Constantly looking for success outside ourselves diverts us from the true source of success within.
By Rukmini Vallabha Dasa
We can make our life’s journey inward or outward, and our choice makes all the difference.
Every one of us wants happiness in life, and we are searching for it everywhere all the time, trying various means to achieve it. Based on our education, association, experience, and environment, we envision different means to this ultimate happiness.
It is but natural for us to look for happiness outside ourselves. After all, we are born into this world and grow up witnessing different forms of “enjoyment,” often on the silver screen. We go through education, equipping ourselves with skills and talents, we come in contact with people and form relationships, and based on what we see and learn we develop various conceptions of what can make us happy – careers, hobbies, relationships. We work hard, using everything we learned to run in the rat race of this world. We face reversals, but we keep going day after day, fueled by the promise of the happiness success will bring. If at last we make it – success! – we celebrate, trying to compensate for our hard toil. But too soon we realize – alas! – we have not reached the end. There is more to go. And the cycle starts again.
The ladder of success in this world does not have an end. Whatever we achieve after arduous effort seems insufficient; our cravings seem insatiable. What the world can give us is limited; what we want from the world is unlimited.
Our happiness is under constant threat because we define it in terms of the changing things of this world. The more we possess the more we fear losing it. The price of our pleasure is anxiety.
An Ancient Outward-looking Prototype
The above principles were well illustrated through the life of the demon king Ravana in the Ramayana. Ravana was born to a well-cultured, pious father. Bu due to the influence of his mother, who was from an atheistic family, he was drawn towards materialism. He performed severe penance, pleased Lord Brahma, and thus acquired unsurmountable strength and several mystic powers. He waged wars, conquered kingdoms, and amassed great riches. Nonetheless he was never satisfied. He kidnapped celestial nymphs and princesses from different parts of the universe. And though he conquered the whole world, still he could not conquer his desires to enjoy. His lust became so intense that he dared to kidnap Sita Devi, the consort of the Supreme Lord, despite several warnings. This ultimately led to his ruin.
Ravana exemplified the person unable to look within, being consumed by outward quests. When we find that happiness gained from outside does not satisfy us properly, the only solution left is to explore within. We are not the external body. Each of us is a spirit soul covered by a subtle body and a gross body. We are part of Krishna, the all-attractive Supreme Lord. We can become happy only when we situate ourself in loving service to Krishna through the process of bhakti-yoga.
Worldly pleasures affect only the gross and subtle bodies. They cannot touch the soul. But because the soul misidentifies itself with the subtle and gross bodies, it mistakes external pleasure as actual pleasure. But we cannot be satisfied with material pursuits. The happiness we experience through bhakti-yoga is at the spiritual level. It is true happiness.
Everything in this world, including our gross body and subtle body, is subject to constant change. Therefore pleasure based on such changing entities is temporary. But because we are eternal beings and need eternal pleasures, we face frustration and fear while pursuing worldly pleasures. The eternal soul, like Krishna, is unaffected by external factors. The pleasure the soul experiences in the service of Krishna is eternal. And once attained, that pleasure can never be lost.
Worldly pleasure is filled with pain, whereas spiritual pleasure through bhakti-yoga is full of joy and supremely auspicious, and it spreads good fortune everywhere to everyone.
The world has limited resources, and our desire to be happy is unlimited. This dichotomy has led to economic conflicts and crime throughout history. Our ability to enjoy worldly pleasures through gross senses is also limited, as is our ability to endeavor for worldly pleasure. The endeavor, effect, and the ability to experience are all constrained by various limitations. People constantly struggle to maintain their standard of material enjoyment and then improve it. Spiritual pleasure is not limited by space, time, and circumstance. Krishna can bestow unlimited pleasure for eternity. And devotional service cannot be constrained by any material factors. The happiness we experience through bhakti-yoga is without limitations.
There is also no competition involved in seeking spiritual happiness. Every one of us has equal opportunity to practice and perfect bhakti-yoga. It is our natural right. Krishna has unlimited capacity to reciprocate with every one of us for eternity. And we can relate with each other without any conflicts by keeping Krishna in the center.
An Emblem of the Inner Quest
The above principles were illustrated in the life of Vibhishana in the Ramayana. Despite being the younger brother of Ravana, Vibhishana was not attracted to materialism. He immersed himself fully in the practice of bhakti-yoga. Since he was tasting factual spiritual pleasure, he was not distracted by the superficial material pleasures provided by his brother Ravana in the city of Lanka. Vibhishana was also unaffected by temporary material calamities in the form of dishonor and banishment by Ravana. Vibhishana purely loved Lord Rama and served Him selflessly without personal agenda. He served Him throughout his life, even after being coronated as king of Lanka. His service was never limited by any material circumstance.
The Divine Helping Hand
We need the help of others in our attempts to find happiness. But while trying to offer us help, our friends and family are bound by various limitations. Parents cannot protect their dying child despite all their riches and medical facilities. Often our benefactors are tainted by selfish motives. But in our spiritual quest, the Supreme Lord is actively present to help us at every step. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, and all-accommodating.
Krishna distributes spiritual happiness, not while expecting any gain, but with compassion. He feels for the troubled souls in this world tirelessly searching for true happiness. Lord Krishna says, “For them I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.” (Gita 12.7) Therefore He provides them opportunity to take to devotional service. Often our benefactors in this world are motivated by selfish gain and profitmaking. Relationships are often formed for business motives. Charity is more of a status symbol than a virtue of the heart. But Krishna gives to give not to get. He just wants to see us happy. We just need to make ourselves an object of Krishna’s compassion, to give up our false hopes in worldly happiness and approach Krishna.
For Krishna, compassion is not a chore or duty. It is His heart, His very life. In Bhagavad-gita (18.69) Lord Krishna says that no one is dearer to Him than one who helps Him in His compassionate mission. For most benevolent people, charity is a duty. It is impossible for us to give our heart and reciprocate and be compassionate to many people simultaneously. Our compassion is limited by space, time, and resources. Krishna is not just compassionate but supremely compassionate. All we need to do is give our heart, try to understand the compassion of the all-merciful Lord, and reciprocate with it.
Krishna’s compassion is not conditioned on favorable responses. If He sees a slight inclination, He is ready to bestow His mercy. He descends to this world to distribute spiritual happiness, giving everyone the opportunity to receive it. He sends His representatives as well. He takes a hundred steps towards us when we take one step towards Him. He helps us disentangle ourselves from sensual indulgences to take advantage of His compassion. Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita (18.58) that by His grace we can overcome all obstacles in conditioned life. We tend to be compassionate to those who are receptive and reciprocal. But God’s compassion is beyond all these considerations.
Another Example of God’s Compassion
The Supreme Lord’s compassion is very much evident in the case of Sugriva in the Ramayana. Sugriva was never interested in serving Lord Rama; he was interested in defeating Vali. Lord Rama was powerful enough to destroy Ravana singlehandedly. Nonetheless Lord Rama wanted to offer Sugriva and others an opportunity to serve Him. Therefore He befriended Sugriva and sought his help. He tolerated all of Sugriva’s faults, including his neglect and sense indulgence, and fanned the spark of devotion in him.
The Supreme Lord’s causeless and boundless mercy offers us infinite assurance and hope in our spiritual quest. It gives us the confidence to go ahead in spite of various obstacles and inabilities.
Therefore the spiritual quest is a sure way to true, complete, and everlasting happiness. Since we are trapped in a body of mind and senses, we need to cater to their needs to function properly in this world. We need to pursue external joy and comfort to some extent, but these should be in harmony with our spiritual quest, which alone can bestow true happiness and fulfillment.
Rukmini Vallabha Dasa, a disciple of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, began practicing bhakti-yoga in 2010 and serves full time at ISKCON Pune. He blogs at spiritualwisdomonline.com.