Sunday, July 03, 2016

The Pursuit of Pleasure, Spirituality and Religion

One of the greatest truth of human existence is the Supremacy of the Pursuit of Pleasure or Happiness. There is nothing that motivates humans to do impossible tasks as this pursuit. Fear is an equally potent motivator, this arises out of the prospect of losing things through which pleasure may be derived and thus is a corollary. All other pursuits such as Love, Money or even God consciousness is secondary to that core single minded pursuit. If that sounds sacrilegious I shall show you below our quest for spirituality and the institution of religion are built on these concepts as bedrocks.

The Hunt for Paradise

Imagine Paradise.

What are the first thoughts that come to your mind?  Being contented? Being happy and relaxed? Think a little more, can you not see yourself stretched out happily in front of a large ocean as the waves gently crash into the shores unleashing a pleasing sound to ears?  Or is being inside a green silent forest as beams of sunlight fall all around and birds chirp at a respectable distance please you?  Are the first thoughts of paradise that you get take you to a dance floor where you dance the night away with a loved one?  Or is it playing with your children? Climbing a mountain? Writing a book (or a blog which few read anyway)? Meditation? Company of beautiful people? Serving someone? Discovering strange new worlds and boldly going where no one has gone before (High five if you recognised where this is from)? Being with parents? Siblings? 

Well, each of these is well and truly a paradise. Which paradise we choose to be depends on how deeply we have dissected the concept of pleasure.  (I almost wrote, depends on how much our consciousness has evolved in its eternal journey, when I suddenly released that is the kind of bunkum that makes religious text so tedious to read).

Finding Pleasure in Senses:  The most basic sense of pleasure is derived out of our senses in other words sensual pleasure.  The sound of music, the touch of satin or silk on our skin, the taste of an exquisite wine accompanied by the choicest food. Starting from the little baby which coos as its mother places it in a cozy bundle to the town drunk who can be found sleeping at random pavements to the compulsive eater whose jaws are always at work pleasure enters the human system most easily through senses.  The kind of pleasure has been called Kama in scriptures.  Some get trapped by this and is never able to leave. The addicts for instance, drugs or alcohol, are sorry beings who are not strong enough to counter Kama’s snare.

Finding Pleasure in Mind: However most people having experienced sensual pleasure quickly tire of it when given in excessive amounts. Sensual pleasure is pleasurable only in small quantities. How many of you have experienced work-sickness while in a long vacation, like a cruise or something? It is natural for most human minds to seek meaning in life. Be something. Gain new understanding. All enterprise, inventions, philosophies and even this blog that I am writing is because of the pleasure that Mind derives out of seeking meaning.  Wikipedia has an amazing article on Meaning of Life, which I like much. Earning money and wealth, starting the next kick-ass start up, or writing cool code for that startup, performing amazing athletic feats, or inventing science or creating art or creating a comic book superhero, or acting as one are all examples of our eternal search of pleasure that we get when we mean something in this creation. Perhaps that is why the second pillar of human life is called Artha in the scriptures.  Again like Kama, Artha is ensnaring, which is why some people are never satiated in their quest for wealth and take to crime and dishonesty when all else fail, some turn workaholics and feel a pride in that personality disorder, or in some cases spend the whole life in the quest of meaning through relationships without really ever finding the ideal partner.

Finding Pleasure in the Heart: Some are able to move past the quest of self-achievement to the quest of contributing back. A person is contributing back to the society when he is setting up a family and is providing for it. For the basic unit of society is the family and the grihastha (householder) has been put in a high pedestal our culture. Caring for one parents, nature, society at large or altruism, volunteering, donating at temples are all part of our Dharma, or that we are “supposed” to do – our duty to ourselves, our society and to creation in general. The pleasure that is derived out of dharma easily overshadows what you can get from the previous two levels and in fact subsumes them.  How many of you know that hot girl who was a topper all her life, had an amazing job and career and gave it all up to be with her husband and his family? And seemed happy too?  Or that guy who gave up everything either to become a preacher or naturalist or to help with getting drinking water in some remote village?  You will never be able to talk them out of what may seem to you a waste of talent because they have found their dharma. And once someone has found dharma in their hearts, logic of mental debates or the pleasure of sipping scotch, can’t easily derail them. However it must be noted that one’s assumed Dharma sometimes may take self-defeating forms (e.g. thinking that it is one sacred duty to “save” one particular person and messing up ones’ own life in the bargain) or destructive form (e.g. my way of life is the only way to live, all else is false and you have no right to exist because of your belief to the contrary)

Dissecting the Hunt

Finding Dharma is typically the highest form of pleasure that majority of people get to. And typically most stay there as well.  Dharma has all the ingredients that can enable one to lead a contented life.

But is it all?  Is everyone contented within the confines of Kama, Artha and Dharma?  The answer is a resounding NO to both questions. 

To understand the lure of the next level of pleasure a little back analysis in needed.  So let us recap the facts:

  • Kama is the state when I find pleasure in indulging, in my senses.
  • Artha is the state when I find pleasure in achievement, finding meaning to life, in my mind
  • Dharma is the state when I find pleasure in contributing, nurturing, in my heart

If we analyze these facts a few deeper thread of wisdoms may be discerned (In olden days these were called the Sutras, hence I call them Jim’s Paradise Sutras)
  •    Pleasure derived out of each of these three approaches is fickle and transient
o   Sensual pleasure is the easiest to turn poison: The hangover follows every binge, a life time of love of food typically shows in the waistline.  There are few things that can make one feel as hollow and useless as continuous indulgence. Even excessive laziness which is a form of sense indulgence in my book, makes one feel real worthless
o   Pleasure of Achievement pales with time:  Most have heard of the famous adage that no one in their death-bed complains of not having spent enough time at office. Whoever said it pretty much nailed it.  Doc Hudson’s three piston cups in garage is an example that tried to tell this truth to children.  Doc later found happiness in his Dharma as mentor to McQueen.
o   Even the fruits of Dharma are not permanent: Unhappy marriages, delusion arising out of the futility of trying to do good, cynicism that typically assail social workers are reminders that Dharma can’t guarantee permanent happiness, though the chances of getting long term happiness though following rta compliant Dharma is perhaps the highest. 
  • Each level of pleasure depends on my own efforts or Karma
o   None of these pleasures come to me without performing some form of Karma, good or Bad.
o   Each Karma starts a cycle of implication that is almost ceaseless in its extent.
o   If I do a Karma, I have to be ready for its results.
  •   It is all about I
o   All this pleasure seeking is directed to me and me alone, and let there be no denying the truth
o   I drink because I enjoy, I work because I earn, I do good because it helps me feel good about myself, I love my son because the feeling that comes from loving him is pleasurable to me.
o   It is all about I, me and myself and that is all that matters
o  But pursuit of happiness often leads to sadness or Dukkha at the end, until the next cycle of happiness starts. That too ends.

These realisation, even partially achieved flummoxes many and some turn atheists or get attracted to atheistic principles. The lure of emptiness of Nirvana is perfect example of desire to rid oneself of this unending Hunt.

Going beyond the Hunt

Thank heavens that emptiness is not the end.  That would be sad and bit of an anti-climax. There are those brave hunters who want to go beyond and analyze deeper.  The more intelligent among them catch that single thread that may prove to be the path as well as source of permanent happiness.

What is that that one thread then, you ask?  Why, it is I.   

(I, not as in Jim, but I as in your Self.  I clarify so as it is not misunderstood like the Lord’s saying - no one reaches the father except through me. He too meant Self but the church twisted it to mean a figure the access to who they could control and therein hangs many a tale.)

But who on God’s universe is this Self and why should you be bothered? Well it is Elementary my dear fellow. You have spent your entire life making that Self happy, failing often in that quest, should you not be finding who is he is and what he wants so that you actually get a shot real happiness?

That then takes you the final level of pleasure which is called ….

Moksha: Finding Pleasure in the Soul or Self.

Who am I, is the ultimate question that one needs to ask.  In that one question, that one quest is the promise of eternal, unparalleled happiness.  And that quest in the essence of Spirituality …

But this quest is not for the faint of heart, it takes nerves of steel and will of a Lion.  As Lord Krishna, the Supreme himself, said in Bhagavad Gita  (7.3)

manuṣyāṇāḿ sahasreṣu
kaścid yatati siddhaye
yatatām api siddhānāḿ
kaścin māḿ vetti tattvataḥ

So the question really boils down to -  Do you really want to aim for permanent happiness? Do you have it in you to proceed further?  

To be continued …

Today is the birthday of my little Princess Misha.  Happy Birthday my Shona Angel.  

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