What is happiness?
If you ask anyone, ‘what is happiness?’ I am sure that the answers that you would get from most people would be similar. Good health, nice family, enough money, time to enjoy the little pleasures of this world, love, peace… it is not hard to imagine what would make people happy. Everyone in this world aspires to be happy all the time. The only problem is what WE define and seek as happiness, once gotten, doesn’t last forever. A few hours or days at best, that’s all. And then the rigors of the material world seize and engage us.
We use so many tools to aid us in our search for happiness, good health and why, even immortality! As a result of that relentless endeavor, modern science has enabled us to do so many things seemingly better than before, compared to natural alternatives. Life has become so dynamic that many people started professing that ‘change’ is the only constant in this world.
All these attempts at improving our condition of life, all the progress that we made, ignore the four other constants that come by nature in material life: Birth, disease, old age and death. Whatever efforts we make to improve our lives, and to be happy, the four constants always manage to get the better of us. And with death, everything comes to a very efficient end.
An intelligent person begins to think as to why he is forced to suffer, when all he wants is to be happy. A natural progress of that thought process would lead to questions like where did I come from, what am I doing here, where I would go after death and culminates in asking the most fundamental question which forms the basis of Vedic philosophy:
‘Who am I?’
The Vedas and associated Vedic scriptures offer great insight in to life’s mysteries. These ancient treasure troves of wisdom and knowledge, being coeternal with God and infallible in their own right, direct us to change our attention from the temporary towards the permanent, from matter to spirit, from the body to the soul.
They teach us that our endeavors to be happy through gratifying our senses would lead to only misery. They also inform us about our original spiritual nature – that each of us are not the body but infinitesimal spiritual sparks, Spirit Souls, that are not of this material world and that the only way to have eternal happiness to revive our natural relationship with the Supreme Soul, God, of whom we are all part and parcel of, yet different.
The Vedic knowledge was primarily transmitted orally in the previous ages. In order to make the Vedic knowledge easily accessible to the people in the Kali Yuga (the present age), the great literary incarnation, Sage Vyasa, compiled the entire knowledge in to principally the 4 Vedas, 108 Upanishads, 18 Puranas and 2 Itihaasas (epics, namely Ramayana and Mahabharata).
Understanding the Vedas, which are compiled in exquisitely perfected Sanskrit, is a nightmare even for the most erudite scholar these days. Learning Sanskrit itself would take close to 12 years of study and then one has to study the various siddhantas (philosophies) and Bhashyas (commentaries) as expounded by the great Acharyas of the past, to grasp even the basics of complex texts like Vedanta Sutras.
Of the texts that form the Vedic scriptures, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, which is found in Mahabharata, is the most important section. It is the essence of all Vedic knowledge. It is also called Gitopanishad, and is the consolidated description of the most intense, hair-raising dialogue between the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna and his dearest friend, the warrior-archer, Arjuna. Running in to 700 verses over 18 chapters, it is described in much simpler Sanskrit, which leaves absolutely no room for interpretation and logical debating which is allowed by the Vedanta sutras.
This dialogue starts with questions asked by Arjuna, who is feeling very confused, dejected and sad on the eve of a great battle against his cousins, the Kauravas and their army. Arjuna is one of the ‘Mahajanas’, and being a friend to the Lord, he is above all ignorance. But the Acharyas explain that he was put in to this situation specifically to enquire about problems of life so that Sri Krishna himself can explain it for the benefit for future generations, namely, us.
(It is to be noted that this great dialogue was spoken on the eve of battle, in the middle of two armies standing ready to fight. It lends credence to the practicality of such a philosophy, much against a common belief that any spirituality or philosophical pursuit is meant for practice only in peaceful times or in a forest away from common day to day works.)
The spirit with which one should hear and accept the teachings of Srimad Bhagavad Gita is shown by Arjuna in the course of his discussion with Lord Krishna. When a physician gives a medicine, you take it only by following his directions. Similarly, the instructions given in Bhagavad Gita are to be taken only as Lord Krishna means it and not as per one’s own whim and wish. The perfect example for such a proper acceptance is shown by Arjuna himself. In the second chapter, verse 7, Arjuna surrenders:
pṛcchāmi tvāḿ dharma-sammūḍha-cetāḥ
yac chreyaḥ syān niścitaḿ brūhi tan me
śiṣyas te ‘haḿ śādhi māḿ tvāḿ prapannam
“Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of miserly weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me for certain what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.”
Here’s how Arjuna accepts Lord Krishna’s instructions, in chapter 10, verse 12 thru 14:
paraḿ brahma paraḿ dhāma
pavitraḿ paramaḿ bhavān
puruṣaḿ śāśvataḿ divyam
ādi-devam ajaḿ vibhum
āhus tvām ṛṣayaḥ sarve
devarṣir nāradas tathā
asito devalo vyāsaḥ
svayaḿ caiva bravīṣi me
“Arjuna said: You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth. You are the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest. All the great sages such as Nārada, Asita, Devala, and Vyāsa confirm this truth about You, and now You Yourself are declaring it to me.”
sarvam etad ṛtaḿ manye
yan māḿ vadasi keśava
na hi te bhagavan vyaktiḿ
vidur devā na dānavāḥ
“O Kṛṣṇa, I totally accept as truth all that You have told me. Neither the demigods nor the demons, O Lord, can understand Your personality.”
So, to conclude, one must understand the teachings of Bhagavad Gita as Arjuna understood it. Only then, that understanding is considered perfect. Only when one hears it in a submissive mood, in devotion to the Supreme Lord, one can understand the teachings of Bhagavad Gita as understood by Arjuna, which is to say, correctly and perfectly.
What do Arjuna and Lord Krishna talk about? What subject matters does Bhagavad Gita address? How does one go about getting this knowledge perfectly? These I will address in the next article.