Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century


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Definition - Ananda Wood

'Ananda' is happiness, the happiness that's sought in all feelings and desires.

That happiness is not a passing state of mind. It is not a 'happy' state of satisfied desire, alternating with 'unhappy' states where desires fail to be achieved. When we speak of 'happiness', the suffix '-ness' implies a common principle. That principle is common to both happy and unhappy states. Happiness is just that principle of value which both happy and unhappy feelings show.

When someone feels happy, this feeling is positive. It feels at one with 'hap', with what has *hap*pened to take place. By contrast, when someone feels unhappy, this feeling is negative. It feels itself at odds with 'hap', with what is seen to have *hap*pened here. In either case, a common principle of happiness is shown.

In feelings that are happy, the principle of happiness is positively shown, by a positive acceptance of one-ness with what happens. In feelings that are unhappy, exactly the same principle is negatively shown, by a negative avoidance of disruptive differences between what feels and what is felt to happen.

That principle of happiness is not just personal. It is not merely 'nanda', the personal enjoyment that so differs from person to person, as we pursue our many different objects of desire. It's more specifically described as 'Ananda', with the prefix 'A-' implying a return back to an underlying depth. By Ananda is meant an experience of enjoyment that is shared in common, beneath all differences of personality and world.

In coming back to that depth of enjoyment, all personal pleasures must be left behind, in search of a truer happiness. All desire for partial objects must be given up to a truer love, for something that is more complete. All falsely independent ego must be surrendered, in devotion to a self that is truly free. This approach is called the 'bhakti mArga' or the 'way of devotion'.

One use of the bhakti mArga is concerned with religious worship. Here, truth is approached through devotion to a worshipped God, whose form is conceived by telling stories and performing rituals. A form of God is thus imagined and worshipped, through stories and rituals that appeal to the liking and desires of a personal worshipper. Such an appealing form of God is called an 'iShTa-mUrti', which means an 'embodiment of liking and desire'.

In this kind of worship, God is approached through personal desire, although the final aim is to surrender all desires to an ultimate value that is represented by God's form. Through personal attentions of worship, a devotee's love is meant to grow towards a final fulfilment, in which everything is seen as an expression of the ultimate. In that fulfilment, no matter what is done, nor where attention is directed, the devotee sees always the pervading goodness and truth that has been shown by the worshipped form.

In the Hindu tradition, there is a great variety of different religious sects. They each have their stories and rituals, their beliefs and practices, their written and chanted texts, their world-views and schools of thought, their institutions and their teachers. Through this variety of sects, the tradition has kept growing, in the course of its long history. That's how it has come down to us, in both classic and vernacular languages.

But, underneath the sectarian variety, there is a further use of devotion that is shared in common. This use is individual. It occurs in the relationship of teacher and disciple. For a disciple, the teacher stands for truth that has been taught. So love for truth gets naturally expressed in a spiritual devotion towards the teacher. But this is a very delicate matter of sensibility, where an impersonal truth is seen expressed in the person of a teacher.

Such a devotion must arise unforced and unpretended, of its own accord. It must be felt from an impersonal depth of being, from far beneath all words and thoughts and all their spoken or conceived intentions. All teaching works by leading back to that unspoken depth, through clearer knowing and uncompromised devotion.

The 'Ananda' aspect is described in the Taittiriya Upanishad 2.7, as appended below (with a rather free translation).

yad vai tat sukRRitam raso vai saH
[It is just this essential savour that is quite spontaneous and natural.]

rasaM hy evAyaM labdhvAnandI bhavati
[It's only when one reaches this true savour that one comes to happiness.]

ko hy evAnyAt kaH prANyAt yad eSha AkAsha Anando no syAt]
[For what could be alive at all, what could move with energy, if there were not this happiness -- here at the background of all space and time, pervading the entire world?]

Definition - Durga

Ananda is not a changing state of the mind, such as an experience of exuberant happiness or an experience of calm and peaceful joy. Ananda does not refer to any changing mental state.

Some teachers prefer to use the word 'ananta' instead of ananda. ananta means limitless. Another good word is pUrNa. pUrNa means fullness.

So, I am that which is full, complete and limitless. If I am full, complete and limitless, can there be any lack for me? Do I now need to look out into the creation and try to find something there to make my mind happy?

If there is no lack, and the mind has recognized that that which has no lack and is full and complete is actually my self, then the mind now knows that passing mental states of joy and sorrow never touch 'me.' They are as if scenery, but they don't touch 'me.' I never change. My fullness, my limitlessness doesn't flicker for an instant.

In this knowledge my mind may relax. It is no longer a vagabond seeking happiness in this and that changing circumstance. It has found a home. And in that relaxation the mind may experience happiness.

But that is not the Ananda which sat chit Ananda refers to. That sat chit Ananda is my very nature, which is full, complete, limitless and unchanging.

The use of the word Ananda is very confusing to many because most take it to refer to a particular mental state. That's because most of us take the very self, which we are, to be dependent upon changing states of mental experience. So we take our self to be a changing mental experience.

This is the dehAtmabuddhi in operation. The dehAtmabuddhi is the strongly held (and incorrect) belief that the Atma (the self) is dependent upon the body and the mind (and their various changing states). The dehAtmabuddhi is a self-ignorant thought, which everyone has until they have made the differentiation between my self, which never changes, and the body and the mind, which constantly change.

This self-ignorant thought labels the mind as 'me,' and the self as the mind, and then it goes on to say, "Now 'I' am happy. Now 'I' am sad." When the truth is 'I' am never either happy or sad.

Then, incorrectly taking my self to be dependent upon a mental state, and hearing that the self is Ananda, some people understandably may think that if they can maintain a certain mental state, they will then be 'enlightened,' or that if the mind seems to be peacefully happy much of the time perhaps they are 'enlightened.'

This leads the mind of the seeker on a wild goose chase, in an effort to experience and maintain more and more rarified states of mental happiness, or some experience of mental happiness which matches up to what they think 'enlightenment' is.

This pursuit is doomed to failure, first of all because no mental state lasts, but more importantly because 'enlightenment' is not a state of mental happiness. It is the recognition by the mind that the self which I am is limitless, full, complete, and unchanging, and dependent upon no passing mental state. 'I' am not a mental state.

But the words, 'limitless, full and complete,' again need to be properly explained, unpacked, and used as pointers to that which is actually here. Otherwise the mind will just grab onto these words and pursue what it thinks they refer to in ephemeral changing experiences.

So this is where the teaching of Vedanta comes in. Showing the mind over and over again, using a variety of teaching methods, that 'I' am not the mind. Pointing, pointing, pointing to that 'I' which is ever full and complete. That 'I' which never changes. And because 'I' am here (in fact 'I' am always here) that 'I' can be differentiated from that which changes (the body and the mind). And once this is seen, the dehAtmabuddhi, that knot of self-ignorance, is broken.

So the word Ananda refers to my Being, which is ever pure, ever complete, never changes, and, as opposed to the mind, is never is lacking in any way.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012