Albert Einstein’s philosophical views on life are equally well-known as his scientific theories, but not much is known about what he thought constitutes happiness. A hint at this came to be known recently from a brief note he had written on a paper and handed over to a courier in Japan in 1922, as a token of his appreciation of the service rendered by the courier.
The message he has written is as follows:
“.. a quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest”.
He has written in another blank paper “where there is a will, there is a way”, and handed over these two papers to the courier saying that these notes might become valuable to him than any tip he could offer him. Apparently he had referred to the ideas conveyed in these notes to be of guiding lights, but it turns out that the possessor of these notes is going to see a windfall as these papers are getting auctioned today (Tuesday, the 24th Oct) in Jerusalem.
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The first message is of interest to us as it reflects what Einstein thought about happiness. Like his scientific theories that were tested with cross-referential tools of science and Cosmos over a period of time, his theory of Happiness also can be tested with the highly logical and cosmic theology of Vedanta, a facet of which known as Pantheism, was followed by Einstein himself.
Happiness (sukha – सुख) is the central theme of Vedic religion as any Yajna or prayer is aimed at Sukha. Even today the daily prayer of many Hindus including me is ‘lokah samastha sukhino bhavanthu’ (Let all the beings in all the worlds become happy). So I thought of putting his version into scrutiny of the Vedic thought of Happiness!
Let us first understand what Einstein says in that message.
He says, ““.. a quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest”.
We can see two components in this message. One is that, leading a quiet and modest life brings more joy. Perhaps he refers to a modest life style with less wants and aspirations. This pertains to materialism. When one has less wants and is content with basic needs and has no cravings beyond means, life is happy!
The second part of the message talks about the strain that is caused by going after a pursuit of success. In this part, I think he could have been more explicit. Does he mean going after a goal or going after success? All of us have a goal, even Einstein had goals. Going after the goal for reaching it or achieving it does cause some stress. The same process (of going after a goal) also can be termed as going after success. So this part of the message seems to show that he is unclear about what he is coming to say. For, one can go after a goal with all its attendant stress, and still lead a modest and quiet life! And going after the goal need not make one unhappy, for, as long as one is steeped into the goal, there is no need to feel unhappy about the troubles on the way.
If success is your goal, which is interchangeable with the goal itself, then also one can remain immune to unhappiness that comes along the way as one must understand that nothing comes easy without tribulations. Even birth into this world comes with struggles and pains. It is so with all living beings (Cetana – चेतन). Even in the case of non-living beings, say in the formation and existence of cosmic entities like planets, existence became possible only with struggle to reach equilibrium (equated with success) and the struggle continues to retain that equilibrium in relation to each other. Thus we can see that there is no disharmony between the two parts in his message - of leading a modest life and pursuing a goal.
His 2nd note on will- way relationship (where there is a will there is a way), aligns with pursuing a goal (or success). This note written immediately after the first one seems to reflect a rethink on his part after writing the 1st note. Einstein seems to recognise the human tendency to pursue a goal (and therefore success of it), though laden with lot of unrest and stress, he seems to think that one must not give up. If one pursues it with a will, somehow one would find a way to achieve it.
Thus these two notes reflect an inner struggle at that moment (of writing) in Einstein’s mind – of craving for a less stressful life (which he thinks gives happiness) and a simultaneous urge to pursue a goal with its attendant problems. And what remains in his mind at the end is that one can achieve the goal (success) by a determined will. If he were to write another note after the 2nd one, perhaps he would have written that accomplishment after a great struggle gives happiness!
So his recipe for happiness is (1) quiet and modest life style, (2) pursuance of a goal beset with less struggle and (3) accomplishment of a goal (implied from his 2nd note).
Now let us do the cross-checking:
Quiet and modest living is possible, but not practical or possible for everyone. In a society with inter-dependence on each other for many goods and services, we need people who produce more, who work for others and who create wealth for oneself that go to the benefit others too. In all these, stress is an attendant component that cannot be avoided. A quiet and frugal living is viable only in the ‘vaanaprastha’ (वानप्रस्थ) stage in a person’s life when a person has completed his familial and material responsibilities. In the previous stages of life (as a family man or a societal man having some responsibilities towards society and in money- earning), there is struggle, but one can remain happy following a simple rule. That simple rule is adherence to Dharma (righteousness) in any work one does.
When one adheres to Dharma in his pursuit of regular activities, in acquisition of wealth and in matters of passion and emotions, one does not invite any adverse karma which in effect would not cause unhappiness! At all times we are doing some karma. When it is done within the parameters of Dharma, the resultant karma bestows happiness. This is best explained by Veda Vyasa at the end of Mahabharata.
Vyasa makes 4 specific statements as follows:
1. Thousands of mothers and fathers, and hundreds of sons and wives arise in the world and depart from it. Others will (arise and) similarly depart.
2. There are thousands of occasions for joy and hundreds of occasions for fear. These affect only him that is ignorant but never him that is wise.
3. With uplifted arms I am crying aloud but nobody hears me. From Righteousness is Wealth as also Pleasure. Why should not Righteousness, therefore, be courted?
4. For the sake neither of pleasure, nor of fear, nor of cupidity should any one cast off Righteousness. Indeed, for the sake of even life one should not cast off Righteousness. Righteousness is eternal. Pleasure and Pain are not eternal. Jiva is eternal. The cause, however, of Jiva’s being invested with a body is not so.
Vyasa begins the statement about the continuing life cycles of all people. There is not just one life but many lives that one goes through. This concept is valid on the logic that whatever one experiences in the current birth could not have come without a prior karma (cause) in a previous birth. The law of cause and effect is very much the basis for cyclical births and rebirths.
The second point is that since we have taken countless births, we have experienced pleasure and pain, and fear and happiness for countless number of times. So by now we must have understood why we are experiencing them. If we have understood we would not be feeling the pain and unhappiness. The one who has understood is a wise man. So what is that one has to understand?
This is explained in the 3rd point. It is Dharma that protects one from all ills and gives happiness. Dharma in any and every action, Dharma in acquisition of wealth and Dharma in matters of desire and craving (kaama) would insulate one from pain and unhappiness. Vyasa says this in a dramatic way by raising his hands and crying aloud. But alas, no one listened to him even at that time (about 5000 years ago when he lived). He shouted that one gets wealth and happiness from Dharma, but why then nobody adheres to it?
This statement can be understood on the basis of views expressed in Bhagavad Gita. A man cannot remain inactive at all times. One cannot avoid doing some work or action. There are regular chores, and works aimed at making money or earning a living and actions and activities connected with emotions, feelings and desires. If one adorns the kind of attitude that does not harm others and that is right in the given situation, one would have the satisfaction and happiness at the end of it. Even if one has failed to achieve success at the end, one would have the satisfaction that one was right in his ways.
An important feature in all these is that one must adopt an attitude of equanimity – being equal in all situations – that is, being equi-distance from success and failure, happiness and sadness, and gains and losses. All these – success, failure, happiness, sadness, gains and losses - are the result of one’s past karma. One does not have a hold on them, despite how well one might have planned and executed an action. Beyond all his actions, there is an element of an unseen karma of the past that comes into play. The one who realises this is not caught up with sorrow when things do not happen in the way he expected. Such a person is wise and is least perturbed with feelings of sorts at success or failure but continues to discharge his actions / karma with an unperturbed mind. Such a person is known as a “Karma yogi”. Such a Karma yogi crosses the boundary of cycle of rebirths, as re-birth is not needed to experience anything, as he is unperturbed by any feelings that could give rise to a fresh karma.
In the next and last statement Vyasa says that one should never deviate from the path of Dharma at any time, even if one’s life is at risk. For, Dharma is eternal but not the pleasure and pain. We, the Atman are eternal but not the karma that binds us in this body. The realisation of this enables one to keep his cool in any situation so as not to create a fresh karma. Such a person will experience an immense calm in his mind which is nothing but eternal Bliss.
Reaching this state must be the aim of any person, according to Hindu Thought.
One might have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth and flooded with immense riches around him. That was the result of his past karma. But he has to keep up his equanimity of mind intact to get lasting happiness, for, his riches may vanish one day. Some other person may be born poor, but even in that state if he is unperturbed by pleasure and pain, he is certainly happy. At every moment of our life, we have to keep our mind not swayed by wants, desires, pleasure, pain, happiness, sorrow and fear. If we do so, we are inching towards cutting off karma. The state when Karma is no longer affecting us, we experience bliss.
Einstein did experience this state of mind when he wrote “I do not need any promise of eternity to be happy. My eternity is now. I have only one interest: to fulfill my purpose here where I am.” This is the dialogue of a Karma Yogi – one who is dedicated to his goal and works relentlessly unperturbed by failure or success.
Einstein goes on to say, “This purpose is not given (to) me by my parents or my surroundings. It is induced by some unknown factors. These factors make me a part of eternity.” (For full text read here)
The unknown factors that he mentions is his karmic path laid by past karma and he being a part of the grand design of the cosmos that keeps on going with its work relentlessly.
All of us are a part of this cosmos and its design which implies that a grand component of this cosmos of which we are a part is also a part of us! That grand component pervading this cosmos is known by various names, but it has one name given in Rig Veda – that is, Sat! In common parlance it is known as GOD. The realisation that we are part of that eternity is Knowledge which gives eternal Happiness.
Einstein was close to that realisation but fell short of expressing it coherently.
UPDATE on 27th October 2017.
Einstein’s ‘Hidden formula’ for Happiness sells for $ 1.5 million
By Laura Geggel, Senior Writer | October 25, 2017 01:31pm ET
Gal Wiener, owner and manager of the Winner's auction house in Jerusalem, holds two notes, including one on happiness, written by Albert Einstein in November 1922. Both notes were written in German on stationary from the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.
Credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty
Two advice-filled notes Albert Einstein wrote to a bellboy in Japan 95 years ago, including one that advocated for "a calm and modest life," fetched more than $1.5 million at an auction on Tuesday (Oct. 24).
In October 1922, Einstein was traveling to Japan to deliver a series of lectures when he received a telegraph announcing that he had won the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics. The physicist was hardly ever short on groundbreaking theories, but found himself short on cash when he wanted to tip a bellboy who had delivered an item to his room at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.
In lieu of a monetary tip, Einstein gave the bellboy two thoughtful notes he had just written on hotel stationary. Einstein told the bellboy to keep the letters, "as their future value may be much higher than a standard tip," according to Winner's Auctions and Exhibitions, in Jerusalem, which auctioned the letters. [8 Ways You Can See Einstein's Theory of Relativity in Real Life]
The longer note, popularly called the "happiness letter," reads: "A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness." (The original German reads, "Stilles bescheidenes Leben gibt mehr Glueck als erfolgreiches Streben, verbunden mit bestaendiger Unruhe.")
A bidding war for the letter lasted 25 minutes, and ended with an anonymous buyer purchasing it for $1,560,000, a price that includes an additional charge known as the buyer's premium.
The other note Einstein gave the bellboy says, "Where there's a will there's a way." (The original German says, "Wo ein Wille ist, da ist auch ein Weg.") Another anonymous buyer purchased that note for $240,000, an amount that also includes the buyer's premium, according to the auction house.
Despite an invitation to the Nobel Prize ceremony, Einstein opted to continue his journey in Japan, which is why he didn't travel to Stockholm that December to receive his award in person, auction officials said.
Original article on Live Science.