By Swami Sunirmalananda

 [Swami Sunirmalananda is a monk of the Ramakrishna Order. He lives in Ramakrishna Vedanta Center, Sao Paulo]

What is Happiness?

 What is happiness? Happiness is a pleasant feeling in the mind. I eat a sweet. It brings a pleasant sensation to my mind. I hear good music that I like. This brings a pleasant sensation in mind. I call all this happiness. When, again, I eat the same sweet, and hear the same music when a tragedy has occurred in my life, I don’t enjoy it. If my relative has passed away, and if someone plays the same music that I like most, I will say: ‘Stop it! I hate this!’  The same music fails to bring joy and happiness.

So happiness is something which is personal—which is totally dependent on the person concerned. That is, happiness is subjective and not objective. The same person, place or thing that brought happiness at one time, may bring misery at another. Why does this happen? This happens because we are responsible for our happiness or sorrow, and not the external objects of the world. We think that somebody brings joy, this person brings misery, etc. All this is not true. The external persons, places, and things are only stimuli. These stimuli affect the brain and bring joy or sorrow in us, depending upon our state of mind. Thus, all our so-called loves, hates, ambitions, dislikes, successes, failures, and so on are for our own sake, created by us. When we say we love or hate others, it is for our own sake. It is a truth according to Hinduism that all that we do is for acquiring bliss for ourselves.

 This introduction brings us to the concept of happiness in Hinduism.


 Hinduism has these things to say about happiness:

(a)    Ordinarily what we call happiness [sukha] and misery [duhkha] are relative experiences. They are termed dvandvas—dualities.

(b)   We must rise above these dualities in order to discover and experience real happiness.

(c)    Where do we find this real happiness? It is inherent within each one of us. Where is it located? It is not located as such: it is we ourselves. Ourselves? Oh, yes, we are of the nature of bliss. What does this mean? We are bliss. Our nature is one of immortal bliss. We have forgotten this simple truth.

(d)   Then, what is this experience which we are calling happiness? This so-called happiness is only a faint reflection, a little spark of the brilliant sun of bliss which is hidden within. This is only a shadow of that eternal bliss that is waiting to be exposed. Our so-called happiness and misery now, are nothing but different states of mind. In the Bhagavad Gita (5.21), it is said: ‘He who is unattached to the external world and its objects, and is attached to the inner Self, will attain supreme happiness, which is everlasting.’

(e)    Real happiness, called ānanda in Sanskrit, is the goal of all beings. All are seeking that goal only—some ignorantly, some with knowledge.

 Therefore, according to all the different philosophies of Hinduism—Yoga, Vedanta, Samkhya, dualists, non-dualists—our goal is to transcend dualities like happiness and misery and reach the state of supreme Bliss. It is in that state that we get real bliss. Until then, we are only passing through different states of mind.

 We may restate the ideas in the form two or three simple laws:

1. Seek what is true and lasting.

3. The more you seek what is true and lasting, the more you go nearer to the source of supreme, everlasting Bliss, which is within you.


 We mentioned that the happiness we get in this life, in our day-to-day lives, is very elementary. It is only a shadow, and the real one is elsewhere. It is only a door, which leads us to misery and pain. This may appear pessimistic, but unfortunately it is a truth. What we call pleasure, happiness, etc in this world is only an introduction to the pain that will follow. So, if we seek happiness here, we must be ready to receive the pain the follows it.

We are all in a vicious circle. There should be an end to moving about in this vicious circle. That end comes when we understand that this world is not everything. We must also understand that this world is a teacher, teaching us to get what is true and real. This world is a showroom, which gives us samples only. It says: ‘This is only a sample. Now, seek the real inside.’

So the world, with all its glitter and shine, is only a showroom which stimulates sensations in our mind. And we think we are happy or sad.

The Buddha, therefore, said that this world is misery, duhkha. According to the Buddha, everything is duhkha, misery. Birth is misery, living is misery, death is misery, world is misery. Secondly, everything is momentary, kshanika.  When one attains Nibbana or liberation according to Buddhism, one becomes extinct. Nibbana means to become extinct, and to end our misery. But there is no permanent entity according to Buddhism. Everything is a samgháta, coming together, and everything will disintegrate in Nibbana.

All the schools of Hinduism, on the other hand, say that life is not merely duhkha. The external world no doubt brings sorrow according to various schools of Hinduism, true. But according to the Vedas, the sources of Hinduism, life is ánanda, bliss. The Vedas say: ‘From bliss did things come into being. In bliss do they exist, and to bliss do they return finally.’ Everything is bliss. There is a wonderful mantra in the Vedas: ‘The air is filled with sweetness of ambrosia, the oceans are filled with sweetness, the plants and trees are filled with sweetness, and everything is filled with sweetness of ambrosia.’

So, according to Hinduism, everything is bliss, and not sorrow.

Now, how to reconcile the Buddha’s ideas and the ideas of the Vedas? The Buddha was speaking about the world as it is now, and the Vedas speak of the ideal we are to attain. In the ordinary sense, in the world we are living in, it is all misery. It appears to be glittering, and shining. We appear to be in a paradise. But we see that we are chasing a mirage here. Ask those who are 70 or 80 years old if they are happy. They will not say from their heart that they are happy. Nobody is happy. In spite of all our dancing, drinking, and enjoying the world, ultimately we see that nothing has been achieved.

That is what the Buddha also said. In order to overcome sorrow and suffering, and enjoy everlasting bliss, we must look elsewhere. Here comes the teaching of the Vedas. Hinduism firmly asserts that there is something permanent behind this entire changing world. There is something permanent behind the changing us. Our bodies keep on changing, our minds keep on changing, but behind and beyond these two, there is something shining. That is the eternal Principle, the Atman.

That this world is ever-changing is known to all of us—those who were there before are not there now. We ourselves keep on changing our focus of love and hate. In childhood, we loved some people. Now we love others. So everything is changing. Our bodies keep on changing, the world outside keep on changing, everything changes. But still there is something unchanging, which we do not know. That something is the Self or Atman. That is the real we and not the changing things.


 It seems there was a woodcutter. He used to cut wood in the forest, sell it, and earn money. One day, he met a monk on the way. The monk told him: ‘Go forward.’ That’s all. This woodcutter did not understand the teaching. He went to the forest, and began cutting wood. Suddenly he remembered the monk’s words. “Go forward? Let me go forward then.” He went a little forward. There, to his surprise, he saw sandalwood. He was astonished. “Ah! All these days I was only selling ordinary wood. If I had known this place, I could have made much money,” he thought. Then he began cutting wood there. Some time later, he again remembered the monk’s words, and went further into the forest. He was surprised to see a mine of gold!

Hinduism is positive in approach to life and its various aspects. It does not say this world is miserable, etc. It says that what we are enjoying is happiness, all right, but there are higher and higher forms of happiness. Go for them. Don’t stop where you are. Go forward. Go forward. There are higher and higher aspects of happiness. Get them.

 According to the Vedas, there is a gradual increase in happiness as we evolve in life: worldly happiness, mental happiness, spiritual happiness. In this world, we sing, dance, drink, enjoy, eat, and do everything we can. All these joys put together can be called one type of happiness.

Stage one: In this world, however much we may try however much wealth we may have, however much enjoyments we may have—all our enjoyments will be only to some extent. Not much. Let us say it is to be equal to 1. If a person lives in this world without diseases, having a perfect body, and enjoying everything every moment, his joy can be compared to one.

Stage two: We all believe in heaven. What is the type of heavenly pleasure? In the higher worlds, the happiness will be equal to 100 times more than in this world. If the joy we get here is one, that which we get in heaven is 100.

But, both these joys are temporary. We have sufficient experience in this world of such temporary joy to understand this truth. Even in the case of heaven, according to Hinduism, after our good karma is exhausted, we shall have to return. In fact, we shall have to lead more miserable lives here after coming back. So we must seek something still higher. This leads us to stage three.

Stage three: Spiritual happiness is when we want to know God, or when we want to know who we are, or when we want to know the Self. When we are striving for knowing it, our happiness increases proportionately, but when we attain God, or the Atman, our happiness can be equalled to a thousand billion. We can imagine: 1::100::100000000000….


 So we want to go forward. This leads, naturally, to the next question: how to attain this everlasting bliss? In order to seek higher happiness, we must try to seek God, or try to know ourselves. By following any of the methods prescribed by the saints and scriptures of the world, if we silently practise, we can attain that bliss. According to Hinduism, no one is condemned. No one is bad. No one is a sinner. All sins are mistakes. All are heirs to immortal bliss. All can attain it. This is because, all are bliss. Misery, sorrow, etc, are only outer coverings.

 You may now say: “I have understood that what I am enjoying now is not real happiness. I have also understood that I must seek higher happiness. But, what is the proof that there is higher happiness? Can I get a taste of it here?’ Of course you can! There is a simple technique for getting this happiness. It is this: Give up desires, and you will be happy. This moment, you decide. I shall give up all desires. I shall not want anything. All tension will go, all problems will go, and you will be in peace. Desires make us go round and round, achieving nothing. Let us give up desires, and we shall be instantly in peace.

In passing, we may mention some wonderful and simple rules of life. Please keep them in mind, if you want to lead meaningful and peaceful lives here:

 Don’t seek anything. If you seek anything, you will be in misery.

  1. What we deserve, we get, always. What we don’t deserve, we don’t. So there is no point in worrying unnecessarily, because it will bring misery and not joy.

  2. Let us leave everything to God. That is the best way to achieve happiness.

Let us remember these simple principles. “I am miserable because this man did not love me.  I am suffering because I did not get this. I am in pain because this man did not thank me.” All this is wrong. Give up such ideas, and you will be in peace. Then you can use your energies for higher seeking.


 Here are some practical steps of attaining bliss and peace of mind. Hinduism says to us:

 Don’t have a hundred desires in mind. Decide now: From this moment, I shall not have desire for anything. Whatever comes, let it come. This will instantly bring peace. This is the initial stage of bliss.

  1. Don’t worry that you are a sinner. This is one of the worst obstacles to joy. Give up worry. What is past is past. God is not a historian and a petty judge to judge you for what you did. Sins are mistakes done. Will the dancer go on weeping because she fell ten times when she was practising dancing? She will go on dancing. And will succeed. So in life, we fall a hundred times. Let us not worry about it.

  2. Don’t worry if someone hates or someone dislikes you. Let them hate you. Let them not like you. The world is broad. There are millions of people here. Let everyone go their own way. Be free. Shake off everything, and you will be free and happy. Whenever anyone deserts you, or begins to dislike you, just say to your mind: ‘O my mind! This world is impermanent. Let us seek something permanent: God.’

  3. Pray. Never imagine you are a big person. You are a little creature. You don’t know what is in store the next moment. So hold on to God. This will bring peace.

  4. Control yourself. This itself is a big peace-giving method.

  5.  Give your love only to God, and to none else. That will bring you immense bliss.

  6. If some problem comes in your life, don’t start worrying. Worry will make things worse. Imagine that you are taking that problem in your hand like a fruit, and offer it to God. And pray. When worry comes, brush it aside and pray. This will help you immensely in every way.


 The goal of life is to know God. We are born again, and suffer again and again, only because we don’t know God or Truth. This is the fundamental principle of Hinduism. Hinduism says that we are not here in this world to enjoy it and suffer. We are here to know God.

  1. Why should we know God? We should know God for the simple reason that we are God. We are Divine. To know God, we must practice self-control, and perform spiritual practices.

  2. When we are in the world, seeking worldly joys, we get very limited bliss, but extreme pain.

  3. When we seek God, we get immense peace and bliss, which is our true nature.

  4. We need not beg or borrow it. It is our real nature. Since we think we are limited, we are suffering. When we give up limitations, we know the Bliss.


 Today, this moment, let us decide what we want. Do we want the world only, or do we want God? If we seek God, we get everything. “Love God, and everything else shall be added unto you,” said Jesus Christ. Let us love God, and everything will come.

The Practical Steps are as follows:

1.                          We need not do much. All that we have to do is this: let us have a small corner in our room where we shall place the picture of the form of God we like. Let us offer flowers, incense etc every day. Let us sit before this small altar every day. Let us love God. This is most important. We have loved this world too much. We have seen how Tsunamis affect the world. In one moment, everything is gone. So let us love God. Then we shall begin to know what true bliss is.

2.                          Let us serve others as if they are gods. In our free time, let us mix with some good organization, and try to serve others. This is the eternal truth of Vedanta that every living being is God. We cannot help anyone, we can only serve. Service to others will bring immense peace and bliss to us. And this is one of the ways to knowing God.

3.                          Let us meditate. Meditation means trying to concentrate the mind. Our minds are naturally restless. By meditating every day for some time, we can exercise the mind, bring it under control, and tap immense energy.

4.                          When we are in our workplace, when we are traveling, and when we are doing other things, let us try to discriminate: ‘Is this real? What am I doing?’

5.                          At the beginning of every work, let us pray to God and begin the work. At the end of the work, let us offer everything to God.

 Through all these means, we rise higher and higher. We come nearer and nearer to the Truth. Thus, we begin to enjoy immense peace and bliss, which surpasses all understanding.

When we continue further, we attain the highest bliss. This has no comparison in this world. Thousands of saints have attained to that bliss.

According to Hinduism, there are several stages of bliss:

 Vishayānanda: The bliss born of sensuality. This is extremely ordinary. It is, in fact, pain, but confused as bliss.

  1. Shamānanda: The bliss born of self-control. We think if we let loose our passions we are great. No! When we control our passions, we are great. Passions are not powers, but our expressions of weakness.

  2. Bhajanānanda: The bliss born of spiritual practice. The name of God is extremely sweet. By repeating it, we will attain bliss. Initially it is not possible. But as we go forward, there will be immense bliss.

  3. Brahmānanda: The bliss born of supreme Attainment of Truth. There can be no comparison with this bliss. Because all coverings are removed, and we know ourselves as beings of bliss.

 There are several synonyms for bliss in Sanskrit. ánanda, sukha, and santosha are all synonyms. They can be used for any type of bliss. Yet, we may distinguish them as follows: The spiritual bliss attained when we know the Truth or God is ánanda or supreme bliss. Sukha also is supreme bliss, but let us say it is the joy experienced in ordinary life. Mudita is the pleasant state of mind mentioned in yoga which we should have to practice spirituality. Maitri, Karuna, and Mudita are mentioned as qualities necessary for the mind to practice spirituality. So mudita is a lower form of bliss.

 Swami Vivekananda says: ‘In this little life of ours, if we can bring even a moment’s joy in another heart, that alone is true religion. Everything else is moonshine. This I have learnt suffering all my life.’ Bring joy to others, and you shall attain joy. Because the others and us are not different. We are one and the same. To bring joy to others, we must serve them. This is one of the best ways of being in bliss.

 We shall conclude with the message of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi: ‘If you want peace, do not find faults with others. On the contrary, find your own faults. Nobody is a stranger, my child, the whole world is your own.’