Tuesday, April 16, 2013

are you an addict?

Verse 2.59: The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.

What did you answer to that question? As I began writing this, I started off with one answer and half-way through I changed my mind. Maybe you'll have the same experience?

The Gita explains that we are all addicts. The problem is that most of us don't even know it. Since we are unaware that there is a problem, it's near impossible to rectify it.

If that's the case, what is it that we are addicted to? Two words - sense enjoyment. As embodied souls this is the primary way by which we try to derive pleasure. Whether it be through eating something tasty, seeing something beautiful or hearing a beautiful piece of music, there are innumerable ways by which we try to derive satisfaction through our senses.

This might cause one to ask the question, "Are you trying to say that there is something wrong with trying to feel pleasure?" To which the Gita unequivocally replies - NO! Confused yet? On one hand the Gita is saying that sense enjoyment is our problem but then it also says that it isn't wrong for us to try to experience pleasure. What gives?!

Dilemmas such as this one tend to confuse many of us and even the most sincere readers of the Gita may feel tempted to give up at times. That's why it is so important to ask questions and learn from those who have themselves studied the Gita from great bhakti teachers. It's a beautiful lineage. Each teacher is a student (since they have learned from a realized Gita practitioner themselves) and each student has the capacity to become a teacher (since they are being equipped to realize the Gita properly). If one learns in this way, the tendency to misinterpret great texts like the Gita can be reduced and avoided.

That is why we are so lucky to have Prahupada, the translator of the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, explain these potential areas of misunderstanding. That being said, let's address the present confusion. It isn't wrong for for us to try to seek pleasure because the soul is inherently blissful by nature. That is our constitutional position. Just like the inherent nature of fire is to be hot, the intrinsic characteristic of the soul is to be happy.

So why then is the Gita saying that not seek pleasure through sense enjoyment? As you may remember, sense enjoyment leads most of us to further misidentifying ourselves with this body we are currently in. That's the problem. It interferes with our ability to realize that we are already blissful!

The body, without the soul, is dead matter and all the things the body interacts are often done with a material consciousness. When most of us interact even with each other, our consciousness is not normally one of, "I am relating with another eternal spirit soul". Or if we interact with objects and things, we're often not consciously thinking, "I am interacting with the energy of the Divine." Instead, often unbeknownst to us, we may actually be interacting with the consciousness of ownership, possessiveness, and trying to extract pleasure for ourselves. Of course, not this is not applicable to all, but it's worth taking the time to introspect and determine if our actions and interactions are coloured by such consciousness.

So what is one to do? The senses are active and therefore one cannot artificially repress them. The only thing that can be done is to purify the senses. How so? By adopting the consciousness that was put forth before. When interacting with one another, to recognize that there is a soul inside and by seeing all inanimate things as energies of the Divine that can be used in spiritual service.

A lot more can be said on this topic, and will be elaborated on as we journey through the Gita. But coming back to the original question. Are you an addict? If you're curious to know my answer...my original answer was yes. But in diving deeper into the Gita, I realize the answer is yes and no. LOL! No, I'm not an addict, because "I" am an eternal soul who is naturally blissful. However, considering the fact that my currently tendency is to identify "myself" as the body, I am still an addict because I am still working on purifying my senses.


  1. Yes, as human we're all probably addicted to something of the senses. This reminds me the practice of non-attachment, which is learning to be aware that we're not our body or mind, the identification of "self" as the body or mind. Through the purification of the senses as you said, it's how we learn to unveil that eternal soul who is naturally blissful in us, I believe. :)

    1. Hi Josie. I love how you put that. It really is about non-attachment. Sometimes we hear the word detached, but in order to be detached, one has to be attached! Non-attachment indicates that we may be aware of something but we don't associate it with a positive or negative label. We remain equipoised to it.

  2. I guess this is where we talk about exhausting our 'vaasanas', correct? Put in a very simple way, I tell myself that we must aim to reduce our desires...so in your parlance, reduce 'addiction'. While it is a tall order to give up everything all at once, it is a worthy goal to exhaust them slowly. As a personal goal, I tell myself that I should strive to let go slowly. Do you think this is on the lines of what this verse says?

    1. Hi Thara! My understanding of the word vaasana, simply put, is our tendency towards doing something. The inherent tendency we all have is to seek pleasure. As was mentioned in previous verses, it is impossible to negate this tendency since we (the soul) are full of pleasure (ananda or joy) to begin with. However, due to our ignorance and current identification with the body, that we are presently inhabiting, our vaasanas drive us to seek temporary pleasure (i.e. through our senses) which often leads to frustration. "We" as souls are eternal beings and therefore it only makes sense that we seek pleasure all the time!

      The Gita gives us the knowledge and means to obtain that eternal pleasure. We still utilize our senses and we may even perform the same activity, but there is a consciousness shift. As opposed to doing things for "my pleasure", we perform the same activities "as service" in the consciousness of gratitude for the pleasure of the Divine. In fact, authorized Bhakti texts inform us that such loving service to the Supreme is the "dharma" or inherent occupation of the individual soul. This results in freedom from both good and bad karma. Since we are part and parcel of the Supreme, by giving Him pleasure, we naturally experience pleasure. It's a win-win situation for all. :)