Today, I had the privilege of attending a lecture led by Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr (YES!!! I did! OMG!) and followed by Vincent Cornell and Scott Kugle (that's correct!) on the pursuit of happiness.
They talked on the concept of happiness in the Islamic tradition. Other scholars talked on faith and other religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism).
It was SO refreshing, SO beautiful, SO peaceful!
Anyway, so lemme share briefly with you what I learned and what they said. Some narrated Sufi stories and the thoughts of Muslim philosophers and scholars on what happiness is, how it is achieved, what it's for, and where it comes from. They talked on what our scholars of the past meant, and what's meant even today, when they say, "Reject the desires of this earth" (this is important to me personally 'cause I always misunderstood it. I thought it means what many people think it means: to literally abandon this earth, don't associate with anyone, resist all desires, and so on. Ahhh, but that's not what it means! I'll explain another time what it really means, ka khairee). The most interesting thing was said by Kugle: "It is not the pursuit of happiness we should be discussing or seeking; it is the pursuit of contentment." He, like the other speakers, reminded us that contentment is more important than happiness and that happiness is only transitory. Contentment, however, is deeper. To be content is to realize that your goals can become your prison, a dead end; to be content is not to let your heart be attached to anything; to be content is to experience something bad and, instead of feeling depressed or angry, looking at it from a distant, asking what it could mean and why it might have occurred (in other words, "What can I learn from this? What can this lesson teach me? It's not in my control, so what can I get from being angered by it?").
Contentment is best achieved by giving, by being generous, by sharing; to be fully content, one should possess the hospitality of the earth.
Most interestingly, the Arabic word for "happiness" is "Sa'aadah," ("Anaa saeedah" = I am happy). But it also means salvation. The speakers therefore asserted that, in Islam, one can attain happiness by attaining salvation. (I will get into the whole philosophical concept of happiness, heaven, hell, etc. in another blog post, not now.)
They said that another way to attain happiness (and salvation) is by performing dhikr, the remembrance of God. There are many ways one can do dhikr, but, when asked if he could perform it for the audience, Professor Hossein said he does not believe it should be done in or for the public.
And, last, they all also agreed with the other speakers and followers and supporters of other religious ideologies by stating that happiness comes with knowing who you are. They told stories in which this is explained. ... And I'll have to watch the lectures again to be able to share each story here, but that's not happening now, k?
Each of these points can be elaborated extensively, I know, but I needed to write all this down for my own sake, so it's not detailed. I'm just saying it all here because it was a really enlightening lecture, and the feeling of being around those sages was and always will be simply divine.