Is the politics a dominant factor of happiness? Is happiness a state matter? The English philosopher and Enlightenment thinker John Locke (1632–1704) says that all human action is guided by the “removal of pain as the first and necessary step towards happiness” and that the perfection of human nature “lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness.” Torsten Weber argues that John Locke’s observation has become “part of the canon of modern political discourse.” Of course, human happiness is linked in one way or the other with the political agenda, as it ought to be, and this is reflected through certain indicators of happiness, with economic indicators being dominating. Economic means are critical in determining livelihoods, lifestyles, and one’s future security––and, therefore, the happiness––of people governed by a political system.
A political system embraces people’s pursuance of, and right, to happiness. A tremendous diversity exists in the political systems and this affects people’s happiness. A political system is often led by the dominating cultural setting of a country. Therefore, culture emerges as a dominant factor when determining the happiness (or unhappiness) of that country.
Happiness is a natural phenomenon and a fundamental right of all humans, but this can be affected by the cultural setting a particular population of people belongs to. In our contemporary world, happiness, unfortunately, appears to be a state matter, as it is dependent on state policies. You cannot witness happiness in nations governed by the ideology of religious fundamentalism. Intolerance operates in countries governed by rulers infected with fundamentalism and it squeezes happiness completely out of the lives of its population. There is no dearth of nations where freedom of expression has become a subject of intolerance. Happiness is non-existent in an environment devoid of human freedom. Freedom is a pre-condition for happiness. The masses enslaved by the intolerance-ridden fundamentalism of a faith hardly come face-to-face with happiness.
Intolerance, without a shadow of doubt, is a volcano of violence and violence has no room for happiness. If a faith cultivates violence, it can never pursue happiness. Such faiths nurture inclusivism and exclusivism and, therefore, place no sanctity on the lives of those who hail from different faiths. Humanity is ashamed of such faiths. Wherever intolerance-fueled faiths are, the masses experience ghastly scenarios: the poisonous fangs of violence, death creeping over land in the form of deadly deserts, and insecure and uncertain futures, for example. The existence values that are pregnant with happiness and which prevail in other faiths or religions are also intolerable to the unruly mass of fundamentalism. Such masses, groups, or rulers, in fact, are a challenge to happiness.
Major religious cultures, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity, are pregnant with the values that are vital for breeding happiness. Tibetan Buddhism and the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan are the most talked about cultures that cultivate bountiful happiness. While Tibetan Buddhism has its spirituality and other deep human values in order to nurture human happiness, the Buddhists in Bhutan have evolved another distinctive dimension in the philosophy of happiness, called Gross National Happiness. Jews in Israel have a very strong base of happiness in one of its unique lifestyle systems: Kibbutzim. A Kibbutz (singular of Kibbutzim) is a community that integrates its socio-cultural and economic values for its national cause. All members from a Jewish Kibbutz, in the Holy Land of Israel, must share all the available resources in order to create satisfaction on an egalitarian basis.
There are certain symbols that have played significant role in the evolution of various religions and vice versa. Religious symbols gently touch the tentacles of our happiness. The dominant symbol of Christianity is the cross: Jesus was crucified on the Mount of Golgotha. How does this symbol affect our happiness? Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski’s views on this symbol are as follows: “This is this symbol that has ingrained in our consciousness. Through this symbol we are led to think of life on earth as misery. What a contrast to the Hindu conception of life! And also to the Buddhist, as symbolised by the serene Buddha.” Henryk Skolimowski raises a burning question about the dominant Christianity symbol “always counting our sins and miseries.”
The spread of Buddhism went hand in hand with the spread of unique symbols and symbolism became a unique artistic reality of Buddhism. Religious symbols have a lot to narrate, and have to exude meanings and light. Skolimowski explains the following in the context of Buddhism: “The pervading symbol is that of the tranquil Buddha, sitting serenely on the lotus flower. The lotus flower came to signify the quality of the Buddha––the inner peace of mind which is a precondition of real well-being and of happiness. The symbolism is simple. Yet it is powerful and universal. In this symbolism some of the noblest longings of the human race are expressed.” These symbols also provide us happiness.
Hinduism is one of the oldest religions and it is replete with mythology and symbolism. The most outstanding symbolism that Hinduism embodies is the dancing Shiva, Nataraj. Skolimowski marvels at various aspects of Hinduism: “Hindu mythology is very colorful, very complex, and so are its symbols. The dancing Shiva is its most striking and perhaps the dominant symbol. It is the symbol of continuous metamorphosis, of the ceaseless becoming of life, also a symbol of fluidity and essentially indefinable character of life… It is an enthralling metaphor to conceive of the Universe (and of our life in it) as the dancing Shiva.”
Some states are not ruled by fundamentalists’ ideologies, but are, instead, ruled by erroneous socio-economic policies. They may be happy, but their happiness remains at stake because it stems from a sustainable future that is vibrant with blossoming hopes. Happiness is nourished in the womb of the future. If the future is full of hopes that are only possible in a constant state of ecological well-being, then happiness will prosper. However, due to the over-exploitation of natural resources and ecological disasters caused by the focus on economic growth, happiness remains secondary. Ecological well-being and social well-being, indeed, go hand in hand.
(The writer is a Professor of Environmental Science at GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology. He is author of numerous books on environmental, agroecological and eco-philosophical issues).
Friday, 31 May 2019 | Vir Singh | in Devbhoomi Spiritual
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