Why does one feel happy after seeing a vast ocean or the sky?

1. Theoretical discussion on happiness and unhappiness

A. Expectation of happiness and not of object pleasure

Man does not have expectations of getting object pleasure but of happiness or rather of Bliss. Supposing one is told that his trip abroad will be sponsored with enough money to enjoy worldly pleasures but that he will have to endure unhappiness, he will reply, ‘I want neither worldly pleasures nor unhappiness’.

B. Happiness derived from objects itself is Bliss

The peak of worldly happiness is sex. Hence it is called the ‘seat of Bliss’ in the Ayurveda (Sushrut Sanhita). Sex in this context refers to ejaculation. At that moment total activation of spiritual energy (kundalini) occurs. The ignorant person experiences happiness from object pleasure. The mechanism of object pleasure is as follows – Due to the firm conviction that happiness lies in objects, at least momentarily the pran and apan vital energies attain equilibrium, the individual loses awareness of his body and his inner Bliss manifests itself. Since he does not realise this due to ignorance, he considers that his happiness depends on some object, some tool which in this case is sex, and gets more and more entangled in it. Thus entrapped in the cycle of birth and death, he becomes unhappy. In Vedic terminology this happiness is termed as object pleasure. As it is dependent on a cause it is relative to time, space and objects.

When one eats to one’s content the vital energies pran and apan become steady, the individual forgets the attachment to his body and thus his inner Bliss surfaces. But the person attributes it to the food. ‘The spouse, children, etc. are for the sake of one’s own happiness. One experiences one’s own Bliss through them. Though that happiness is inner Bliss itself, it is considered to be happiness derived from objects namely the spouse, children, etc. In short, real happiness lies within oneself (and is termed as the inner ocean of Bliss).’

C. Vast objects bestow happiness

One feels happy when one sees the vast sprawling ocean or the sky. However, if one sees a part of the ocean or sky through the window then one does not feel happy. That is why a quote from the Chandogya Upanishad [chapter (adhyay) 7, Vol. 23, mantra 132] says,

‘यो वै भूमा तत्‍सुखं नाल्‍पे सुखं अस्‍ति भूमा एव सुखं भूमातु
एव विजिज्ञासितव्‍य इति भूमानं भगवो विजिज्ञास इति’

Meaning: That which is infinite itself is true happiness. There is no happiness in small objects (that is limitation). Expansiveness is itself true happiness; hence one should acquire knowledge about the infinite.

Hence if one’s mind becomes all pervading, the Bliss too will be limitless. This point will become clear from the following experiment.

First look at the small circle in figure ‘A’ and then the large circle in figure ‘B’, for one to two minutes each and note whether you feel pleasant or distressed. Only then read further on. There were thirty-five seekers attending a satsang (spiritual meeting). Their spiritual experiences are given below.

subtle experiment

Experience Figure ‘A’ Figure ‘B’
1. Pleasant 8 26
2. Distressing 12 2
3. Nothing 15 7
Total 35 35

The majority felt better looking at the larger circle in comparison to the smaller one.

The spiritual level of an average seeker is 35%. During a spiritual meeting it can rise upto 40% to 50%. The spiritual level of an average person is 20% while that of one who has attained the Final Liberation (Moksha) is 100%. The former will not be able to perceive anything if he participates in such experiments.

An individual who is inspired by a specific objective like the welfare of the society, nation, humanity or animals experiences more and more happiness and does not feel much about worldly happiness and unhappiness. For instance, Tanaji Malusare, a warrior from Shivaji Maharaj’s army said, “First the wedding of the Kondhana fort, then that of Rayba.” (First I will fight the enemy and capture the Kondhana fort and only then celebrate my son, Rayba’s wedding.) Similarly, those motivated by the desire for Self-realisation are affected neither by pleasures and pains of worldly life nor the happiness and unhappiness of living beings. On the contrary, one who thinks only about one’s own family or only of oneself becomes more and more unhappy.

D. Absence of desire means happiness

The happiness experienced through objects is not obtained when actually experiencing the object, but due to the contentment arising from it when one feels fed up of the object. One enjoys the first ladu (a sweet delicacy), if offered more the enjoyment decreases and later one does not feel like eating any more. This proves that happiness does not lie in objects like sweetmeats, it is in the state beyond objects.

‘When desire is generated in man he digresses from the state of happiness. No matter what the reason is for absence of desires, their fulfillment, their sacrifice, absence of their generation or obscurity due to concentration of the mind, that state devoid of desires proves to be that of happiness. In other words happiness is not in objects, it is in the subconscious mind. Absence of desire is of two types.

1. Absence of desire during sleep: Though there are no objects involved with sleep one acquires Bliss from it. If man is deprived of sleep for two days he becomes restless. The Chandogya Upanishad (6.8.1) states that there is absolutely no difference between the happiness acquired during deep sleep and that obtained with the attainment of the Final Liberation (Moksha). Both Shri Shankaracharya and Vidyaranya have accepted this concept. According to the Bruhadaranyak Upanishad (14.3.21) happiness obtained with the attainment of the Final Liberation, that in deep sleep and with sexual intercourse is the same in intensity. Thus every individual experiences this happiness for 5-6 hours everyday. Then the precept that the one who is attracted towards the Final Liberation (Moksha) finds other happiness inferior becomes meaningless because despite experiencing this happiness everyday, man is still in search of other happiness. [The reason for this is that man does not know how to acquire the same happiness (Bliss) in the waking state so he tries to acquire happiness through other means.]

2. Absence of desire in the waking state: Absence of desire in the waking state is better than that during sleep. It is true that happiness is experienced during sleep but at that time the embodied soul is unaware that ‘I am happy’ unlike the happiness in the waking state when the embodied soul is aware that ‘I am happy’. Hence the happiness in the waking state is of a higher quality than that during sleep.
The Shrimadbhagvadgita states that ultimate happiness (Bliss) is extrasensory but can be realised with intellect. Three states are present in this state of ultimate happiness – 1. absence of desire, 2. the waking state and 3. the subtle proportion of ego which is required for this waking state.

The one who desires ultimate happiness or the Final Liberation should renounce the world is the final doctrine of the sect of renunciants. The path of renunciation advocated by Shri Shankaracharya in the Kaliyug and that described by the Smruti texts is based on this very principle.

All happiness stems from overcoming unhappiness such as that from desire. Lokmanya Tilak however, did not accept this. The gist of what he has described in his book, the Gitarahasya is as follows – desire is the feeling of wanting to experience something which has bestowed happiness, once again. Not acquiring a desired object results in unhappiness. However, if the desire is fulfilled before the unhappiness is alleviated then one cannot say that the happiness obtained was on account of overcoming the unhappiness arising out of desire. If one gets something good even when not desirous of it, then the doctrine that the happiness derived from it is out of desire is disproven. For example, if one suddenly puts a cube of sugar into a child’s mouth one cannot say that the happiness that it is experiencing is due to elimination of desire. If one sees a beautiful garden or hears the melodious singing of a nightingale then one experiences happiness even without harbouring the desire to experience them. From this one can conclude that since the sense organs have the natural ability to experience pleasant and distressing objects, one experiences happiness or unhappiness without the desire for them. Hence the Gita (2.14) quotes that, by contact with objects, that is external objects from Nature, one experiences sensations such as hot, cold, etc. and acquires happiness or unhappiness. The Gita also states (3.34) that all happiness is not in the form of elimination of unhappiness and that the affinity and repulsion between sense organs and objects of sensation like speech, touch, etc. are separate entities altogether. The Gita considers happiness and unhappiness as two opposite and separate attitudes.

There is a vast difference between the happiness acquired after experiencing unhappiness and that acquired after remaining engrossed in object pleasure everyday because the ability of the sense organs diminishes by experiencing happiness everyday. However in the Mahabharat (1.75.49) Sage Vyas has preached what is given below, to King Yayati. The following verse (shloka) is also in the Shrimadbhagvat.

नात्‍यश्‍नतस्‍तु योगोऽस्‍ति न चैकान्‍तमनश्‍नत: ।
न चातिस्‍वप्‍नशीलस्‍य जाग्रतो नैव चार्जुन ।।१६।।

Meaning: (But) O Arjun, if one eats voraciously (or) scantily, sleeps excessively (or) hardly, then there is no possibility of accomplishing yoga.

युक्‍ताहारविहारस्‍य युक्‍तचेष्‍टस्‍य कर्मसु ।
युक्‍तस्‍वप्‍नावबोधस्‍य योगो भवति दु:खहा ।।१७।।

Meaning: He whose diet and travel is within limits, who regulates all his actions and whose sleep and wakefulness are balanced, can mitigate all (worldly) unhappiness by practising this yoga.

E. Concentration of the mind means happiness

Due to the conviction that happiness lies in objects, once the object is obtained, to experience it fully, the mind goes into concentration. The vital energies pran, apan, saman come to a standstill and at least momentarily breathing ceases (kumbhak). At that very moment inner Bliss manifests. Thus, when concentration of the mind is achieved happiness is experienced. The happiness which is acquired through objects does not occur while experiencing the object but when the subconscious mind becomes steady, after its fulfillment. At the time of ejaculation and after a meal too, the mind becomes blank. Hence one feels happy.

‘The intellect which believes that happiness lies in the soul itself is called the intellect of the soul. Based on this intellect if the mind concentrates on anything then it becomes the cause of happiness. The other synonyms for it are happiness of the soul, sattvik (sattva predominant) happiness and permanent happiness. When the mind gets steadied due to contact with objects even for a moment and there is a marked reduction in ego, that happiness is called rajasik (raja predominant) happiness, object pleasure, etc. In case of happiness arising from the soul as there are no objects involved, it is experienced whenever the mind is free of desire. Hence happiness from the soul is superior to object pleasure.’ (3)

F. Thoughtless state itself is Bliss (Anand)

When one attains the thoughtless state in meditation, one experiences Bliss. When one drinks alcohol, thoughts are suppressed. At that time one is able to experience Bliss in the thoughtless state between two successive thoughts. The one drinking alcohol however attributes this happiness to drinking alcohol. (Refer point ‘Happiness derived from objects itself is Bliss’.)

G. Stability means happiness

The gaze of a child is never steady but constantly shifts. After its gaze becomes steady it smiles due to Bliss. The onlooker feels that the child has smiled at him !

H. Forgetting attachment to the body is equivalent to happiness

When concentration of the mind is achieved, one forgets one’s attachment to the body and experiences Bliss. That is why with spiritual practice when one forgets oneself, the mind achieves concentration and the spiritual experience of Bliss is obtained.

I. Spontaneous cessation of respiration induces happiness

Brahman is Bliss itself. Brahman is steady; hence when Bliss is experienced there is steadying and spontaneous cessation of breathing (that is automatic cessation of respiration is a sign of Bliss). Contrary to this when automatic cessation of breathing occurs, Bliss is experienced. This occurs by itself at the time of ejaculation, when one belches feeling gratified after a meal and when the eight sattvik spiritual emotions (ashtasattvik bhav) are generated. Hence as one undertakes spiritual practice, breathing gradually decreases and finally stops. It is through this that real Bliss is obtained. No Bliss is experienced through voluntary stoppage of breathing.

2. How to acquire at least a small amount of true happiness ?

Though man constantly strives to attain happiness, mankind is becoming increasingly unhappy with the passage of time. The number of psychiatric patients the world over is also on the rise. Though the aim of modernisation based on today’s science and research is to improve the quality of life, man cannot acquire happiness through them. Hence they have no value. It is impossible for a living being to be happy with happiness and yet not to be unhappy when suffering comes. The following paths indicate how to acquire real happiness at least to some extent.

A. Devotion with expectation (sakam bhakti)

The universe is within the control of the deities. If the deities are appeased then they endow happiness but if displeased, they bestow unhappiness. One can please them through devotion and thus attain happiness.

B. Company of saints

3. Overcoming unhappiness completely

If one never wants to be unhappy then one has to go beyond the duality of happiness and unhappiness. Unhappiness does not vanish by denying it and joy does not come by merely wishing for it. Hence it is best not to think about happiness and suffering. The state beyond happiness and unhappiness is called the ‘balanced state of mind’. In this state the individual experiences neither happiness nor unhappiness based on worldly objects. That is, the individual does not become happy with joy and is not aggrieved with unhappiness; on the contrary, he is engrossed in enjoying inner Bliss.

A. Happiness and unhappiness, the materialistic (average) individual and the spiritually evolved

1. The materialistic individual experiences both happiness and unhappiness because he is influenced by the anadi (one without a beginning) illusion by means of which he considers the Great Illusion (Maya) to be the truth. This illusion can be eliminated by spiritual practice.

2. The spiritually evolved with a spiritual level of more than 70% in the stage of Self-realisation experience only sattvik (sattva predominant) happiness. There is no physical and psychological suffering as only the adi (one with a beginning) illusion persists. Due to this illusion one believes that ‘the Great Illusion is fake’. This illusion is overcome by the grace of the Guru. In other words, the Brahman in the Great Illusion is realised and the seeker attains non-duality. Those at a spiritual level of more than 90% like the knowledgeable ones, ascetics, devotees, the spiritually evolved enjoy only Bliss because they are rid of the adi illusion.

3. Peaceful and restless: One who has gone beyond happiness and unhappiness is peaceful while one who experiences happiness and unhappiness is restless.

4. Mahavir attained liberation through penance (spiritual practice). Penance means acceptance of unhappiness.

B. Happiness, unhappiness, Bliss and the spiritually evolved

Happiness % Unhappiness % State of absence
of happiness and unhappiness %
Bliss % Total %
1. Average individual 20 50 30 0 100
2. Saint of 70%
spiritual level
20 5 20 55 100
3. Saint of 80%
spiritual level
10 2 10 78 100
4. Saint of 90%
spiritual level
5 0 5 90 100
5. Saint of 100%
spiritual level
0 0 0 100 100

C. Natural state of communion with God (sahajavastha)

The spiritually evolved do not dissociate from their inner self when experiencing Bliss in external objects. They are always immersed in Bliss irrespective of whether they are experiencing an object or not. This state is termed as the natural state of communion with God.

D. Righteousness (Dharma)

The Vedanta and the Sankhya philosophies (Darshans) consider the overcoming of unhappiness completely and the attainment of ultimate happiness (Bliss) as the zenith of Spirituality.

E. Need for philosophy

दु:ख त्रयाभिघातात्‌ जिज्ञासा तदपघातके हेतौ ।
दृष्‍टे साऽपार्था चत्‌ नैकान्‍तात्‍यन्‍ततोऽभावात्‌ ।। – सांख्‍य करिका

Meaning: Curiosity for elimination of unhappiness arises after one experiences physical (adhibhautik), divine (adhidaivik) and spiritual (adhyatmik) suffering. If this desire is fulfilled with visible remedies then what is the need for remedies from philosophy which are invisible? – Sankhya Karika

As this does not happen, philosophy is necessary.

Reference: ‘Spirituality’, published by Sanatan Sanstha.