“Happiness in Minimum against Un-happiness in Maximum”
This is a quote I’ve been contemplating a lot lately. It is also a quote I’ve been working with over the past six months as my partner and I are put the finishing touches on our fourth documentary film, The Benares of James Prinsep. This is a film about an obscure Englishman who lands in India in 1819 at the age of 20 and is enchanted by the deeply joyous and exotic nature of the Indian people – their philosophy, their spirituality, their customs and in addition, he’s enchanted by the city of Benares, the holy city on the river, the city we know today as Varanasi. In short, James Prinseps’ genius blossoms in Benares and in turn he ends up uncovering an important part of Indian history that lay dormant for centuries. He made seminal contributions in the sciences, arts, humanities, architecture, literature and more, and all of this in a matter of 19 years as he returned to England during his final days and died at the young age of 40. This is truly an inspiring story and one that has a universal and timeless message.
Varanasi is one of the oldest inhabited cities on earth. Depending on who you ask and where you’re doing your research, it approximates somewhere between 6000-10,000 years and, it looks it! In fact, Mark Twain put it perfectly when he said” “Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together”. So, when as Westerner’s we visit Varanasi and see people living as way they do, living with so little, experiencing “happiness in minimum” yet living deeply meaningful lives, we are confused.
Here we are, we have everything we could ask for and more! Luxurious homes (maybe even more than one), abundant food, enough furniture to supply four families, enough clothes to outfit 100 people, gadgets galore and yet, as a whole, as a society, I don’t think the world would look at us and say that we were “happy.” What we have in other words, is the opposite experience of those living in Varanasi, that of “unhappiness in maximum.” More is better right? More of everything should make us happy right? “If only I had (fill in the blank) – more money, a better job, a shinier car, a bigger house, more friends, and every Apple gadget ever made, I’d be happy!” Right?
It is no wonder we are confused.
In the film there is a man by the name of Dr. Mehta whom we’ve interviewed. Dr. Metha is about 93 years old. He is a Dr. of medicine and has written over 150 books on subjects ranging from medicine to philosophy to science fiction. In short, he is no lightweight when it comes to discussing spirituality, philosophy and the meaning of life. He was also born in Varanasi, the city of three names – Kashi, Benares, Varanasi – and gives a beautiful perspective on the very complex workings of a place that as Westerner’s, we have a tendency to misunderstand. It is Dr. Metha that expounds on, “happiness in minimum against unhappiness in maximum” when in the film, he describes the sad turn our world and our species has taken. And, every time I read and hear these words as we’re doing final edits to the film, the truth of it pierces me like an arrow through my heart.
It is an undeniable truth that we can no longer ignore. More is not better. More does not bring happiness. America is the epicenter of a society that uses things up and tosses them away – perfectly good things, things that no longer interest us, just things. Things we have way too many of already and things we still insist on buying to fill the emptiness in our hearts, to fill the hole reserved for happiness we know not yet how to have. One only has to open their eyes to see the plethora of wasted things across the landscape of our country – in trash heaps, recycling centers, thrift shops, junk shops and storage units ad nauseam on the outskirts of every city and town. What, I wonder, will happen to all of these things 500-1000 years from now? Will the earth swallow them whole like bubble gum? And how many years will it take to digest?
We can see clearly the problem – it’s not actually the “things” themselves that is the problem but our endless desire for the things and the misappropriated emotions we give to them. Things in themselves are neither here nor there – they just are.
What we need to work on then, what we need to give our most ardent time, energy and resources to, is the solution. The bigger, deeper, more probing question is this – outside of our endless desire for things, including the desire for things to be somehow different then they are, more magnificent in some way – where do we find our happiness?
These are the questions I want to leave you with because rather than spending your time making yet another list of goals that fail to satisfy you in some way, perhaps you might spend time looking at the larger picture first and probing more deeply into the true meaning of your life.
No short order I know but, a necessary one!
Where do you find your happiness outside of your endless desires? As you get older and begin doing your “life review,” what will have mattered most? What will have made your life worth living?