Q: I have been reading and studying your website and Advaita Vendanta in general and I ran across a few questions while recently reading an article.
“Vedanta states that the search for happiness in the world is based on a mistaken idea about the source of happiness. The things of the world are seen as objects of one’s desire for achieving completeness and therefore satisfaction and happiness through actions directed at attaining those objects. Objects themselves are neutral, says Vedanta, but one projects a positive or negative bias on the object according to past experience and conditioning. As long as there is the belief that the objects of the world are the source of happiness the endless cycle of desire, action, result, and experience will continue, sometimes with disastrous consequences. “
Does this apply to goals that are not neccesarily objects but still something of the world? Like say for instance studying in college in a field you are interested in. If you are not just studying for the diploma itself and a high pay grade but for the love of the knowledge itself and for being more able to serve those around you would that still fall under mistaking the source of happiness?
I dont know if I am putting this the right way so I hope maybe you can understand what I am asking despite that. I just was wondering does Advaita Vedanta advise not having goals in life at all? Is it disadvantageous to the self to pursue goals in life? If desire for things outside of yourself doesn’t lead to happiness is it a mistake to desire knowledge and service to others as well?
Also, do you know where I could learn more about how western psychology and Advaita Vedanta are similar and different? Do you have any thoughts on this? I know western psychology is a very broad subject but didnt know if you know of any books or articles that relate the two.
A: That article is actually by a ‘Ramesh Pattni’, who I assume is connected to Chinmaya Mission in the UK, according to the post (https://www.advaita-vision.org/the-pursuit-of-happiness/). Nevertheless, I do agree with the passage that you quote.
The point is that we (initially) believe that we are limited and incomplete. We think that we need to find something to make us complete. This is the essential nature of desire. The problem is that we always look outside, whether to objects and people in the world or to such things as career etc., thinking that if we obtained this ‘whatever it is’ that we would then be complete and therefore happy.
This idea is of course completely wrong and anyone pursuing such a path is doomed to failure. Our true nature is already complete and unlimited. We do not need to ‘do’ anything. The problem is one of ignorance. As soon as that ignorance is removed, the presumed problems of life disappear.
Irrespective of this, the apparent world and life in it continues. It is not that we should cease to function in this life. Indeed, we cannot – we still have to feed and clothe the body for example. But the aim in life should be to realize that none of it is ultimately real. Everything is only a ‘form of Consciousness’ and our true nature is that same, non-dual Consciousness. Once this has happened, we can then simply respond appropriately to events in the world. We can respect and help fellow humans, for example, knowing that their nature too is the same Consciousness but recognizing that their minds still perceive themselves as being separate and bound.
Western philosophy seemed rather to lose its way after Schopenhauer and maybe Plato came closest to understanding things. My book ‘Western Philosophy Made Easy: A Personal Search for Meaning’ (Buy from Amazon US; Buy from Amazon UK) looks very cursorily at key philosophers down the ages and highlights aspects that bear comparison to Advaita. There are books on ‘An Advaitin view of Kantian Philosophy’ and ‘Wittgensteinian Philosophy and Advaita Vedanta’ but I found them too difficult to want to pursue. Probably the nearest is F. H. Bradley’s ‘Appearance and Reality’.
Just looked back at your question and see that you actually asked about psychology! Sorry! I don’t know much about this but there are two books I am aware of, providing that you don’t mind Jungian psychology. The author is very good indeed for Advaita and she is a practicing psychologist so is presumably good at that, too. Unfortunately, I do not have either book and have not read them myself. The author is Carol Whitfield and the books are ‘The Jungian Myth And Advaita Vedanta’, ISBN 978-93-80049-05-2 (Buy from Amazon US; Buy from Amazon UK); and ‘The Vedantic Self and the Jungian Psyche’, ISBN 978-93-80049-12-0 (Buy from Amazon US; Buy from Amazon UK). (Note that I could not recommend pursuing psychology as a help in discovering your true nature – we are not the mind!)