by Nayaswami Asha
When I was ten years old, the only desire I had was to be happy. It was amazing to me, even then, that almost no one ever talked about happiness in the way I intuitively knew they ought to.
They believed that if you went to college, married and had children, and got a good job that brought you lots of money and success, you’d be happy. The idea was that if you added these external things to your life, they would magically create the fulfillment you were looking for, and you’d suddenly find yourself happy.
Even as a child, I was suspicious of this plan, and it left me in an awkward spot. I had the opportunity to follow the external path and do all of the things everyone said would give me happiness. And because I couldn’t quite believe it would work, I felt paralyzed, because I could see the end of that road clearly, and it wasn’t a place I wanted to be.
I wanted to be in a happy state of consciousness – without having to tack on a bunch of things to make my life outwardly just right.
It was only years later, as I began to awaken to the possibility of inner realities and inner transformation, that I realized my childhood intuition had been right. There really was a way to be happy within yourself, and from that state of being, to relate to money, home, relationships, and everything “out there” on the surface.
I discovered that when the inner state of consciousness is right, everything falls in place. But if your inner state isn’t balanced, and if it isn’t focused on something meaningful, it doesn’t matter how many accoutrements you pile on, because there will always be inner discontent.
In this way, I became aware of a central fact of life: that joy is within you. The lasting happiness we’re seeking is a consciousness that we can cultivate. I came to understand that, step by step, we can develop the attitudes, actions, and practices that create happiness.
How I wish I’d been told these principles as a child, instead of being asked to memorize the capital of Brazil and the primary exports of France.
Once we learn that happiness is within us, we realize a profound truth: change yourself and everything changes.
The obvious next question is, “How do we change?”
Once we ask the right question, the answer is usually close at hand. How can we change? How can we put ourselves in a state of consciousness where our happiness grows from inside?
The “method” is, first of all, to understand that when you take care of the inner reality, your outer reality automatically adjusts. It’s like tuning a radio – whatever station you tune to inside, that’s the music you’ll hear outside.
The lovely thing is that it isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s not that you must suddenly leap from complete darkness to total light. Every step you take, no matter how small, expands your capacity to experience happiness, so that the journey becomes the goal.
It’s instructive to observe those who’ve walked the happiness-path for a very long time.
I remember a vacation that a group of us from Ananda took with Swami Kriyananda.
Next to the lobby of the hotel where some of us were staying was a small jewelry shop. For hours every day, a woman sat alone behind the counter.
Swamiji remarked, “I never see any customers in there.”
There was nothing in the shop he wanted to buy, but the next day he went in, and we followed.
“I see you sitting here day after day,” he said to the woman. “There are so few customers. What do you do all day? It must be lonely.”
She seemed startled by being addressed in such a personal way, and touched by his kindness.
“I read,” she said. “I have a little paperwork to do.” Her voice trailed off. “It is lonely,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.
Swamiji offered no words of comfort. He was silent and still, but as I stood next to him, I was suddenly enveloped by an expanding sense of joy that was emanating from him. He was reaching out to her with his spirit. Suddenly her eyes shone with happiness. When Swamiji saw that she had received what he’d come to give, he wished her well and we left the shop.
After that, whenever he passed, he would greet her with a smile through the window. Often, she would come to the door and follow him with her gaze until he was out of sight. Just seeing Swamiji seemed to ease her loneliness.
A corollary of the law of happiness is the discovery that our happiness grows as we extend our awareness to include the realities of others.
In giving others kindness, compassion, and sympathy, even in small and simple ways, we find our happiness mysteriously expanding from within.
The desire to find happiness and avoid suffering is such a universal and inescapable fact of life that it deserves to be called a law. Some people, of course, seek their happiness in the wrong places – mistakenly believing that they can remove an obstacle to their happiness by treating others unkindly, stealing, or even murdering. But the law of happiness is inexorable – happiness comes by an expansion of consciousness, never by contracting our awareness in the hope of shutting out all but our own limited reality.
How can we develop the capacity to understand where our true happiness lies, and find the courage to follow that inner guidance? Life itself teaches us many lessons – we learn what works and what doesn’t in life’s school of hard knocks.
But there are shortcuts. Deep understanding can carry us over many of life’s dangerous passages. The world’s spiritual teachers tell us that we can find the source of wisdom within. By harmonizing the feelings of our hearts and quieting our thoughts in meditation, we can learn to hear the “still, small voice” that is continually whispering its wisdom and wants only our highest good.
Swamiji led with his heart. From the side, he looked like a strung bow: straight spine, outwardly curving chest. The clarity of his mind came from the courage of his heart.
“In teaching meditation,” Swamiji said, “people speak of the need to calm the mind. In fact, it is the heart that needs to be calmed. That is why devotion is fundamental to success in meditation. When the heart is calm and one-pointed in its focus on God, the mind is also still, because there are no restless feelings to disturb it.
“Jesus put it this way, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ Purity means the absence of any other desire except the desire for God. This is our natural state. It is not something we have to acquire. All we have to do is remove the impurities of the heart which keep us from knowing ourselves as we truly are: One with God.”
Nayaswami Asha is the spiritual director of Ananda Sangha in Palo Alto, California, and the Ananda community in Mountain View, California. She served as content manager during the producing of the Finding Happiness film.