The pursuit of happiness by Kris
Everything we do in life is driven by only one thing and that is to seek happiness and avoid suffering. But what is happiness? Happiness is not one thing but a continuum and evolves as the person evolves. For simplicity, we can consider this evolution to be made up of four stages of the emotional mind state and it moves from the gross to the more subtle. These four stages can be classified as Pleasure, Happiness Joy and Bliss or Serenity.
At the Pleasure level, the mind operates at the lowest level of the five senses of the human body. Even animals operate at this level of the five senses. However, pleasure is transient and needs constant inputs from external sources. For example, if one likes alcohol then regular inputs of alcohol are required. This is how our reward brain circuits work.
The next more subtle stage is Happiness. It is more internal to the person. At this stage Happiness is still externally driven and sense based. Examples of this stage would be enjoying a beautiful sunrise or sunset, enjoying a musical concert or art.
The next even more subtle and higher stage is Joy. Here inner mental effort is required unlike the previous two which are more five senses focused and more passive in nature. This Joy is coming more from within yourself then externally driven. Examples of this state would be when one practices to perfect playing music, learn a new language or solve a complex mathematical problem. Here mental effort or discipline is required. It is the inner satisfaction with yourself having conquered the challenges that produces the Joy.
And finally the most subtle is Bliss or better called serenity.
This is the highest state where feelings of tranquility and equanimity, at peace and serenity are always flowing from within and one does not depend on external stimulants or other things to provide this state. This is what was said over 2000 years ago when it was written, “that the Kingdom of God is within you”. This is also the “Buddha state of Mind” meaning Enlightment. This state of tranquility can be observed in the faces of great spiritual masters who seem always at peace with themselves and the world..
Unfortunately, most of us are seeking this serenity state outside us in the form of things desires and refusals. Our want and don’t want are endless and one is chasing another one endlessly like a mirage!
Can desires and don’t want be really controlled? In a fashion, yes. For example, when we were young we were attached to our toys and desired the latest toy that came in the market. However, as we matured, we outgrew our toys and acquired new “toys” or desires. In short, we dropped the “lower” toy and sought the “higher” toy.
So how one does one develop this final state of serenity or tranquility?
The first step is develop Awareness of our thoughts/Mind where these desires/toys and negative emotions originate. This state of mindfulness-based awareness should apply
to our thoughts, words, what we do and the environment.
It can be developed by watching our breath. By anchoring our Awareness on the breath, Awareness develops with practice. This state of total Awareness has no judgment and no actions regarding what we should strive for or its opposite: what we want to reject.
The major impediment in reaching this state of serenity is our pursuit of worldly desires and the rejection of our dislikes. Desires and dislikes are infinite, never ended and resources finite. Unfulfilled desires cause mental agitation, and thus we should strive to be ever vigilant in being aware of our thoughts. The more we indulge in our desires, the deeper get the impressions, like a groove in the mind of a drug addict. Hence the management or Awareness of our positives and negative thoughts and of our desires and dislikes is essential. Since our Mind is hard to control, the great masters have suggested breath awareness at the sense level as an initial step in this mind control.