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Pleasure v/s Purpose – what’s a better deal?

“Don’t mistake pleasure for happiness. They are different breed of dogs.”

  • Josh Billings (American humourist of the nineteenth century)

An Indian folktale reveals the nature of pleasure in this world:

A man tired during his month long journey through the forest, begged God to grant him a horse. He imagined if he had a horse he would not have to walk and instead he’d ride on it comfortably. Soon a female horse appeared from nowhere. He joyfully rode on her back and cared for the horse’s needs as well. He was now attached to her. However his happiness was short lived as the mare being pregnant, gave birth to a baby horse. Now the man’s journey was delayed as he not only cared for both of them, but also carried the foal on his back, while the mother reluctantly followed him along the forest path. Filled with a sober realization, the man cried, “Oh Lord, I asked you for a horse that would carry me across the forest, but now I am carrying a horse. Every pleasure that we experience is pregnant- like this horse-with a future inconvenience.”

Instead of pleasure if the man had a purpose in his journey through the forest, he’d likely not worry about wishing for a horse. If he got one, he’d gratefully use it to achieve his purpose. The point is: if we seek something more than mere pleasure, we have found the master key that would open the treasure house of happiness.

If a teenager studying for her 12th standard exams sets the goal of being a doctor, she would easily cross the minimum limit of 35% passing marks in her tests. But if she sets her ambition as 35%, she would limit her prospects. In fact, she may even struggle to get there as she hasn’t thought of something higher in life. Likewise if I set my goals as mere gratification of the senses, I would not only limit the prospects of exploring higher levels of happiness, but I also jeopardise my chances of getting the basic-35%- pleasures! In a life devoid of purpose, we’d likely struggle within the basic pleasures of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. We would miss a golden opportunity of seeking spiritual happiness that human life endows us with.

Let’s say I seek a purpose to know myself and God. Now my quest, practises and experiences would absorb me in a level of existence that transcends the petty issues of who said what, and why the breakfast wasn’t served on time. I have now raised the bar of my aspirations. My practises of gratitude and appreciation (which is a part of spiritual prayer) would then fill me with happiness for even small gifts of daily meals and water to drink. Nicolas Chamfort, the French wit of the eighteenth century said it beautifully, “Pleasure may come from illusion, but happiness can come only from reality.”

Rather than fleeting pleasures of this world, when we seek connection to God- the source of all pleasure, we have raised the bar. Then ‘pleasure’ is a mere by product of a relationship with one who is a reservoir of all pleasure. In Sanskrit, ‘Krishna’ means the source of all happiness, and that’s why the Vedic scriptures recommend us to have a relationship with Krishna or God to experience a richer life.

The easiest way to connect to Krishna and thereby the by-product of unceasing happiness is by chanting the Holy Names as recommended in the sacred Vedic texts.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

Attentive vibration of this mantra helps us connect to Krishna- the reservoir of all transcendental pleasure. This is a reality within us, and chanting helps us connect to our own selves and to God. Eckhart Tolle in his Power of Now put it succinctly, “pleasure is always derived from something outside of you, whereas real joy arises from within.” Chanting of Hare Krishna is an experience of our inner world; the real world of unending happiness of union with God.

Then whether God gives us a horse or sends a tiger in our sojourn through this forest of material world, we’d be happy and prepared to face the daily challenges.



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