Last week we listed some of the qualities we have been advised since ancient times to adopt in order to become more peaceful and happy.
When we begin to build a personal list of guiding principles that will serve as my life’s compass, it is helpful to examine the 3 areas of our life that will be impacted by our adoption of at least some of these qualities.
a) How do we see the world?
Generally, most see the world as a ‘resource’ to claim and be exploited for my own fleeting so-called happiness. But it was here before I ‘showed-up’ in this lifetime and it will remain when I quit this body. My laying claim to it is, in reality, stealing. Hence the Yamas which we discussed last week recommend cultivating not stealing and freedom from possessiveness.
The Vedas of this perspective:
Śrī Īśopaniṣad Mantra 1
इषवस्यमिदंसर्वं यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत्
तेन त्यक्तेन भुजिथा मा गृधः कस्य स्विद्धनम् ।।
īśāvāsyam idam sarvaṁ
yat kiñca jagatyāṁ jagat
tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā
mā gṛdhaḥ kasya svid dhanam
īśa—by the Lord; āvāsyam—controlled; idam—this; sarvam—all; yat kiñca—whatever; jagatyām—within the universe; jagat—all that is animate or inanimate; tena—by Him; tyaktena—set-apart quota; bhuñjīthāḥ—you should accept; mā—do not; gṛdhaḥ—endeavor to gain; kasya svit—of anyone else; dhanam—the wealth.
Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.
Also in the Bhagavad-gita:
Abandoning all attachment to the results of one’s activities, ever satisfied and independent, the transcendental isn’t performs no fruitive action, although engaged in all kinds of undertakings. Such a person of understanding acts with mind and intelligence perfectly controlled, gives up all sense of proprietorship over one’s possessions, and acts only for the bare necessities of life. Thus working, one is not affected by sinful reactions. Bg 4.20-21
b) How do we see others?
We tend to categorize others into three categories – as those who may make me happy (I like them); those who may make me unhappy (I dislike them); and those whom I don’t care about at all.
I knowingly or unknowingly exploit those I like to increase my happiness; I am in conflict with those I dislike; and I practically ignore the rest. The whole world is operating on these principles whether as individuals, as social groups, as nations, and as a species.
One of the verses we quoted last week from the Bhagavad-gita promotes the adoption of nonviolence; truthfulness; freedom from anger; aversion to faultfinding; compassion for all living entities; gentleness; and forgiveness as qualities that counter these tendencies. Another verse from the Bhagavad-gita states:
A person is considered still further spiritually advanced when he regards honest well-wishers, affectionate benefactors, the neutral, mediators, the envious, friends and enemies, the pious and the sinners all with an equal mind. – Bg 6.9
c) How do we see ourselves?
When we are blinded by the illusion that the body I am occupying is me, and that the desires within my mind are “mine”, I cannot find either peace or happiness. It is like putting a 5yr old in charge of the grocery shopping for the family,
The film-maker Adam Curtis has stated “The idea that has come to dominate our society is the belief that satisfaction of individual feelings and desires is our highest priority.” This lies at the heart of our problem and results in enormous environmental damage and the life-threatening problems arising from greed, selfishness, and apathy, as identified by the renowned environmental scientist Gus Speth.
My two options are to continue to try and fill the emptiness within by endless consumption or to seek my true happiness through self-realization.
Just three of dozens of Vedic quotes that speak to this point:
In this way the conditioned soul living within the body forgets his self-interest because he identifies himself with the body. Because the body is material, his natural tendency is to be attracted by the varieties of the material world. Thus the living entity suffers the miseries of material existence. – Bhagavat Purana 7.13.28
Whenever a person experiences, by self-realization, that both the gross and subtle bodies have nothing to do with the pure self, at that time he sees himself as well as the Highest Spiritual Truth or the Supreme Soul. – Bhagavat Purana 1.3.33
Such a liberated person is not attracted to the temporary material sense pleasures of this world, but is always absorbed in spiritual trance, enjoying the pleasure within. In this way the self-realized person enjoys unlimited happiness, for he concentrates upon the Supreme. – Bhagavad-gita 5.21
If we adopt such principles then the impact we will have on the world and those we encounter in our life will be to leave “lighter footprints”.