Questioner: Is pleasure a necessity for humans? Do we as human beings need pleasure for survival, to be sane?
Acharya Prashant: What is pleasure, first of all? See, we all operate at a certain level of the mind, call it the level of consciousness—you can take that as our current level, this is where we stand—and our potentiality is huge, tremendous. So, you stand here, and your potentiality is huge. Now, what will happen when you connect these two points of different potentials? What happens when you connect two points having potential difference?
There is a flow—it could be the flow of water or flow of electrons, let’s say electrons, current. This flow is called pleasure; something is happening. “I was at this lower level, I have been connected to something at this higher level, and so there is a flow and I am hopeful, I am liking that experience; something is happening.” Now, this is the right kind of pleasure—the pleasure of ascension, the pleasure of rising up, the pleasure of flying high.
Unfortunately, for us human beings another kind of pleasure is possible. You connect this level of your potential to a place that has only a lower level, and still what you would experience is a flow; there is a potential difference, no? If you are connected to something lower than your existing state of consciousness, even then you will have a flow. This flow, again, is pleasure. This is the kind of pleasure that sinks you—for example, the pleasure that you get in doing something utterly lowly. Is there not pleasure in random debauched mischief? That is when 240 volts is getting connected to 100 volts, and you experience the flow and that flow titillates: “Well, something is happening, something great is happening.” The flow of the energy in the downward direction.
Unfortunately, most of the pleasure that we experience is the flow in the downward direction. Pleasure is greatly important, we will definitely need pleasure, but we need pleasure of the upward kind. Instead, the market serves us pleasures of the downward kind, so much so that the word ‘pleasure’ has become synonymous with fall; you would hardly find anyone rising in pleasure.
If you want to see somebody falling, go and watch his moments of pleasure. Those would be the moments in which he will be falling in life. That is the sad situation we have come to. But that is not necessary. In fact, without pleasure you cannot rise; that is the importance of pleasure. And that kind of pleasure that takes you higher, there is a special name for it: it is called joy.
Joy is not ordinary pleasure, not ordinary happiness; it takes you higher. But it is a very demanding, very extracting, and very expensive pleasure. The lowly kinds of pleasures are cheap, you can get them very easily—go get drunk, go fall in a brothel—and those lowly pleasures will be very easily available to you. Go binge and then fall asleep, knowing fully well that you have assignments to submit. There is pleasure, right? There is pleasure in over-eating and then falling asleep. Is there not pleasure in that?
Most of our pleasures degrade us. But equally, Vedanta tells you that without pleasure you cannot live. It is just that you have to choose the higher kind of pleasure; you have to choose pleasure that takes you upwards. And mind you, if you think that you are doing the right thing in life and it is not giving you that high pleasure, then that thing cannot be right for you.
One characteristic of the right thing is that it is immensely pleasurable.
However, this is not an exclusive characteristic. Even wrong things are greatly pleasurable, and you have to be discreet. Pleasure comes from both directions. You look at a great work of art—there is joy. You start wandering on the road and randomly abusing everybody or chasing monkeys—there is some pleasure in that. There is a lot of pleasure in that because that is what most of the people are doing.
With great application and discipline, you learn how to play the guitar or the sitar—there is joy in that. But that is an expensive joy, as we said. You get angry and you pick up the guitar, bang it five times on the floor and it breaks—for one minute, there is great pleasure. Playing tennis, you play a great shot and then kiss your racquet—there is joy. You play an awful shot and then hit the turf with your racquet ten times and smash the racquet itself—there, too, you have some pleasure. Have you not seen players doing that? As if the racquet has played the shot, so they want to explode the racquet.
And there are players who play wonderfully well and they put their racquet on their forehead. Playing a great shot requires discipline; it is expensive. It requires you to control your animalistic instincts, because your instincts are telling you, “What is the need for further practice? Coach, let me go home, I want to sleep. Coach, my legs are on fire, my shoulder is hurting, and there is this tennis elbow to boot! Let me please go.” That is the lower kind of pleasure. You avoid work, you shirk your responsibilities—there is a lower kind of pleasure.
The higher kind of pleasure we all need. We cannot live without pleasure, I agree with the questioner. But, I repeat, please ask yourself, the pleasures that you are having in life, are they taking you higher, or are they making you more of an animal? “Now, what is wrong with being an animal, sir?” That is not your nature. You will suffer. You are not an animal. Why are you trying to be an animal? Why are you doing things that animals do?
The kinds of pleasures most of us are into—marijuana, weed—do these turn you conscious? No, but they are pleasurable. They are pleasurable because there is something happening. There is something happening, so you feel, “Probably the right thing is happening. At least I am no more in my current state”—because the current state is of suffering. So, some displacement has happened, some movement is happening, and you hope that the right movement is happening. No, the right movement is not happening.
Most of the times, the default movement is the wrong one. The right movement you have to be very careful about. It is a sensitive, delicate thing; it has to be crafted, it has to be engineered with all your intelligence and devotion. The wrong thing is like freefalling gravity: it just happens. What does it take to fly an airplane at 35,000 feet high? It takes generations of engineering to put the plane up there. What does it take for a plane to crash? Nothing! One drunk pilot and the plane is gone. It is always easier to fall, and there must be some pleasure in letting the plane drop, right? “I am sleeping. I can’t help it!”
Go for the right kind of pleasure. Spirituality is about having great pleasures, the kind of pleasures that normal people cannot even think of. Do not think that the spiritual person leads a boring or dull or dead life. No, a really spiritual person is drunk on pleasure. You cannot imagine his state of inner euphoria; he is ecstatic on something that is totally unavailable to the common people. Kindly don’t be so serious, even I am not. It is just that one happens to appear that way.
Joy is for the real human being, for the real adult. Cheap pleasures are for kids. Go for the highest joys in life; that is what makes life worth living. Go for tough attainments. And by tough attainments, I don’t mean things that you get by competing with a million other people; they are not tough attainments. If a million people want the same thing that you do, then you are just one of them, are you not? Please see that.
The toughest attainment is about wanting something that no one else wants. But that is not what our education and society has taught us. We have been told, “A million people wrote the JEE and you are in the top one percentile, therefore you are special.” Well, special we probably are. But think of it, please think of it. How special are we if we have all the common desires? The one who did not get selected desired to get selected; the one who got selected desired to get selected. The desire is just the same, so where is the difference?
Can you desire something that transcends commonness? Can you question the common desire itself and ask it, “Why am I obliged to fulfill you? You rascal, you petty desire! Why should I invest my time, my life, my energy in fulfilling you?”
Did your desires take your permission to arise? Please, go into the process of desire. Do desires come with your consent, with your permission? No, desires just arise and once they arise, you are a slave to them—normal human tendency. Once the desire arises, we become a slave to them. It is just that we say, “Oh, these are my desires.” How are these your desires when you never desired them?
Do we desire our desires? No, they just come. And where do they come from? They come from influences, they come from conditioning, and they arise from the bodily configuration. And once they arise, we act as if we own them. We say, “Oh, this is my desire,” and then we run after those desires. A thousand others are running after the same desires, and if we succeed in the competition, we say we are special. No, we are not.
Can you question desire itself? And when you question desire itself, then you learn the right desire. And the right desire is very, very rare. That is where joy is. That is where the highest pleasure is.