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Speech of Dr. Rajendra Prasad

Dr. Rajendra Prasad > Speeches > True Happiness


11th October 1954

It seems to have been taken for granted that by acquiring certain material resources we can raise the standard of living of human beings. Following this principle, all the countries of the world are set upon acquiring and multiplying their resources. It is no doubt right that a hungry man cannot think of praying. Mahatma Gandhi himself once said that the hungry man sees God only in the form of bread. But even then we should think how far this kind of material prosperity can lead to real happiness. 

I have also heard that the countries, which are known to be prosperous and resourceful, are not blessed with mental peace, whereas, on the other hand, we find lots of poor people, who excite our pity, leading a happy and contented existence. The truth is that the source of real happiness is in one's own inner self and not in the outside world. We equate happiness with the world of external things and that is why there is a scramble for acquisition and accumulation of things. The fact is that these things are, at best, no more than the means to achieve happiness and not happiness itself. One can experience happiness even without them. Apart from this, it is worthwhile considering what is real happiness. 

I think real happiness or peace of mind means the complete freedom from extraneous pressure or restraint or inhibitions. One basic fact, which must be recognized, is that any kind of inhibition or restraint is irksome. It ceases to be irksome only when it becomes something voluntarily accepted or adopted without restraint or coercion. It is this voluntary adoption of any line of thought or action without restraint or coercion from outside which brings real happiness. Any subtraction from complete freedom is loss of freedom to that extent and implies dependence on something else. 

Man as a member of society or even as an individual has long ceased to be fully free, if he ever was or can be free. All that can be aimed at or achieved is the reduction or minimization of this restraint or coercion and increasing to the maximum the freedom which man enjoys. His material requirements can be satisfied, it is obvious, only by subjecting himself to some curtailment of this freedom. His mental satisfaction and possibly his spiritual aspiration becomes reduced in quantum and perhaps also in quality by the amount of material satisfaction which in the very nature of things implies restraint. What is generally termed progress has tended more and more to restrict man's freedom. In every department of life and activity man has to submit more and more to external restraints and inhibitions

It follows that there must be consequential and proportionate diminution in the mental satisfaction and spiritual endeavor even though man may not feel that restraint or realize the ever-growing restraint being put on him from day to day. It is thus clear that real happiness lies in freedom from restraint, which in turn, implies man's capacity to carry on with as little dependence on others as possible. We cannot escape from the conclusion that what is generally called high standard of living has served to increase our dependence on others and to that extent has removed us further from real happiness

We see in the world of today that distance between country and country has almost been eliminated and nations living far apart from one another have come closer so that if something happens at one place it has its repercussion far and wide. It does not hold good with regard to only dreadful things like war but also of beneficent activities. One of the results of this progress has been that man is now dependent for his daily necessities of life on far off countries. An example will clarify the point. Many of us present here today have known the days when the railway system in India not expanded to the present extent, when there were no automobiles of any kind and when we had not even heard of the aeroplanes. 

At that time also food was as important as it is today. Then every community depended for its food on itself and on the land, which it cultivated. True, if there was failure of a crop on account of natural calamities like floods or drought, the community suffered. But otherwise it managed to live on what it produced and learnt in course of time the wisdom and the prudence to save food for emergencies. On account of the improvement in the means of transport today food grains can be easily supplied from one part of the country to another. We saw recently that food had to be dropped by aeroplanes on areas, which were rendered inaccessible, by flood. All this sounds so nice, but we have to see whether these developments have enhanced or restricted our freedom. My feeling is that by increasing such needs, as he cannot fulfill himself man has necessarily restricted his freedom

By giving the example of food imports, I have tried to show our dependence on other countries. That is not all. If far off Argentina, Canada or America has a bumper wheat crop, it results in the falling of wheat prices in India. Because of the improved means of transport, the availability or otherwise of things does not depend on local conditions but on the overall world conditions. If food cannot be imported from other countries because of some natural calamity or as a result of the out-break of war, the needy country will have to suffer untold misery. We saw during the last war how even people of neutral countries had to suffer because of the restrictions on export and import of certain articles from overseas. So, there are two aspects of this, progress. One promises plenty during peacetime, the other threatens to release a rich harvest of sufferings and privations in case communications are dislocated on account of hostilities. 

It is necessary to remember that even if all of our requirements are satisfied, we are bartering our freedom for that satisfaction. For instance, whenever there is disease in an epidemic form in the country, we have to depend on other countries to supply us with medicines. Similarly, whenever there is a famine, others can save us from its dire consequences, but at the same time, if they like, they can also starve us by withholding the supply of food grains. If war breaks out today the belligerents need not resort to deadly weapons in order to kill others. They can do it equally effectively by disrupting the system of transport. Therefore, while on the one hand, we are endeavoring to raise the standard of living; those very efforts might result in the curtailing of our freedom and independence. 

In spite of this all-round progress we have not yet reached a stage when we could produce an article in sufficient quantity so as to meet the requirements of all the peoples of the world. When we cannot say this about food, which tops the list of man's needs, it is no use talking about other things which are produced in still lesser quantities. That is why the standard of living of all the countries is not uniformly high and presents an unpleasant contrast. Those who possess more are anxious to extort more and more from those who do not possess much. The result is naturally conflict between man and man and country and country. The fear of this conflict has become a nightmare for the modern man.

It is, therefore, necessary to realize that what we have assumed as axiomatic truth, namely, that increase in material prosperity also means the attainment of happiness, is neither quite correct nor so self-evident. This assumption is true only up to a certain limit and the more we transgress this limit the more remote become our chances of being happy. This limit has to be fixed by man himself. This is undoubtedly beset with countless difficulties, but I do think that it is not altogether impossible for man to achieve happiness without the usual paraphernalia, which passes for his everyday necessities. This is exactly what is meant by the adage, 'simple living and high thinking'. It was by practising this truth that Mahatma Gandhi could enjoy that happiness which a humble follower of his is unable to have even in the palatial Rashtrapati Bhavan. 

I do not suggest that ambition or high aspirations or desire for progress should be discouraged. But let us be sure that our will to progress and rise high will materialize in the true sense only after we have realized that the source of our happiness does not lie outside us but is enshrined within our own hearts. Our happiness will vary directly in proportion to the degree of our faith in the above truth. The more we try to achieve happiness, basing it on the outside world, the more we shall be inviting conflicts and depriving others of their happiness



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