I spent a while travelling solo around India. I picked up my bag pack and landed in Goa, moving towards Rishikesh, Varanasi, Delhi, and across to Pondicherry and Chennai. I went to slow down and do a bit of self-enquiry while being a flaneur in historical and magical culture.
It’s a bit of a cliché to suggest that ‘people with nothing’ are happier than wealthy people. That’s certainly the case in some instances; it’s certainly not in others.
I stopped in this ashram in Varanasi for about a week. A young lad was working there called Ravi; he is the one in some of the pictures. Although I’m sure he didn’t know it, Ravi was as close to a saint as I’d ever encountered. He was ultimately one with the flow of life. I asked him what he’d like to be doing in the future; he’d respond with ‘what I’m doing right now, what else is there?’.
Every evening, Ravi would take me to his family’s restaurant in the city. I’d jump on the back of his battered old scooter from the ashram, and we’d meander through the manic roads of Varanasi. His family would feed me until I couldn’t eat anymore, and we’d talk about their way of life as best as possible despite the language barrier.
Ravi and his family were incredibly happy. And yet they lived in a hut behind the restaurant, Ravi being the lucky one looking after the ashram. One evening I asked Ravi’s father how they were so happy. The start of the conversation went something like this:-
“You have very few possessions, but you seem so happy. We seem to have an unquestioned belief that the acquisition of things and experiences gives you happiness in the West.”
“haha! This restaurant has been in the family for three generations. We own nothing other than this, our hut and a scooter. I’ve never even questioned my happiness. You guys question happiness because you’re so comfortable that you need the friction of unhappiness to feel alive”.
At the time, that last sentence hit me like a lightning bolt.
What is Happiness?
Many consider happiness to be an emotion. I think happiness is a state – an internal and ever-present state which resides naturally.
‘But if it were a natural state, we’d all have access to it all the time’.
Your ideas of right and what is wrong mask your happiness; how the world should look instead of how the world is. Once these ideals are conceded, happiness (correlated with peace) remains. It is clouded, not lost. This was a major revelation when this was first revealed to me.
“Ideals do a lot of damage. The whole time you’re focusing on what should be instead of focusing on what is.” – Anthony De Mello
We also identify with objects and ‘things’ and take ownership of them. If this identification is questioned or an object gets taken away, there is unhappiness. The same goes for thoughts.
Our identity is illusory – based on thought. The more ‘stuff’ (ideas, objects and beliefs) that one acquires, they become less natural. Generally speaking, the stronger the identity, the more fragile and the less happy. The character spends tonnes of energy maintaining its self-created illusion of who they are.
In worldly endeavour, self-identity is very useful; it’s a comedic playground of characters. If you want Truth, self-identity is a mask that needs peeling off. There are many layers of conditioning and brainwashing to be ripped apart, which is a painful process.
At this point, it is a good idea to recognise the difference between ‘me’ (the character) and ‘I’ (Self).