Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

The Teaching of Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon
Prakriya 6 - Happiness

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Note that the following commentary is provided by Ananda Wood, a disciple of the sage Atmananda Krishna Menon (1883 - 1959). The material is not copyrighted and may be freely used by any true seeker. It is extracted from a discussion, led by Ananda, on the Advaitin Egroup during Nov - Dec 2003 and the text for the complete discussion may be downloaded by members.

After the previous prakriyas, which are concerned with the aspects of existence and consciousness, there follows an examination of 'ananda' or 'happiness'.

This prakriya begins with the common experience of desiring an object. Why is the object desired? Evidently, the mind that desires feels a want or a lack. The object is desired to fulfil that want.

When a desired object is successfully attained, the mind feels fulfilled, in a state of happiness. But what exactly is that happiness? As it fulfils the wanting mind, from where does it come?

Habitually, as our minds desire objects, we think of happiness as something that is found in them. But of course this isn't true. An object may or may not bring happiness, depending on the time and the occasion. As Shri Atmananda points out (in Atmananda Tattwa Samhita, talk 1, 'Where we stand'), an object that brought happiness in childhood can all too often cease to bring happiness as one grows old. So happiness cannot be really be intrinsic to the objects of our senses and our minds.

But then, if not in objects, where in truth can happiness be found? Can it be in the mind? No, it cannot. For if it were, the mind would always be enjoying it. In that case, we'd never see our minds dissatisfied. We'd never see them wanting any object of desire. And we would never see a passing state of happiness, resulting from some object that has been achieved. We'd never see this state of happiness give way to a further state of wanting -- as the mind turns restless again, with desire for some other object.

In a state of happiness, the mind is brought to rest. As a desired object is attained, the mind comes then to be at one with its desired object. Mind and object are no longer seen as two, but are resolved as only one. Each has subsided and dissolved into unmixed consciousness, where there is no duality. There, self is one with what it knows.

In a state of happiness, that oneness shines, showing the true nature of each person's self. From that self comes happiness. The very being of that self is its non-dual shining, which we call 'happiness'.

Thus, happiness is not a passing state. It is the changeless shining of true self. In states of dissatisfaction and misery, its non-dual shining seems distracted by the duality of a wanting mind that is at odds with what it finds. In states of happiness, the wanting mind and its duality dissolve, thus showing self for what it always is.

This is a very simple prakriya, which positively shows the non-duality of self. By seeing that happiness comes always from the real self, as its non-dual shining, this prakriya can cut right through to the heart of all value and motivation. But in its simplicity, the prakriya demands a special clarity, for which the previous prakriyas may help prepare.

In looking for indications of this prakriya in traditional texts, the closest I can think of are two passages from the Upanishads. Free translations of these passages are appended as postscripts. But the indications here are not very close. If anyone can think of other passages that give a closer indication, I'd be grateful.

Mundaka Upanishad, 3.1.1-2

Two birds, in close companionship, are perched upon a single tree. Of these, one eats and tastes the fruit. The other does not eat, but just looks on.

On this same tree, a person gets depressed and suffers grief: deluded by a sense of seeming helplessness, and feeling thus quite dispossessed.

But when one sees what's truly loved -- as that which stands beyond all else, as one's own boundlessness, from where help comes, where everything belongs --

there one is freed from misery.

Taittiriya Upanishad, from 2.8 (towards end) & 2.9

... It's what this is, in a person; and what that is, in the sun.

It is one.

One who knows thus leaves this seeming world behind, withdraws into this self that's made from food, withdraws into this self that's formed of living energy, withdraws into this self that just consists of mind, withdraws into this self that only is discerning consciousness, and withdraws into this self that's nothing else but happiness.

On that, there is also this verse:

'It's that from which all words turn back together with the mind, unable to attain it. It is the happiness of complete reality. One who knows it has no fear of anything ...

'One who is thus a knower delivers up these two, as the real self ...'


Q: The happiness referred to, is it happiness, or a state, though we cannot call it a state, where there is neither happiness nor any unhappiness?"

A: In advaita, the words 'consciousness' and 'happiness' are used like the word 'temperature' in physics. As physicists conceive of heat and cold, all different states of being hot or being cold are varying phenomena that exhibit the same common principle called 'temperature'. There are many states of temperature -- indicated by various degrees on the thermometer, starting from the complete absence of heat at absolute zero to any high degree of temperature. No matter how hot or cold a state may be, the state is something varying and passing. All such states are different appearances of the same principle called 'temperature'.

Similarly in advaita, 'consciousness' is the common principle of all knowing states, no matter what the apparent degree of knowing. Thus, deep sleep is treated as a state of consciousness to which the degree zero has been given, meaning that there is no activity of knowing there. And various states of conception and perception are given relative degrees of knowing, meaning that their knowing is there incomplete because of some remaining ignorance.

So also in advaita, 'happiness' is the common principle of motivating value in all states of seeking and achievement. Thus, deep sleep is treated as a state of happiness to which the degree zero has been given, meaning that there is no seeking or achievement there. And various states of seeking and achievement are given relative degrees of happiness, meaning that their seeking and achievement is there incomplete because of some remaining dissatisfaction.

So far, this is just terminology. But advaita goes on to a radical questioning of what knowing really is and what's really sought to be achieved.

In the case of knowing, what's questioned is our habitual assumption that knowing is an activity of perception and conception, carried out by mind and senses. No perceiving or conceiving activities know anything themselves. They only create appearances, which are illuminated by the common principle called 'consciousness'. That is the only true knowing, and it has no degrees. Anytime and everywhere, it is one hundred percent present, in all its completeness. That includes deep sleep, where consciousness is found shining by itself, in all its purity.

In the case of seeking and achievement, what's in question is another habitual assumption that what we seek are passing states of achieving partial and temporary objectives. No such objectives can themselves bring happiness. What shines in their achievement is an undivided consciousness, where that which knows no longer feels at odds with what is known. That undivided shining is just consciousness itself. It is the only true happiness, found present in all passing states, motivating all their seeking and achieving. It is the final value that is always sought, the only value that is truly found. In the peace of deep sleep, that happiness is shown uncovered, shining unaffected as it always is -- in simple truth, beneath all change of seeming states.

There is another way of seeing this, through the derivation of the English word 'happiness'. To be happy is to feel at one with 'hap', with the happenings that take place in one's experience. The search for happiness is a search for that oneness, which advaita says is the non-dual truth of all experience. It's that for which all acts are done, for which all happenings take place, in everyone's experience and in the entire world.

In the Taittiriya Upanishad 2.7, it is put like this:

yad vai tat sukritam raso vai sah, rasam hy ev' Ayam labdhv AnandI bhavati, ko hy ev' AnyAt kah prANyAt, yad esha AkAsha Anando na syAt

I would interpret this as follows:

yad vai tat sukritam raso vai sah: It is just this essential savour that is spontaneous and natural.

rasam hy ev' Ayam labdhv AnandI bhavati: It's only when one reaches that essential savour that one comes to happiness

ko hy ev' AnyAt kah prANyAt: For what could be alive at all, and what could move with energy,

yad esha AkAsha Anando na syAt: if there were not this happiness here at the background of all space and time pervading the entire world.

The problem of course is to understand just what this means -- to understand that happiness is a changeless background which underlies all our changing feelings, including our most negative and painful feelings of misery and fear and want.

prakriyA-s in this Section:
Atmananda Krishna Menon home page.
1.  Universal and Individual - the 'cosmological' and 'direct' paths.
2.  The three states - enquiry from everyday experience.
3.  'I am consciousness' ('Prajnyanam asmi') - reflection back into the 'I'.
4.  Witness of thoughts - change and the changeless.
     -- Consciousness and Enlightenment
     -- Memory
     -- Higher and Lower Reason
     -- Knowing
     -- Further Comments on Deep Sleep
5.  All objects point to consciousness - 'Existence has the chair.'
6.  Happiness - not in objects or the mind, but coming from the real 'I'.
     -- Love and Devotion
7.  The background - where all experiences arise, abide and subside.
8.  Merging back - 'Sleep in consciousness.'
     -- Some Questions
Ananda has provided an updated version of these essays May 2007 and this may be downloaded as a PDF file (251k); it has a linked Table of Contents and a glossary (unlinked).
"Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda" now available for download - see 'modern books'.
Selected discourses from Shri Atmananda
Page last updated: 07-Jul-2012