This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed. (Bhagavad Gita 9.2)
Does happiness come from acquisition? Suppose you have a hundred billion dollars, a majestic mansion, best of cars, finest of foods, but you are the only person alive on the planet. Will you be happy eating all that wonderful food alone and driving in that car alone? But in that loneliness, if a butterfly comes and lands on your finger, you will experience happiness. Isn’t it?
The basis of happiness is relationships, and what makes relationships fulfilling is love. Life without love is superficial and quite meaningless. And life with love is satisfying, even if we have nothing else.
To love God is our natural condition
Love is the most fundamental need of every living being. The origin of love lies in our lost relationship with God. Bhagavad Gita explains that every soul is a child of God; hence to love God and to be loved by God is our original nature. And bhakti is the process of reestablishing and reawakening our natural condition of loving God.
Years ago, while I was walking along a sea shore, I came across a little fish flapping on the sand. I looked into his confused eyes. He was in total frustration and misery; he was hysterical. Why? He was out of water, his habitat. Nothing, not even a female fish, could bring back his happiness. Similarly, nothing can make us happy when we are not in our habitat – our natural condition of life. The path of devotion teaches that the nature of the soul is to serve and love God. But when we try to be happy through material acquisitions, we become like that fish out of water. Matter may give satisfaction to our body and mind, but our heart will remain dissatisfied, lonely and frustrated.
I picked up that fish and threw him back into the ocean.
But why are Bhakti Yogis sometimes unhappy?
The unfortunate irony is that even practitioners of bhakti yoga sometimes feel unhappy. This unhappiness is often caused because of unrealistic expectations: they often wish, naively, for a life free of problems. This attitude needs to be changed.
Gratitude – the right attitude
The path of bhakti is the path of grace. The grace of God brings one onto this path, pushes one ahead, and it is grace alone that enables one to attain perfection on this path. But how can we attract this supreme all-powerful grace of God? Grace descends upon those who cultivate the right attitude while endeavoring on this path of bhakti. And the quality of gratitude is considered critical by all the teachers as conducive for attracting grace.
Our heart is like a field. We water the seed of bhakti in the field of our heart through our sadhana: chanting of God’s names, scriptural study and prayers in the association of devotees. But the seed will not grow unless the soil is soft and fertile. It is the quality of gratitude that makes our heart fertile. We should be grateful whether it is success or failure, honor or dishonor, happiness or distress, health or disease. We should see the opportunity to grow and learn from every experience.
When I lived as a sadhu begging in the Himalayas, people would give me a handful of cheap chipped rice. I would add some river water to it and eat it. While I ate, I would thank God for what I was receiving. “God, by your grace, I am elevated from a comfortable house and tasty foods of America. Now, I am a sadhu eating chipped rice. Thank you.” I would be in tears of happiness eating that chipped rice. It was at that time that I learnt a grateful heart was a happy heart. Even chipped rice and water tasted like nectarine feast, because I tasted with my heart, not with my tongue.
Gratitude is the foundational principle by which we learn to see the hand of God in every situation. Success is not how things turn out in this world, but how we turn to God with gratitude in every situation.
Gratitude means reciprocation
Gratitude does not end simply with a ‘thank you’. Real gratitude means reciprocation. If we are truly grateful to someone, we will reciprocate even if it means a great sacrifice.
Every moment in bhakti should be seen as an opportunity to express our gratitude to God.
During my travels across India, I came to Patna, a bustling city in the state of Bihar. There, I met a man who appeared to be in his mid-eighties, Rama Sevaka Swami, a great bhakti yogi. Like a loving father, Ram Sevak Swami carefully considered my welfare. A gentle smile beamed from his aged face every time he looked at me. Although four times my age, Ram Sevak Swami fed me with his own hands. When I was ill, he prepared herbal medicines for me. My heart was moved seeing his devotion. Each morning he spent several hours alone chanting the names of Lord Rama on his wooden beads and performed his daily worship on the altar with great feeling. One day he explained to me the meaning of his name: Rama Sevaka means ‘one who serves Lord Rama’ and the greatest service to Rama is to help others to know him and love him. He stroked his flowing white beard and became emotional. “I am indebted to you for allowing me to help you.” Seeing him, I was only beginning to grasp the meaning of true devotion.
Happiness is not in what we do, it is the gratitude and love in which we do it.