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The Pleasure Vasana
Pradesh: Dear Sundariji, I have been listening to Ramji’s satsang for a while (including the beginner’s course) now and have been practising the advaita science as per Ramji’s satsang.
By God’s grace, my desire and attachment for materialism, like house, car, fame, money, career ambitions and the love vasana, have completely left me but I still have a strong vasana for food and kama, and I am really struggling to overcome this vasana.
If you could kindly guide me through this and give me pointers and ideas on how to detach myself from the two vasanas above, that will be a blessing for me.
Sundari: If you have truly rendered all other vasanas non-binding, self-knowledge has worked to remove ignorance and in so doing has freed the mind from attachment to all vasanas other than food and pleasure, in which case, why not continue with your self-inquiry into why you are bound to these remaining vasanas? There is no mystery or magic formula for moksa. It requires continued dedication to self-inquiry with a burning desire for freedom.
Although the teachings of Vedanta are eternal and unchanging, how they work in each individual will be in keeping with their svadharma. I cannot tell you how to render these vasanas non-binding other than to refer you to the scripture.
Isvara has given us the ability to experience pleasure, and there is nothing wrong with it. At the same time, the pleasure vasana is a slippery slope because we can neither avoid it nor indulge it. In the first case, avoidance or denial of pleasure is just repression and will not work. It always backfires. Indulging entrenches the vasanas and makes them stronger. The solution is doing inquiry into what is behind the craving for pleasure, which is always the problem. What is behind the craving is craving for union with the self, which cannot be satiated with food, money, sex, power or anything else. It can only be found through self-knowledge, the bliss and fullness of the self, which requires nothing at all to be full.
The answer therefore is in continued self-inquiry. And if you are going to sin, do so consciously and intelligently, with karma yoga. Watch the mind, observe how the gunas are playing out, observe the hidden or unseen effects of indulging. And always aim for what brings peace of mind. All pleasures of the body are fleeting, temporary and ultimately unfulfilling. Only the pleasure of the self is permanent, totally satisfying and always available.
Pradesh: Thank you so much for your reply regarding my food-and-pleasure vasanas. It really opened my eyes and struck a chord in my heart, especially your sentence “What is behind the craving [food and kama in my case] is union with the self.”
The moment I read that sentence, it really opened me up, and I already feel relieved and see the solution to the two problem vasanas that I am struggling with.
Sundari: I am glad you could hear my reply to you, Pradesh. As is explained at length in all the Vedanta scriptures, when we feel incomplete we chase objects in the vain hope that they will give us what we think we lack, which never works, not for long. The actual source of the craving is the desire for wholeness, for the bliss of the self, which is what is craved, not pleasure. The self always knows itself as the bliss of fullness, but if the mind is projected outwards to the world, the mind thinks it must gain bliss from objects. We cannot gain something we have. The craving itself is the issue, as craving anything – from food to the company of others – is only present when our true nature is not understood and valued. In other words, it is a psychological problem which can only have a spiritual solution, meaning self-inquiry. Denying or indulging the craving for pleasure never solves the craving but exacerbates it.
The answers lie in standing up to your desires and saying no to desires that are adharmic. The ability to do this is the mark of a free person. It is not that all desires are inherently bad, or adharmic, but desires that we cannot say no to invariably are adharmic. Krishna says to Arjuna, “I am the desire that is not opposed to dharma.” There is only one place we always need to look when we get stuck in mithya: What is behind the thought/desire/fear/vasana? The answer will play out slightly different for everyone, as I said in my last email to you, because we all have different svadharma and karma. What is adharmic for me might not be for you, and vice versa. But all adharma is always the result of ignorance of my true nature as the fullness of the self.
Regarding renunciation, both powers, renunciation and action, exist in everyone. Individuals constantly act, and they constantly let go of things they no longer value or desire. The only issue is the nature of that which is to be renounced. If I want freedom, which Vedanta defines as freedom from dependence on objects for happiness, renunciation becomes a problem because I may value things that conflict with the desire for freedom. What is more important to you is what matters – what are your values? Conduct a fearless moral inventory. Do you desire freedom from bondage more than the temporary fulfilment of your desires? When it comes to fulfilling the pleasure urge, it may be fantastic for a few minutes, maybe longer for some. But that feeling never lasts. So you must do it again. Okay, so fair enough, there is nothing inherently wrong with pleasure, but not if it runs your life. Then it is a scourge and causes great suffering. On the other hand, if we believe that the only way to freedom is to renounce everything, we get stuck there too. Liberation requires a very subtle renunciation: renunciation of the renouncer, the one seeking freedom.
The kind of renunciation you need to practice is not denial. It is the understanding that nothing is gained by indulging the pleasure vasana, so make a different choice every time the craving arises, by sublimating the desire with the karma yoga attitude. Karma yoga means that you dedicate your actions and surrender the results to Isvara before you do them. Attachment to pleasure, not pleasure itself, is the problem, spiritually or psychologically. Rajas produces attachment and agitation, and it is inevitably accompanied by dullness (tamas), neither of which is conducive to inquiry or satisfying long-term fulfilment and peace of mind. The problem with thinking that you can indulge pleasure is that you get very attached to enjoyment, and when you are not enjoying, you are not happy. If you are constantly seeking pleasure you will never be happy or satisfied. You are a prisoner of your needs.
Pradesh: On a funny note I must mention, some of my friends think I am mad, living in prehistoric times with a flip phone, still driving the first car that I bought, still living in the first house that I bought and still working for the same organisation which was my first real job. I feel at peace and am content with what God has given me (again, thanks to God’s grace and ShiningWorld teachings of Advaita – simple, pure and unmanipulative, just love it), while I can clearly observe from my friends’ behaviour that they are constantly fluctuating between rajas and tamas as they are chasing all of the above (car, career, house, shares, money) all the time and never take time to contemplate what they have.
I’m not really sure who is mad here!! Me or them, as the self has no attributes…
Thank you very much, Didi, for your timely advice.
Sundari: You are most welcome, I am glad to be of assistance to your inquiry. You are definitely not the mad one! You can count yourself among the sane. Indeed the world will think you are mad, after all they are samsaris, convinced the objects are real and they must have them to be complete. Nothing you say to them will convince them otherwise, because most people are not qualified for self-inquiry. The qualifications come from Isvara, it is grace, and grace is earned.
Keep up the good work, you are very blessed to have found the King of All Secrets, Vedanta. Remember, Krishna says to Arjuna, “What is day for a wise person is night for a samsari, and what is night for a samsari is day for a wise person.”
~ Om and prem, Sundari