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Why the Long Face?

By: on March 5, 2010
Opinion
Photo Credits: faqs.org
Nothing new here. It’s something all of us have either mentally or emotionally noted before. But, it’s just such a striking fact that I can’t help but mention it again: people just don’t smile.

I’ve just returned from a journey that took me half way around the world, through some of the largest and most densely-populated cities on the face of the globe: New York, Mumbai, and Kolkata. I’ve come face to face with literally hundreds of thousands of people over the last month, and rarely did I observe someone smiling.

Alas, this phenomenon is neither new nor surprising. Writers and artists have been chronicling it for centuries. This semester my youngest daughter, who is in her first year of college, was assigned two essays for her English Literature class. She had to analyze Tennessee Williams’s play, The Glass Menagerie, and John Updike’s short story, A & P. Both works depict the desire and frustration that characterize the lives of most human beings, past, present, and (undoubtedly) future. They are certainly cases of art reflecting life, and neither gives us much to smile about.

Perhaps Filmmaker James Cameron is on to something different in his blockbuster film Avatar. Two of the main characters, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), both eschew their “real” lives, finding themselves, happiness -- and their smiles -- only in their “avatar” lives. Transfer yourself from the world of desire and frustration to a world of freedom from exploitation where you can live in spiritual harmony with your environment. Cameron’s new twist on life’s story sounds pretty good doesn’t it? But alas, it’s only a movie.

Liz Thomas filed this January 12, 2010 report on the "Avatar Effect" for MailOnline, part of the UK Daily Mail & Metro Media Group:

"A utopian planet inhabited by blue aliens is the ideal setting for a bit of cinematic escapism. But the world of the sci-fi epic Avatar is so perfect the line between fact and fiction has become somewhat blurred.

Movie-goers have admitted being plagued by depression and suicidal thoughts at not being able to visit the planet Pandora."

OK, the movie is fantasy and may ultimately leave even its most ardent fans unsmiling, but is the idea of escaping from this world of desire and frustration a fantasy? Not according to the Vedic sages, who urge us to seek satisfaction and happiness by looking within.

Bhagavad-gita speaks of the difference between our false self as the material body and of our true self which is found by going within:

“In the stage of perfection called trance, or samadhi, one's mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by practice of yoga. This perfection is characterized by one's ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness, realized through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact.” (Chapter 6: Verses 20-23)

Srimad-Bhagavatam speaks of our true spiritual existence in relation to God in the spiritual world:

“In those Vaikuntha planets there are many forests which are very auspicious. In those forests the trees are wish-fulfilling trees, and in all seasons they are filled with flowers and fruits because everything in the Vaikuntha planets is spiritual and personal.

In the Vaikuntha planets the inhabitants fly in their airplanes, accompanied by their wives and consorts, and eternally sing of the character and activities of the Lord, which are always devoid of all inauspicious qualities. While singing the glories of the Lord, they deride even the presence of the blossoming madhavi flowers, which are fragrant and laden with honey.

The inhabitants of Vaikuntha travel in their airplanes made of lapis lazuli, emerald, and gold. Although crowded by their consorts, who have large hips and beautiful smiling faces, the male inhabitants cannot be stimulated to passion by their mirth and beautiful charms.” (Canto 3, Chapter 15, Verses 16–23)

You won’t find it rare to see people smiling in a world where people know they are eternal and full of knowledge and bliss. Even individuals in this world that have realized this truth can give us something new, can help us forget our miserable existence, and can make us smile.


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