Do you sometimes feel that no matter how hard you try you just cannot find fulfilment? That despite your best efforts to be happy you somehow end up suffering? Does it sometimes seem that everyone is enjoying life except you? All those films and magazines depicting happy lifestyles you can’t seem to find?
If your answer is "yes", relax. You are quite normal. At least according to the Vedas, the world’s oldest writings. These ancient texts explain that we can never be satisfied by any amount of bodily pleasure. In fact we are always seeking newer and newer sensual enjoyments in an attempt to find that elusive satisfaction. We change partners, move house, watch different films, read many books, go on holidays, and so on. But we always remain hankering for something more. At no point do we stop and say, "That’s it, I’m happy now."
The Vedas therefore urge us to take our happiness seriously – to be inquisitive as to why, in spite of so much endeavour, we remain dissatisfied. They point out that as humans we should not be seeking only that pleasure which even the animals can achieve. We are meant for something more. Animals can also eat, have sex, sleep, and enjoy relationships. But they can’t go beyond that. They are not able to ask life’s big questions, such as "Why am I here?", "Why do I suffer?", and "How can I secure my permanent happiness?" Only in human life do we have this opportunity – and we should make the most of it.
Building our happiness on sand
So, why is it that our attempts to be happy fail? Well, the Vedas suggest that we are basing our efforts on an incorrect premise – a false assumption. Through science and technology we have become expert in catering to the body’s needs. Our communications, transport, medicine, eating habits and overall lifestyle are very advanced. But we are also seeing many problems coming from this progress. The well-documented environmental catastrophe, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, increasing contamination of our foods, international terrorism, as well as all kinds of diseases such as AIDS, CJD, and cancer to name a few – these are just some of the problems we have seen springing up.
It seems that no matter how many problems we manage to solve, a new batch of even more difficult ones await just around the corner. Furthermore, despite our advancement more and more people are afflicted by stress, anxiety, depression and mental illness. Many of us struggle on, somehow coping by taking shelter of drugs, alcohol, over-eating, or some other harmful addiction.
All in all it would take a brave man to say we humans are making a good job of securing our happiness. And the Vedas say it is because we have wrongly assumed ourselves to be the body. This is the false premise, the sandy foundation on which we are trying to build our happiness. To successfully pursue happiness we must first know who we actually are – and in fact we are different from the material bodies we inhabit.
I am not this body; I am a spirit soul
This theoretical understanding is the first step in self-realisation. We have to at least grasp the difference between me and my body.
In the Bhagavad-gita, an ancient Vedic text, we find the verse:
"As the embodied soul continually passes in this body from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change." (Bg.2.13)
The truth of this is confirmed 5000 years later by modern scientists who have discovered that, through the process of new cells replacing old ones, the body is built almost completely anew every seven years.
However, there is one thing that stays the same throughout the body’s changes – consciousness. Consciousness is a symptom of the soul’s presence. This is described in the Bhagavad-gita as follows:
"As the sun alone illuminates all this universe, so does the soul, one within the body, illuminate the entire body by consciousness."(Bg.13.34)
In Western society we commonly learn that we are the body and we have a soul. But the Vedas teach that we are the spirit soul, and we are entrapped in a material body.The great failure of modern day society is its obsession with trying to satisfy bodily demands without ever nurturing the soul. This is why despite our best efforts we remain dissatisfied. If our quest for happiness is to succeed, we must learn how to nurture the real me, the soul.
How to nurture the soul
The Vedas explain that the soul is nurtured when it comes in touch with the Supreme Soul, or God. He is the reservoir of all pleasure. Sitting within our heart, it is he only who can give us the deep satisfaction for which we hanker. He knows us even better than we know ourselves, and is waiting to reciprocate with us just as soon as we turn to him.
The example is given of a fire ember. Once out of the big fire, it gradually dies out. But if it is placed back in the fire it flares up again. Similarly with ourselves, when we are separated from the Supreme Spirit we gradually wither and die. As long as we seek pleasure from anywhere other than the Supreme, we are like that fallen ember, struggling ever more vainly to find enjoyment. But when we are reunited with God we will experience our full potential for happiness.
So how do we turn to him and become reunited? In the Vedas this is described as the process of yoga. The very word yoga means to unite – in fact the English word "yoke" is said to derive from it. By practicing yoga one becomes gradually freed from his attraction to material enjoyment, and attracted instead to the Supreme Soul. That attraction matures into love and one can then see God face to face. At that point, the Bhagavad-gita explains, we will feel boundless happiness and realise that there is no greater gain.
The Yoga for this Age
When we mention yoga nowadays it usually conjures up images of various postures and breathing techniques, such as are taught in most yoga classes. However, these exercises are actually just the first two stages of an eight step process called astanga yoga. This process, widely practiced in a former age, is described in the Vedas as a means to achieve self-realisation. But one needs to follow all eight steps in order to be successful, not just the first two.
For example, another step of the astanga process is to lead a regulated and disciplined life. We cannot be successful in yoga if we do not control our senses. Only after attaining sense control is one advised to leave home and go to a solitary place to meditate. Strict celibacy must be observed as one attempts to keep the mind fixed on the object of meditation, usually a form of God residing in the heart known as the Supersoul. Once maturity in meditation is achieved, the yogi is able to directly see the Lord and he or she will experience boundless spiritual happiness.
Yet astanga yoga is not recommended for the age in which we live. We lack the necessary training from birth that would enable us to follow the discipline. Strict celibacy and sense control are not very attractive propositions for most of us. Nor do we possess the patience it takes to succeed in this process. We are conditioned by fast food, fast transport, and instant everything. The years of meditation required in astanga yoga would be more or less impossible.
Of course, if one simply wants to get the physical and psychological benefits of yoga, then the postures and exercises may be enough. But if we want to achieve the full benefit—self-realisation and a lasting experience of inner happiness – we need something more.
In this day and age there is another process recommended, known as bhaktiyoga, or the yoga of devotion. This is a simple process possible for anyone – even a child. The first two steps of bhakti yoga are to hear about God from an authorised source, and the second step is to chant his names. Though there are nine different practices in bhakti yoga, these first two practices are sufficient to help us achieve perfection. By this easy process one will awaken transcendental love within the heart. Even without the rigid practices ofastanga yoga one will gradually come to the point of self realisation.
Krishna: The Most Attractive Person
Hearing about God should be done from an authorised source. Although many people may present themselves as authorities on God, there is one simple way to ascertain if or not they are actually authorised. Ultimately, only God himself can reveal knowledge of his nature and how he can be attained. Therefore anyone claiming to be an authority on God must be able to demonstrate a link or connection to Him. The Vedas call this a parampara, or disciplic succession. A teacher must have his teacher, who in turn had his teacher and so on. And the first teacher in the succession has to be God himself, otherwise the knowledge being presented will have no value.
In the Vedic parampara Krishna is the accepted name for God. This Sanskrit name actually means ‘the all attractive person’. Why attractive? Because, the Vedas explain, he possesses every opulence in full. He is the most beautiful, the strongest, the most intelligent, the wisest, wealthiest, and so on. By simply hearing such authorised descriptions of God, our natural attraction for him will be awakened.
Another name for God revealed in the Vedas is Rama. Rama means "the reservoir of all pleasure". We are all seeking pleasure, so the Vedas direct us to seek pleasure in Rama, the reservoir of all pleasure. When we approach him through an authorised process we begin to experience spiritual ecstasy as our love for him develops.
Chant the Holy Name
In every scripture of the world emphasis is given on the importance of glorifying God’s name. In the Bible it is said: "from the rising of the sun to the setting one should call upon the name of God." (Psalms 113:3) and,"whoever shall call upon the name of God he shall be saved." (Romans 10:13)
Muhammed taught, "Glorify the name of your Lord, the most high" (Koran 87.2) Lord Buddha declared that "he who calls upon my name he shall attain paradise". (Vows od Amidha Buddha 18)
So this calling upon God’s names has tremendous effect in evoking the Lord’s presence and obtaining his benediction.
In the Vedic scriptures we find this same teaching. In the Brhad-naradiya Purana (3.8.126) it is said that in the current age of hypocrisy and quarrel the only practical means of self-realisation is the chanting of God’s holy names.
Chanting God’s names is an essential practise in bhakti yoga because it is the most effective way to awaken the soul’s inner ecstasy. Though God has many names and any of them may be chanted, the Vedas specifically recommend the following mantra: hare krishna hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare, hare rama hare rama, rama rama, hare hare, which is comprised solely of God’s names.
A mantra is a sound vibration which frees the mind from disturbance, enabling us to perceive our true self and our relationship with God. The Vedas explain that God is absolute. In this relative world, we are not the same as our names. But God and his names are absolute and non-different. All of God’s power and potency is present in his names. As we chant them we directly contact the supreme purity of God himself.
By chanting the holy names of God gradually all impurities within our hearts and minds, which block our self-realisation, and which are the source of our suffering, are cleansed away. Greed, pride, hatred, fear, envy, mistaking lust for love, and all such things are completely destroyed simply by chanting God’s names. The result is freedom from misery and a sense of deep happiness as we realise our true and eternal nature. Hearing and chanting about God can be successfully practiced by anyone, even a child.
What are the Vedas?
The Vedas are ancient Sanskrit texts, dating back 5000 years. According to evidence found in the Vedas themselves, their origin is divine revelation. From the beginning of time, the proper understanding of the Vedas has been preserved by a disciplic succession. This means that a student would learn the Vedic sciences under the guidance of a qualified teacher. When the student had properly grasped the knowledge, then he or she would teach it to other seekers of the truth.
The word Veda literally means "knowledge". As well as spiritual knowledge, the Vedic texts cover sciences such as health, architecture, martial arts, astrology and much more. However, the most important science taught in the Vedas is the science of the self, or self-realisation. And the most important aspect of self-realisation is yoga, or how to achieve union with the divine.