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Friday, March 25, 2011

The Right to Unhappiness

I was chatting today with an Internet friend and our conversation left me with a sense of revelation. This might sound stupid or obvious, but...

There are no rules. There is no answer.

I've said similar things before, but never felt it on a gut level like this. My life has been consumed with rules trying to achieve the goal of enlightenment: I should be kind, I should be generous, I should be a vegetarian, I should meditate, I should eat healthy, I should read scriptures, etc. Should, should, should.


To be happy. That's the reason for all the advice and all the religions and all the philosophies. We want to be happy. But what's so important about being happy? Should not being happy fill us with guilt?

If you want to be unhappy, that's okay. It isn't a crime. We tend to feel like we're bad ppeople if we're not doing everything possible to be completely happy at all times.

What's wrong with bring unhappy? It's just a feeling, feel it if you want to.

If you want to be happy then take advice into consideration, try out the practices and see what works. But remember that the reason you do things is to be happy. So you keep trying things until you find what causes you to feel deep, content joy and bliss.


  1. On enlightenment : I find it very hard to believe in the concept of moksha. Drama is a part of life. The thought of escaping from it could mean that "life" has "broken" you. The easiest way to escape it is to completely disconnect yourself from daily life and loved ones and choose the life of a sadhu or a sanyasi to forgo all responsibilities and attachments. They engage in prolonged use of cannabis to permanently kill their sexual urges. It is thought that such isolation limits one from causing suffering to others or receiving them. Some indians view these people as cowards while others view them with admiration.

    On duties : There is no "should" in hindusim; it is not a military doctrine. The only indians who choose to be vegetarians, meditate everyday, read scriptures everyday are those who choose the life of "priests". Are you a priest? Do you have some condition that makes you forget what you have just read? The common indian hindu hardly has time to visit a temple; he/she is busy with his/her duty to provide for his/her family. IMO most of the western attempts to follow eastern philosophy is flawed and a big joke. There are no hindu organisations in india that exercises authority over the lives of hindu people; just a few cults formed by "godmans" claiming to be avataras. ISKCON and all such western orgs are purely a western phenomenon. In fact, most indian hindus would characterise ISKCON members as "fanatics" and an embarrassment to hinduism.

    On happiness : Happiness comes through free will. But a much stronger argument is that "happiness is a choice". It is a choice because human wants are unlimited. You can forever find reasons to be happy or not to be happy. In your case, you are happy with your pursuits for enlightenment. The only concern is that your pursuits will derail you from leading a normal life or make you an anti-social. In the enlightenment part, i briefed about where your pursuits might lead you.

    On women's role in society : These are different times and we have moved forward. Several women in history have fought to find their place. The hindu texts were written thousands of years ago and hence the accepted role of women in those texts are suited for people of those times. You live in the 21st century; why do you have to take something from (X)BC era and go backward? IMO you are just being naive.

    Arguments are central to hindus. Listen to this argument about sita(the most perfect women in history?) and whether her actions defied logic. Its taken from sstb directors cut narrative:

  2. Personally I think that moksha should connect us more fully to other people. I don't think that "detachment" means not caring about people, I think it means not taking personally what happens with other people (when someone dies, thinking only of how it effects me and my life). I think a truly wise person loves and is connected to all life.

    But that's my personal feeling.

    As I've mentioned before, I did grow up in a westernized Hindu organization and I agree that it took Hinduism in a very different way from an Indian way. It was very focused on discipline and rules. I'm not sure how i feel about that at this point, I'm not willing to say that either experience of Hinduism is better than the other.

    I'm feeling very happy with just following my heart, though, doing what feels right and letting go of what I "should" be doing.

    The most important thing to me is, I don't want to waste my life. I want it to be leading toward something, to accomplish something. That's where my drive for enlightenment comes from.

  3. I agree that unhappiness is an ok feeling too. I think, and this is in a non-theological sense, that we're a little too obsessed with being happy. Let's just allow the full range of emotion and see where that takes us. As long as you're following rules that make sense to you and don't harm others, you have more potential to be happy, in my opinion.

  4. Exactly! I worry that an obsession with being happy all the time hides and masks other things that are wrong.

    I think we need to be willing to feel pain and to go through difficult feelings to truly be in touch with ourselves.

  5. Aamba,

    The objective of spiritual pursuit is oneness with god or enlightenment. Happiness may be a side effect :)


  6. True, but what's the reason to pursue spirituality at all?

    Why do people start wanting to go on a spiritual journey?

    I think they always start hoping that it will bring happiness. I think that's how we measure our progress in life.

    Not that I don't want enlightenment and unity with God, but I'm finding it important to build a foundation from my own experience, so I want to go back to the beginning and question everything. Why do I want it? What drives me to be as spiritually focused as I am?

  7. I read someplace (I forget where) that there are two goals people have, and that one often masquerades as the other.

    You can either be happy or be content. Contentment is an acceptance that whatever happens was supposed to happen, and that even bad experiences (and unhappiness) can be educational.

    Happiness is transitory, dependent on what you've got (or not), and very personal. I think it's possible to be both unhappy and content at the same time. I think this is probably what's meant by detachment.

    (But I have no idea what the answer is, as far as spiritual focus goes. I'm trying to figure that out, myself!)

  8. Good work aamba. You are starting to follow the rule of reason now. Don't take this a wrong way but you should consider following the path of spirituality rather than some ritualized religion. I strongly object to the way of life followed by the western hindu organisations; particularly, the role of women.

    Times have changed. In the old days, the women stayed at home and played a supporting role. The women choose to be "dependent" on their husbands. You cannot afford to be dependent in these times. You need to be independent.

    The word "hindu" didn't exist in ancient india. The entire concept of religion is non-existent in ancient india. The word "religion" itself was absent. So nobody asked another person "what religion do you follow?". That phrase itself was alien. The only thing that mattered was "dharma" - whether you follow right and wrong; depending on your senses.

    *Dharma* - that alone matters!!

  9. I did not write this, a friend did
    Comment on religion and spirituality. Based on three models: 1) US 2) Europe and 3) India

    1) The US model: Society retaining *spirituality* never conflicts with science. On the other hand, society retaining *religion* (of the abrahamic type) only gives rise to irrationality. In the US, the *moral* and *spiritual* ones come in two flavors, religious and non-religious. However you will find that the most inflexibility, discrimination, irrationality and uni-dimensional world view is among the religious. This gives rise to the distinct possibility that politics, governance and administration can be hijacked by lip service to religion. Good examples would be Sarah Palin -- where her lip service to religion is taken to be an evidence of good administrative ability. Cheap points can be scored by asking political candidate's opinion on Gay marriage or euthanasia or abortion or ten commandments. Where giving the "right" answer will get votes, the "wrong" answer will lose votes from people of a particular type. People might think this not that big a deal, however it can have real policy implications. Like Bush cutting funds for stem cell research, and funding abstinence-only education etc. Religion forces people to choose sides, do you believe in evolution? If so, you are blasphemer. If not, you are a scientific idiot. If you try to reconcile religion with evolution -- I am going to gleefully laugh at your Ashtavakra posture.

    The problem is more abstract than the specific example of evolution -- the problem that most religious types in the US face, is to meld on the one hand their religion and on the other hand the principles of capitalism and militarism that US has been founded upon. This leads to some really funny situations. On the one hand, they err too much to the left -- you get hippie culture, where spirituality and world peace is tied to a total rejection of religion-based morality and hence on drugs and free sex. Or they err too much to the right -- where a conviction that principles that US was founded upon is divine and the resultant American manifest destiny is tied to christian theology to produce Mormons -- whose central premise is that Jesus visited the US and the kingdom of god would be in Minnesota.

    Most people are just confused: They think Jesus was a capitalist, owned guns and did not pay taxes. Pause for a moment and think what the confusion is here: The principles, techniques and approaches on which the country was built upon successfully (owning guns to conquer the wild west and beat back the British. Capitalism which has yielded economic prosperity) conflicts with religion (non violence, sharing your wealth equitably). In short, what I am saying is that the religion angle has created a mess.

  10. 2) The Europe model : On the other hand, Europe never had a history or culture of *spirituality*. The successive religious movements simply helped in consolidating hierarchy or creating new power center or protecting the old. A grand culmination was the dark ages, the crusades and inquisitions. No wonder that modern europeans put their faith on *governance* more than religion or spirituality and called this transformation as *enlightenment* (which is ridiculous). The moment you put your faith on governance, you become a lawful citizen who expects his government to take care of him. That does not imply you become a *moral* citizen, or a selfless citizen. You get French and Greek arsonists angry at the fact that their government cannot ensure free public transportation. This is nothing but anger at the impotence of a benign "God". So *enlightenment* in the european context is nothing but rejection of an old god, and acceptance of a new god (government) created by them.

  11. 3) The Indian model : Indian spirituality on the other hand always relied on 3 premises

    (a) What is the nature of the real world? (it is maya, it is not maya, law of karma governs it etc)

    (b) What is our capacity to understand the real world and how may we go about doing it? (through meditation, through shruti and smriti, through tarkam(logic), by expelling avidya(opp of knowledge), by charanagati etc)

    (c) Given that we form an understanding of the real world using (a) and (b) above, how should we lead our lives? (in the path of dharma)

    Enlightenment in the Indian context is when someone understands these three premises is a fundamental way and progresses on the path. It is not relying on blind textbook policy prescriptions on whether some activities were encouraged or forbidden -- or rejecting all policy prescriptions outright. Ask any Indian about stem cell research, or abortion or gay marriage -- his opinions can be molded by reasonable arguments. If we abandon these three premises of Indian spirituality along with "religion" you will get Europe. If you abandon these three premises and instead embrace religious tenets whole heartedly, you will get Indians outraged at the fact that people suggest that the Sun is not driven by a chariot with seven horses. On the other hand, embracing this quintessentially Indian world view, provides for a good separation of concerns. Collective well being ensured by the government, personal well being and initiative ensured by spirituality.

    An interesting point to note is that science concerns itself with (a) and some of (b). True spirituality concerns itself with (a), (b) and (c). Religion has already answered (a), (b) and (c) and there is nothing more to do. In this context, the common complaint that pure scientific progress is not ethical is ridiculous. Ethics is not a branch of science. Science is just a method of answering questions through experimentation, observation and inference. You can use it to cure cancer or you can use it to do mass murder. The critics of science do not appreciate this fact, and propose religion as a "watchdog" for science to keep it ethical -- which simply leads to the conundrum that much battles are fought between religion and science when they disagree on (a) and (b). In short religion never ends up embellishing science with (c) which it seriously lacks.

    The proponents of science, implicitly take for granted that (c) follows naturally from (a) and (b) and present science as an alternative to ethics. This is a subtler flaw.

  12. Zombiedrag, I think that also depends on how we are using the word "happy." I know the way I grew up, you didn't want to aim to be manic, excited, worked up and pleasure-seeking, so those things are not what "happy" means. I see happiness as being a peaceful contentment and satisfaction.

    Broadway, that is a lot of information! I'm not sure about drawing such broad conclusions about each very large and diverse country. Of course what I know is the U.S., and I would say that it is only one (obnoxiously vocal) segment that tries to pit religion against science. I also don't understand politics and try not to look at that part of it.

    My religious journey is a very personal, unique, and unusual one, clearly! :)

    I think not being in that state often prompts people to start on a religious path, looking for that peace.

  13. :) I realize now that my comment was less than easily-understood (even for me, re-reading it). I think a lot about Siddhartha (the Herman Hesse character, not necessarily the Buddha) when faced with this. He found peace when he learned not to let the things that happened to him in his life (even losing his son) affect his inner well-being.

    However, it's difficult to find that peace when you're depressed or unhappy, so I can totally empathize (I am so far from being unaffected, but I'm getting better at not letting it stress me out so much.)

  14. Ah, that makes sense. I think when "bad" stuff happens in my life I often feel it on two different levels. There's part of me that falls apart, cries, feels awful, but there's always this other side underneath, just watching and knowing that everything is totally fine.