Don’t Worry, Be Happy

By Gurunistha dasa

Meher Baba may not have been an avatar of God as he claimed, but his famous slogan “Don’t worry, Be Happy” is indeed the core teaching of a real descent of divinity: partha-sarathi Krishna. In the most well known of Hindu scriptures, the Bhagavad-gita, the unassuming chariot driver of the great hero Arjuna gives arguably the most profound discourse on philosophy the world has heard.

Undoubtedly Meher Baba’s catchphrase doesn’t strike the educated reader as very profound at all—and Bobby McFerrin’s billboard hit didn’t help the cause either—but the underlying essence of Krishna’s teaching to his confused friend is just this: “Please, stop worrying. You are happy (ananda) by nature, and by taking shelter of me you will be even happier (svarupa-sakti ananda).”

What then is the proof that this seemingly light-hearted instruction is the essence of this grave and deep text? The ancient Indian hermeneutic tradition has a six-step process of discerning any given scripture’s essence1 , the first of which is examining the opening and closing statements of the book. It has been said that the Gita has many beginnings and endings, but Jiva Goswami, the tattva-acarya of the Gaudiya Vaishnava lineage, has picked two verses in this regard and pointed out the parallelism between them in his Paramatma-Sandarbha. Therein he considers the substantial beginning of the book to be 2.11, where Krishna begins his instructions after Arjuna has tried to rationalize himself out of a bind and finally surrenders as a disciple of his charioteer. Krishna says,

asocyan anvasocas tvam
prajna-vadams ca bhasase
gatasun agatasums ca
nanusocanti panditah

While speaking learned words, you lament for those not worthy of lamentation. The wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.

The important word here is nanusocanti, meaning “don’t worry, don’t lament.”

In regard to the ending of the Gita, Sri Jiva places his bookmark at possibly the most quoted Gita verse: 18.66, where Krishna, with a heart full of affection for his dear friend and devotee, gives his final instruction:

sarva-dharman parityajya
mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo
mokshayisyami ma sucah

Forgoing all religious injunctions, take exclusive refuge in me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Don’t worry.

The last thing Krishna says is ma sucah, “Don’t worry.” But how is this statement the essence of the teachings of Krishna?

A big part of our daily lives consists of worrying. We read the world according to our limited understanding of our nature and potential. We worry about having a partner, losing a partner, getting a job; we worry about our looks, social acceptance, our children and grandchildren, our parents, the economic crisis, the health reform, and so on. The list is endless, really.

As simple as it sounds, all this worrying springs from attachment to the part of existence that is forever elusive and in flux—the material sphere. If we think that material circumstances and possessions are all in all, then there is a great deal to be worried about! We will without a doubt lose everything and everyone that is dear to us.

From a spiritual perspective our worrying is like a baby’s screaming while having nightmares in her mother’s lap, and this is what Krishna is trying to teach to the grief-stricken Arjuna. All anxiety is rooted in ignorance, but in truth we are the “sons of nectar,” as Srila Sridhara Maharaja poetically puts it . Our natural position is to be eternally related to the Godhead, who is bliss and peace personified. There’s absolutely no reason to worry when we make this connection a reality in our lives. The worrying can’t be stopped simply by detachment though, because as Krishna states elsewhere in the second chapter, rasa-varjam raso’pi asya, param dristva nivartate: “The taste for sense enjoyment has to be replaced with a higher taste derived from seeing the Supreme.” Thus Krishna goes on to explain the whole hierarchy of yoga just to highlight the highest taste: devotion (bhakti-yoga) to Rasaraj, the king of tastes.

This kind of yogic dedication will eventually lead us to the land of no worry (niryoga ksema atmavan), where instead of worrying for our own acquisition and comfort (yoga-ksema), we completely forget ourselves in the pursuit of giving to the Godhead in every possible way. That realm, the land of cows, is centered on this aim alone, and is thus completely unified.

But in a land where complete giving is the only concern, who will provide for the residents?,Gopala. He says that he will personally provide (vahamy aham) for such devotees. In the Vraja-lila there are no worries. Thus it is described as cintamani dhama: the ground is touchstone; the trees, wish-fulfilling; the cows, kama-dhenu. There the cowherds live in confidence, in visrambha-seva.

If we could spend our mental energy on these kinds of topics instead of worrying about something that is already worked out—our karmic destiny—we could march towards the dense forests of Vrindvana with a measure of confidence that would give Meher Baba some editing to worry about. “Don’t worry, do saranagati.”

  1. upakramopasamharav abhyaso purvata phalam/
    arthavadopapatti ca lingam tatparya-nirnaye

    “The method by which the essence of any shastra can be ascertained consists of examining (1) the opening and closing statements, (2) that which is repeated throughout, (3) that which is unique about the text, (4) the result or fruit of applying the text, (5) that which the author states is its meaning, and (6) reasoning.” []

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11 Responses to Don’t Worry, Be Happy

  1. Beautiful article, Gurunistha! I did not know that it was Meher Baba who originated this slogan, anyway, it has always irritated me whenever I was anxious and worried and someone would cheerfully quote “Don’t worry, be happy!” to me. But I guess since Krishna says it too, it must have something to it 😉

    I’ve been studying the prayers of Kunti, and in her famous prayers, she prays to Krishna saying: “I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.” Basically, she is praying: “Let me be perpetually worried!” The idea behind it being that suffering will lead one to seek shelter at the feet of Krishna and being anxious and worried is not such a bad thing if it makes one remember Krishna.

    I think Kunti’s approach is easier for me to apply than the “Don’t worry, be happy” one, since I will very likely find myself worried and anxious in the future – just because of my basic (material) nature. And when that happens, I can remember Kunti’s example, and seek solace from Krishna.

    I liked how you described the illusory nature of our fears and worries, saying: From a spiritual perspective our worrying is like a baby’s screaming while having nightmares in her mother’s lap, and this is what Krishna is trying to teach to the grief-stricken Arjuna. How true!

    And thanks for connecting the “Don’t worry, be happy!” song and slogan with Krishna in this article…next time I hear that slogan/song, my thoughts will go to the Gita and Krishna. And, perhaps, instead of being irritated I will smile and think of Krishna 😉

    • Nice article! I love the line, “There the cowherds live in confidence, in visrambha-seva.” It makes me think of the cowherds marching boldly into the forest with Sri Gopala.

      Tadiya, I can relate to what you are saying here. In my own spiritual journey, I am getting tired of negative impetus being the predominant motivator. I definitely could use a little more, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in the mix.

  2. Dandavats!

  3. From reading about the lives of different Avatars there is a thread of sameness running through all their teachings. The differences come about according to the time they were born in. Their statements are for the man and woman of their time. That is why the Avatar comes every thousand years.
    I really enjoyed your article. Thanks. Marc

  4. There so many businesses that thrive because we are worried about our appearance, whether we are ‘love-worthy’ or not, and prey on our insecurities. Gurunistha dasa’s article about a process of being worry-free without spending your hard earned money is very against the spirit of the times. Aren’t you afraid of being labelled a party-pooper for being against the symbiotic relationship between the cheaters (marketers of materialistic happiness) and cheated (the general public)?

  5. Thank you all for the encouraging comments.

    Tadiya, I liked the point about Kunti and negative experiences in relation to bhakti.
    That just shows that bhakti is truly nirguna, because the motivation to act is not raga or dvesa.

    I believe Srila Prabhupada once said something like, “Service will certainly bring anxiety.” (Obviously that kind of anxiety is very different than the type that I was talking about in the article, but it’s stressful nonetheless.)

  6. Gurunistha,

    If you posted this on Facebook I would be able to “like” it. Is there a “love” button on here somewhere?


  7. Syama Gopala das

    Nice article, Gurunistha. What seems hard to understand to me is what will be our impetus to act when we don’t have anything to worry about?
    But I guess don’t worry, do saranagati is the impetusus to become happy or smth along those lines…

    • Then one acts out of happiness and all of one’s actions are celebratory. Such is the nature of lila, and the drama of bhakti—and by extension Krsna lila—is enacted on the stage of saranagati. Try it.

  8. How many lives have we been immersed in negativity? In this world of matter (as per our material consciousness) there is no definitive success in anything. Why then not be negative? What would the alternative be?

    Srila Sridhar Maharaja talks about how this world is friendly. If we are in the right consciousness, we see Krsna’s smile everywhere, we can hear His beguiling melodies. Is it not time we change our mentality to one of wealth, hope, and generosity?

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