Vasudha Narayanan believes happiness is multidimensional. It can connect with joy or comfort. It can derive from wealth or power. It can grow from self-esteem or an acceptance of one’s place in reality.
Narayanan’s 2 p.m. Interfaith Lecture today in the Hall of Philosophy will discuss various Hindu perspectives on reaching a balance between the various paths to happiness.
“One doesn’t have to feel we have to get there right away,” she said. “As long as we realize that there are different kinds of ways in which one can be happy.”
Narayanan is a distinguished professor in the Department of Religion at the University of Florida and also a past president of the American Academy of Religion.
She worked with the University of Florida to create the nation’s first Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions to spread the research and education of Hindu culture and traditions.
Many Hinduism scholars argue that conventional ideas of happiness derive from an attachment to the senses. And Narayanan doesn’t necessarily believe this is wrong.
“But all this is only temporary, and therefore shadows the happiness we have,” Narayanan said. Happiness also involves not expecting rewards or fearing punishment, she added.
There is also a more lasting form of happiness, and there are many paths to this type of bliss, Narayanan explained. Action, knowledge, and practices of devotion or meditation lead to an understanding of the world that is not attached to passion for personal goods.
“You can be passionate about things,” she said. “But not for personal gain.”
Narayanan said she relates to many contemporary ideas on the Hindu idea of karma. It’s about virtue, righteousness and doing the right thing at the right time, she suggested.
Some happiness is related to eternal life, but Narayanan said it need not wait until death.
“It can happen now,” she said, “with the right attitudes to what we do.”