In Search of Joy
By Swami B.V. Tripurari, originally published in Joy of Self, Mandala Publishing, March 1997.
Gaudiya Vedanta is a metanarrative that is deeply philosophical yet readily accessible to even the most common person. It speaks to us of joy and a life of love that never ends. If we embrace it, we will experience this love and never lose it due to the influence of time.
All living beings are in search of joy. We pursue joy directly and do so indirectly when we try to avoid distress. Although one of the four noble truths of the Buddha is that life is about suffering, the Buddha himself teaches how to end suffering, which is indirectly the pursuit of joy. So also are the masochists, sadists, and those labeled suicidal in search of joy. In this search for joy we are all one; we differ, however, in what our conception of joy is.
In another sense, we do all want the same type of joy: that which is everlasting. Therefore, it might be more accurate to say that we are looking for the same thing but looking in different places. Yet the joy we find in this world is fleeting at best.
Joy derived from material objects will never be everlasting. Why is this so? Material objects are transitory. Like foam on waves, material manifestations, from our small bodies to gigantic solar systems, appear for some time and disappear forever. Where do they go? From whence they came. We, on the other hand, are not the fleeting experience of material joy. We are the experiencers. We are consciousness and we possess consciousness, or the power of experiencing.
We often hear that absence of experience of the soul is justification for its dismissal. For the Vedantin, however, experience itself is the soul. Experience is the function of consciousness, and consciousness is that which cannot be dismissed, since dismissal itself is a conscious act. We can dismiss all, from our own bodies to the entire universe, in our search for enduring joy, for all material manifestations will vanish. If, therefore, we are to be successful in our search for joy, we must look not to matter, but to the very consciousness of which we are constituted. To experience joy, we must find ourselves in the maze of matter.
The search for joy is, in reality, the search for self. It is only because we project our own self into material objects that we seem to derive pleasure from them. When we conceive of material objects as “mine,” we in effect “enter” those objects and seem to derive pleasure from them. In reality, however, it is our self that has entered those objects, and it is the same self that is the basis of the joy we experience in relation to those objects. Thus close scrutiny reveals that it is consciousness alone in which pleasure is found, and we are a unit of consciousness. Yet how can we find ourselves and from whence do we come? These are the important questions for human society.
As human beings, we have the capacity to reason. In one sense the universal human language is that of reasoning. Unfortunately, all in human dress do not speak it. If we learn the language of reasoning and are thus directed by intelligence, we will reach the conclusion that logic itself is limited. It can lead us to the self, yet it cannot reveal the self, for intelligence is but a subtle material manifestation and is thus inferior to consciousness. Consciousness, the self, animates body, mind, and intelligence. It brings these gross and subtle material manifestations to life by lending itself to them. How then can intelligence be the guide of the soul? Our guide must possess greater knowledge than us. Thus intelligence cannot reveal the soul any more than a candle can shed light upon the sun. Intelligence can, however, point us in the self’s direction, just as in darkness a candle can lead us to light.
As a ray of sun is separated from the sun by a cloud, we are apparently separated from our source by the cloud of illusion. The supreme sun—eternal joy and consciousness personified—is the source of both its own rays and the cloud of illusion. Thus, as rays of consciousness now illusioned by the cloud of ignorance, we must connect ourselves with our source and thus overcome the material illusion. In our search for joy we must find the reservoir of consciousness, with whom we are one yet at the same time different. To comprehend our inconceivable nature, we require help from beyond the limits of logic. We require more than human effort. We require grace, divine grace.
Although it may not be popular to advocate our dependence on another, when we understand this principle philosophically through the metanarrative of Gaudiya Vedanta, we will realize the extent to which true independence is realized in divine dependence. Unlike Buddhism, monistic Vedanta, and other popular Eastern paths to perfection, Gaudiya Vedanta is a devotional path with emphasis on grace. Gaudiya Vedanta as exemplified by Sri Chaitanya offers much to those who are in search of joy. He and his subsequent followers have presented a doctrine of divine love well reasoned and easily accessible to all. In our search for joy we would do well to consider its principal tenets.