Pleasure attained from an object soon loses its keenness4 min read

Philosophical analysis tells us that our desires do not necessarily correspond to our true needs. A man suffering from one form of diabetes has an intense thirst, but a drink relieves it for only a moment. The need is for insulin, which his body is no longer manufacturing in sufficient quantities. He does not consciously desire insulin, in fact he may never have heard of it, the need is expressed, falsely, as a desire to drink and drink.

The practice consists in removing the idea that any desire represents an absolute value. A man in the cold naturally desires to be warmer, but if he is on an important errand to help someone in need, he simply brushes the desire aside. A mountaineer takes pleasure in challenging the onrush of desires for comfort and safety and warmth. Even life itself does not have absolute value. Some yogas stress the point that no man can be really free until he can willingly give up his life for a noble cause. Life only has meaning as a means to realization of God; merely to live, even centuries as a turtle was supposed to do, has no meaning.

Among the classical defects in the objects which have to be repeatedly considered are, their passing nature, the labour which is involved in getting and keeping them, and the hatred by people who are in an inferior position. This sort of analysis drives towards seeing that the apparent objects are based on a ‘false notion’ (mithya-jnana), a phrase which Shankara often uses. The Chapter of the Self commentary explains that unless it is realized that the doshas rest on a false notion, and unless the yoga practice is based upon right vision, it cannot be guaranteed that the yogas will overcome the doshas.

Pleasure attained from an object soon loses its keenness, it used to be said humorously by sailors that when a man has been rescued from a raft, it is only a week before he is complaining about the coffee served on the ship which has rescued him. As to getting and guarding, it is significant how in many fairy stories a man obtains a treasure but cannot enjoy it, he becomes merely a mindless guardian of it. The treasure has obtained the man; he dies defending it. In the Islamic tradition it is said: They asked the Prophet what he had to say about the things of the world. He replied: ‘What can I say about them? Things acquired with much effort, guarded with constant anxiety, and left finally with regret.’

This kind of analysis does not mean that a yogi must not strive for success in the tasks which engage him. He does strive, and with great energy. Because he is balanced in mind and heart, he is often more successful than others, a fact which may or may not be resented. But in any case he does not believe that success will give him lasting pleasure. He does the actions simply because they ought to be done, he makes a special point of sharing the fruits of any success with others, and he is not upset when they go. Nor is he upset if the whole undertaking ends in failure.

The commentator Vyasa gives sex, self-preservation, and power as examples of objects causing binding attachment, and Shankara remarks that though there is an infinity of objects causing desire, yet the principal impulse of raga is above all grasping after these three. In these cases raga is at its most powerful, and it is to be opposed with the greatest determination.

The nature of the satisfaction and fulfilment momentarily felt on attaining a much-longed-for object has been minutely analysed by Indian philosophers. The conclusion is that concentration on one object leads to temporary suppression of all other desires, and a narrowing-down till the object represents the whole world. When it is attained, for a moment it is felt that the whole world has been attained – the man momentarily feels himself a god. The mind is calm in the feeling ‘all that was to be attained has been attained’. But very soon the suppressed desires and anxieties begin to sprout up, as the concentration becomes dispersed. Then it is found that the whole world has not been attained; the absolute value which concentration had superimposed on the chosen object is found to be only relative value after all. There is often a great sense of disillusionment.

(From the yogic point of view, dispelling of illusion is a, great advantage; it can release the energy which has been locked up in preserving the illusion by concentration. But the man of the world hates disillusionment; illusion is his life, and his death also.)

In Shankara’s commentary on Patanjali, the point is repeatedly made that these same consideration apply even to the heavens enjoyed by the gods and by those who worship them. The gods enjoying great powers are still subject periodically to envy and to fear. They are not liberated, and their state of glory is only temporary. When their favourable karma is exhausted, they are thrown down to the state of mortals again, and their places are taken by others who have earned a similar temporary elevation.