Amidst the multiplicity of affairs that engage man's attention in the world, the inquiry into the nature of happiness and the means of its attainment has ever occupied a prominent place. Happiness of whatever kind in whatever degree he welcomes, while misery he most unmercifully shuns. But, in the nature of things it so happens that happiness and misery exist side by side, subjecting Jiva to their various influences during the whole cycle of births and deaths. Strangely enough, man's realisation of happiness comparatively fails when we take into account the suffering that misery brings in its train. Because, in man's heart, the waves of desire rise one after another so constantly that he finds it very hard to meet with tranquillity by the fall of any single wave. The same individual who pants and pines for the attainment of a kingdom feels yet dissatisfied even after his desire is fulfilled. Because, another desire equally strong has taken possession of his mind compelling his attention and energy to meet these fresh necessities. And in whatever walks of life man is thrown, there is he subject to these inconstant moods of happiness and misery. Now he is happy, now miserable of things goes on almost eternally. No permanent happiness ever dawns in the horizon, and reason often times helps people from not indulging in vain hopes of witnessing it in the near future. But, is permanent happiness possible at all to attain in this birth or must it be sought for only in a future life?
Before discussing the possibility or otherwise of the attainment of permanent happiness in this birth, it is necessary to get clear ideas of what happiness is and what is meant by its permanence. It seems to me that happiness and misery can be expressed in other words as satisfaction and want. This explanation would lead one to think that happiness and misery are subjective in their character. And so they are. If it were not the case, one man's food could not be another man's poison. The object over which a man goes in raptures fails to please another, nay sometimes causes excruciating pain. Well, how could there be reconciled, I ask, but by the fore mentioned explanation of happiness and misery. Thus happiness is satisfaction and misery want. Mind it is that suffers or enjoys. Happiness and misery but point to different phases of mental attitude. When we call a man happy, we mean nothing more than that he is satisfied, and when, we call him miserable we mean similarly that he feels a want. Want is desire, and desire is a quality of the mind. As long as there is mind, there must be desire, and as long as there is desire there should be misery. But since the presence of desire also implies its satisfaction, we get happiness mingled with misery, both of these of a transitory kind. It should again be noted here, that although satisfaction and want are subjective in their character, in the sense that they are to be found only in the varying phases of mental attitude, they are objective as well in the sense that they are dependent for their existence more or less on the external objects. It is the mind really that enjoys or suffers, but the external world is the stage of its experience. The external world itself cannot be said on that account to cause happiness and misery; because, as the mind wills so does an object afford happiness or misery. The rising sannyasi may aspire for a monk's bowl or a fakir's coat, but the same things do no delight a man of the world. Power again which is the goal of every enterprising world ling is treated with contempt by the earnest student who has learned to walk in the path of righteousness and wisdom. If the objects had happiness in themselves, they should afford happiness to all irrespective of their station and mental development. Again, the Sannyasi that was an aspirant till now, regards the bowl and the coat of little weight since he has attained wisdom, and the worldly aspirant having realised his wishes has created new desire, and is struggling against himself and the world to attain them full of hope. Here we get another proof for our statement from the fact that the same objects do not continue to afford satisfaction even to the same person at all times. Thus it is evident that happiness and misery are purely subjective and they can be harmonised by harmonising the mind.
Permanent happiness, then, should be permanent satisfaction, i.e., a state of mind in which no want can be felt. Some are inclined to think that this state could never be attained, that there never will come a time when want us absent. When we, by affording it satisfaction, bid good bye to a certain want, we make room for another which claims satisfaction in its turn. Want are so to some extent, we admit. But they are material wants that behave in this manner; and with spiritual wants, another principle far different from this applies. When the mind is turned away from the outer world and directed to the inner sanctuaries of the soul, want there is none. Neither mind nor any object of desire can be said to exist in that state of beatitude where the soul only shines immaculate in the glory of the rising sun. Where mind is not, there want cannot be. Mind itself is nothing but an outcome of ignorance, tossed to and fro by the objects of the world. When ignorance is removed and the soul awakened to its true nature, the mind is dead, and neither satisfaction nor want there is. Happiness and Misery do no longer take hold of the soul alternately and subject it to their blighting influence. The state from which satisfaction and want are absent is the state of eternal blessedness, otherwise known as Mukti which is promised to every individual in every religion, although religions may differ in their grasp of this truth and individuals only partially attain to it until they have undergone the requisite practice under the guidance of a proper master. A man who was attained this condition remains no longer a man that he was, but is transformed into Siva and is called in his manly appearance sage. And this sage hood it is, that forms the practical side of all philosophy and religion, and especially so of the Saiva Siddhanta.
The statement may seem paradoxical at first sight that a stage is the most useful being in this world, the person who, having retired from the worldly bustle and given himself up to the contemplative of the Supreme, has dissolved his self in the Universal Self, Nevertheless, it is the truest of the truisms that have ever been uttered. The sage who has attained oneness with God the Supreme does not exist separately from Him who has effaced his little self. The thoughts that he thinks are His. His very actions are God's. Whatever that is good, virtuous and pure are in the sage, for he is God. The opposite of these do not exist in reality, and therefore he that is real sees them not. Unselfishness is the most noticeable feature in his character. He is ever ready to help the afflicted, be they afflicted in mind or in body. His whole life is devoted to universal good. Very ordinary men love their bodies, fondly imagining flesh and bone constitute their precious selves. Men a little elevated love their relations, and still greater men extend their affection to the country which gave them birth. But a sage knows that he is a citizen of the world, and he realises this – to others an ideal – in every minute of his life.
Mistaken notions of many kinds are afloat in the world regarding the attributes that distinguish a sage from other men. People generally believe that a sage does not mix with the world unreservedly but estranges himself form the company of all human beings and is always silent and inactive. Sometimes with closed eyes and erect boy a man sits for hours together, and the people take him for a sage of superior merits. The more a man evinces dislike towards others and the more he has trained himself to put on to these pretensions, the more is the likelihood for him to be styled a real sage. Woe unto the man who first implanted this seed of evil in the minds of the innocent mortals! How many real sages, in this way, are left unrecognized and what amount of good do the people lose thereby? The erroneous conception of sage hood that is the cause of all this, is to be accounted for by the tendency in men to attach themselves more to ceremonials and outward appearances than to the spirit underneath, to mistake the means for the end. They have learned to respect bold proclaimers in preference to silent workers, to confuse the process of Yoga and Samadhi which are but one of the several ways of attaining sage hood with sage hood itself. A sage, in their opinion, should be a nonentity, entirely unconnected with the world not inwardly but outwardly. With all deference to those sages who have chosen to lead a secluded life free from the haunts of noisy triflers or who have even among men taken to the higher silence, I venture to think that the test is doubtful, often misleading. Outward appearances are not always a fair criterion of judgment. Men do not perceive that mind is what makes a sage, and one can be in the world but at the same time may not be of it. Household life and hermitage affect the body. They affect not the mind. When mind has realised the truth, nothing more is to be attained. Masters of all ages and all lands are unanimous in giving their verdict in favour of this view which is the only sane one that can be taken with the materials at our command.
But men will not so easily disabuse themselves of their false fancies, and on them grounded they always find disappointment and sham at the end. Their sages do not retain their character permanently. When they have got the name they no longer attempt to keep up their assumed conditions, and the world becomes divided in its opinion.
If the world, to begin with, takes shelter in right ideas of sage hood and the means of its attainment, much trouble would be saved, and much evil averted. To think that a sage becomes so, only when he abandons the world outwardly is a grand error. On the other hand, the abandonment of it outwardly is not at all a necessity when true renunciation is secured. And what is true renunciation? The world before us presents a panorama of objects attractive and repulsive, full of good and evil. The objects themselves are not so, but in relation to the mind that comes in contact with them. Renunciation is attained when one regards them as objects merely and not having in them any characteristic that please or displeases him. When objects no longer create in man any feeling either pleasurable or painful, when nothing delights nor frightens him that individual has attained renunciation true. Well, how could such renunciation be attained? Men in their ignorance, see several objects in the world which, whenever they strike the mind, produces agitation in it and puts it out of all order. Everywhere they see differentiation and distinction. The more they are ignorant, the greater is their proneness to subtle differentiation. But with the growth of wisdom, their passion for differentiation dissolves, and it continues to dissolve until it is thoroughly obliterated when mature wisdom has been attained.
And what is this wisdom which effaces the differentiating tendency in the human soul? Wisdom again has been variously construed, and the popular ideas are far away from the truth. Wisdom has almost been made a synonym to knowledge, knowledge of all kinds so much so that it has been divided into many kinds as worldly wisdom, divine wisdom and so on as there are different kinds of knowledge, scientific, historic, literary, philosophical and so on. But wisdom is the just vision of the Truth. What is the Truth to be understood here? Though jivas owing to the influence of malas (bondage) dream that the Universe with all its manifold appearances as well as their own selves exist separately from the Lord Siva, they are as a matter of fact pervaded throughout by the Lord, and as such, they are the Lord Himself. When one realises this truth, could there be any object that might displease him either in this gross world or in the worlds that exist in the imagination. He understands the only Truth even though It presents itself before him variously disguised. Could he then be enslaved by Moha or Ragha, Dvesha or Bhaya? No, Seeing the Lord Siva everywhere and at all times, he has a direct perception of the Essence, and is, therefore, not carried away by the false shows and appearances. For the same reason, the other effects of ignorance, i.e., Ragha, Dvesha and Bhaya also leave him untouched and unstained. Eternal peace and eternal joy are his who has attained this wisdom. This state may be better explained with the help of an illustration. Let us suppose a friend of ours disguising himself as a fair-haired young lady attempts to sweep our wisdom by seducing us. Will any one of us possibly yield to his false seduction? His real nature we unmistakably know, and wisdom is constantly warning us, from forgetting it. In the same manner, will we hate him if he comes as an ugly nomad or fear him if he comes as a tiger? No. When the Lord Siva, in His all-pervading nature is thus understood and realised by any individual, then is he not moved by Ragha or Dvesha, Moha or Bhaya. Such is the truth to be realised by the man who aims at the attainment of wisdom.
But it should not be misunderstood here that a sage who has this just vision is not conscious of the differences among things that have gained acceptation with the world, cannot in short distinguish a wall from space, an elephant from an ant. Anger, jealousy, enmity and lust are dead in him, but he himself is alive as all goodness, as an embodiment of all virtuous qualities. When he is appealed to for help by the ignorant people who are sunk in misery, he extends his ready helping hand, and to the poor in spirit who aspire for true wisdom he offers encouraging words and effective means of attaining it.
Then again, Ragha and Dvesha are wrongly attributed to sages when they are actually freed from them. This misconception is productive of much evil. When a sage demands food for his hungry stomach, water for his thirsty lips, or cloth for his nakedness, people begin to look down upon him with an eye of contempt and scorn. They imagine that he has a great desire for them. Here, it is not only sage hood that is misunderstood, but the very significance of Ragha, i.e., desire. But, wherein does lie the distinctive feature of desire? Whenever the mind or the senses come in contact with an object, a thought arises in the heart and vibrates so rapidly that one cannot resist the temptation of striving at whatever hazard to get grasp of the object. If it so chances that disappointment and failure attend him on every side, he slips down into the ocean of sorrow to be redeemed from it, only when Time – the Great Destroyer – sweeps away the object from his memory. The seed of this thought is what we call desire. A sage, then, can be said to be under the influence of desire, only if the denial of a morsel of bread, a cup of water, or a piece of cloth gives him distress. In like manner, if a sage does not swallow fire when he is thirsty, does not eat coal when he is hungry, people unscrupulously and with readiness attribute to him Dvesha, i.e., hatred. But what is Devesha? Devesha consists in taking delight in or even earnestly loving for the destruction of the object that he hates, whenever and wherever it is apprehended by the mind or the senses. In that sense, if the sage had Dvesha for fire, he should wish for its extinction whenever it is perceived by his senses. The truth, however, is that a sage perfectly knows the means appropriate to the ends and consequently applies the same to get the desired end with more propriety than the worldly men.
It will not be out of place here to say a word or two with regard to the pre-eminent characteristic that Siddhanta attributes to a sage, to wit, self-effacement also known as the loss of individuality. To the exposition of this subject, Kannudaiya Vallal has devoted an entire treatise of his, Olivilodukkam by name. When the soul is qualified to attain final absorption into the Supreme by being freed from the malas and ascending beyond the Tatvas, it finds itself immersed in the Siva A'nanda. There, self-effacement is complete, and nothing but peace and happiness exists. This condition can be attained by wisdom as heretofore described. It may also be induced by having recourse to the path of love or Bhakti-marga. True love doubtless needs true knowledge; still, for emotional minds, this path is the easier to adopt than the pure Jnana-marga. Two sages Narada and Sandilya have written Bhakti-Sutras to be of help to the struggling souls, and there they warmly advocate this marga even at the expense of the Karma and Jnana margas. It has also been the path that is prescribed in the Siddhanta Sastras and followed by the Tamilian nation. Whosoever understands that the eternal changeableness of this world, the combating passions that constantly demand satisfaction, the disappointment that beset the pursuit after the will of the wisp like desires, all tend to prove the inquiring mind the utter shallowness of the method of directing its energies towards the impermanent and trifling things, surrenders himself unconditionally at the feet of the Lord where he enjoys bliss that passeth all knowledge. No longer is he able to discern himself, from love or the object loved. In short, he realises the teaching of the sage Tirumular. "The unwise say that Love and Siva are two. Nobody knows that Love itself is Siva. When they perceive that Love itself is Siva, they abide in Love as Siva Himself."
Of the three paths to union with God, Jnana and Bhakti, we have known. And Karma (actions without attachment) is the remaining path that is accessible to all classes of people, in spite of their varying degrees of development. Aspirants, however, should anticipate help only from Karma and Bhakti margas. It should also be indicated here that unless sage-masters are approached, no satisfactory progress can be made in any path. They are, however, to be seen even amidst the busy world. The laity, taking no heed of their own welfare here or hereafter, mind them not. Still, it is impossible for them to escape the moral and spiritual influence of these sages who work for their weal just as the fragrance of a secret flower, penetrating the nostrils cannot long remain unfelt. It is therefore a blessing for men to have such sages in their midst be they conscious of their true greatness or not. May all the living souls know the true Jnanis, and being blessed by them enjoy eternal peace and happiness. Om Santi Santi Santi.
- S. A. P.