The Pursuit of Happiness

lavalamp sunset

“Nothing can make you happier than you are. All search for happiness is misery and leads to more misery. The only happiness worth the name is the natural happiness of conscious being.”

~Sri Nisargadatta

At its root, unhappiness is essentially the activity of contraction, based on a fixated sense of independent self – “me and mine”. Most take this “me story” seriously, having become convinced that it is real – that it is what they are. Identifying exclusively with this perception, rather than simply relaxing as that prior condition within which the transient sense “me” arises and dissolves, can turn millionaires into imaginary paupers. On that premise, let’s inspect this apparent case of mistaken identity, and see where it leads us.

For we humans in general, whether things are going smoothly or not, or whether we imagine that we’re doing well or maybe not, and regardless of whatever temporary circumstances and environments that may currently pertain, there is something that we can notice. It is always there, because it is something that we are always reinforcing in thought, word, and deed.

As verification, by carefully and honestly inspecting our own habitual activities, we can recognize for ourselves that there is something that we are compulsively doing in the midst of all conditions and relations: grasping and avoiding. This vicious cycle of grasping and avoiding characterizes and serves to define the life of the ego, creating an inner running narrative — the “me-story” — which requires constant care and feeding, and yet never yields true satisfaction or happiness at the heart.

On the other hand, how rare is it to ever actually pause in the midst of our compulsive pursuits in order to fully and completely inhabit this very body here, relaxing into the senses without trying to have life be other than it is – without grasping and avoiding, or fabricating an ongoing storyline? What we might find if we do so is that this body is a wonderfully revelatory portal, a transparent prism of reality itself.

The Buddha asked, “What is called true reality?”

Mañjuśrī replied, “The view that the body is self is true reality.”

The Buddha asked, “Why is the view that the body is self true reality?”

Mañjuśrī replied, “Viewing the body as the appearance of suchness, which is neither real nor unreal, neither coming nor going, neither body nor non-body, is called true reality.”

Just so, what can be observed here, when we stop for a moment and pay close attention to the way we typically “live the body”? Well, whether we are seemingly calm or tense, and essentially in any circumstance, there seems to be a kind of knot in the being, a persistent contraction. It takes the form of a dissatisfaction that is continuous and primal. It’s a stressful discomfort that, when really inspected, is found to be the root motivator for all of our seeking and searching — not just “spiritual” searching, but seeking itself.

It’s a search to change the state or condition of our being, so as to neutralize and relieve this primal sense of  . . . unhappiness, dis-ease, dis-comfort, dis-satisfaction, dis-stress – felt acutely as the body itself. We try food. We try sex. We water our plants and are nice to animals and neighbors. We try to be “spiritual”. We think about sacred things. Perhaps we want to have a confirming relationship with something “beyond”, something “greater”, so as to “transcend” this root contraction that we are always feeling, as the body. Perhaps a little astral travel just might do the trick!

Long story short — we want out!

Consider the history of our species in this regard: one prolonged effort to  escape this knot, felt in and as the body. What is the relentless propaganda programmed into and transmitted through our contemporary cultural media: “Consumers, by acquiring enough money, food, sex, recognition, longevity, or meditation, you can manipulate life to achieve release, and be rewarded with freedom from this nagging sense of embodiment. With the right strategy, earnestly applied, you’ll no longer have to deal with this clench around the heart.”

Yes, the HEART!

Tracing this felt contraction, we always are drawn right back to our own heartbeat. This beating heart! Right here! The conviction that we are exclusively the body, and that the body is us – could that be the root of this sense of contraction, of dis-satisfaction? Could this also be where the initial sense of separation/alienation is arising? Right here, at the heart?

Moreover, it’s not even really under our control, is it? We are not beating our heart. It just beats, beats, beats, and all the worlds of experience are born here. All the strategies are devised here. All remedies are imagined here. Here is where the search begins! This is the seed of all seeking – our REACTION at the heart to this oppressive sense of embodiment.

Spurred on by this beat, we track through a seemingly endless realm of experience, all simply modifications of the original sense of contraction. All in reaction to life itself. We are always clenching up at the core, and manufacturing the search as a reaction to this clench. Even the strategy to relax this clench is only another form of clenching, of reacting. All provisional remedies merely constitute more of the same chronic activity — the activity of the contraction — our present and continuous activity.

Furthermore, there is ultimately no way out. Even stopping the physical heart will only yield a temporary respite. Forget about stopping thought! Even yogis in exalted Samadhi must eventually come back down to normal consciousness and deal with unresolved emotional/sexual afflictions. Indeed, has any “grasping or avoiding” strategy we have ever devised led to true and enduring Happiness?

At a certain point in life, our personal investment in the possibilities of experience (based on belief, hope, and fear) can begin to lose appeal, and a consuming doubt about the whole story may arise. Some might say that this is a moment of Grace. We just can’t seem to generate the same old “juice” for that now broken-hearted pursuit which was scripted to make us happy in the ongoing narrative of “me”. The search itself finally becomes suspect, as well as our stake in it.

There’s an old poster slogan floating around in the sea of pithy maxims that states: “You cannot become happy, you can only be happy.” By observing the mechanics of the quest for happiness, we can notice how miserable we typically tend to become while pursuing it (even though we are guaranteed the right to such unhappiness by the U.S. Constitution itself).

That is, in trying to become happy, we necessarily consign ourselves to a de facto state of unhappiness, since the pay-off is projected out into some future time where the search ideally culminates in a choice job, a desirable mate, an ample bank balance, a slim and attractive body stylishly adorned with shiny bling, or even high “spiritual” states of absorption and ecstasy.

How many of us along the way have inadvertently tricked ourselves into the cognitive trap of submission to a fabricated belief system which posits that real happiness is something to be attained through various schemes of energetic manipulation — whether mental, emotional, physical, or some combination thereof?

When that whole desperate strategy is ultimately recognized as futile – a failure — true transformation can happen, but usually not until then, and certainly not through some intellectual effort to surrender. There must be a direct, visceral recognition of the futility of the search to become happy. Sri Nisargadatta put clearly: “Mere verbal conviction is not enough. The self is so self-confident that unless it is totally discouraged it will not give up.”

When we really see how the dog has been chasing the tail, a shift can occur, and in such a revolutionary shift in the angle of vision, a free transparent spaciousness opens within us, a vivid shine of genuine happiness that had been dormant at the heart.

As the American Adept Robert Adams noted: “When you give up all hope of ever getting anywhere, you’re really surrendering. And that’s a good sign. You’re surrendering your ego, your thoughts, your feelings, and then you become still. It is in the stillness that things begin to happen, in quietness, when things begin to happen.”

If the stress starts at the heart, doesn’t it make sense that the healing must begin there too? It’s here that the innocent radiance of Awareness wakes up to itself, and once awakened, embraces all the varied forms of itself, including this humble, magnificent body through which consciousness incarnates to express itself and, in the process, to become fully Self-aware.

What we discover, if we are faithful to our inquiry, is that our natural and native Happiness only truly and fully emerges when we have at last let go of even the motive to strive for happiness, when we are no longer picking and choosing, or hoping and fearing. Moreover, unlike the conventional ideal of happiness, which is free of anything that can cause pain and sorrow, true happiness is all-inclusive, embracing even sadness and suffering, while simultaneously transcending any quality or attribute.

Of course, this is the opposite of what we have been told by the propaganda of this world, imbued as it is with the memes of hope and fear, and the perpetual search for escape routes and strategies of grasping and avoidance. How liberating to recognize that our own primal happiness is always and already present as the feeling of being itself, prior to and beyond the necessity of pursuit and acquisition! And yet, should it really come as a surprise that it has been here all along, waiting for us to simply wake up and “smell the roses”?

“Usually you have to be sad to know gladness and glad to know sadness. True happiness is uncaused and this cannot disappear for lack of stimulation. It is not the opposite of sorrow, it includes all sorrow and suffering.”
~Sri Nisargadatta


See also:

About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: Verses and ramblings on life as it is: Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: Verses on the Play of Consciousness: Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: Poems of the Mountain Hermit: Love Poems from The Book of Yes: Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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9 Responses to The Pursuit of Happiness

  1. Bob OHearn says:

    One day a young seeker on his journey home, came to the banks of a wide river.

    Staring hopelessly at the great obstacle in front of him, he pondered for hours on just how to cross such a wide barrier.

    Just as he was about to give up his pursuit to continue his journey he saw a great teacher on the other side of the river.

    The young seeker yells over to the teacher,

    “Oh wise one, can you tell me how to get to the other side of this river”?
    The teacher ponders for a moment looks up and down the river and yells back,

    “My son, you are on the other side”.

    “The term ‘this shore’ refers to samsaric phenomena, ‘the other shore’ to that beyond samsara. When applying this experientially in your own stream of being, look into the normal thinking mind belonging to this shore, and thereby see that it is utterly insubstantial, a cognizance that cannot be apprehended. This is known as ‘arriving at the other shore’ and is the vital point of dissolving this shore into arriving at the other shore”.


  2. Bob OHearn says:

    “If you want to make real progress, you must give up all idea of personal attainment. The ambitions of the so-called Yogis are preposterous. A man’s desire for a woman is innocence itself compared to the lusting after an everlasting personal bliss. The mind is a cheat. The more pious it seems, the worse the betrayal.”

    ~ Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

  3. Bob OHearn says:

    Nisargadatta Maharaj: Just see the person you imagine yourself to be as a part of the world you perceive within your mind and look at the mind from the outside, for you are not the mind. After all, your only problem is the eager self-identification with whatever you perceive. Give up this habit, remember that you are not what you perceive, use your power of alert aloofness. See yourself in all that lives and your behaviour will express your vision. Once you realise that there is nothing in this world, which you can call your own, you look at it from the outside as you look at a play on the stage, or a picture on the screen, admiring and enjoying, but really unmoved. As long as you imagine yourself to be something tangible and solid, a thing among things, actually existing in time and space, short-lived and vulnerable, naturally you will be anxious to survive and increase. But when you know yourself as beyond space and time — in contact with them only at the point of here and now, otherwise all-pervading and all-containing, unapproachable, unassailable, invulnerable — you will be afraid no longer. Know yourself as you are — against fear there is no other remedy.

    You have to learn to think and feel on these lines, or you will remain indefinitely on the personal level of desire and fear, gaining and losing, growing and decaying. A personal problem cannot be solved on its own level. The very desire to live is the messenger of death, as the longing to be happy is the outline of sorrow. The world is an ocean of pain and fear, of anxiety and despair. Pleasures are like the fishes, few and swift, rarely come, quickly gone. A man of low intelligence believes, against all evidence, that he is an exception and that the world owes him happiness. But the world cannot give what it does not have; unreal to the core, it is of no use for real happiness. It cannot be otherwise. We seek the real because we are unhappy with the unreal. Happiness is our real nature and we shall never rest until we find it. But rarely we know where to seek it. Once you have understood that the world is but a mistaken view of reality, and is not what it appears to be, you are free of its obsessions. Only what is compatible with your real being can make you happy and the world, as you perceive it, is its outright denial.

    Keep very quiet and watch what comes to the surface of the mind. Reject the known, welcome the so far unknown and reject it in its turn. Thus you come to a state in which there is no knowledge, only being, in which being itself is knowledge. To know by being is direct knowledge. It is based on the identity of the seer and the seen. Indirect knowledge is based on sensation and memory, on proximity of the perceiver and his percept, confined with the contrast between the two. The same with happiness. Usually you have to be sad to know gladness and glad to know sadness. True happiness is uncaused and this cannot disappear for lack of stimulation. It is not the opposite of sorrow, it includes all sorrow and suffering.

    Q: How can one remain happy among so much suffering?

    M: One cannot help it — the inner happiness is overwhelmingly real. Like the sun in the sky, its expressions may be clouded, but it is never absent.

    Q: When we are in trouble, we are bound to be unhappy.

    M: Fear is the only trouble. Know yourself as independent and you will be free from fear and its shadows.

    Q: What is the difference between happiness and pleasure?

    M: Pleasure depends on things, happiness does not.

    Q: If happiness is independent, why are we not always happy?

    M: As long as we believe that we need things to make us happy, we shall also believe that in their absence we must be miserable. Mind always shapes itself according to its beliefs. Hence the importance of convincing oneself that one need not be prodded into happiness; that, on the contrary, pleasure is a distraction and a nuisance, for it merely increases the false conviction that one needs to have and do things to be happy when in reality it is just the opposite.

    But why talk of happiness at all? You do not think of happiness except when you are unhappy. A man who says: ‘Now I am happy’, is between two sorrows — past and future. This happiness is mere excitement caused by relief from pain. Real happiness is utterly unselfconscious. It is best expressed negatively as: ‘there is nothing wrong with me. I have nothing to worry about’. After all, the ultimate purpose of all sadhana is to reach a point, when this conviction, instead of being only verbal, is based on the actual and ever-present experience.

    Q: Which experience?

    M: The experience of being empty, uncluttered by memories and expectations; it is like the happiness of open spaces, of being young, of having all the time and energy for doing things, for discovery, for adventure.

    Q: What remains to discover?

    M: The universe without and the immensity within as they are in reality, in the great mind and heart of God. The meaning and purpose of existence, the secret of suffering, life’s redemption from ignorance.

    Q: If being happy is the same as being free from fear and worry, cannot it be said that absence of trouble is the cause of happiness?

    M: A state of absence, of non-existence cannot be a cause; the pre-existence of a cause is implied in the notion. Your natural state, in which nothing exists, cannot be a cause of becoming; the causes are hidden in the great and mysterious power of memory. But your true home is in nothingness, in emptiness of all content.

    Q: Emptiness and nothingness — how dreadful!

    M: You face it most cheerfully, when you go to sleep! Find out for yourself the state of wakeful sleep and you will find it quite in harmony with your real nature. Words can only give you the idea and the idea is not the experience. All I can say is that true happiness has no cause and what has no cause is immovable. Which does not mean it is perceivable, as pleasure. What is perceivable is pain and pleasure; the state of freedom from sorrow can be described only negatively. To know it directly you must go beyond the mind addicted to causality and the tyranny of time.

    Q: If happiness is not conscious and consciousness — not happy, what is the link between the two?

    M: Consciousness being a product of conditions and circumstances, depends on them and changes along with them. What is independent, uncreated, timeless and changeless, and yet ever new and fresh, is beyond the mind. When the mind thinks of it, the mind dissolves and only happiness remains.

    Q: Please tell us; beyond the mind does consciousness continue, or does it end with the mind?

    M: Consciousness comes and goes, awareness shines immutably.

    Q: Who is aware in awareness?

    M: When there is a person, there is also consciousness. ‘I am’ mind, consciousness denote the same state. If you say ‘I am aware’, it only means: ‘I am conscious of thinking about being aware’. There is no ‘I am’ in awareness.

    Q: What about witnessing?

    M: Witnessing is of the mind. The witness goes with the witnessed. In the state of non-duality all separation ceases.

    Q: What about you? Do you continue in awareness?

    M: The person, the ‘I am this body, this mind, this chain of memories, this bundle of desires and fears’ disappears, but something you may call identity, remains. It enables me to become a person when required. Love creates its own necessities, even of becoming a person.

    Q: It is said that Reality manifests itself as existence — consciousness — bliss. Are they absolute or relative?

    M: They are relative to each other and depend on each other. Reality is independent of its expressions.

    Q: What is the relation between reality and its expressions?

    M: No relation. In reality all is real and identical. As we put it, saguna and nirguna are one in Parabrahman. There is only the Supreme. In movement, it Is saguna. Motionless, it is nirguna. But it is only the mind that moves or does not move. The real is beyond, you are beyond. Once you have understood that nothing perceivable, or conceivable can be yourself, you are free of your imaginations. To see everything as imagination, born of desire, is necessary for self-realisation. We miss the real by lack of attention and create the unreal by excess of imagination.

    You have to give your heart and mind to these things and brood over them repeatedly. It is like cooking food. You must keep it on the fire for some time before it is ready.

  4. “At its root, unhappiness is essentially the activity of contraction, based on a fixated sense of independent self – “me and mine”. Most take this “me story” seriously, having become convinced that it is real – that it is what they are.

    Identifying exclusively with this perception, rather than simply relaxing as that prior condition within which the transient sense “me” arises and dissolves, can turn millionaires into imaginary paupers. On that premise, let’s inspect this apparent case of mistaken identity, and see where it leads us…”

    Yes, GREAT. Thank you brother…!

  5. Bob OHearn says:

    And so I began to implement a practice into my life of loving everything that came my way, accepting it while relinquishing the need for control. The Buddhists say that the universe is suffering, and I believe this is because the universe is chaos, and thus by its very nature out of our control. When we try to force desires, we are bound to find innumerable occasions where the universe will not comply. And so I decided to stop desiring to the point of attachment.

    I started to practice the acceptance that Buddhists speak upon, to Drift in the Tao, to accept the natural flow with an optimistic love, to say to every moment that came my way, good or bad, “thank you for the experience and the lesson, and now bring on the next moment so I can give it the same love.” Over and over I did this, moving those synapses closer and closer together, to the point where any synapses in my brain associated with sadness, regret, pessimism, fear, desire, melancholy, depression, etc had a smaller and smaller chance of triggering before the synapses of love gave me my reaction, my thoughts, my personality. And so my default state become one of optimism and appreciation, and the illusory burdens I attached to this existence lessened.

    Now, as I pointed out, nature appreciates chaos, and our brain is no different. And so it’s important that I point out that this obviously is not a fool proof practice that will completely eradicate negativity from your consciousness; sometimes emotion weighs too heavy and sometimes the pair that catches the chemical charge will be the negative one; but, like any muscle, if you exercise those loving synapses enough, you will find yourself in possession of a new innate strength that will make the world shine more beautifully far more frequently.

  6. Bob OHearn says:

    “Whether this moment is happy or not depends on you. It’s you that makes the moment happy. It’s not the moment that makes you happy. With mindfulness, concentration and insight, any moment can become a happy moment. Happiness is an art.”

    ~Thich Nhat Hanh

  7. Bob OHearn says:

    Do not dwell on fear, anger, regret, desire, love, gratitude, mindfulness or joy. Do not try to become happy. Do not try to be spiritual, enlightened, or superior. Return attention to the default position — being aware of being aware — for short moments, many times, day and night. Whomever you meet, serve them as if they were yourself (they are). Cling to nothing. Above all else, refuse to take yourself or your search or any apparent predicament seriously. Laughter is the true kriya. When in doubt, return attention to the default position — being aware of being aware.

    ~Bob O’Hearn, 2/22/21

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