Chuang Tzu on Happiness5 min read

Happiness has been the goal of the philosophy of India, China and Japan. “ How can I go beyond the Ocean of misery ? ” is the starting point of Buddhism. The great sage Kapila opens his Sankhya system of philosophy with the statement : “ Elimination of the three kinds of sufferings is the supreme achievement.” Even Confucius’ insistence on propriety and considerateness is dictated by a desire to enjoy the satisfaction of the discharge of one’s duty, and sincerity is lauded in “ The Book of Odes” because it produces happiness in one’s mind as well as in that of others. Let us see what Chuang Tzu thinks of happiness.

Tao is in everything. Everything is in Tao. Everyone is happy by nature. It is an encroachment on one’s natural disposition and an imposition on one’s true nature which engenders unhappiness. In the book called “ Happy Excursion ” Chuang Tzu says: “ In the Records of Marvels we read that when the great bird Roc flies southwards the water is smitten for a space of three thousand Li around, while the bird itself mounts a typhoon to a height of ninety thousand Li for a flight of six months duration. A cicada laughed and said to a dove : ‘ Now when I fly with all my might, it is as much as I can do to get from tree to tree, what then can be the use of going up ninety thousand Li in order to start for the South’ ? ” It is evident that the great Roc and the busy cicada are fully satisfied, each with its own excursion. The commentator Kuo Hsiang sums up : “ Although their size is different, their happiness is the same.” Chuang Tzu holds that as long as human beings lived in their state of nature, content “ to weave and clothe themselves, to till and feed themselves . . . men moved quietly and gazed steadily.” “ All things were produced, each for its own proper sphere. Birds and beasts multiplied ; trees and shrubs grew up. The former might be led by the hand ; you could climb up and peep into the raven’s nest. For then man dwelt with birds and beasts, and all creation was one. There were no distinctions of good and bad men. Being all equally without knowledge, their virtue could not go astray. Being all equally without evil desires, they were in a state of natural integrity, the perfection of human existence.” The fall of mankind began when the sages came with their theories of benevolence and justice, and disturbed human equilibrium by imposing music and rites on man, for in this way a desire for gain was produced and men began to strive one with another. “ This was the error of the sages.”

In his book “ The Way of Heaven,” Chuang Tzu says that we should make our spirit calm and reposeful like perfectly still water. “ The heart being thus at rest, is the mirror of heaven and earth and reflects the entire universe.” “ Absolute inaction leads to happy contentment ; neither sorrow nor distress can dwell with those who are in this happy state and they live to a good old age.” Human joys (he says) accrue to those who are in harmony with men ; but heavenly joy—natural, spontaneous, inner

joy—accrues to those who are in harmony with Heaven. The same mystic thought is expressed in the Chandogya Upanishad by the seer who, in the fullness of his ecstasy cries : “ Verily, true happiness belongs to those who live at one with the Infinite ; those limited by the joy of finite things are ever miserable.” Swami Rama Tirtha the great Indian Saint of modern times, confirms the statement of the Upattishadic seer : “ When I ran after worldly objects, expecting to find happiness therein, it receded like my own shadow ; but when I gave up the pursuit and put myself in at-one-ment with the Infinite, I found an ocean of happiness surging within me.”

Speaking of happiness in another passage, Chuang Tzu says : “ For my part, I find happiness in absolute inaction— which people commonly look upon as the height of misery. The man who possesses perfect happiness experiences no pleasure, and he who possesses perfect fame is never eulogised. . . . The absolute inaction of heaven results in purity ; that of earth in repose. By the blending of these two inactions the entire universe was created, gradually and daily emerging from nothing, without an external form. The innumerable forms of nature glow and flourish by virtue of inaction. The inaction of heaven and earth is positive activity. What man is there who can attain to this inaction?” Chuang Tzu’s inaction, like Shankar- acharya’s Nishkarma, does not mean physical inaction or slothfulness. The mystic acts, but the motive of his action is not selfish desire, but the impulse of the intuition, the outflow of the divine Energy through the channel of his body, without letting himself be affected by the process or consequence of such action. In the language of a layman it amounts to what Abraham Lincoln once said of himself : “ I am an instrument in the hands of God.” “ Action is prayer,” says Carlyle, but it is clear that selfish action, or that which is undertaken to satisfy the animal instincts in man, cannot be called prayer. Action becomes prayer and leads to perfect happiness when it is performed in the spirit of Chuang Tzu, free from all desire for selfish gain. In the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna says to Atjuna, his beloved disciple and friend : “ He who sees inaction in action, and who sees action in inaction, he is wise among men, he is the performer of all action.”