It is a Sunday. I wake up early in the morning. Having woken up early, I can not get back to sleep. There are a lot of ssues troubling my mind. Ask me to pinpoint one and I am severely challenged. There is a general feeling of dissatisfaction which seeps through my thoughts, leaving me disturbed and unhappy. I get up and walk across to the window. From there I can look onto the park outside. It is still fairly dark, but I can make out figures going for a morning walk.
I get ready, get dressed and am downstairs in about 20 minutes. Surely a walk around the park would do me some good. I do about 10 brisk rounds of about half a kilometre each. Why am I still so disturbed? What do I lack? I have a home, I have a family which loves me and takes care of me, I get good food to eat (the evidence for this is only too evident – necessitating this self-flagellation every morning ), I have a wardrobe full of good clothes to wear. What is it then that is lacking? I have a job which is not dis-satisfactory. It is fairly challenging and keeps me busy for most of the day. I haved pmestic help at home to allow me to concentrate on my career. Why am I still unhappy? Well, to sum it up, I am looking for that elusive creature called “happiness”.
It is fairly late in the evening. I am going for a walk along the neighbouring street. On the other side of the road is a sprawling shanty town. Lots of people live there. Nearby is a huge open nallah flowing past. The stench is unbearable. Outside the meagre tenements are long ropes tied across, on which clothes are hung out to dry. The path between the line of shanties is a narrow, uncemented road (if one can call it that - it would be more apt to call it a dirt track) full of potholes. I notice a few women sitting around the steps to one of the homes and chatting. One is combing the other's hair. The other is narrating some story. Suddenly there is a burst of laughter and a third one starts singing something. There is something about the scene that transfixes me and stops me in my tracks. The women are quite shabbily dressed. They are pretty poor. Possibly they work in 2-3 houses to earn a very measly salary. God knows what their husbands are like or how they treat them. Quite likely, the men take away their earnings and drink, come back sozzled and beat them up. Not an unusual scenario in that socio-economic group. They wear sarees which are hand-me-downs. Then what is it that makes them so happy and contented?
Around these women there is a group of kids, around 3-5 years old, laughing, playing, bellies protruding, only minimally clothed, snot running out of their noses. One of them stops in his steps and looks up at me with wide eyes full of curiosity. I contrast them with the children of my friends, who are so well-off. They have everything that money and doting parents could buy them. Still they are eternally complaining.
My mind goes back to the days when I used to attend Vedanta classes in the evenings. I remember a story told by Swamiji. A man (around 60 years old) is running along a beach wearing his shorts and vest. He is very trim and fit. As he runs, he comes across a young man (in his 20s) sitting on the beach, watching the waves and listening to the music of the sea. The elderly man stops by and asks the young man, what he thinks he is doing lazing like that at his age. He gives him a lecture and tells him he should be active and should go out for a run. So the young fellow asks him why. The old man says, so you will be fit enough to work hard, earn a lot of money, make your family happy, save a lot and then when you are retired, you can go on a holiday and enjoy yourself and be happy. The young man looks at the older one puzzled and says “Why do I have to do all that to be happy? I am already happy just sitting here and watching the waves. Just listen to their delightful music”.
As I remember that story, the truth hits me with renewed force. All our lives we keep running, trying to chase happiness when it is already inside us. Happiness is always with us, but we don't realize it and keep looking for it all around. It is like the hindi proverb “Bagal mein chora, gaon bhar dhindhora” meaning the groom is right next door and you keep looking for him all over he town. In this case happiness is the elusive “chora” or the groom. In our quest to earn more and achieve more, in the mistaken notion that these are the means to happiness, we miss the basic essence of living, and as a result feel constantly discontented. It is time to wake up and keep reminding ourselves of this truth, every time we feel down and out.