In his book The Theory of Eternal Life, Rodney Collin recounts a story about how native East Indians poured beer and whisky over the grave of a recently dead European planter. They did this to appease his ghost. They believed that his ghost still craved the beer and whiskey that he had loved so much during his life.
The point Collin makes about this story is that the planter’s experience of the afterlife was limited by his desires. Despite the incredible possibilities of freedom inherent in his disembodied state, the planter’s being, his ghost, wanted nothing more than to return to the physical pleasures he had pursued in his life. He was so indentified with the pleasures of the body that his soul wanted nothing more than to relive those pleasures. His disembodied spirit could not imagine (and did not desire) an astral experience. He didn’t move on because all its desires–his understanding of happiness–referred only to physical pleasures and pains.
In theory a man’s ‘ghost’ can even live through people who are alive, who suffer from the same addictions and weaknesses that plagued the man during his life. But there is nothing frightening in this kind of specter. In my mind this fate is more sad than frightening.
What is usually called happiness is the gratification of desires. If you want something and you get it, you are happy; and if you want something, and you are denied getting it, you are unhappy or unsatisfied. In America we have the phrase ‘the pursuit of happiness.’ It is supposed to be one of our inalienable rights: to be able to go out and pursue happiness. People pursue happiness in different ways, but for the most part they look outside at the world and expect that they will find it there. People acquire money, in some cases much more than they need, because they see money as a key to gratifying their desires. Others seek success and fame because they believe that happiness lies in how other people see and treat them. Others pursue art or science because they believe that happiness lies in the artistic process or in the discovery of new knowledge. Others think that happiness lies in being beautiful or strong. And others believe that happiness lies in helping others, and so become doctors or policemen or social workers.
The difficulty with pursing happiness in this way is that the objects and situations that make you happy are transient. This is a problem because when you tie your happiness to fleeting things, you inevitably bring suffering or unhappiness on yourself when these things are either taken away or never given in the first place. If you believe that money is the source of happiness, then it follows that you will be unhappy when you don’t have enough. If you believe that your happiness lies in the love and respect of other people, than it follows that you will be unhappy when other people despise or ignore you. And if you think that happiness lies in being beautiful and healthy, how will you be happy when you get old and your health falters and your beauty fades? Even if you believe that happiness is gained by helping others, you bring unhappiness on yourself when you are put in a situation of being unable to help another.
So you see that it is impossible to divorce a discussion of happiness from a discussion of unhappiness or sufferings. They are joined together. In fact, it is possible to say that your suffering is a result of your pursuit for happiness. If you did not pursue happiness, you would not suffer the disappointment of the non-fulfillment of desire. This does not mean that you must sit on your hands and do nothing in order to avoid pain. What it means is that you need to learn to live your life while at the same time being detached or not indentified with it. This is necessary because happiness, as we ordinarily think of it, is unsustainable. As long as your happiness is dependent of the fulfillment of desires, you will inevitably suffer bouts of unhappiness. Sustaining the gratification of one desire after another in such a way that happiness would be continual is an impossible feat. At best you will be happy in the moments where your desires are gratified, and unhappy the rest of the time.
Clearly if we are to find happiness, we must first observe and understand the mechanics of desire. We must understand that the pursuit of happiness does not have to mean the gratification of our desires. There is no reason why we have to correlate happiness with satisfying the desires of body or even the heart. It is possible to take a different approach.
Christ, and Christian thought in general, are essentially quiet in the subject of happiness. It doesn’t really enter into Christian thought. But in Buddhism it is fairly central. In Buddhist thought the idea of suffering is delineated in the Four Noble Truths. (Noble here can be taken to mean higher or enlightened.) The first noble truth is that life is filled with suffering. In other words that in life you will inevitably experience some form of suffering whether it be poverty, disease, old age, or loss. Suffering is simply a part of life, and no one is entirely spared. The second noble truth is that the cause of suffering is desire and illusion. In this case illusion refers to the idea of not seeing or refusing to admit that the pursuit of happiness though the gratification of desires can only lead to repeated bouts of happiness followed by bouts of unhappiness. In other words the lack of sustained happiness is not the result of the world not giving us what we want; it is the result of choosing to desire things we can never permanently possess, in other words, security, health, anything material, and life itself. The third noble truth is that happiness—I’ll call it contentment from now on in order to distinguish it from transient happiness—is possible as a sustained state only by curtailing desire. The fourth noble truth states that curtailing desire, and therefore becoming free of suffering, is only possible through the dharma or the path.
Essentially the dharma is the practice of esotericism—the path to consciousness. So in the end we come back to practices like being present that lead to the awakening of higher centers. In the case of gaining happiness the idea is that a state of contentment is only possible through detachment or non-identification. In a sense what this means is that real happiness is the result of a permanent realization that the things of this world a passing and that to cling to them is a source of pain.
In the end I don’t believe that this means that passion is lacking the experience of higher centers. Far from it. When higher centers work, we become passionate about higher worlds and about the tools that are used to reach higher worlds. It is a change of being, of what we desire.
For even as from men of physical appetite death takes away their sole means of indulgence, from men of unselfish and nobler impulse it would remove their chief obstacle and present unbelievable opportunity of satisfying such aspiration. ~ Rodney Collin
The possibilities inherent in a man’s being attached to a higher body are almost unimaginable.
This is also from Rodney Collin:
The poet, relying in the physical world on vague presentiments of emotions, scenes and moods, on indefinable sensations of the being of men, women, cities, seas and forests, could there perceive the nature of such things directly, by penetration rather than external perception. The philanthropist would at last be able to understand the needs of others, instead of imposing his own upon them. While the man desiring to learn would be enabled to pass momentarily across the world in search of a teacher of the level of wisdom appropriate to his need.