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The secret of unending happiness
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
11 min
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Questioner : What is happiness?

Acharya Prashant : The questioner, it’s important to be reminded, is the ego-self. And the ego-self lives in its own little dualistic world. In its own world, it experiences Sukhā and Duḥkha , happiness and sorrow, pleasure and pain. It knows nothing beyond happiness and sorrow, Sukhā and Duḥkha .

So it is obvious that the question cannot exceed the knowledge or experience of the questioner and the questioner, therefore, asks, “What is Sukhā ? What is happiness?”

In his own esteem, the questioner is asking about the highest state of experience that can be had — Sukhā , happiness. By asking about happiness the questioner has disclosed that he takes happiness to be important, rather special, probably the most desirous and coveted state possible.

Fine! We have to give it to the questioner. The questioner is just being honest. The questioner is not asking about conceptual states. The questioner is not probing into mythical, transcendental universes.

The questioner is simply saying, “Sir, to me happiness is the most exalted state possible. What is it?”

The Rishi, the Teacher, takes it up from here. So he says, “Fine! I will tell you about happiness”, and then he says that, “Once you experience the heights of consciousness, when you realize that which remains normally hidden from you, then, upon that realization the joy that dawns upon you is called happiness.”

Look at the Rishi’s approach, the Rishi is not directly saying, “Son, why are you caught in the dualistic paradigm of happiness and sorrow?” Instead, he takes up the word that the student, the questioner is using and elevates that word itself. He infuses that common, that vulgar word, happiness, with a sacred meaning.

So starting from Sukhā , he takes the student to Ānand . He says, "Real happiness is when your consciousness experiences something beyond its normal world. Something that is unlikely to be eclipsed by time: Sat ." That which is Sat . Cit : that which is available only to rarified heights of consciousness. And Ānand : that which is beyond dualistic happiness and sorrow polarities. That is Happiness.

Now, why doesn’t the Rishi simply dismiss the question and tell the student that what you are asking for is something not worthy of desire? He could have straight away rubbished the question. He could have said, “Keep Sukhā aside; let’s talk of Ānand .”

But he doesn’t do that. Why doesn’t he do that? Because even when the student is asking of happiness, the latent desire is of the highest thing possible. It’s just that the highest thing possible has so far not been available to the student.

Absolutely the highest has just not been within the experience of the student. After all, he is a student. He has not led a very sublime life so far. But he wants that absolute height. So what does he do? He uses the highest that has been available to him, in his limited experience and asks for that.

It’s almost like a kid who has never gone any higher than the flight of the stairs in his house that takes him to the terrace. Right? Little kid. So to him, in his experience, what is the highest? The terrace, the rooftop, that’s all. So the terrace to him becomes a synonym of height. The terrace to him starts symbolizing height.

So next time whenever he has to refer to something high, he refers to it in the language of the terrace. He might, in fact, be referring to an aircraft, flying high in the sky above his house, but he has no way of referring to the aircraft directly; his language is insufficient. His experience does not consist of aircrafts. So he starts referring to the aircraft using the word terrace, and the roof, the ceiling, in some way.

That’s what we always do, we want something that is beyond our imagination, beyond our experience. That’s what the desirous one at the centre of desire really craves for. But how does he express what he really wants? The expression is limited by his experience and the power of his senses. And senses include the mind as well. Senses include memory and intellect as well.

You might want the highest but your mind has no way of knowing what you really want. Mind just gathers a vague impression of a deep desire and it expresses that vague impression in some incomplete, hazy way. The deep self is desirous of one thing and mind and thoughts and actions are proceeding towards something vastly inferior. And it can be quite a tragedy. You could be desirous of the sky. Sitting here in this hall you might be desirous of the sky, and you’re looking upwards, and all that the mind knows of is the roof.

So the mind is trying to reach the ceiling, and the mind would be stopped and limited and barricaded by the ceiling. If you want the sky, the ceiling doesn’t quite assist, or does it? That’s what happens normally to most of us.

Something within you wants to rise up and up and up. But the entire movement has to take place via the mind, via the faculties, via the bodily experiences. And none of these have any affinity for the sky; they know their own limited province. It is quite amusing — you want the sky and the mind latches onto the ceiling. And in its own estimation, the mind has reached a high place. And if you argue with the mind it will say, “Is not the ceiling a place higher than the floor? Have I not succeeded? Have I not succeeded!”

And you will tell the mind, “No but this is not what I wanted, you are talking in dualities.” The floor and the ceiling constitute a pair of dualities. So you were at the floor which you called as low and now you are at the ceiling which you call as the high. And you are quite happy for yourself. Gloating and proud. You say you have achieved something in life and you have proof.

From the ceiling, you look downward and say, "There, that’s the floor, that’s the floor I started my journey from. Look at the distance I have covered!" What you do not realize is that you haven’t really risen up. You have blocked your possibility to rise beyond the ceiling.

So that’s how we operate. Really wanting one thing, but targeting something totally inferior. Really desirous of one thing, but consoling ourselves with something totally inferior.

The Rishi says, “Fine, let me change your very definition of what happiness is.” Happiness then is not about obtaining something within the purview of your experiences. Happiness is when you move into Saccidānanda .

You see the method being used here. It is almost a trick. What the Rishi is saying is, “Fine, let the floor be where it already is, I will move the ceiling. Because if I tell you that you have to go as high as the sky, then you will find my words absurd. You do not know the sky. Instead, if I tell you to rise up to the sky, you will get stuck at the ceiling, as you always do.”


What is the Rishi doing? He has plucked the ceiling and took it up to the sky. He is saying, “Yes fine. The floor is Duḥkha , the ceiling is Sukhā , the sky is Ānand . You want Sukhā ? I will equate Sukhā to Ānand . You will not directly come to Ānand , you are a pleasure seeker, you want happiness. So I am raising the bar.” The ceiling is now hanging from the skies, it’s a floating ceiling. Not merely floating it’s rising constantly, like a hot air balloon.


Saccidānanda Svarūpam gyātvā, Ānandrūpa.

Know that, which the time cannot destroy. But the mind only knows that which is within the construct of time. So, what is it to know that which is Sat ? It merely means to forget that which is Asat . It merely means to turn oblivious to all that which will be, anyway no more.

At one place the Upanishads say, and it appears a very simple rather ordinary thing to say, “Mortals cannot become happy through wealth.” If you can understand this statement you will know why Sat is so important and why Asat has to be abjured.

You are a mortal, which means you are constantly passing away. Right? And wealth is something that you can have at most as long as you exist. But you are mortal.

If you are mortal, your real problem cannot be that you do not have much. If you are mortal, your real problem obviously is that you do not have much time. So the Upanishad puts it so pithily. We’ll come to that. That‘s not in Niralamba Upanishad . A simple thing to say, “Mortals cannot become happy through wealth.” Because you are dying and that’s why you have to give up death itself if you are to be really happy.

How do you keep clinging to death? Now, death is not a thing. Death is not a person. What is death? Death is a process, death is a property, death simply means destructibility. How does one cling to death? By clinging to things that are destructible.

The Upanishad is saying, “You have to know that which is Sat .” We are saying, “You have to forget that which is Asat .” But if you want to forget the Asat then we have to firstly ask how do we keep clinging to Asat . How do we maintain our mortal identities? We maintain our mortal identities by clinging to things that are destructible, mortal, time-bound.

So happiness is when you obtain these things. Joy is when you no more have a need to obtain these things. Happiness is when you have something with you that makes you feel happy. Joy is when you do not need anything, in particular, to feel happy. Happiness is to carry the obligation to be happy, Joy is when you are no more obligated to be happy.

That is the reason why the Upanishad discusses these ordinary questions — What is Sukhā , what is Duḥkha ? If these basics are not clear then it is inevitable that life will be misspent.

One would be chasing stuff that one does not really even want. It is one thing to say that, “Boy you are going after things that you do not really need.” Our madness is deeper than that, we keep going after things that we do not even want. We keep desiring stuff that we are really not even desirous of. And that’s the reason why that stuff loses its sheen the moment it is obtained.

You want freedom from your mortal nightmare. How can you get freedom from that by going after and clinging to things that are all time-bound in themselves?

Joy is happiness without a thing to be happy about. Joy is happiness that scoffs at all the things that promise to make you happy. Joy is happiness that first of all do not realize sadness at all.

Sat, Cit, Ānand.

Eternal, Conscious, Joyful.

Sat is often taken as existent also — that which really is. That which really is, in the sense that it won’t disappear. It is. It does not appear. It is. It is not a thing that you perceive. It is. That is Sat . Remember that practically the much more useful word is Asat . Happiness is freedom from the clutches of Asat .

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