrote on the front page, quoting the Bible itself: “Happy the man who finds wisdom.”

Wisdom is finding contentment. Wisdom is finding acceptance. Wisdom is counting one’s blessings.

It is not the rich man that finds happiness. It is not the powerful man that finds happiness. It is not the famous man that finds happiness.

It is only the wise man that finds happiness.

Happiness is finding contentment. Happiness is finding acceptance. Happiness is counting one’s blessings.

0o0

No comments:

Post a Comment