Let's start with atheism. Since the atheist denies transcendence, what is simply is, and there's not a thing we can do about it. Or, we can either accept what is, or pretend there is some escape. Therefore, happiness, such as it is, would come down to a stoic acceptance of -- or resignation to -- what is.
There's some truth in that, but it depends on what is is. For is there a difference between animal and human happiness? Can we even call an animal "happy," or is happiness a specifically human reality? I think the latter, or happiness would simply come down to being warm and well-fed. The temporary cessation of wants and needs can't be all there is to it.
However, we can't say that want and need have nothing to do with happiness. I suppose it comes down to what we "really" need and want.
We'll return to atheist man, but Vedanta man is in much the same boat, albeit in first class instead of in steerage with the other third class thinkers. Here's one straight from the Ganges' mouth, Patanjali. In his commentary, Swami Prabhavananda explains that the times we've been happy occurred when
we had temporarily ceased to feel anxious; when we lived -- as we so seldom do -- in the depths of the present moment, without regretting the past or worrying about the future.
Swami P distinguishes this state from the mere satisfaction of a desire, which not only lasts for short time, but inevitably "gives rise to another, and so the moment of happiness ends in further anxiety." True, of course, but is there something more to happiness than this entirely negative definition? In other words, is it only the absence of anxiety, or a positive presence?
The Swami points to the latter: one might suppose that "an absence of desire would merely produce a dull, neutral mood, equally joyless and sorrowless." But this isn't the case, at least for the sort of happiness he is describing, which comes down to the joy of the Atman which "is always within us." This prior condition
can be released at any time by breaking down the barriers of desire and fear which we have built around it. How otherwise could we be so happy without any apparent reason?
Here we're getting warmer, but with insufficient light. The light creates the warmth, not vice versa, and the Swami tosses out some shady concepts that will require some additional fleshing out. Literally, but we'll get to that later.
One of the central principles of Vedanta is that ultimate reality is bi-polar, so to speak, with a transcendent absolute (Brahman) at one end, and an immanent one (Atman) at the other. There is God-Beyond and God-Within, and these are ultimately not-two. They say Atman is Brahman, but this can be misconstrued.
It is analogous to what the early fathers mean when they say "God became man that man might become God." This doesn't imply that we become the creator of the universe, rather, that we share in his divine nature. We are "not-two." Only Jesus is literally one with the Creator, and our task is to get on board the ark of salvation and participate in his eternal and vertically circular trinitarian descent <---> ascent.
At the end of Shankara's Crest-Jewel of Discrimination there's a helpful Q & A with the master. To the question "What is happiness?," the one word answer is "detachment." From what? From the ego, or better, the ego-world complementarity (for the ego gives rise to a -- not THE -- world, or to a self-enclosed reality tunnel).
The ego has disappeared. I have realized my identity with Brahman and so all my desires have melted away. I have risen above my ignorance and my knowledge of this seeming universe. What is this joy I feel? Who shall measure it? I know nothing but joy, limitless, unbounded!
That sounds pretty, pretty, pretty good. Chalk one up for the East. But can we do better?
Wayback in my doctoral program I studied psychoanalysis. Long story short, while psychoanalysis started out with one school -- Freudian -- soon enough, like Protestantism, it ramified into dozens of competing versions with very different models of the psyche in both sickness and health. Therefore, you have to pick the "best" one. How do we do that? On what basis can we choose?
I can only speak for myself. I don't want to get sidetracked, but in retrospect, it seems to me that my mind -- or maybe my whole being -- called out for a model that was sufficient to contain its expanse: its height, width, and depth. Which means, for starters, that there is an interior reality and that the model is there to conform to this. All too often I saw the converse, that is, students and professors reducing the psyche to their model. Which means they were trying to squeeze the wider world of being into what could be seen via their model. This is to confuse one's reality tunnel for the reality, and charge people good money to live in your tunnel.
So, that's where O came from. O is the ultimate reality prior to our theorizing about it, and which no theory can contain.
Stop digressing. Back to the question: can we (in the Western Division) do better? I think so, because the principle of Incarnation includes a great deal that Samadhi (release from the ego and identification with Atman) excludes -- little things like the body, the universe, other people. Here's some more joy from the liberated fellow above:
Now, finally and clearly, I know that I am Atman, whose nature is eternal joy. I see nothing, I hear nothing, I know nothing that is separate from me....
Nothing binds me to this world. I no longer identify myself with the physical body or the mind. I am one with the Atman, the undying. I am the Atman -- infinite, eternal, at peace forever.... My nature is pure consciousness.... I am the infinite Brahman, without a second. I am Reality, without beginning, without equal
Etc. Again, I don't knock it. But note what is left out: for example, no body, just pure consciousness. Let's say I have no prior religious commitment, but it's time to choose one. I'm going through the brochures. Here's Vedanta, which promises to liberate me from this slab of animal meat into pure consciousness-bliss. I like that. Don't recycle that one just yet.
Ooh. Check this one out -- it promises not escape from the world and body, but the divinization of them! And God does the hard part. We have only to participate in it. We don't have to lift ourselves by our own buddhastraps. Rather, there's this thing they call "grace" and a fellow they call the Holy Spirit that do the heavy lifting.
As usual, this whole post was provoked by a single sentence by Pieper. If you open your Piepers to page 116, in a chapter on the subject of happiness, he discusses the notion,
perhaps always present down through the ages, that happiness consists of existence itself. This is the hidden presupposition both for the utilitarian plans of totalitarianism and for the quasi-religious overvaluing of psychotherapy.
Yes. Both approaches work fine so long as man isn't for something -- something beyond man. Now, what is a man for? It seems to me that happiness must be bound up with this question. I'm reminded of a canine officer I recently evaluated. Somehow we got into the question of whether police dogs are happy in retirement, but he said they are miserable. Having a job to do gives them purpose, structure, stimulation. Remove these and they're a mess. He implied that putting them down is putting them out of their misery.
Hold that thought. Back to man:
First point: what do we really want? The very formulation of the question implies that there is something we only seem to want, or think we want, but don't really want (Pieper).
He brings in Socrates, who remarked that the tyrant may well be able to do whatever he pleases, but not necessarily what he wants. Socrates' partner in dialogue calls this claim absurd, insisting that happiness means doing as we please, and that's all there is to it. Nevertheless, Socrates digs in his sandals.
This post has gone on long enough. I have to accomplish some actual work. We'll get to our exciting conclusion on Tuesday.