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The Pleasure Principle

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By Uddhava das

All conscious activity, whether in the course of duty or in defiance of duty—depending upon the individual temperament—is regulated by what Freud called the “pleasure principle.” Few will argue the fact that whatever action a living entity does, he does to produce a certain amount of pleasure in his life. With this in mind, we would like to consider what the highest form of pleasure—the ultimate state of conscious existence—may be.

From the teachings of Lord Krishna in The Bhagavad Gita As It Is, we learn that the relationship we have with Nature is maintained through the five senses of seeing, tasting, touching, smelling and hearing. This relationship is kept under control by the mind and intelligence, and it is kept in perpetual motion by desires for pleasure. This means that if one has a desire, say for a particular type of food, by his intelligence he can decide how to obtain that food, and through the mind one then sets his senses in motion to get the wanted morsel: the ears to hear of where it maybe, the nose to smell it, the eyes to see it, and the fingers to bring it to the mouth where the tongue can taste it. Doing this, one is satisfied for some time and finds himself in a state known as pleasure.

If, however, there is some desire which the senses are not able to obtain, or for some reason one’s surroundings cannot supply what one longs for, then one finds oneself in a state known as displeasure or misery. So, pleasure can be described as that condition where sense desire is fulfilled, and misery as one where it is not. It logically follows, then, that the highest state of pleasure is where the senses can be fully satisfied all the time.

For this state of pleasure to be obtained, two things are necessary—a body or set of senses able to obtain the desire, and surroundings that can constantly supply what is desired. Man has always been working towards these two goals: to have a perfect body set in perfect surroundings. What keeps him working so hard in this direction, of course, is the fact that his present body and surroundings are incapable of producing for him a constant state of pleasure. We should now wonder why our bodies and environment cannot bring us this state.

The great minds of science teach us that everything in the universe is composed of units of energy which they call atoms. This is true of both our bodies and our surroundings. Biologists tell us that the cells in our bodies are always dying and that new cells are always being born to replace the ones that fail. In this way, all the cells in the body are replaced every seven years. This can be noticed as a baby turns into a young boy, who turns again into a young man. At the end of life this same person has the body of an old man, and soon after that, after death, there is no body left at all.

The environment of the living entities is made up of matter which is also changing. Man’s surroundings are his house, his clothes, his food, his associates, his job, his philosophy, his country and so on. A man may get some enjoyment from these objects, but what if his house burns down, he loses his job, he has no food, or some other equally depressing calamity occurs? Then he finds himself in a state of misery unless or until he can adjust to the circumstances.

Adjustment is the main business of the human being. To be in a state of pleasure he must constantly adjust to his own changing tastes as much as to his changing environment. Always his mind and body are changing and always his environment is changing. What chance, then, is there for him to ever find permanent pleasure in this world?

What naturally follows is for man to find an escape from this frustrating existence in one way or another. Contemporary society has often been described as a drug-addicted society. Millions of people wake up in the morning and reach instantly for a cigarette, go to the bathroom and take bromides to combat the effects of last night’s alcohol. Their breakfast consists of coffee and more cigarettes. At work on their coffee breaks—more cigarette smoke enters their lungs. Lunch consists of plastic-wrapped sandwiches treated with at least one chemical preservative. At night one may relax with a nice drink of alcohol and more cigarettes or, as it is becoming more fashionable to do, a polite puff or two of marijuana. Occasionally the body reacts unfavorably to all these drugs, so we go to a doctor who prescribes more drugs to make us still more nervous.

Aside from these oral methods of forgetting the perpetual frustrations of the world, there are also mental pathways of escape such as the movies, literature, music and television.

This desire to escape from the frustrations of material existence is not a new or exclusive activity of modern civilized society. It is age old, as old as the material universe itself, for that is the basis of this frustration—the incompatibility of the living soul in a world of dead matter, the machine of Nature.

Actually, today’s escapism is a perverted reflection of the first step back towards spiritual life. Disentanglement from mundane duality is called, in the teachings of Lord Krishna, “Nirvana.” A simple definition of Nirvana is a state free from suffering. This state is very inviting to the living entity because it offers, above all, peace. But we learn in The Bhagavad Gita that if one does not try to go further—beyond Nirvana—he misses the whole point of spiritual life.

When a living entity escapes from the sufferings of this world it is called Nirvana. When he works to go beyond Nirvana he is on the path to self realization; or in other words, understanding what his real, positive identity is.

As mentioned above, our connection with material Nature is through the five senses, the mind and intelligence. If we analyze, though, asking, What am I? we will come to some surprising revelations about the senses. Am I this hand ? No, because if this hand is cut off I remain. Am I this body? No, because this body is always changing, while I remain. As we go on in this way, we can discover that the mind is always changing in the form of changing tastes and impressions, and that intelligence changes because we learn to do things differently; but at every step, I—my real self—remain unaltered.

Eventually, by this process of reasoning, one can come to the conclusion that he is pure consciousness that does not change. We can tell that this consciousness does not change because always, at every step, we are wishing we had three abilities: to live forever, to know everything, and to always be happy. Our desire for these three things never really changes, and we exist as something conscious of the desire for these three items.

The material body cannot supply these three items; the mind cannot “think” one into eternal life, intelligence cannot construct any plan whereby one can live forever. The only reasonable conclusion is that I am consciousness, and that I am not sure of the exact nature of this consciousness.

Whenever there is a discussion about eternity, full knowledge and complete happiness, God automatically enters into the conversation. God is generally described as eternal, all-knowing and completely content—One without a second. Because the living entity has a desire for these three properties, we can understand that there must be some relationship between himself and God.

In the Fifteenth Chapter of The Bhagavad Gita, the Lord speaks of the living being as a fractional part of His Own Self. If we can accept this teaching, then we can see that, since the living entity is part of God, the position of eternity, knowledge and happiness is constitutionally his. Still, the material body does not live forever, cannot know everything and is not always happy. Therefore, this material body cannot be accepted as the constitutional situation of the living entity, and this material world is not his real home. His real home is the perfect place and his real body is the perfect body.

The further teaching of Lord Krishna in The Gita, and of all the world’s great scriptural writings, is that we can be in that perfect place with that perfect body simply by becoming fully aware of our relationship with God. This awareness of God is called Krishna Consciousness or God consciousness. Within this process of developing total awareness, one must have active service, and that activity is the ultimate message and conclusion of all spiritual considerations, including this essay.

The highest pleasure of the living entity is to love God. All scriptures confirm this truth directly; In every holy book of the world there are passages where God instructs that the highest joy of life is to love Him, and this indicates that the Lord’s presentation of scripture to mankind is for the purpose of offering him lasting ultimate pleasure—not out of need, because Krishna is the supreme independent Source of all being, but out of a desire to benefit the living entities whom He loves.

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