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Article LXII: Joy and Sorrow

Vedanta considers Brahman as beyond good and evil, beyond joy and sorrow, and beyond dharma and adharma. All of these dualities are considered to be part of maya, which is a covering superimposed upon the ultimate reality of Brahman. Good, joy, and dharma would not exist without evil, sorrow, and adharma, but enlightenment is beyond all of these. Nietzsche explored similar concepts in his writing of "Beyond Good and Evil." Although transient happiness is often described by Vedanta as a taste of eternal Bliss, transient happiness is still part of maya whereas eternal Bliss is untainted by maya. The description of happiness as a taste of eternal Bliss is only an attempt to describe the indescribable. It is only an analogy so that one can better understand the concept of Ananda, eternal Bliss. However, true Bliss of enlightenment has no component of transient happiness, which can only exist when there is also unhappiness.

Although good and evil are both part of maya, Vedanta does not consider them as equal. Most Vedantins will assert that good is closer to Brahman than evil. By orienting oneself to the divine Atman within, one approaches enlightenment -- realization of Brahman. This Divine orientation is better accomplished through good and righteousness while evil and adharma can lead one away from the path to enlightenment. Vedanta often describes the three gunas as a hierarchy, which must be transcended to reach enlightenment. Rajas is better than tamas, and satwa is still better than rajas, but even satwa must be transcended to reach enlightenment. Similarly, good is better than evil, but even good must be transcended to reach enlightenment.


Katha Upanishad

The context of this scripture is a dialogue between Naciketas, a spiritual aspirant, and Yama, the god of death:

II.11: The consummate fulfillment of all desires, the stay of the universe, the endless fruit of all the rites, the bourn of freedom from tear, the most adorable and great, the exalted resort, the basis of life, -- even having seen that, thou being intelligent, O Naciketas, has rejected it with firm resolve.
II.12: The wise man relinquishes both joy and sorrow having realized, by means of meditation on the inner Self, that ancient effulgent One, hard to be seen, immanent, seated in the heart and residing within the body.
II.13: The mortal one who has heard this and comprehended well that subtle principle, the soul of Dharma, after discriminating it (properly), attains it; he verily rejoices having obtained the enjoyable (Atman). Methinks the house is open for Naciketas.
II.14: That which thou beholdest as different from Dharma and Adharma, as different from cause and effect, as different from what had been and what shall be, (please) tell (me) that.
II.15: The goal which all Vedas proclaim, which all penances declare, and desiring which they lead the life of Brahmacharya, -- I tell it to thee in brief -- it is Om.
II.16: This syllable is Brahman; this syllable is also the highest. Having known this syllable, whatever one desires, one gets that.

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