Many moons ago a sibling asked me why I was investing so much of my time and energy searching for life’s meaning. “It doesn’t get you anywhere, it’s not making you any happier,” or words to that effect.
Oh but it will make me happy, I insisted, I just need to work harder at it. After all, it wasn’t as if the rest of the world was any happier.
Turns out we both were right. The search for self, awakening, enlightenment (use whatever term you want) doesn’t make you any happier. And the rest of the world isn’t finding happiness either.
After years of searching it’s clear that humanity’s search for lasting happiness is a fool’s errand, no different than imagining committed focus and effort can make a flipped coin forever come up heads. Ain’t going to happen, the whole duality thing. Want happiness? Then you’d better be prepared for plenty of its alternative.
Most of us know this, of course, but it doesn’t stop us from trying. Every new love will be the best and most lasting of all loves, that fresh wad of cash will be instrumental to a lasting peace, and so on. And then we bicker with that new love or find ourselves needing still more cash and on goes the search.
Our days are adjudged as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on this happiness barometer, but even on the very best comes the mind’s whisper that while this day may indeed have been terrific it takes with it another day of life, brings us that much closer to death, that we must strive even harder to pack as much happiness as possible into what little time we have left. Again, a fool’s errand.
Each of us, I think, has a bit of Siddhartha in us, our lives spent test-driving various approaches to happiness – aestheticism, nihilism, materialism, spiritualism, pick your ism – only to discover that none of these really works. We never find that lasting sense of happiness.
If we are fortunate, however, there arises a faint glimmer of recognition that perhaps – just perhaps – there is something to those ancient mystical traditions, the ones that tell us that life really is suffering and the only way out is to recognize you were never in it. That you and I are nothing more than a case of mistaken identity, waves imagining themselves to be separate and apart from the infinite ocean of existence from which we arise.
Then it is up to us to look for ourselves, to see that there really is nothing separating ‘me’ from the tree upon which I gaze; that that tree is, in fact, nothing more than a mental concept and when the concept goes so goes the tree with it. Which is to say that suffering (or happiness), too, are but concepts as is the he or she who is doing all that suffering or enjoying all that happiness.
So perhaps you and I are not, in fact, waves on the ocean but the ocean itself, existence rising and falling, ebbing and flowing, in ceaseless experience of itself. And if that is true, who is it that suffers or searches for happiness, who is it that is born or dies?