Tag Archives: Mind

Where Does the Drive for Happiness Come From?

Every living being, not just human beings, has a drive for happiness. It is a natural tendency from birth and is not something acquired by training. Whether someone is learned or illiterate, cultured or uncultured, rich or poor, theist or an atheist—everyone hankers to be happy.  The nonhumans such as birds, animals, and aquatics avoid pain and prefer to be in a comfortable environment. Like human beings, they may not make big plans for enjoyment but certainly, they avoid misery by all possible means. Even plants have the intelligence to avoid obstruction to their growth. Thus, based on our own experience and logic, we could hypothesize that the drive for happiness is inherent in the ātmā. Let us examine if this hypothesis is supported by śāstra.

In Paramātma Sandarbha (Anuccheda 19–46), Śrī Jiva Gosvāmī does an exhaustive analysis of the svarūpa of the jīva or ātmā. In Anuccheda 19, he first cites verses from Padma Puṛānā delineating the svarūpa of the jīva: 

The letter m [in Oṁ] signifies the jīva, “the witness of the presentational field of the body” (kṣetrajña), who is always dependent upon and subservient to the Supreme Self, Paramātmā. He is [constitutionally] a servant of Bhagavān Hari only and never of anyone else. He is the conscious substratum, endowed with the attribute of knowledge. He is conscious and beyond matter. He is never born, undergoes no modification, is of one [unchanging] form, and situated in his own essential identity (svarūpa). He is atomic [i.e., the smallest particle without any parts], eternal, pervasive of the body, and intrinsically of the nature of consciousness and bliss. He is the referent of the pronoun “I,” imperishable, the proprietor of the body, distinct from all other jīvas, and never-ending. The jīva cannot be burnt, cut, wetted, or dried, and is not subject to decay. He is endowed with these and other attributes. He is indeed the irreducible remainder (śeṣa) [i.e., the integrated part] of the Complete Whole. (Padma Purāṇa, Uttara-khaṇḍa 226.34–37) 

Next, he cites some verses from a work of Jamātṛ Muni of Śrī Sampradāya:

The ātmā is neither god, nor human, nor subhuman, nor is it an immovable being [a tree, mountain, and so on]. It is not the body, nor the senses, mind, vital force, or the intellect. It is not inert, not mutable, nor mere consciousness. It is conscious of itself and self-luminous; it is of one form and is situated in its own essential nature.

It is conscious, pervades the body, and is intrinsically of the nature of consciousness and bliss. It is the direct referent of the pronoun “I,” is distinct [from other individual selves] in each body, atomic [i.e., the smallest particle without further parts], eternal, and unblemished.

It is intrinsically endowed with the characteristics of knowership [cognition], agency [conation], and experiential capacity [affectivity]. Its nature by its own inner constitution is to be always the unitary, irreducible remainder [i.e., the integrated part] of the Complete Whole, Paramātmā.

There are about 21 characteristics of the jīva mentioned in these verses. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī elaborates on each of them in the following anucchedas. There is no mention of a “drive for happiness” in this list, nor does Śrī Jīva Gosvāmi mention it while elaborating on these characteristics. He does not mention it anywhere in his entire analysis of the intrinsic nature of the jīva.

Then how can we account for the constant desire and endeavor to be happy, which we all experience? It is certainly not something that we have acquired, because even animals and birds have it. The clue to the answer is found in the twelfth characteristic, cid-ānanda-ātmaka, “intrinsically of the nature of consciousness and bliss.” This sounds perplexing since it seems contrary to our experience of having a constant drive for bliss or happiness. It is as absurd as seeing a person desperately looking for food after stuffing himself with his favorite meal. If the jīva or self is intrinsically blissful, then why should it search for happiness outside? This is explained by Śri Jīva Gosvāmī in Anuccheda 28 while commenting on this quality, i.e., cid-ānanda-ātmaka, as follows—tatra tasya jaḍa-pratiyogitvena jñānatvaṁ, duḥkha-pratiyogitvena tu jñānatvam ānandatvañ ca—“Because the self is not inert [lit., because of its being the counter positive of inertness], it is of the nature of consciousness, and because of its being the counter positive of misery, it is of the nature of consciousness and bliss.” The meaning is that a jīva is intrinsically conscious and devoid of any misery. Just as not being inert is equated to consciousness, so also freedom from misery is equated to happiness or ānanda. In other words, not being miserable is also a type of ānanda or happiness. The other types of happiness are material happiness—martyānanada; the happiness of experiencing the qualityless Absolute —brahmānanda; and the happiness of devotional love—bhaktyānanda or premānanada.  

Most of the happiness that we experience is nothing but the cessation of suffering or discomfort. When we have discomfort, we feel happy when it is removed. Almost all the happiness that we experience in our material lives is preceded by discomfort. We enjoy food because we feel the discomfort of hunger. If we suffer from heat, we enjoy a cool place. Every desire that we have is a disturbance because it takes us away from our svarūpa, or our natural position. When a desire is fulfilled, we feel happy—not because the object of desire gave us happiness, but because the disturbance caused by the desire disappeared. Because of focusing on the object of our desire, we mistakenly think that the acquired object is the source of our happiness. If the object of desire was the source of happiness, we should always attain happiness from it. But such is not the case. We have all experienced that the very object, position, or action that we intensely hankered for does not give us the same amount of happiness that it gave when we first achieved it. The level of happiness that it gives diminishes over time, and after some time, it may not give any happiness at all. Rather, it may become a source of trouble or discomfort. There are people in the world who possess the object or position for which we hanker but if you observe them, they may not be that blissful. This is because they have their own list of desirable objects or positions. Thus, Kṛṣṇa says that the objects of sense enjoyment are verily the source of misery (Gītā 5.22).

In our svarūpa, there is neither misery nor a drive to attain happiness. The drive for happiness is a thought, feeling, or emotion in the mind, which is external to the ātmā. It manifests only when we are connected to the mind. We experience this every night. When we are in a state of dreamless sleep, we have no thoughts, feelings, or emotions. We have no experience of misery, even if we are suffering from an intense disease or pain. This is because in dreamless sleep, we are disconnected from the mind. This freedom from suffering is experienced as a type of happiness. Thus, upon awakening, we have the experience, “I slept deeply and happily. I did not know anything.” No one says, “I slept deeply and miserably. I did not know anything.” If the drive for happiness was in the svarūpa of the jīva, then we should also experience it in dreamless sleep. Upon waking, we should say, “I slept very deeply and was hankering for happiness.” No one has such an experience. 

The conclusion is that neither śāstra nor our experience supports the idea that we have an intrinsic drive for happiness. The drive for happiness comes only when we identify with the material mind-body complex because in this state, we are not situated in our svarūpa. Not being situated in our svarūpa creates a state of disturbance. Thus, a drive emerges in us to dispel this sense of disturbance. This drive is mistakenly understood to be rooted in the ātmā. 

The fact is that we have the drive to be situated in our svarūpa. Our svarūpa is devoid of misery, and thus we strive to remove misery. In the conditioned state, we identify with the mind-body complex and consider it to be our svarūpa. But this is only an illusion. Our mind and body are always in a state of flux. Our system functions to remain balanced. We also work to remain balanced—free from all mental and physical disturbances. We feel that something is missing in us and therefore think that if we can acquire what is missing, then we will be happy. This is a natural drive that we all have. Whenever we feel happy, we are closer to our self. Suffering means going away from our self. Self-realized people do not experience this drive for happiness because they do not identify with their mind-body complex. They experience a state free from misery. Kṛṣṇa defines this as yoga (Gītā 6.23)—taṁ vidyād duḥkha-saṁyoga-viyogaṁ yoga-saṁjñitam—“Know that state which is devoid of any contact with pain to be yoga.” 

Thus, mukti is defined as giving up the identification with that which is not one’s self and becoming situated in our self—muktir hitvānyathā-rūpaṁ svarupeṇa vyavasthitih (SB 2.10.6). The word mukti means to be free [from misery]. It does not mean happiness. Becoming free from misery is a type of happiness. When we move away from our self, we suffer. Thus, Patañjali defines yoga as disassociation from mental modifications—yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ (Yoga Sūtra 1.2). This results in being situated in one’s self—tadā draṣṭuḥ svarupe ’vasthānam (Yoga Sūtra 1.3). In this way, we see that mukti and yoga as defined by Kṛṣṇa, as well as by Patañjali, are the same. 

Because our self is devoid of misery, it is called the object of love, prīti-āspada. Having attained it, one is never disturbed by anything. It is considered the supreme attainment (Gītā 6.22). Even in the material world, we love everything that we think is ours. The body and things related to the body appear as objects of love only when we consider them as related to our self. When we stop considering things or persons as belonging to us, we become indifferent to them. We enjoy material objects only as long as we consider them ours. In other words, we put ourselves into something and then derive pleasure from it. Truly we relish our self in external objects, relationships, and positions. By relating with them, we erroneously think that we are situated in our self. This is a mistaken state of mukti and is an outcome of ignorance about our true self. Real happiness, however, comes only from bhakti because Bhagavān is the Self of our self, as said by Śukadeva, “Know Kṛṣṇa to be the Self of everyone’s self” (SB 10.14.55). 

Satyanarayana Dasa

Interactions between the Ātmā and the Mind

Question: Who feels pain and pleasure in the conditioned stage? Is it the soul or the mind?

Answer: The mind feels it.

Question: From where does viveka or the faculty to choose between wrong and right come? Does it come from the buddhi or ātmā?

Answer: It comes from buddhi.

Question: Does the soul have intrinsic mind, intelligence and ego?

Answer: No it doesn’t. 

Question: Does the soul act only as a source of consciousness (e.g. battery power for a car), while always needing the external mind, intelligence and ego? Is this true even in the spiritual world?

Answer: Yes. 

Question: Why can the soul not enjoy and experience pleasure as it is itself conscious?

Answer: It has no senses to enjoy.

Question: By doing sādhana, it is said that the citta gets purified. Then how are the bhajana memories transferred to the spiritual world with the soul as the citta is material?

Answer: They do not get transferred. Only the bhāva goes along with the ātmā. 

Question: Do the current material mind and ego get spiritualized and transferred into the spiritual world?

Answer: No. 

Question: As the soul does not have intrinsic mind, intelligence and false ego, why is it said that we have to watch all unwanted desires like lust, as a witness only and not entertain them? It is also said that we should think that we are totally different from the mind. Then how can a soul without intrinsic mind feel/realize that it is a soul, that it is spiritual and totally different from the material mind?

Answer: Everything is experienced only through the internal senses. There is no experience without them. In Gītā 6.12, Kṛṣṇa says that the happiness that is beyond the reach of the external senses can be comprehended only through the intellect, buddhi-grāhyam.

In Gītā 6.20, Kṛṣṇa says that when the mind, controlled by the practice of meditation, becomes still, one sees the ātmā through the ātmā (the internal sense):

yatroparamate cittaṁ niruddhaṁ yoga-sevayā
yatra caivātmanātmānaṁ paśyann ātmani tuṣyati

“When the mind, controlled by the practice of meditation becomes still, one rejoices only in the self and sees the self by the purified mind.”

Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī makes it clear that the word “ātmanā” here means internal sense, antaḥkaraṇa.

Question: Then how is the soul responsible for controlling the mind, choosing the right desire of the mind and acting accordingly, since buddhi, the decision making faculty, is also material and different from the soul?

Answer: Because ātmā is identifying with it. The problem is the identification. Mind, intellect and ahaṅkāra function because they are empowered by the ātmā. Ātmā does nothing by itself.

Question: Kṛṣṇa advises Arjuna in Gītā 18.65: “Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.” So for whom is this advice given and who listens? For the soul, the mind or the intelligence?

Answer: For all three of them, because the soul identifies with the mind and intelligence. You are posing these questions with the understanding that the ātmā and the mind or intelligence are functioning independently as two separate units. The fact, however, is that in the conditioned state, the ātmā is never free of the conditioned material mind.

Question: If the advice is given to the mind, intelligence and false ego, then how is the soul responsible to accept the instruction and to act accordingly since it is different from buddhi, mind and false ego? Please explain how the soul takes this instruction.

Answer: The soul is not taking any instruction. At present, it is identifying with the mind and the instruction is for the complete unit.

Question: If buddhi controls the mind, then how is the soul responsible to get karma-phala for its next birth?

Answer: Because of the soul’s identification with the mind. 

Question: SB 11.11.29 (also quoted in CC, Madhya 22.78-80) says:

kṛpālur akṛta-drohas titikṣuḥ sarva-dehinām
satya-sāro ‘navadyātmā samaḥ sarvopakārakaḥ 

“A saintly person is merciful and never injures others. He is tolerant and forgiving, truthful, free from all envy and jealousy, and magnanimous by doing welfare to others.”

If all these transcendental qualities are the characteristics of pure Vaiṣṇavas, do they belong to the ātmā or to the mind? If they belong to the mind, then do they come under the mode of goodness?

Answer: For a devotee, the qualities manifest from bhakti

Question: When we listen to siddhānta or pastimes, how do they affect the ātmā? Or do they only affect our material mind, intelligence and ego?

Answer: There is no effect on the ātmā 

Question: Then how and when does the ātmā experience the bhajana-sukha?

Answer: All experience happens in the mind. 

Question: How do the soul and intelligence interact with each other?

Answer: There is no real interaction except that the soul makes the intelligence conscious. 

Question: If an accident happens to a jīvan-mukta, does he feel pain and pleasure? How does this feeling of pain and pleasure differ from that of a person in conditioned stage?

Answer: He feels it but is not influenced by it like a conditioned being.  

Question: In the verse: mayā-mātram idaṁ jñātvā, jñānaṁ ca mayi sannyaset, (“Understanding this to be māyā, one should surrender unto Me both that knowledge and the means by which he achieved it,” SB 11.19.1)—which knowledge has to be surrendered?

Answer: Knowledge of oneness with Brahman. 


Are We Biased to Believe?

Many years ago, while studying Nyāya and Vedānta, my Nyāya teacher said:  

tattva-pakṣa-pāto hi dhiyāṁ svabhāvaḥ

“The nature of the intellect is definitely biased towards truth.”

At the time, I did not understand the deep implications of this statement. Recently, while teaching Sāṅkhya-kārikā (64), I came across the same statement in Vācaspati Miśrā’s commentary. I then understood more fully the dynamic of accepting the words of others as truth. The intellect is biased toward believing rather than doubting. We tend to believe first and doubt only when necessary. 


Why? If we doubt our every experience, it will be impossible to function. For example, when I am thirsty, I buy a bottle of water. If I doubt that water is really water, then my thirst will never be quenched. Or, if I doubt that I am truly thirsty, then I will make no attempt to even obtain water. We believe and accept our sensory experiences so readily because not doing so would make even the simplest functions of life—like eating and drinking—almost impossible to complete.

Thus, we tend to believe what we see and hear, and doubt only if and when necessary. This is called svataḥ-pramāṇya-vāda (“self-authorizing judgement”).

There is yet another, deeper reason why we are biased to believe. When one of our cognitive senses, such as the eyes, comes in contact with a visible object, such as a pen, the image of the pen is sent from the eyes to the mind. The mind then sends the image to the intellect, which searches for a similar image (saṁskāra) stored in its memory (citta). On finding a matching image, the intellect realizes that the image is that of a pen, and the mind comprehends the experience.

If we doubt that our intellect has correctly matched the incoming image, we can “rethink” the perception. This significantly delays the time it takes to comprehend an experience. Imagine if we constantly doubted every judgment made by our intellect—it would take minutes to process experiences that last only nanoseconds, and we would be unable to keep up with the flow of time. It would be impossible to make judgments or decisions in real time.  

Incidentally, this also explains why “first impressions” are so important. The first time our intellect deciphers aspecificexperience, it stores the information in the memory, and that stored impression becomes the template to which all subsequent experiences of similar things are compared. Later experiences are interpreted through the lens of the first impression. This also explains why childhood experiences are so impactful on the rest of our lives.

However, there is an adverse side effect to this mental tendency: It makes us liable to be cheated. If a conman tells us something, we tend to believe him. We do not disbelieve until we are given a reason to do so, by which time it is often too late. By then, we have already been cheated. Throughout history, even the smartest people have been deceived due to their tendency to believe or trust. It is no wonder that a person like Bernie Madoff deceived astute and highly successful corporations for millions of dollars, just with his words and charismatic demeanor.

Cheating and betrayal happens especially within romantic relationships; we don’t believe that our partner would cheat us. Even though we see red flags, we tend to overlook them because of our natural bias to believe. This is why deceptive individuals and organizations initially “love bomb” their victims—generating first impressions that will take a long time to disbelieve.

We naturally assume that the people we are dealing with are honest. Only when we are forced, do we stop believing thisand sometimes, not even then! Leaders, relatives, and friends often continue to cheat, and we continue to believe, even in the face of blatant lies and solid proof of deception. Instead, we find some way to rationalize and justify the deviant behavior of a leader, lover, or friend. Moreover, human beings are averse to change. Fear of the unknown compels us to further delay entertaining serious doubts about what we believe and accept. 

The bias towards believing is helpful and essential, but we must protect ourselves from its negative side effects by being more alert and perceptive of “red flags” when further experiences do not line up with our “first impressions.”