Is the aim of bhakti
freedom from suffering or
the attainment of happiness?
Bhakti philosophy tells us that regardless of who we are and the type of actions we perform, we all work because of some inner aim. You know from your own experience that whatever inspires you to action is always changing. Plus, what inspires you to act doesn't only change, but quite often your aims contradict one another from one minute to the next.
Because of this, you may find it an overwhelming task to sort out what it is you really want.
The fact is there is one universal aim for all of us, regardless of belief, culture, language, gender or any of our other distinguishing factors. bhakti philosophy tells us we are searching for happiness and happiness alone in everything that we choose to do. This is our true aim and the hidden motivation behind all actions.
We may say we are motivated to have perfect health, prosperity, good relationships, longevity, freedom, or whatever our heart desires, but these are only means of fulfilling what is our ultimate and original desire: perfect happiness.
Why do you want money? To be happy. Why do you wish to live forever? To be happy. Why do you desire knowledge? To be happy. Why are you reading this paragraph? You, too, are looking for happiness.
In the Vedic tradition, the Darshan Shastras are six schools of theistic philosophy that address our aim. In Hinduism, a scripture is described as theistic if it is based on the principles of the Vedas and Upanishads.
Five of these schools (Poorva Mimansa of Jaimini, Nyaya of Gautum, Vaishaishik of Kanad, Sankhya of Kapil and Yoga of Patanjali) state that our deepest desire is freedom from suffering.
Suffering has three main forms:
- Physical and mental suffering
- Suffering inflicted upon us by others
- Suffering caused by the environment
Happiness, according to these systems, is achieved when one is liberated from suffering, and this happens when one is completely free from maya.
The sixth school of philosophy, the Brahma Sutra by Ved Vyas, takes a different position. This philosophy is the most extensive and the most important of all the theistic systems. Jagadgurus and Saints have written extensive commentaries on this scripture, and they give two perspectives on its spiritual meaning.
The first perspective describes the ultimate Divine reality as nondual. In other words, whatever that Divine existence is, it is only one, and you are one with that essence where there is no perceiver, no perceived object, and no process of perception. This is realized through gyan. This school of philosophy is referred to as advait or nondualism.
The second perspective describes the ultimate Divine reality is dual, meaning there are two, you and God are two, and you realize each other in two-ness through bhakti. There is you, God and the process of experiencing Him with your mind and all your senses. This school of philosophy has a few variations, but collectively they are referred to as dvait or dualism.
The original philosophy of advait held that our ultimate aim was to attain absolute liberation from maya, realize and merge into the bliss of nondual Divinity.
The philosophy of dvait took this one step further and described a realization beyond liberation and nondual bliss: the attainment of God realization.
Isn't liberation from suffering the same as the attainment of bliss? No. However, the attainment of bliss includes liberation from suffering.
Even in your own life the absence of sorrow does equate to the presence of happiness. If someone is standing on your foot, while that pressure is being applied, you feel pain. If they remove their foot, you may refer to the relief you feel as 'happiness', but it is really just the absence of pain.
A more true definition of happiness for us corresponds to joy... after your foot feels better, you see your dear friend and from that meeting you feel your heart is bursting with joy. This is more like it!
Similarly, in a spiritual sense, absolute liberation from maya and the experience of nondual bliss is a Divine accomplishment. In contrast to mayic bondage, this is unlimitedly blissful. Amazingly there is still a more enriched experience of Divine bliss beyond this attainment related to the personal form of God.
By attaining liberation, you don't automatically receive this bliss, but by attaining God realization, not only do you receive this bliss, but you are also automatically freed from maya and all mayic suffering.
According to bhakti yoga philosophy, our ultimate aim is not just be free from suffering, but to also experience perfect Divine happiness.
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