There was a village. Like in any village, everyone knew everyone else in this village. There was a young couple, who were in love with each other. They wanted to meet privately. They decided to meet at ten in the night under a banyan tree at the outskirts of the village. The boy went there at the planned time. He saw the silhouette of his beloved. He went quietly and hugged her. He was in great joy. He loved the feeling of the absence of the painful physical distance from his beloved. After a minute, he wondered, why he was not getting the usual response from her. It was then that he saw her face. He was hugging a bear !!! He ran towards the village for dear life.
This story was told today at Ramakrishna Math, Ulsoor, Bangalore, by Swami Dayatmanandaji. He told this story to point out that happiness comes from within. Not from outside. As long as the boy thought that he was hugging his beloved, he experienced great happiness. This is true of all desire, happiness and sorrow. These feelings come not from the object, but our imagination and interpretation of the object.
I have read a similar story in the book “Buddhist Tales” in the Amar Chitra Katha series. There was an only son of a rich couple. He was in the prime of his youth. He was rich, handsome, healthy, educated, cultured, artistic and sportive. He saw that life had so much to offer – so much to know, so many places to see, so much art to indulge in, so much to play. He did not want to get into marriage and spoil his life. His parents were worried and kept nudging him everyday. To avoid their pressure, he hit upon an idea. He made a beautiful golden statue of a girl. He made it extremely beautiful. He showed the statue to his parents and said that he would marry a girl who was as beautiful as that. He was sure that there can be no girl who is as beautiful as the statue. His parents were hopeful. This was the last hope for them. They got pictures of the statue made and sent it with messengers to various parts of the world. Nowhere could the messengers find a girl as beautiful as that. The boy was happy. His parents were worried. After several months, a message came that they had found a girl in a distant city. She was as beautiful as the statue and her parents had agreed to the proposal. The parents were overjoyed. They sent a caravan of gifts for the parents of the girl and arranged for them to come for the marriage. They told the boy. The boy was puzzled. Everyday, he watched the statue and was wondering how someone can be as beautiful as that. Slowly he started liking the girl who was on her way. He was looking forward to meet her and marry her. A few weeks passed. The caravan had not come yet. He asked his parents. They said that he had to wait longer as the city was far away. The boy asked his parents every few days and got the same reply. A few months passed. Still the caravan had not come. Finally, his parents broke the sad news to him that the girl had fallen ill on the way and died a few months back. The caravan had gone back. The boy was struck with great agony. He cried and cried for several days. He did not eat properly. He did not sleep properly. He spent all the time near the statue. Buddha was visiting his city. His parents took him to Buddha. Buddha showed him that desire, happiness and sorrow were all based on imagination. The boy understood and became free from sorrow.
There is another similar story which is popular among traditional pravacakas (people who give spiritual discourses). There were two neighbors in a village, which was on a busy road connecting several important cities. Both the families were very close to each other. They had a son each, almost of the same age. Let us call them Devadutta and Somadutta. Both the boys grew up together. After completing their education, both the boys wanted to go to various cities to see and also do business. As this was good for them and for the families, their parents reluctantly agreed. The boys took a small amount as capital and left the village. Together, they setup a good business and were very successful. They kept sending messages to their parents through other travelers from the village. They often sent money also through some of them. Both the families were very happy, though they were missing their sons. After a couple of years, a traveler brought a bad news. Devadutta had contracted a fatal illness and died in spite of the best medical treatment given to him. Somadutta was taking care of the partnership and had sent money to both the parents. The traveler also gave the information that Somadutta will be coming to visit the village in a few days. The parents of Devadutta were crestfallen. Though the parents of Somadutta also were sad, they were not as broken as the neighboring family. After a few days, Devadutta came to the village. The traveler had conveyed a wrong information. He had got confused with the names. Now it was Somadutta’s parents who became shattered. Devadutta’s parents were very happy to see their son back, alive. The story illustrates that our joys and sorrows are based on the limited information and our imagination.
These stories show very clearly that our desire, happiness and sorrow are all based on various factors which are far from the truth. There is a nice saying: The beauty of a girl is an optical illusion created by the chemicals in the blood of the boy who sees her. This is very true and has been proven by biology. As the hormones get released in the blood when an animal grows into adulthood, it starts getting attracted to the opposite sex. This is a game played by nature. It is an illusion created by nature. This is true with all the experiences that we have through all the senses and the mind too. Just like any optical illusion, a wise person should recognize the illusion, appreciate nature for it and not fall for it. We should clearly understand which is reality and which is our unintentional imagination.
Bhagavad Gita says that by repeatedly thinking about sense objects, we develop attachment to them, which results in desire and anger. (2.62) We should avoid this by identifying the fleeting nature of experiences and developing forbearance towards the pairs of opposites like pleasure/pain, gain/loss, fame/censure, success/failure, etc. (2.14,15) We should do whatever is needed to address the situations in life, without any attachment to pleasure and pain resulting from the action. (2.47, 6.1) We should understand that happiness and sorrow are attitudes that are totally our choice. A wise person moves in the world, free from desire, without getting attached to anything. (2.71) So, a wise person does not have any sorrow. (2.11)