The Problem of Human Misery


The whole world is in search of happiness and peace, and yet a mere glance around shows how men and women of all countries and nations are overburdened with sorrow and suffering on the physical as well as the mental and moral planes. Cries of woe deafen one's ears; sights of misery and pain through disease, starvation, homelessness sadden one's eyes and heart. Above all, non-recognition of the soul-satisfying philosophy of Life, the Eternal Verities, non-acceptance of the Way of Life indicated by the Bearers of the Torch of Truth down the ages, overwhelms an earnest and sincere student and makes him wonder why mankind prefers ignorance to wisdom, darkness to light, mortality to that which is immortal and eternal! Conferences sponsored by governments or leading organizations are held in all the countries of the world to find out ways and means to improve the lot of mankind, to raise the standard of life, to provide men with all the amenities; but, in spite of spending so much of time, money and energy, where are we? There seems to be no way out!

Has anyone solved the problem of human misery and human woe as the Great Teachers have done? Some think the cause of the trouble to be economic and social; others think it is religious and political. Is it so? Why is there no happiness or peace in countries where educational progress is at its best? This proves that none of these outward things can bring true happiness or peace, that the latter cannot be bought or sold or be obtained as gifts, but that they can be acquired only through a right mode of thinking and of living.

What in reality is true happiness? It is a spontaneous feeling of inner joy and contentment arising out of the focusing of the consciousness away from the personal, on the impersonal and the universal. It is known as Ananda, true and everlasting bliss. The consciousness is centred not in the little self but in the Self of all creatures, for the common good of all beings.

In Zoroastrian scriptures there is a simple verse: "Happiness to him through whom happiness flows to others." In a few words it teaches that when another's happiness is considered, when something is done for the benefit of others, it results in one's own happiness. The same idea is stressed by Madame Blavatsky in The Key to Theosophy:

Our philosophy teaches us that the object of doing our duties to all men and to ourselves the last, is not the attainment of personal happiness, but of the happiness of others; the fulfilment of right for the sake of right; not for what it may bring us. Happiness, or rather contentment, may indeed follow the performance of duty, but is not and must not be the motive for it. (p. 226)

True happiness is quite different from fleeting pleasures that come and go, bring momentary joy followed by misery. It is permanently established becaude of the right perception of existing things, the recognition of the voidness of the seeming full and the fullness of the seeming void. Unless and until the distinction between the mortal and the immortal, between the fleeting and the everlasting, is clearly grasped, true happiness cannot be experienced. It is on the clear understanding of unity in diversity, of the One in the many and the many in the One, that true happiness depends.

The practice of virtues in the daily performance of duties leads one to real happiness and contentment. The divine and the demoniac qualities are described by Krishna in the Sixteenth Discourse of the Bhagavad-Gita. Do not the demoniac qualities that are mentioned bring to mind an exact picture of our modern civilization and our atomic age? Men and women are victimized by passion-anger-greed, the three gates of hell. Krishna says that they destroy the soul; therefore are we asked to abandon them. If people could realize the consequences of their behaviour they would act differently. Instead of abandoning their wrong ways they get more and more involved in them, only to find that happiness recedes from them the more they seek it. Far from getting what they desire, they are plunged in misery and sorrow. The path that leads to happiness has been indicated, but it is the reluctance of people to gain knowledge that has caused havoc. Krishna speaks of all such thus: "Maintaining this view, their souls being ruined, their minds contracted, with natures perverted, enemies of the world, they are born to destroy." Is this not true in view of what is happening at present? For what purpose are nuclear weapons manufactured and vast amounts spent if not for destruction? The sad end of all those who have made of themselves "enemies of the world" is described in the Gita. Somehow people prefer to remain in bondage rather than become free! Man himself has to put forth effort to change the quality of his mind and heart; until then it is not possible to attain to true happiness.

Lord Buddha has given instructions in the Dhammapada, in the chapter on Happiness, on how to live happily, what the obstructions in the way are, how to overcome them, etc. Freedom from hatred, from the disease of longing and from anxiety is described as being the way to happiness. Individually or collectively, consciously or unconsciously, people succumb to these forces, and yet, the Buddha asks us to live happily amidst those who are filled with hatred, longing and anxiety, ourselves rising above these ebullitions of the lower nature. The symptoms of these inner diseases are evident everywhere. An attitude of detachment towards our possessions is another essential characteristic. It brings about real joy which is the nourishment of the Shining Ones. All individual and collective troubles would vanish by living the life according to these principles. In verse 204 of the Dhammapada we are told:

Health is the greatest of gifts; contentment is the greatest wealth; trust is the best of relationships; Nirvana is the highest happiness.

Health is of the body as well as of the mental and psychic natures. A healthy person becomes more and more integrated, therefore tranquil and happy. Contentment is a rare quality in our restless civilization of wants. Most of us hardly restrict our wants following the law of necessity, and so we are always discontented. And are we always trustful of one another these days? Nations are in constant fear of one another because of lack of trust; neighbours, friends, relations are distrustful of one another. If people were to practise this valuable advice of Lord Buddha in daily life, how different the world would be! Instead of the ceaseless chase after possessions, instead of fear, anxiety, discontent and distrust, there would be peace, tranquillity and happiness on all sides.

There is an old story that proves how true this fact is. Once a king wanted to find out who was the happiest man in his kingdom. He ordered his ministers to send out men in different directions in search of such a one and get a shirt from him. They looked everywhere but everyone seemed to have some ailment, some affliction of one type or another. At length they came across a poor village boy who was full of joy and happiness, but he had no shirt on! He must have been contented with his lot and could not have been envious of those with shirts, otherwise he would not have been happy! So it is the right attitude of mind that brings one happiness and not the objective things of the world. Anyone can be happy and content in the Self through the Self by forsaking every desire, as Krishna points out in the Second Discourse of the Bhagavad-Gita.




His son is dead. What has happened? His son is dead. Nothing more? Nothing. His ship is lost. What has happened? His ship is lost. He has been haled to prison. What has happened? He has been haled to prison.

But that any of these things are misfortunes to him is an addition which everyone makes of his own....If any man be unhappy, let him know that it is by reason of himself alone.

—Epictetus


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