Muhammad Ghaznavi invaded India 17 times and carried back to Ghazni, a huge chunk of our precious stones, gold and silver. His army brought bloodshed and destruction wherever it went, leaving behind countless widows and orphans. However, when the time of his death drew near, he ordered his court officials to put all the wealth he had brought from India on display in a hall in his palace. Then, he was carried slowly around the hall on his bed. At that moment, he sighed deeply and with tears rolling down his cheeks, he exclaimed, 'Nothing of this wealth, which I acquired through endless cruelties and atrocities, could give me everlasting joy, peace and eternal happiness. All these things are useless for me today. And I would like to tell people who think they can achieve perpetual happiness and joy through worldly pleasures that they are highly mistaken. They are just wasting their precious time in sensual enjoyments and destroying their lives.'
Similarly, George Eastman, who founded the Eastman Kodak Company and popularized the use of film rolls, had every material pleasure that one aspires for. However, despite all his prosperity, his very own existence was intolerable to himself. Result? He killed himself by aiming a bullet on his head.
There is a tale of an Athenian sage Solon and Croesus, the last king of Lydia, an ancient country of Asia Minor. Once Croesus happened to meet the great sage Solon and said that Asia Minor was one of the happiest places. To this the sage asked him– 'Who is the happiest man then? I have not seen anyone very happy, cheerful, and contented in this whole world.' Croesus exclaimed, 'Nonsense! Can't you see I am the happiest man in this entire universe?' The sage replied, “Please wait till the end of your life. Don't be in a hurry!”, and he went away. In the course of time Croesus was conquered by the Persians, and they ordered him to be burned alive. The funeral pyre was prepared. When poor Croesus saw it, remembering the wise man's words, he cried out loud- 'Solon! Solon!' On being asked to whom he referred, he told his story, listening to which the Persian emperor was touched and set him free.
Likewise there are countless examples that prove only one thing– that, the search for eternal happiness in this mundane world through power and prosperity is a futile attempt. Rather, it's a delusive attempt! A false perception!
But, unfortunately, despite such examples in front of us and that too in huge numbers, still everyone attempts to look for happiness in the same direction! The desire for happiness maddens us and we are always seeking it in this mundane world. And, since the action is erroneous, so are the results! In place of happiness, more miseries, more turbulence, more unhappiness and more sufferings fall in our lot.
In this context, the Vedas proclaim, 'what we think to be happiness– it is in fact a mirage of joy and delight, while the real source lies somewhere else!' Our situation is somewhat like the man in the story who attempted to catch hold of a necklace.
Once there was a king who presented his daughter, the princess, a sparkling diamond necklace. But, after a few days, the necklace was stolen. The king commanded his people to search for the necklace everywhere in the kingdom; but, the necklace could not be found. The king then announced a reward of Rs 1 lakh to whosoever finds it. The news created a sort of excitement in the entire kingdom; however, no one could locate it.
One day, a young man was walking home along the river. The river was very dirty and smelly. As he was walking, his eyes fell upon something that was shining in the river. His eyes twinkled as it was the same diamond necklace that was stolen. Without delaying, he put his hand in that polluted river and tried to catch hold of the necklace! After all, it was the question of 1 lakh rupees! But, he missed out to grab it. He tried again; this time he walked in the river, soiled his clothes and inserted his whole arm in the river. But unfortunately, he again missed the necklace!
The necklace was still shining right there. This time he plunged into the river. He searched to his best in all directions in the river for the necklace, but failed again. He came out and sat there depressed.
Just then a saint who happened to cross from that place, saw him, and asked him the reason for his sadness. When the man told his problem, the saint thought for a while and smiled. The saint then guided him that he should try looking upward, towards the branches of the tree, instead of hunting for the necklace in the filthy river. Ah! The necklace was swinging on the branch of the tree. Poor man! He had been attempting to capture the reflection of the real necklace all this time.
Verily, the material world is just like the filthy, polluted river, which deludes us with the reflection of happiness. Of course, no matter how hard we may try, we can never achieve the happiness that we aspire for! To make our attempts successful, we need to change our direction of search, and look inside, seek within. Because there the source of real happiness lies! That's why our Vedas exclaim 'aatmaanam vidhi' i.e. know your true Self. Socrates said, 'Know Thyself.' Plato in his classic work, 'The Republic' has written “better than bodily pleasure is mental peace; and, superior to mental peace is spiritual bliss.” Behind this world of shadow is the real spiritual world of splendour and delight.
As mentioned in the Chandogya Upanishad, many centuries ago, a small boy Shvetketu raised a question to his father, sage Gautum. He asked, “Father, everyone is looking for happiness in this world. So, where can we find this eternal happiness? What is the source?” The sage replied, “He who has found the Supreme Lord and who has understood the Self, attains peace and eternal happiness in true sense.”
Paramahansa Yogananda exclaims– “Mankind is engaged in an eternal quest for that "something else" he hopes will bring him happiness, complete and unending. But, for those individual souls who have sought and found God, the search is over: HE is that 'Something Else'.”
We all are the combination of matter and spirit. We have the choice of focusing either on matter or spirit. If we focus on matter, we get involved in the gross world and get entangled in the labyrinth of its illusions and delusions– going far away from our goal of achieving eternal happiness. But, if we shift our attention to the spirit, the Soul or the Atman, the quest is answered right away and in fullness! Well, on our life's plate, the choice is only ours!