I learned, some years ago, that the Stanford University Graduate School of Business offers a class on “How to Be Happy.”
I think it’s extremely touching. Excuse me for being a little cynical. I’m a Stanford dropout, from a very long time ago. Also, it’s my belief – though you may think it quaint – that most people in business school believe they’re taking courses on happiness.
When I entered Stanford in the fall of 1965, I thought there had to be a purpose to life, and I was desperate to find out what it was.
I was gifted in the ways that schools traditionally value – I had “school smarts.” Sometimes we just know things – we can play the piano easily, we know intuitively how to arrange flowers, or we have a special affinity for the French language.
In India, these past-life tendencies are called samskars. And my special samskar was school smarts. I knew how to do well in school without working hard.
And because I was school-smart, people expected me to do great things that held absolutely no attraction for me. It was a great dilemma. My teachers, parents, and relatives expected that my school-smarts would translate into money, success, and acclaim. But I knew those sorts of rewards couldn’t give me what I wanted.
I would look at the world and wonder what would be fulfilling. My parents were very loving, and there were no big traumas in my life. So I had nothing to complain about. But I was very much at sea, because I couldn’t figure out how to relate to the world.
On the outside, I functioned fine, but on the inside I felt as if I was standing a bit apart from the world with my arms folded, watching and trying to figure out how it worked.
I couldn’t relate to other people’s interests. I could hardly understand their conversations. I wondered, “Why are we always talking about nothing? Aren’t people interested in anything more?”
When I discovered Paramhansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, I found a phrase that perfectly described my situation. In the chapter on reincarnation, Yogananda says that it isn’t the tragic events of our lives that compel us to look for something better. It’s the “anguishing monotony” that begins to get to us after many incarnations.
Sooner or later, we begin to feel that we’ve “been there, done that,” and we start to wonder what it’s all about.
No power on earth can instill that longing in us for something better. It has to come from our own experience.
I wasn’t unhappy, but I felt a certain anguish about this life. I thought: here I am – I can be a doctor or a professor, and I can have a family and marry a dentist.
For some reason, I always imagined marrying a dentist. So I could marry a dentist, live in the suburbs, have a station wagon and a couple of kids and a dog. I could see it all looming, and in my mind’s eye it looked like a living hell. I didn’t know how I would survive if that’s how my life would end up.
There’s nothing wrong with that life, except that for me it was a picture of excruciating dreariness.
When I tried to imagine my life in thirty years, I really thought I would go out of my mind.
After several years of drifting, I met Swami Kriyananda, and it was a huge experience, because – wowie zowie – the moment I saw him, I instantly recognized that here was a genuinely happy man. He was the first happy man I had met, according to my personal definition of happiness.
It was ironic that I met Swami Kriyananda on the Stanford campus, where I had dropped out. I said above that I recognized him as a happy man. Later, I would understand that he was happy because he had tremendously expanded his consciousness.
When Swamiji walked into the room, I had an immediate feeling that I couldn’t sense the edges of his consciousness. With all the other people I’d met, I’d been able to sense the boundaries of their consciousness. They might be wonderful people, but there was a feeling that they were identified with a small corner of reality. There was a clear-cut edge to their awareness, as if their sense of self was fenced-in and could only expand so far.
From studying the lives of Christ-like masters, I’ve learned that their consciousness, and potentially ours, is unbounded.
In my life, I had reached a terrible impasse, where my existence seemed meaningless, and I couldn’t see a way forward. And then Swami Kriyananda walked in, and I immediately recognized that the answer was standing before my eyes. As I watched him walk in, I found myself thinking, “Look at that – a person can know himself and find happiness!”
Swami Kriyananda was a very natural person. He spoke good English, he told lots of jokes, and he had a wonderfully cosmopolitan background. Yet he was perfectly accessible. He wasn’t that different from me, except that he was a hundred percent different. When I saw him for the first time, I knew that I was seeing what it’s like to be happy all the time.
Not happy because life is dull and, oh well, we might as well be happy. Or because it isn’t so terrible, or because it’s all we’ve got. But in the sense of the heart’s deepest longing being completely fulfilled.
Christ’s crucifixion showed us that death no longer holds any power over us, once our consciousness is sufficiently expanded. He looked with compassion on those who were crucifying him, and he prayed that God spare them the consequences of their actions.
Now, that’s real happiness. Just making it through the day isn’t real happiness. True happiness is being completely aware of our deepest bliss-nature.
Swami Kriyananda was the least closed-down person I ever met. He was absolutely fearless in the way he related to life, because he knew that he had nothing to lose. He lived in an all-satisfying bliss, a “portable paradise” as Yogananda put it, so that his happiness was always within him.
How can we be happy all the time? By expanding our identity to include an ever-broader reality, until we are no longer enclosed by the ego’s limitations.
When we meditate, we remove the external reality from our awareness for a while, and we discover who we really are, when we aren’t involved with outward things.
You can’t die by meditating, but the process is similar. In meditation you return to the source of the breath. We breathe all the time, but where does the breath come from?
In the astral world, we don’t breathe in the same way. We breathe energy. It’s possible for great yogis to stop their breath and breathe only that pure energy, without dying. It happens when you meditate deeply – you move your awareness so close to the origin point of your energy that your body can remain alive and breathless for a long time. Your consciousness merges with a source of energy where you don’t have to keep pumping oxygen. In fact, the yogis tell us it’s very rejuvenating to the body to rest it so completely.
Now, the reason meditation is so valuable is that it helps us understand that we can exist without all the external things by which we define ourselves. I’m meditating, and I’m not talking or looking around, and ideally I’m not generating my usual mental chatter. Yet I’m fully conscious and aware of reality from a different perspective. And I feel wonderful, because I realize that all of my restless thoughts and actions are part of a superficial layer on top of my true reality. The power of meditation is that the more you experience that reality inside you, the easier it is to keep that joyful awareness while you’re active in the world.
The secret of being happy all the time is to live from the higher centers in the brain, just behind the forehead, at the point between the eyebrows. Yogananda said that the more we live with our attention at that center, in the “spiritual eye,” the more we will live in a state of positive awareness that eventually becomes perfect bliss. On the other hand, the more we live in the older part of the brain, especially the seat of ego in the medulla oblongata, below the back of the skull, the more vulnerable we are, and the more we feel separate from others.
Living with our awareness at the spiritual eye develops a feeling that I am as much a part of you as I am of myself. And a thousand beautiful awakenings follow.
Joy to You,