Are you just happy or really, truly happy?

happy sam2Ānanda is of two types): ātmā ānanda and koṣa ānanda (we will retain the word ānanda without translation because it loses its expressiveness in translation). We need to understand the difference between these two types of ānanda before entering into the enquiry.

Ātmā ānanda means fullness – the very nature of one’s own self. Every individual’s intrinsic nature (svarūpam) is ānanda. Vedānta says: you are happiness, because you are fullness. Just as heat is the intrinsic, inseparable property of fire, so too happiness or fullness is the real nature of the individual.

Ātmā ānanda is original and koṣa ānanda is the reflection of fullness or the manifestation of fullness. As an example, heat in the fire is original, whilst heat in hot water is borrowed. Or your face is the original and the reflection of your face in the mirror is reflected. This is the first difference between these two types of ānanda: i.e. one is the original and the other is a reflection.

The second difference is that because ātmā ānanda is original it does not come and go, just as heat being intrinsic to fire does not come and go: fire remains ever hot. Ātmā ānanda is eternal (nitya). Koṣa ānanda being a reflection is dependent on the reflecting medium for its existence: whenever the medium is available there will be a reflection, but when the medium is not available there will be no reflection. Koṣa ānanda, or reflected ānanda, or manifest ānanda is anitya, time bound.

Ātmā ānanda being original, being eternal has no gradation.1 Koṣa ānanda, on the other hand, has gradations.2 The description of the ānandamaya koṣa in the Taittirīya Upanishad makes the different gradations clear: the body made of ānanda has pleasure as its head, greater pleasure as its left arm, greatest pleasure as its right arm.3 The sight of something desirable creates pleasure, the possession of something desirable contributes to greater pleasure, joy, and the enjoyment of something pleasurable leads to the greatest pleasure, happiness. So the third difference between the two types of ānanda is that the original is devoid of gradation where as its reflection has gradation.

Now for the fourth difference: ātmā ānanda being the intrinsic nature is independent and unconditional, whereas koṣa ānanda is dependent on the reflecting medium and therefore conditional on the state of the reflecting medium. It is similar to the distortion of the reflection of the original face according to the condition of the mirror. The gradations in reflection are not due to the original face, but are due to the state of the reflecting medium. Similarly, according to the different conditions of the mind there will be gradations in the reflected koṣa ānanda.

To claim – not gain or attain – ātmā ānanda we need just one means: jñānam: knowledge of what fullness is. To have reflected koṣa ānanda, on the other hand, we require two-fold means (sādhana dvaiyam). Because the reflecting medium, the mind, is dependent on mental serenity which in turn depends on everything around meeting one’s expectations, tranquillity can be attained either by (1) changing everything around to meet your expectation or (2) by developing a proper attitude.

We all have our own expectation of people, situations and things around us. If everything is to our expectations, we will be serene and tranquil. If not, we will be disturbed, and not only that, our disturbance will be such that we will also helplessly disturb others. My mental tranquillity is dependent on whether or not things are to my expectations.

How do we ‘tranquilise’ the mind? We have to keep adjusting all the time. It’s like having different knobs that we have to keep on adjusting to maintain everything perfectly to my expectation: one knob for husband, one for wife, one for children, one for money matters, one for financial problems, etc. In the middle we also sometimes bring in bhagavān, the Lord, and some worship and prayer and a little bit of meditation. If at all some samādhi is gained, it is also still koṣa ānanda. Adjusting the eternal world to maintain tranquillity is a very tough job.

Another way of maintaining tranquillity is to let things be as they are and have viveka, a proper attitude, accommodation. The work for proper attitude is internal, not external, and is possible only if you have viveka, (discriminative knowledge of what is permanent and what is transient). A proper attitude is when you are not dependent on anything external – people, situations, things – for your happiness. Without changing anything external – over which you have no say anyway – you can be tranquil. How? By accommodating them – not out of helplessness, but by having proper understanding that nothing in the world can make me happy, that my unhappiness is not because of another person’s behaviour. The other person’s behaviour may not be tolerable, but you can put up with the other person’s behaviour if you are not dependent on it for your happiness. (If you accommodate out of helplessness you are weak.)

Being accommodative means being detached; being detached means being dispassionate; being dispassionate means being independent; being independent means not being dependent on people, situations and things around me for one’s happiness. Having viveka means that you are sure that an impermanent thing cannot give permanent happiness. Whether one know what is permanent or not, one can know that everything in the universe is impermanent. This viveka alone will result in maturity, which in turn will bless you with accommodation and thereby you will gain a proper attitude towards everything external and thus maintain your tranquillity. We have been blessed with an intellectual capacity, buddhi, which needs to be used to be clear that nothing in the universe is permanent and thus nothing in the universe is capable of giving me permanent happiness.

‘Let me not rely on anything in the world for my happiness. Let me be with people, have concern for people, let me accept the situations and things, but let me not depend on them for my happiness.’ If this is your understanding then you are an intelligent person and your life becomes a meaningful life. You are an intelligent person only when you learn one thing from your own life’s experiences (without which all your other knowledge will be useless): everything in this universe is impermanent. There is only one thing that is permanent and that is paramātmā.

That paramātmā alone is the source of permanent happiness. That paramātmā is none other than you.

(Pranāms to my teacher, Swamini Atmaprakāśānanda for the clarity she has thrown on the subject of this article.)


1.  In English we have degrees of comparison e.g. good, better, best, or big, bigger, biggest. If you add the sanskrit suffix ‘tara’ to a word it becomes comparative. If you add ‘tama’ to a word it becomes superlative. E.g. sthulaḥ puruṣaḥ (fat man), sthulataraḥ puruṣaḥ (fatter man), sthulatamaḥ puruṣaḥ (fattest man). Ātmā ānanda is said to be tāra tamya rahita ānanda (ānanda devoid of being expressed using comparative or superlative affixes) or niratiśaya, (unsurpassed).

2. Said to be tāra tamya sahita ānanda (ānanda capable of being expressed using comparative or superlative affixes) or sātiśaya (good, better, best).

3. priyam eva śiraḥ, modo dakṣina pakṣaḥ, pramoda uttaraḥ pakṣaḥ… (Tait. II.v.1)

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About Peter

I am a student of traditional Vedanta, in London, an interest that started in 1970s. Current Influences: In 2007 I attended a talk by Swamini Atmaprakasananda on Ganapati Atharvashirsha – and knew I had found my teacher. I am current Secretary of Arsha Vidya Centre UK, an organisation established to make available in the UK the teaching of traditional advaita as unfolded by Swaminiji and her own teacher, the illustrious HH Swami Dayananda Saraswatiji, the most respected teacher of traditional advaita.