Happiness is the absence of desires. Whenever your mind does not long for anything, you are happy. In the interval between the fulfillment of one desires and the cropping up of the next, you are happy. Why do you sing in the shower? You don’t do it to please yourself or anyone else; you do it simply because you are happy. At that time, the mind does not long for anything; all the window dressings, the masks you wear for people, are removed with your clothes you are with yourself. Your singing is an expression of the happiness felt by a mind that rests in the Self.
Everyone suffers from a sense of limitation but no one accepts that, because one cannot be happy as a limited being. Through analysis we can identify three types of limitations. The first is the limitation of sorrow. Sometimes our sorrow is very eloquent, sometimes it is only an unwept sorrow; but the basis of sorrow, the feeling, ”All is not well with me” is always there. That the human heart is subject to sorrow is a limitation no one wants to accept.
Another limitation that we feel is that of time. Nobody wants to die today; everyone wants to live a day longer. Animals and plants also have this love for life. Even a tree bends to grow towards the sun. Only if we find that this world can no longer give us happiness do we think of quitting it; if a person is healthy and happy, he or she wants to live on. Perhaps it is this love for continuity that accounts for the desire to have a son or a daughter, or urges one to engrave one’s name on a stone. No one wants to disappear without leaving a trace.
We know that we shall all die one day, and yet we want to live for at least today. The desire to live today is the desire to be eternal; we do not want to admit that we are mortal, even though we know very well that our birth and death are marked on the-sands of time. Mortality, a limitation with respect to time, is the second limitation that we cannot stand.
The third limitation that humankind suffers is ignorance. If a person is not enrolled in a school or a training institute, he or she will at least stand at the window to see what is happening in the street. This behavior is an expression of our innate love for knowledge. We cannot stand ignorance; We always want to know something more.
If you examine all your pursuits, pravritti प्रवृति or nivritti निवृत्ति, you will discover that all your life you have been trying to overcome these three limitations. You seem to have concluded that you are sorrowful, mortal, ignorant. You seek more security and more objects so that you can be comfortable in your life; much of your time is spent in going after things that are meant m make you happy, to keep sorrow at bay. Another part of your life is spent in pursuing things that will keep you going just one day more; you do exercises or take vitamins and proteins out of a desire to live a little longer. A third part of your life is spent gathering knowledge. For some, such as scientists, who regard knowledge as the most important goal in life, this is the most predominant pursuit, but everyone does devote a part of his or her life to learning. Picking up a newspaper in the morning is prompted by this quest for knowledge; reading the Gita is motivated by a desire to seek freedom from one‘s sense of inadequacy. Thus the three things we seek in all our pursuits are freedom from sorrow, freedom from death, and freedom from ignorance.
The Lord Krishna says that all the three limitations, are illegitimate; that is, all three are asocya अशोच्या, matters that do not warrant any grief. A problem can be solved only if it is legitimate. If you see a snake on the road you can choose to avoid it or chase it away, so that you can continue on the road. Encountering a snake is a’ legitimate problem and it can be solved by such actions. But if the problem looming large in your mind is illegitimate, how can you solve it by an act? Let us consider the famous example of a rope mistaken for a snake by an imaginative mind. The illegitimate, projected snake and the fear one experiences on seeing it cannot be removed by beating the snake or by throwing a stone or by praying or clapping. The snake and the fright caused by it will go away only when one comes to know that there is no snake in fact. When one sees the rope, the problem is solved and one’s fear goes. In this case, one solves the problem not by action, but by knowledge. A legitimate problem can be solved by action but an illegitimate one can only be solved by knowing that it is illegitimate.
If I can make you see that a given problem does not really exist, I have released you from it. The knowledge that the limitations of sorrow, time, and ignorance do not really exist for you frees you from these limitations. That knowledge is called sankya, that which is clearly seen. it is unfolded by Vedanta.
There are many occasions in life, many situations in life that I can change. If I have enough resources, I can change the furniture in my house, I can buy new clothes, I can eat out three times a week, I can camp out every week-end, I can have a new hair-cut, it’s endless. If it’s cold I can buy a heater. If it’s warm I can buy an air-conditioner. A new micro-wave ……yes there are a lot of changes that I can make.
If I have no resources but a lot of creativity, I can do the same things that I do every day, in new ways! I can cook food with the same ingredients, but it tastes different and good. I can lay out the table in new ways. I can sing and dance a little differently each time and enjoy it too. I can change my job, my apartment, my car. If I have a big heart, I can express the love in my heart in many different ways too.
I can change my attitudes and my behavior if I choose to. I can tighten what needs to be tightened and loosen what needs to be loosened. If I am very inflexible and rigid as a person, I can become more flexible. If I am critical always and finding-fault I can try and change that too. If I am angry and always want things my way – well I can look into that too if I want to. If I always blame others for my problems, I could see if that is true. If I am a person who does not know how to draw boundaries, then I can learn how to do that. I am always emotionally dependent on someone and it has become painful for me, I can learn how to grow out of that. If I am very fearful always, I can learn to face challenges boldly. If I’m so bold that I become fool-hardy, then I can learn to exercise caution.
Whatever I can change, if I feel I need to change it – I should change.
But I don’t call all the shots in life. There are some situations which are what they are, some events that have taken place, which I cannot change. I cannot change the weather of the country. I cannot change the politicians immediately! I cannot change the fact that a near and dear person has passed away. Sometimes I have family responsibilities, my boss is a pain and I cannot change my job. Above all I cannot change people – this includes my parents, my spouse, my in-laws, my children, my boss, my co-workers, friends, employees. I cannot change my past – happy or sad. I cannot change my childhood. I cannot change my age. I cannot change the way I look very often….the list is endless.
When something cannot be changed whatever it might be – when I find that I have an incapacity to order things as I want – I feel helpless, sad, agitated and angry. I get into a depression very often too.
Now this is the hard fact – that the situation cannot be changed. If I want people to change why should they? They might want me to change too. Maybe I also don’t want to change. Nobody can make a person change unless that person really wants to change. This is how it is. Maybe if I try to understand the background from which the person comes, then I can understand them better and feel some compassion towards them instead of anger. Maybe my expectations are unreasonable. Maybe my expectations are reasonable but the person cannot meet them, or does not want to meet them. Whatever the reason, this is how it is.
Would it not be just easier to accept gracefully that this is how the person is, this is how the situation is, this is how my past was, what has happened has happened. I cannot do anything about it. If I can change something I will – if I cannot, I accept it just gracefully. When I accept, there is a relief because my resistance to a fact is gone.
But the capacity to accept gracefully what I cannot change is not something that I am able to do easily. But at least I can have a value for it. I can have a value for it only if I know what benefit I get from it. To understand the value of graceful acceptance, let’s see what I get if I don’t have this acceptance. Then we can see what can help us.
When I am unable to accept a fact that cannot be changed – I feel helpless, I feel anger and resentment. All my present moments are occupied only in brooding and thinking and repeating the scenes again and again. I lose my self-esteem and destroy any chance of joy I might have in the current moment. Supposing I am walking and there is a beautiful sunset- I am unable to enjoy this truth about my present moment – I spoil my present moments with brooding about the past, the injustice, how I would like the situation to change. And if I keep up this frame of mind of resistance and pain indefinitely, my health is affected. I get ulcers, heart-problems, headaches, body-pains. I find no joy in life and my sadness spills over to others in my environment.
Now when the fact is that I cannot change the situation, does this frame of mind help me? Or does it hurt me. Very clearly, I am hurting myself. Do I want to continue to hurt myself? That is the choice I am faced with. I can continue to hurt myself by retaining this resistance to facts and working myself up into hurting and feeling bad – or I can just let go -by accepting. Consciously dropping my will to resist an unchangeable fact.
I have to see this very clearly and have a value for the peace of mind and a certain relief that results because of this acceptance of facts. Once I have a value for it, then there are ways to help myself to let go. Here devotion to the Lord born of understanding the Lord is invaluable. For understanding the Lord come to Gita class! Here an understanding of the Lord as All-Intelligence and seeing the fact that whatever there is in this creation is in Order, ( even disorder is in ultimate order) there is a meaning behind it all, there is a purpose is very important. The purpose of my life is to grow – maybe because of these situations now I can pray. Growing devotion in the form of a growing trust in the Lord’s order, a growing trust that every situation has a purpose and meaning behind it all and it must be all for the best even though I may not be quite able to understand it right now.
I recognize that I am helpless in accepting the situation and then when I am helpless I can seek help from the Source of All- Help – the Lord in a meaningful prayer. Seeking help when I need it, is intelligent living. So I can make this prayer to the Lord:-
O Lord, may I have the maturity to accept gracefully what I cannot change; may I have the will and effort to change what I can; and may I have the wisdom to know the difference between what I can and cannot change.