Self-Referral Happiness vs Object-Referral Happiness

“Supreme inner contentedness is the state of perfect self-referral happiness. This is the opposite of the temporary states of object-referral happiness that we experience on the surface of life”

Thom Knoles

What makes you happy? Most people could come up with a long list of answers to this question. 

Ironically, it’s all the things that make us happy that make us unhappy as well; either because we have them but the happiness wears off, or we find out there’s something/someone else that we might like better, or we have them but lose them, or we find that they don’t make us as happy as we thought they would…

It’s a never-ending cycle of whack-a-mole that leaves most people with short periods of happiness, with longer periods of frustration, disappointment, and “wanting” in between.

In this episode, Thom offers up an alternative approach to happiness, one that’s infinitely more reliable and which allows us to enjoy the delights and variety of life without leaving us at the mercy of external circumstances. 

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Episode Highlights


Two Kinds of Happiness



Man’s Ever-changing Happiness in the Upanishad



Object-referral Happiness



The Challenge of Being Happy



Control Freaks of Happiness



When Happiness Becomes a Obsession



Self-referral Happiness



Where Thoughts Come From



Energy in Thoughts



Making Sense of Our Thoughts



Finding Calm Through Vedic Meditation



The Magic of Repeating Sounds in Meditation



The Joy of Vedic Meditation



Going Beyond Ordinary Happiness



Making Inner Happiness Your Foundation



Balancing Inner and Outer Happiness



Liberation from Chasing Happiness


Jai Guru Deva


Self-Referral Happiness vs Object-Referral Happiness

[00:45] Two Kinds of Happiness

I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about the difference between two kinds of happiness.

One is fleeting happiness, and the other is baseline happiness. They’re very often referred to in terms of what is it that is the source of the happiness?

I’m going to tell you a story now that comes from the Upanishads, from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, one of the ancient texts of the Veda, which teaches via parables.

Once upon a time, there was a man who had two things that brought him the greatest happiness. He had a son, who he totally adored and admired, and he had a white horse that was just his great delight.

One day, his son was found climbing onto the back of the horse from the fence. The horse, being unused to a rider, bucked the son off, and the son fell to the ground and broke his arm.

And so the man lost his happiness, and he was in the desperate throes of unhappiness. A son with a broken arm, and what was he going to do, and how was he going to seek the medical help, and so on and so forth. So his happiness was gone.

A few minutes later, some men arrived from the army who were conscripting young men into the service, in aid of fighting a futile war that was going on on the frontier of the country.

[02:43] Man’s Ever-changing Happiness in the Upanishad

But when they examined his son, they left him behind because he had a broken arm, and so his son was saved from conscription. And now the man went from the depths of unhappiness into the highest reaches of happiness.

His horse ran away, got out through an open gate, and disappeared over the horizon. And from his heights of happiness, he dropped down again into the depths of despair. His horse was gone.

But the next day, his horse returned. This time with a magnificent stallion as a mate. And the two horses now were prancing around inside the corral. And the boy had had his broken arm fixed. And so, from the depths of unhappiness, the man went into the heights of happiness.

And this story, in the Upanishads, it goes on and on and on like this, detailing the daily experiences of the man with the boy and the horse, and how his happiness was taken away from him by circumstances, and how his happiness was restored to him by a change of circumstances, and so on. This is the story of object-referral happiness.

Object-referral means, “I am happy because… The object world has lined up in a particular way, an array of circumstances, an array of surroundings has lined up in a particular fashion that it has given my mind, my consciousness, access to temporary happiness.”

[04:45] Object-referral Happiness

Why temporary? Because no part of this array of circumstances, array of surroundings, stays the same. And you can’t control everything. So object-referral happiness is the main kind of happiness that the whole of our population of the earth, the human population, is striving for.

“If only I were to change my environment, go to a particular city, get a particular kind of house in a particular suburb, surrounded by particular kinds of people who drive particular kinds of vehicles, who drink coffee at particular cafes, who eat very particular kinds of food, who speak only very particular kinds of speech, whose behavior is very particular.

“If I had all of this lined up, and if I had sufficient funding to keep it this way, and if I was activist enough to stop anyone who didn’t think in these particular ways, or drive these particular vehicles, or eat this particular food, or drink this particular coffee, or paint their houses in a particular fashion, or grow trees in a particular way.

“That if all the particulars of my environment, if any one of them, was to go through change, there’d be unhappiness. And so what I’m going to do now is in order to maintain all the particulars that give me waves of happiness, I’m going to turn into a control freak.

“And I’m going to attempt to control the object world, to keep it the way that I want it to be, I need it to be, in order that I can continue having access to my happiness.”

And what we’re describing here is the way that you build a tyrant.

[06:59] The Challenge of Being Happy

A tyrant is somebody who demands that particular things go in particular ways at particular times, with particular thought, with particular speech, with particular actions, with particular environments, and so on. Otherwise, the tyrant can’t be happy.

And this is one way of looking at the product of people having only one way of getting happy, which is object-referral happiness. We’re creating a world of tyrannical people. There may be tyrannical people whose politics lean far to the left. There may be tyrannical people whose politics lean far to the right.

There may be tyrannical people whose politics lay straight in the center, but they do so in a tyrannical fashion. “Neither too far right nor too far left, please. Thank you very much. I demand centrist political views.”

And with all of this, what we have is a world that refuses to be pinned down and to not change. The world’s nature, the relative world’s nature, is the nature of constant change. Everything’s changing constantly.

And so, if my only access to happiness is in attempting, in a futile fashion, to stop the world from changing, knock the world into shape, get everything lined up, get all the particulars lined up in a very particular way, and then somehow nail them down so that nothing ever changes, then what I’m really doing is, in aid of becoming a happy person, I’m becoming a tyrant, a control freak.

[09:03] Control Freaks of Happiness

And there are different kinds of control freaks. There are the ones who are just overtly and unabashedly controllers, and they care very little about what others think about it. And then there’s my favorite kind of controller to talk about, which is the loving controller.

The one who is controlling only for your good.

“I want you to have certain flavors, certain experiences, certain salvation from certain dangers that I believe in that you may not believe in.

“And I am going to see if I can corral you and control you into having access to these different things in life, and I’m doing it for loving reasons because I love you so much. I need to control you into kinds of happiness that will make me happy.

“And so I’m actually trying to make myself happy, but I’m doing it by lovingly controlling you into what I think is going to make you the happiest because I can’t be happy unless I am fully guaranteed of your salvation.”

The loving controller, the blatant tyrannical unabashed controller, every kind of controller is born of this phenomenon of the people having access to only one kind of happiness that is situational and circumstantial in which all the particulars align. And very temporary. Very temporary happiness.

[10:48] When Happiness Becomes a Obsession

After all, one does have to go to sleep at night. And when you’re asleep, can you control everything? Somebody might start having thoughts that are different to the kinds of thoughts that you tried to control them into having. Something might start going through change without you being aware while you’re asleep. It’s better if you just don’t sleep.

So now we have insomniac loving controllers. Insomniac, tyrannical, unabashed controllers. This is basically what you’re reading about in the newspapers today. A world that’s filled with people whose only access to happiness is situational, circumstantial events.

Now, we contrast this with a different kind of happiness that, in fact, we all know about. It is a childlike happiness. When I say childlike, let’s not confuse it with a similar word: childish.

Childlike is not infantile. Childlike is a natural sense of wonder that we often see appearing in toddlers who haven’t yet learned about the sole access to happiness being circumstantial and situational.

We do have another kind of happiness that can be awakened inside of us. I’m going to call it baseline happiness, but to contrast it with object-referral happiness, we’re going to call it self-referral happiness. The kind of happiness that comes just on the basis of Being. “I am happy from deep inside. Now, what is the world providing me?”

[12:46] Self-referral Happiness

Someone who has baseline happiness has infinite stability. Someone who has access to permanent baseline happiness has infinite adaptability. With that stability, one could go and perhaps order a meal at a restaurant that is famed for providing tolerably delicious food, and find that on that particular day, the chef was evidently having an off day, and the food was somewhat lackluster.

And instead of thinking of it as something that makes one unhappy because one was already happy with baseline happiness, one already was imbued with happiness, saturated with the bliss of inner being, it actually becomes a source of amusement that a lackluster meal came out in what was supposed to be a very fine restaurant.

One is able to find the world that attempted to circumstantially, situationally, be the perfect offerer of happiness to you, failed yet again to do it with much regularity.

Turns out to be quite amusing actually, but it can only be so to the extent that one has established self-referral happiness. So, how do we get self-referral happiness? Let’s get strategic about it.

Self-referral happiness comes through contact with the baseline, contact with the inner quiet fountainhead, out of which all thoughts come. Thoughts, if you consider a thought as a little bubble that starts off very small at the bottom of the ocean and then bubbles up and gets larger and larger and then pops when it gets to the surface of the ocean. And now, let’s consider thoughts rising in the mind in their tens of thousands.

[15:07] Where Thoughts Come From

In Cognitive Neuroscience, we deem that, on average, a person in a waking day will have something on the order of, wait for it, 60,000 to 100,000 cognitive processes. These are cognitive events. We call them that because they include ideas, memories, desires, reckonings, awareness of body sensations, and so on.

So if we put all these things together and say these ideas, these memories, these reckonings, these becoming aware of body sensations, we just call them all thoughts. That’s the lay version of a cognitive process. It’s a thought. Then, somewhere on the order of 60,000 to 100,000 of these thoughts every day.

And all of these thoughts, all of these bubbles, hundreds of thousands of bubbles bubbling up from the inner field of Being, are coming from somewhere. Thoughts don’t just appear. Thoughts, though they may be stimulated by the outside environment, it’s not the environment that’s doing the thinking. It’s our consciousness that is doing the thinking.

Thought production is a consciousness phenomenon. Though it may be stimulated by the environment, the environment is not the thinker. Our consciousness is the thinker.

Let’s analyze for a moment what it is that makes up a thought. A thought is a bubble or stream of energy and intelligence. We know that thought has energy because it’s a process. Thought has a process in it. And all processes require energy.

We can also measure the energy in a thought by the way in which it triggers electrical phenomena that are measurable on the scalp. This is what is referred to as electroencephalograph.

[17:33] Energy in Thoughts

Particular styles of thinking, kinds of thought, and intensities of thought generate measurable electrical waves that can be measured with a silver chloride electrode by placing that on the scalp and then processing the signal through a computer and looking at the kinds of wavelengths that that thought is producing.

And so human thinking does produce measurable, predictable levels of energy that are able to be detected using some fine instrumentation that already is extant. So, thought has energy in it. Let’s put that aside for the moment.

Thought also has discriminating power in it. I use the word discrimination here for differentiation, for the ability to discern, the ability to tell the difference between one thing and another thing, which might superficially appear to be the same but is not the same. This is discernment differentiation. We use the word discrimination intellectually to describe it.

A thought is not a random explosion of information. A thought is specific and is on a specific topic. And that’s that specificity that demonstrates the intelligence inherent in every thought.

And so we have tens of thousands, perhaps a hundred thousand streams of energy and intelligence rising in the mind every day, and what are these thoughts about?

“How can I make things better? How can I get better experiences than I’m having? I want to get better experiences than what I’m having. And I’ve certainly arrived at some conclusions about sustainable ways of having better experiences and unsustainable ways of having better experiences.

[19:42] Making Sense of Our Thoughts

“I can do things in a way that’s unsustainable that will end up backfiring on me, but then I’ll be unhappy again situationally, circumstantially. Or, I can try to do things in ways that I’ve concluded are sustainable, and they won’t backfire on me.

“I might be able, through lots of controlling of myself and a little controlling of others, frankly, to be able to create situational life, circumstantial life, where I get happiness with a greater frequency in ways that don’t backfire on me.

“But my research is incomplete, and I’m not too sure what it is that backfires and what doesn’t, Or how long it takes for something which I thought was backfire-proof, how long it takes for that to backfire? Maybe it’s going to backfire, and I’m going to discover that it was also unsustainable.”

Thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, tens of thousands of thoughts, a hundred thousand thoughts in the day, it’s exhausting. And then you flop down on the bed and just go into unconsciousness, the bliss of not being conscious at all. “Am I happy? Am I not happy? Don’t know, don’t care,” unconscious, everything gone, sleep.

Now we have Vedic Meditation. And in Vedic Meditation, we take a specific pulsation of thought. This is the kind of individuated mantra that we use in our practice, and in Vedic Meditation, the mantras that we use are not like mantras that you learn in a yoga studio, Om, and all of that.

[21:28] Finding Calm Through Vedic Meditation

Those are very good chanting mantras and speech mantras and mantras that have to do with meanings and so on in the language of Sanskrit. But the kind of mantra, the mind vehicle— this is what the word mantra means— the mind vehicle that we use in Vedic Meditation is referred to, in the term of art, as a “bija mantra.”

A bija mantra is a mantra that has no intended meaning. And which works purely on the level of its sound characteristics.

So, a bija mantra has the capacity to do something very interesting. When you think the sound, it’s a word that you learn, but you learn how to think it silently, right away. After learning it as a word spoken to you, you learn how to think it and just let it be a sound in the mind, and you think it in a way that allows it to pulsate, allows it to repeat.

And with each repetition of it, a proper bija mantra that has a sympathetic vibration with the thinker of it, there are different mantras that work best for different people, will begin to become subtler, quieter, fainter, and softer.

And as it does so, interestingly, the mantra also takes on a quality of charm. It becomes more and more charming, fascinating, intriguing. The sound becomes ultra attractive, magnetic, and the mind finds itself choiceless to follow it because our mind is designed in such a way that always it will move in the direction of the greatest possible happiness.

[23:31] The Magic of Repeating Sounds in Meditation

After all, if I’m sitting in a room, listening to some mediocre music. But from another room, an open doorway perhaps, comes wafting in an absolutely magical and intriguing sound of music. My attention will not delay asking for permission to go after the more intriguing sound.

The mind effortlessly, and this is a very important point effortlessly, will move spontaneously in the direction of the greater happiness, the greater charm. Likewise, when our mind is experiencing a Vedic Meditation bija mantra, becoming more and more charming, the mind spontaneously, effortlessly, let’s add another word here, choicelessly, follows the greater charm.

And where’s that greater charm going? The mantra is becoming subtler and subtler and subtler with each repetition. Why is it becoming more charming? There’s something in this. We are approaching the source of thought. We’re approaching the bottom of the ocean of the mind.

We’re approaching the place which is the fountainhead of all of that energy, the fountainhead of all of that intelligence that bifurcates into the tens of thousands, up to a hundred thousand cognitive events in a day. We’re approaching the place that is the source of energy and intelligence in the mind, but it is also a condition of supreme inner silent contentedness.

And as we are, as it were, descending the rungs of the ladder of the mantra, descending from more excited states to less and less excited states, the degree of contentedness, the degree of happiness, the degree of pleasure grows and grows and grows until a saturation point is reached.

[25:57] The Joy of Vedic Meditation

The mind is so close to the field of Being, the mind has experienced such rich, deep inner, complete satisfaction that the mind lets go of the need to think thoughts.

Thinking thoughts, again to emphasize, is all about getting happier. And here we are following a meaningless sound, albeit a mellifluous, beautiful sound, but no intended meaning.

It’s not a sound about getting happy. It’s just a sound that is drawing us into a supreme inner contentedness. And that supreme inner contentedness is the state of perfect self-referral happiness.

This is the opposite of the temporary states of object-referral happiness that we experience on the surface of life. Self-referral happiness is a happiness, a bliss. Bliss here is not ecstatic. It is supremely content.

A bliss, a happiness, a saturation of inner joy at Being, just the joy of Being, and this state, touched upon by the mind, causes the inner quality of Being to awaken. In our first few experiences of it, we consider it to be transcendental.

Transcendental is a fancy philosophical word that means beyond the ordinary, beyond all relativity. That which is transcendental lies beyond all of the ever-changing world but is the source of the ever-changing world.

[28:03] Going Beyond Ordinary Happiness

But with regular practice and touching on that state, we meditate from Vedic Meditation for about 20 minutes, once in the morning before commencing the day’s activity. The day’s activity being the activity of getting object-referral happiness organized.

And then we sit again sometime late afternoon or early evening and transcend again all that object-referral happiness pursuit, and we dive into the state of self-referential happiness, once again, for about 20 minutes, sometime late afternoon early evening.

And what we’re doing in this process is systematically, strategically awakening self-referral happiness. We’re awakening that inner layer, which once upon a time was transcendental, is now becoming an increasingly conscious layer of my inner state of Being.

And as this grows, this capability grows, and it really is a great capability, one ceases to be the desperado that one was when made choiceless by the pursuit of happiness through arrangement of objects.

One is a desperado in object-referral happiness. One is desperately trying to find any meaning in life. The happiness is the only meaning in life. By arranging the world in such a way that at least little dew drops of happiness can be gleaned.

“Throughout a day, I have a few dew drops of happiness. I have a whole heap of disappointments but a few dew drops of happiness, and so I’m a happy person. But boy, was that ever exhausting, trying to control the world like that.

“Now, I’m a Vedic meditator, and twice every day, I dive into the ocean of bliss, dive into the ocean of self-referral happiness. Dive into the ocean of Being and awaken that layer, which now is no longer transcendental. It’s conscious. I’m experiencing it.”

[30:31] Making Inner Happiness Your Foundation

And then, with continued practice, further stabilizing of the experience of the inner state of Being, it cannot be overshadowed by outer experiences any longer. And the inner state of Being now takes over as the primary source of happiness.

“I still have my secondary sources of happiness. Somebody happens to make a delicious meal, and I happen to be sufficiently hungry, and my hunger interacting with the delicious meal gives rise to a little bubble of happiness. Fantastic, but gone within an hour when I have to move on to something else.”

Self-referral happiness doesn’t cancel out object-referral happiness. It gives one a backdrop, an insurance policy.

“Even if the relative world doesn’t line up and produce happiness in the way it can. I have, and I am, the field of self-referral happiness anyway. I have my supreme inner contentedness, my bliss.

“And the relative world may produce these joys, or maybe it won’t produce these joys, and if it doesn’t, I can let go of rigid attachment to specific timings and outcomes because I have knowledge of my inner field of bliss being. The bliss of the field of Being. My own inner self-referral happiness saves the day. I always have this as a backdrop.”

It’s like, imagine if you had a billion dollars sitting in your check account. And you go to the market, and you spend five dollars on this and spend five dollars on that. You get a little bit of joy from some pot that you bought. You get a little joy from something that you got.

[32:45] Balancing Inner and Outer Happiness

If you don’t have any money in the bank at all, then maybe you had ten dollars in total in your budget, and you buy this thing, and you think, “Oh gosh. That was three dollars. Now I have only another seven dollars left and I have to pay my rent and buy some lunch and things like that.” And then you want to get something else.

There’s some joy in owning the object that you’ve purchased but there’s also some pinch that there’s only seven dollars remaining in the pocket. And so with each expenditure there’s some joy in the expenditure, but there’s a feeling of loss as well.

Now, suddenly, somebody gives you a phone call, and you discover that there’s a billion dollars sitting in your check account that at any given rate of accrual of interest you can’t possibly spend even the interest on it in a lifetime of expenditure.

Now you buy this little pot, and it’s just pure joy. It’s not, “Oh, there’s the pot. Now I’ve only got seven dollars left.” And it’s not, “Oh, I bought this plant to go into the pot. And now I’ve only got three dollars left.” It’s pure joy.

So your self-referral happiness, that’s the billion in the bank in our analogy, supports your object-referral happiness. Your ability to get joy from things in the relative world only increases because you’re not 100 percent solely dependent upon the object generating the happiness.

So, this is the vast difference between the sustainability of object-referral happiness and self-referral happiness.

[34:53] Liberation from Chasing Happiness

And there’s one more great benefit. One need no longer be either a loving controller or a tyrannical, unabashed controller of others in order to make oneself happy because, “I have happiness in my baseline and whether or not your life and its particulars harmonize with or line up with my own view of what could be, I still have happiness.

“I have happiness irrespective of all of the doings or non-doings of others. I have happiness irrespective of whatever it is Nature may be yielding or not yielding in the events of nature. I have self-referral happiness.”

Self-referral happiness, then, is the basis, as it grows and grows to its infinite value, is the basis of that state that we refer to as enlightenment.

Someone has liberation, Nirvana, as Buddha called it, liberation or Nirvana. Nirvana means liberation of self-referral happiness from inside and the full potential of that.

And that liberation, Nirvana, has another implication. Liberation from the shackles and fetters of being shackled to the relative world so that one can only be happy if the relative world is arranged in particular ways.

So that kind of liberation, liberation of fullest potential for happiness, and liberation from the bondage to making the relative world align in order to get little tiny droplets of happiness.

So this is the story of self-referral happiness versus object-referral happiness, and a very good instructive tale to keep us on our strategy of practicing Vedic Meditation twice every day in aid of living a complete and fulfilled life.

Jai Guru Deva.

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