The Pursuit and Enjoyment of Happiness
(This is the third article I’ve published in Maya’s and her daughter Radhaa’s series, Awakening Starseeds, Volumes 1-3. I appreciate the honor of being included in their book series (which is available on Amazon).
I wanted to punch Rajneesh in the nose, pull back my fist, and ask him a question: “If we are not the body, it and the world all being the illusion of maya, would you mind if I punch you in the nose again?”
I didn’t, of course. I had nothing against him personally; mine was a philosophical dispute. He gave a small group of us darshan in a small hotel room in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, in the summer of 1972. He wore impeccable whites. He had calm, beautiful eyes. Many adoring women sat at his feet. He sported a huge diamond watch. He went on about maya being unimportant, yet he did so from his supportive world of sumptuous beauties and fantastic wealth.
I was sick of being sick. I had lost 25 pounds in India. I hadn’t avoided their foods. I dressed in common Indian garb. On my own, I had gone from Gujrat to Delhi and back, finding out how “full of it” I was. I had seen the clean poorness of the villages and the filthy poverty of the cities. Flies everywhere. Rivers fermenting from all the waste in them. Beggar children pointing their stub arms at me with a pleading look. It was a land of saints and flies, peacocks and vultures.
I had gone to India disgusted with western religion. Its historic role was to intercede between the peasants and the king, protecting his power and wealth while promising “pie in the sky” for the overworked peasants. I was enamored with eastern religion and Jungian psychology, hoping they made religion pertinent to this precious home of a planet.
I had gone to India with my guru friend, Dr. Vasavada, a Jungian therapist new to the University of Chicago area, where I was in seminary. His guru, the Blind Saint of Vrindavan, had received me graciously. He didn’t mind my rude question: “What’s it like to be a saint? How is it different than for any of us?” His interpreters balked. He laughed, “A saint is a member of the universal human family.”
Robbed at his ashram, I sold my remaining luggage to a luggage seller and took the 3rd class Midnight Express train from Delhi back to Bombay. Housed with a Vasavada family member in a posh apartment overlooking the Parsee Towers of Silence (where dead bodies are left for the birds) I stumbled into that Rajneesh darshan. He was notorious in India, but a few dozen Americans and Europeans sat in awe. Outside, about a mere mile away, a thousand souls tried to live in their tin and cardboard huts. One water spicket for everybody. No toilet.
So, I reacted to his smug, privileged stance. My sickened body, those bodies of the truly poor, that beautiful but polluted land – all these welled up in me, making me want to punch him. It seemed to me the west got duped into pining for the afterlife, while the east went for the instead-of-life. Why love the body or the land if they’re just a steppingstone or an illusion? The goal of life is to become the atman, the Self we are within the many bodies we allegedly reincarnate into.
I didn’t punch him, and over time I came to respect his daring teachings. Before leaving that darshan, his followers invited me to their dawn meditation on the beach. Sick, I couldn’t imagine getting up early to sit on a cold beach. That morning I had a dream of people dancing wildly around a big fire at a beach. Years later, I learned that’s the sort of meditation they did.
My return to the United States was more of a culture shock than India had been. Fat, frantic people scurried from one indulgence to another, never satisfied. The waste of resources pursuing a desperately empty life offended my frugal sense.
The eldest of five siblings, I grew up in Michigan using as few sheets of toilet paper as possible. Use minimal resources; don’t waste. Pontiac was an abandoned industrial town in the suburbs of Detroit. The “pure and sparkling stream” that Alexis de Tocqueville admired had become an oily river strewn with tires and rotten car parts. Oakland Lake had gone from muskrats, big bass, and gar pike to a barren, weed-choked swamp with only the remnants of life present. Yet, there I discovered that burying food scraps in the yard promoted worms and better soil. I replenished a bit of soil with scraps that would have been wasted.
I had been warned by 1984, Brave New World, and All Quiet on the Western Front. I had been inspired by E. F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful. “Mother Earth News” showed how sustainably we could live. Psychedelics opened me to the cosmic beauty and profound meaning of simple sand, flowers, and sunshine. Beatniks, hippies, and back-to-the-landers were reconnecting to their bodies and our lands. An affluent life wasn’t as important as a fulfilled, ethical, happy one.
Back in India, I remembered how interested Indians were in the hordes of affluent long hair westerners coming from America and Europe, modern versions of Gautama, the Buddha. The wandering hippies in India seemed to reincarnate his story. He also eschewed a life of privileged ease to pursue spiritual truth and alignment. He didn’t suppose God or impose his authority. He merely beckoned others to an ethical and fulfilled life. Pursuing and fulfilling desires won’t get it.
Gandhi had said life will satisfy our need but not our greed. What does it take to have a healthy, happy life? Material wealth doesn’t guarantee spiritual success. But who is pursuing which? A poor famer of an Indian village can get more from his or her breathing than a billionaire does.
The engines of an industrialized consumer economy will pump out cheap stuff made to soon break and be replaced. At what cost to our ecosystem? The materials, energy, and labor used go to what purpose? Do a few rich warrant the ecological and social cost? If we move the carbon created by ancient sunlight over millions of years from below the ground into our sky in a mere century, thereby creating climate disasters, would a booming economy justify the lasting harm? How dare we stress the future for a meager present?
We’re slow to realize the enormity of time and space science now explains. It was a cozy world, God in the clouds, hell below, all of it spinning around us, the center of the universe. We are that, but only if you realize any center seems the center in an infinite universe. Historian of religions Mircea Eliade noted the pole at the center of the village marked the center of the world. However, all poles in all villages also did that. We each and all come from a sense of center, an “I” with a name and story encountering an endless array of other “I”s, each with their own view. A lifetime of that view seems like a lot, but in the evolutionary and geologic time scale, we’ve brief lives on a planet that is pretty small.
Yet, how reliably our planet spins as it travels around our bounteous sun, perfectly balanced to rouse up resplendent, magnificent, interrelated life. Our lives, “three-score and ten, or by reason of strength, fourscore,” are an ample stay on a planet that will reliably spin just like it does. But how? Extracting and exhausting limited resources in a frantic orgy of numb effort? Planting a garden that all will enjoy? What does it really take to have a good life?
The poor country of Bhutan attempts to ask and answer this. Instead of a Gross Domestic Product, they extensively measure the four pillars of Gross National Happiness: fair and sustainable socio-economic development; conservation and promotion of a vibrant culture; environmental protection; and good governance. Being very poor, they don’t rank very high in the UN’s assessment of which countries promote the most happiness. Finland and Denmark get the highest scores; Afghanistan is near the lowest. Bhutan is hard to measure, and some measures put it at 79th. But that it pursues happiness, measuring and adjusting as it goes signals a whole new standard on the good life.
The classic economist Adam Smith didn’t just advise we each pursue our own betterment, he also urged we do that with a mind to the common good.
Instead of plugging away in a competitive society strewn with scarcity and stress, what if we loved each other and our planet so much that everything we did served the common good? What if we were to do as the God suggests in the opening Bible chapter, “replenish the earth”? Sustainability is a popular word. What if we took it further? Instead of barely keeping even, what if we were to replenish so skillfully and abundantly we built automatic abundance into the why and how of our lives? How rich could our soils get? How healthy the oceans? How full the rivers? How diverse and abundant the animals? How well-off, healthy, and happy the people?
When Europeans discovered the New World, it seemed a bounteous paradise of limitless resources: endless trees, animals, and fish. But even the infinite ocean and endless sky were in fact limited. Soils that took thousands of years to grow were plowed up and blown away. Bison skulls piled into mini mountains. Passenger pigeons were shot unto extinction for the mere fun of it. Slaves spent lifetimes furthering someone else’s fortune; today they’re the poor, trying to get by in “right to work” states. How advanced are we if there are less fish in our streams and lakes than were here when we arrived?
“This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” we sang and felt. Perhaps it is, only it’s taking longer than we hoped. A resurgence of worldwide fascism glares from Brazil to Boston. Instead of exporting windmills and solar panels, we’re exporting armaments. Some of our religions promote the vilest persons to the highest powers. Angry, armed people attack the temple of our democracy and crazed gunmen explode the bodies of babies with their protected weapons of war.
Fear, hate, and self-righteous reactionary opinion seem to have invaded our midbrains, amygdalas afire. Rage is all the rage. But it isn’t new. Jesus dealt with the Romans. Freethinkers endured the Inquisition. Women eluded the witch hunts. Julian Assange is guilty until proven innocent, punished for decades without a trial. Journalists write the truth and get assassinated. Such fears cloud and misdirect our vision.
Another view sees a corner being turned, an era being ended, a new time being born. Psychology used to dwell on pathology. Now, positive psychology metes out the tools of happier lives. “Drugs” were an excuse to oppress and jail whole populations. Now, psychedelic therapies make use of ancient entheogens to radically end depression and addiction. THC, mushrooms, MDMA, LSD, 5 MeO DMT, Ibogaine, Ketamine and more are not problem substances to be suppressed, they’re sacraments of the soul. Technologically, we can now drive on sunlight, wasting nothing, polluting nothing. Ecologically, we are learning how to replenish the soil, replant diverse forests, and restock the oceans. We exploited and injured Eden, but Eden is resilient. When loved, it bounces back with beauteous abundance.
Our souls are not some ghosts that float away when we die. Soul meant movement, blood pumped, synapses aligned, breath easy and glad. Our souls are emmeshed in life. Those around us, the food we eat, the ideas we think with – all these serve or starve our soul. The technologies we use, the governments we create, the arts we generate, the causes that we partake – all these fulfill or frustrate our soul. The inside reflects the outside, and it is from the inside that we steer the outside.
We all pursue happiness. Buddha taught pursuing it isn’t enjoying it. Pursuing it by running rough-shod over others, wasting resources for frivolous purposes, seeking pleasure when it isn’t right – all these dull our souls. Enjoying our breath, seeing soul in others, honoring the nature that births and sustains us – these bring out souls alive. After all, it’s our birthright; we’re “Endowed by our Creator…”
I didn’t want to hurt Rajneesh (who also came to be known as Osho). Only later, in Netflix’s “Wild, Wild Country” did I learn of his epic story. My reaction was against the way eastern and western religions fail to help us live up to our once-in-a-lifetime incarnation. The center is the same in all, yet each center is unique, a body, a story, a calling. The good Lord wants us all happy. We’re learning how to live up to that in ways that promote the happiness of all, that loves Eden back, and brings our precious incarnation to its fuller enjoyment.
Byron Bradley Carrier
liked your post and was confused by the capitalization of Lord. Could you expand on that sentence?
I should have capitalized “good” too. By which I mean the personalized sentiment typical of those wanting to bring heaven to earth. It’s an easy-going expression of a cosmic presumption or wish. Such a “Good Lord” acknowledges the pull of love and happiness built into living Creation. Please don’t take it too theologically or seriously. Yet, there is within us a yearning for happiness and health.
Or maybe leave “good” uncapitalized as an adjective for the sort of Lord I intend. Of all the things Jesus may have appreciated (or at least not resented) about things said of him, I’d guess he wouldn’t mind such a personalized cosmic divinity laid on him. After all, didn’t he pray to the Father? (And, no, I don’t mean a patriarchal man. I mean something more inherent in our cosmos, something alluded to as the Tao in other cultures. The Chinese promote bringing heaven to earth too. Call it Tao, Father, or Lord – it’s groping for some simple expression,… Read more »
Did you know that E. F. Schumacher converted to Catholicism a few years after writing Small is Beautiful? A few days before his death, he finished writing A Guide for the Perplexed, a book that is something of a summary of his late in life spirituality and theology. E. F. Schumacher didn’t change his views on environmentalism. But he did come to embrace a mystical theism and he found comfort and meaning in the mysticism of the Roman Catholic Church.
I’m nearly at the end of my re-read of Small is Beautiful. Not as I remembered it. I liked his humane and environmental efforts. I’ll look for Guide for the Perplexed.
E. F. Schumacher was a world renown economist, journalist, and philosopher. Many of you might have read his 1973 bestseller, SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL. In early adulthood, Schumacher embraced atheism. Later in life, he was attracted to Buddhism. His study of Buddhism led to an interest in Catholic mysticism. At the age of 60, he converted to Roman Catholicism. Five days before his death in 1977, Schumacher completed his writing of A GUIDE FOR THE PERPLEXED. In this final writing, Schumacher provides a human/spiritual road map for others to use. This is a wonderful wisdom book!
Thanks, Vernon, for the further explanation about Schumacher.
I’m comfortable with all three of his spiritual traditions. (Including atheism) My main appreciation of him is for his humane economics and environmentalism.
Great writing, Byron Bradley.
I especially loved your questions:
“How rich could our soils get? How healthy the oceans? How full the rivers? How diverse and abundant the animals? How well-off, healthy, and happy the people?”
If we don’t pursue possible utopias we’ll likely stumble into probable distopias.
Brad, just wanted to let you know that your website will not allow direct replies to your articles, at least, not for me. I played around and discovered that the only way your website will allow me to reply is if I am replying to one of your replies, as I am doing here. This might explain why you haven’t been seeing much traffic on your site.
Thanks for this info, Vernon, and for your adding to Schumacher. Others can post their replies to my articles/sermons. Perhaps your being in Germany could affect this?
My son Tobias, who really knows how to work this WordPress site, says there was a bug regarding shunting spam off. He removed it. Right away, I got spam. I’m learning how to avoid those without barring you from participating.
Thanks. Perhaps contribute what about it did you consider nice?
Great article. Thanks for posting.
Thanks, Zavier, and welcome to this site. Post more if you feel so inclined.