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An Essay in Pathology - Part Two

By: for So It Happens on Jan. 3, 2009

[pathology: patho- (from Greek pathos) suffering + -logy (from Greek logos) study, science.]

“The pleasures that arise from contact between the senses and their objects are in truth the sources of all suffering.” So Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita (5.22).

Why is that? The next line of the text offers an answer:

ady-antavantah kaunteya na teshu ramate budhah

“Such pleasures possess a beginning and an end, Kauteya. A wise person takes no delight in them.”

Having a beginning (adi) and end (anta) qualifies all pleasures in the material world. For that reason, one who is actually wise (budha) seeks no enjoyment from them.

It is a fact that in this temporal world we hold not title to, we have no actual possession of, anything we enjoy. Our lease here on happiness is fragile and fleeting.

Here Time reigns over all:

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,

But sad mortality o’ersways their power,

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,

Whose action is no stronger than a flower?

O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out

Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days,

When rocks impregnable are not so stout,

Nor gates of steel so strong but Time decays?

O, fearful meditation!

 

 

 

So the Bard sings.

 

The wise know well that this world is itself a disaster area.

We fools of time are loath to hear this. We are “in denial.” As the Bhagavatam says of us, pashyann api na pashyati,” although we have seen, we still don’t see. Our blindness is willful. We make ourselves stupid in order to be happy:

 

Yet ah! why should they know their fate?

Since sorrow never comes too late,

And happiness too swiftly flies.

Thought would destroy their paradise.

No more;—where ignorance is bliss,

‘Tis folly to be wise.

Thomas Grey (1742)

So we seek happiness after the way of fools.

We bring our senses in contact with their objects and relish and rejoice in the pleasure arising thereby. Yet sooner or later that contact is broken off, and our pleasure ends. It cannot be otherwise.

Now let me offer a self-survey, conducted by one’s self of one’s self:

Q. “When your pleasure came to an end how did you feel?”

A. “I felt let down, miserable, depressed.” “I felt aggrieved, bereaved, bereft.”

Q. “And why is that?”

A.Duh! Obviously, I didn’t want my pleasure to end. I wanted it just to keep on going.”

Q. “And how long did you want it to keep on going?”

A. “How long can I have? Forever?”

A little introspection uncovers our true desire: We seek happiness that does not end, we seek eternal pleasure. If we explore this desire we will find that it is stubborn and implacable.

So this is what we are doing, this is our absurd condition: We desire happiness that does not end, yet we seek it, obsessively, in a world where everything ends.

We are forced to conclude, then, that no satisfaction of our desires is to be found in the material world. Q.E.D.

The crude and cruddy anthem of a generation is nothing more than a lingering howl of disappointment at this intractable fact.

We want our pleasure to keep on going forever. That is the nature of pleasure itself.

Alle Lust will Ewigkeit—“All joy wants eternity—”wrote Friedrich Nietzsche: Will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit—“Wants deep, deep eternity.”

Every fleeting pleasure here bears a kind of remembrance or recollection of eternal happiness, of a paradise lost. Trying to find that paradise here, in the reflection, in the mirage, only takes us further from what we really seek. We secure further dissatisfaction and nothing more.

So the natural joy of childhood and youth give way to the disappointment, bitterness, emotional numbness, and despair of age. We stop living long before we die. Arthur Schopenhauer, with characteristic lucidity, offers us this chilling observation: “Human existence resembles a theatre performance which, begun by living actors, is ended by automatons dressed in the same costumes.”

We seek life and joy in the world and our very seeking produces for us death and misery. We attain just the opposite result. This is what Krishna tells us.

Now we live in a culture of sense gratification that turns all of us into automatons. Only a counter-culture of self realization can deliver us, a culture to bring about “a revolution,” as Prabhupada puts it, “in the impious life of a misdirected civilization.”

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