Martin Seligman, the founder of the Positive Psychology movement in the USA, mentions an experiment in his famous book, ‘Authentic Happiness’, on school children who were asked to rank their happiness on two events experienced a few months ago, and the children rated better their experience where they helped poor children in contrast to watching a fun movie. Seligman was making a point by stating that ‘meaningful and purposeful’ experiences brought more long term happiness than mere ‘pleasurable’ ones, which were short lived. We need to give our children meaningful and purposeful experiences in their lives which will add value to their personality development and help in character building. This takes us to the state of mind which goes higher than just sensory pleasure and finds happiness in ‘meaning and purpose’ in life. At this stage the levels of consciousness of the human beings goes beyond ‘Kama and Artha’, to the concept of ‘Dharma’ in a loose way.
We discussed in the last part of this series, the two, out of the four, primary goals stated by the Bhagvad Gita, as ‘Kama and Artha’, meaning pleasures and material achievement. According to the Bhagvad Gita, basic to both the goals is the concept of ‘Dharma’ which is the foundation of all behaviour of humans, whether they pursue pleasures or material wealth through economic activity. Dharma is a concept which is complex with multiple meanings and ramifications. It means many things ranging from principles, morality, rules of living, righteousness, charity, service to others, duty and essence of life and many more. If we believe in the concept that ‘man is divine’, then dharma means to fulfil your true nature of divinity and be like that. If the true nature of water is to flow, then its dharma would be to flow. If the true nature of fire is to burn, then its dharma is to burn. If we believe that man is superior and sublime and God-like, then he must endeavour to fulfil that essence. To fulfil the essence of your life is dharma. To do your duty well is dharma and so on and so forth. Dharma teaches us ‘to go beyond the self and selfishness’, and to do- good- to- others. This leads to raising the awareness levels of the mind and consciousness and subsequently to the expansion of the self.
It is the basic virtue on which everything rests and should be taught first and foremost and also throughout life. Dharma is the fulcrum on which all good human thought is based and on which all human activity and behaviour is supposed to be done. It is so important and significant to the good life and virtuous life which leads us ultimately to spirituality. A pure truthful honest and purposeful life gives more lasting happiness than short term sense pleasures and material gains, which are important too but short-lived in terms of happiness.
In India, schools have done away with ‘moral science’ as a subject some decades ago, I guess, and some schools have replaced it with the subject of ‘sex education’. Sex education at times propagates the concept of ‘safe sex’ and also mildly says ‘no sex’. This is certainly a trend in western societies where physical intimacy starts from the teens and parents in their anxiety teach their children to be safe even if they decide to indulge in adult luxuries. I know this first-hand from my cousins who grew up abroad. But this is only about physical safety while the emotional and psychological trauma and other effects, that ensues with premature intimacy is a far major concern. How and when this transition of thought took place in Indian education system is a matter of history but it is shocking to say the least that schools felt the need to do so. We have forgotten the basic principles of living, morality, and ethics, that is Dharma, completely, it seems, by throwing out moral science and bringing in sex education. No wonder then, psychologists cry about the decline in moral values and call this ‘the age of ethical-crisis’.
C. Mihaly, a famous researcher in Positive Psychology, in his book ‘Psychology for the third millennium –The evolving self’ gives a good definition of happiness. He says –‘it is important to know that it is not sufficient for a person to enjoy merely any kind of life but a life that increases order and harmony in oneself and the world, instead of disorder or entropy’. According to him every action of ours is going to impact us and the world and we must learn to evaluate it whether we are moving towards harmony or entropy. We should be able to judge and discriminate between the two and sometimes it is very difficult. C. Mihaly emphasises that “Moral codes have become necessary because evolution in liberating mankind from complete dependence on instincts has also made it possible for us to act with malice that no organism ruled by instincts alone could possess. Therefore every social system must develop moral codes to keep the intergroup harmony that genes no longer can provide. With every passing decade our actions are becoming increasingly more influential in determining whether harmony or chaos will prevail”
Psychologists in the west, especially the pioneers of the positive psychology movement show utmost concern about the falling and failing morality in the western countries and are ringing the alarm bells for the world to wake up. They feel in the absence of the emphasis on morality we are creating psychopaths and psychotics in mankind and the increase in mental illness, juvenile delinquency, and crime are proof enough of it. Only when we create harmony in our minds and in the world can we be happy individually or collectively as a race on this earth. The cycle of time completes full circle as we come back to the ancient wisdom of ‘Dharma’ to be happy.
To be continued………