Volume I - The Way of Illumination
Section IV - The Purpose of Life
Happiness, which is sought after by every soul, has its secret in the knowledge of the self. Man seeks for happiness, not because happiness is his sustenance, but because happiness is his own being. Therefore, in seeking for happiness, man is seeking for himself. What gives man inclination to seek for happiness is the feeling of having lost something which he had always owned, which belonged to him, which was his own self. The absence of happiness, which a soul has experienced from the day it has come on earth and which has increased every day more and more, makes man forget that his own being is happiness. He thinks happiness is something, which is acquired. As man thinks that happiness is something which is acquired, he continually strives in every direction to attain to it. In the end, after all his striving, he finds that the real happiness does not lie in what he calls pleasures. Pleasures may be a shadow of happiness. There is an illusion of happiness, because all the illusion which stands beside reality is more interesting for the average man than reality itself.
A happiness which is momentary, a happiness which depends upon something outside of oneself, is called pleasure. Very often we confuse, in our everyday language, the distinction between pleasure and happiness. A pastime, an amusement, merriment, gaiety that take one's thoughts away from the responsibilities and worries and limitations of life and give one a moment's consolation – one begins by thinking that these are the ways of happiness. But as one cannot hold them, and as one often finds that, seeking for what may be called a pleasure, the loss is greater than the gain, then one begins to look for something that will really be the means of happiness. It is this, very often, that wakens a soul to look for the mystery of religion, for the sense in philosophy, for the secret of mysticism, in case he can find some happiness there. But even all these things only help one to find happiness. They are not happiness themselves. It is the soul which is happiness itself, not all outer things which man seeks after, and which he thinks will give him happiness. The very fact that man is continually craving for happiness shows that the real element, which may be called man's real being, is not what has formed his body and what has composed his mind, but what he is in himself.
The mind and body are vehicles. Through the mind and body man experiences life more fully, more clearly; but they are not happiness in themselves, nor does what is experienced through them give the real happiness. What he experiences through them is just pleasure, an illusion of happiness for a time. It is not only that the pleasures cost more than they are worth, but very often in the path of pleasure, when a person is seeking after happiness, as he goes further, he creates more and more unhappiness for himself. Very often it happens. Every way he turns, everything he does, every plan he carries out, thinking that this will give him happiness, only produces a greater trouble, because he is seeking after happiness in a wrong direction.
A person might ask, 'Is, then, the secret of happiness in the way of the ascetics, in tormenting and torturing oneself as they have done for ages?' Even that does not give happiness. It is only a distraction from the worldly pleasures which produce illusion. The ascetic shuts himself up in order to have an opportunity of taking another direction. But very often it so happens that the one who lives an ascetic life is himself unaware of what he is doing and what it is intended for. And therefore, even if he lives his whole life as an ascetic, he cannot derive a full benefit from it. His loss is then greater than his gain. For even asceticism is not a happiness. It is only a means of self-discipline. It is a drill in order to fight against temptations which draw one continually in life and which hinder one's path to happiness. Not understanding this, a person may go on living an ascetic life but can never be benefited by it, like a soldier who has drilled all his life and never fought. Many have understood self-denial as the way to happiness, and they interpret self-denial in the form of asceticism, to deny oneself all pleasures which are momentary. There is another point from which to look at it: the creation is not intended to be renounced. We read in the Quran that God has made all that is in the heavens and on the earth subservient to man. Wherefore, all that is beautiful and pleasing, all that gives joy and pleasure, is not to be renounced. The secret of all this is that what is made for man, man may hold but he must not be held by it.
When man renounces the path of happiness, real happiness,
in order to pursue pleasures, it is then that he does wrong.
If in the pursuit of happiness, which is the ultimate happiness,
he goes on through life, then for him to be an ascetic and
deny himself all pleasures is not necessary. There is a
story told of Solomon, that he had a vision that God revealed
Himself to him and said, 'Ask what I shall give thee.' Solomon
said, 'Give me an understanding heart, wisdom and knowledge.'
And God said to him, 'Because thou hast asked this thing
and hast not asked long life for thyself, neither hast thou
asked riches for thyself, but hast asked for thyself understanding,
behold, I have done according to thy word. I have given
thee a wise and understanding heart. And I have also given
thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches and honor,
and I will lengthen thy days.' This shows that the true
way is not the renouncing of things, but it is making the
best use of them, making the right use of them. It is not
going away from life, but being among the crowd, being in
the midst of life, and yet not being attached to it. One
might say, that it would be a cruel thing to be detached
from anybody who wants our love and kindness and sympathy.
You can attach yourself to the whole world if you will not
be of the world. If one keeps one's thoughts centered upon
the idea of the real happiness which is attained by the
realization of the self, and if one does not allow anything
to hinder that, then in the end one arrives at that happiness
which is the purpose of the coming on earth of every soul.