“As long as one has the material body, the demands of the body for sense gratification will continue. The devotee, however, is not disturbed by such desires because of his fullness. A Krishna conscious man is not in need of anything because the Lord fulfills all his material necessities. Therefore he is like the ocean - always full in himself.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.70 Purport)Download this episode (right click and save)
Peppered throughout the translations and commentaries of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the term “sense gratification.” The newcomer hasn’t heard this terminology before, but it is self-explanatory. “To gratify the senses, such as through drinking, eating, travelling, sleeping, and the like - that’s pretty much what life is all about. I didn’t know there was anything else.” Indeed, the pursuit for sense gratification dominates to the point that calculations are made into how it will be found going forward. Fortunately, that calculating propensity needn’t be abandoned. In the realm of bhakti-yoga the practice can be purified.
Consider some common calculations:
- “I’m not going to drink caffeine at night anymore. Sure, I enjoy my diet soda after eating a few slices of pizza. The taste matches perfectly. The problem is I can’t sleep well. I end up staying awake late into the night, and the next morning I am tired. To be more refreshed in the morning, I’m going to lay off the caffeine at night.”
- “I want to eat at that new restaurant that opened up, but I know that the place will be packed right now. I’ll wait until there is a coupon available online. That way I won’t be spending as much as the other people. I will get a deal, and that will make me happy. Nothing makes me more upset than spending too much money on something.”
- “My favorite band is going on tour this summer. I’m going to get tickets to as many shows as I can attend. This is going to be so much fun. I’ll round up my friends and we’ll go as a group. This will give me something to look forward to. This band doesn’t go out on the road all the time. This is a special occasion.”
Indeed, we can take every aspect of daily life, from the small to the large, and find the same tendency. Of course what gets easily overlooked in this pursuit is the fact that the senses are being satisfied at present. The feverish pursuit to continue satisfying them going forward shows that satisfaction doesn’t bring lasting happiness. You only have to keep calculating if what you’ve already calculated hasn’t solved all of your problems.
As mentioned previously, the tendency can be shifted to the spiritual realm. In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna says that four kinds of people approach Him initially in devotional service. Anyone can approach God. He is actually all around us. He lives within each living body as the Supersoul, which is His expansion that sees everything. In this way we could look inward and approach the Supreme Lord.
catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ
janāḥ sukṛtino 'rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī
jñānī ca bharatarṣabha
“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me - the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)
Since God cannot be seen with the eyes in this feature, He is described as nirguna. This feature is without attributes according to our understanding. The approach mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita is towards the saguna feature, or that having attributes. The difference is only in our eyes; the Supreme Lord is always with attributes, but of a nature inconceivable to us. His eyes can see everything. His ears hear every sound ever produced, including the tree’s falling in a forest devoid of people.
The four kinds of approach mentioned by Krishna are the person who desires wealth, the distressed, the inquisitive, and one who has an understanding of spirit already but wants to know more. These people approach God directly, and they end up following devotional service to Him. As they all want something, they are calculating in a sense. To desire is to live. Even if the only thing someone wants is to be desireless, that is still a desire. It is sort of like the joke Benjamin Franklin made about humility. He considered it the most difficult quality to acquire, since even if one were to get it, they would become proud of how humble they were.
Calculations are made by the intelligent, and so the best use of intelligence is to calculate for the happiness of the spirit soul, which transcends birth and death. Happiness and sadness toggle back and forth in the time in between birth and death. Therefore happiness for the soul is something that is superior to the short lifetime that we’re currently set in.
The person who desires wealth makes the right choice by approaching Krishna. If they approach anyone else, including a divine figure, they may get what they want. Then they are left unsatisfied, forced to calculate again. The person who is distressed may similarly find relief by approaching someone other than Krishna. The inquisitive may get the incorrect knowledge about the reason for an existence and the knowledgeable may be told that God is only an attributeless energy.
Krishna is the right person to approach since He purifies each situation. In the Supreme Lord’s association, the person wanting wealth soon realizes that this is not the most important thing to seek. The distressed finds that service to the beloved Krishna is the one thing that permanently removes their melancholic outlook on life. The inquisitive has their horizons opened to the boundless and blissful spiritual world, which is real eternal life. And the knowledgeable takes up devotional service to Krishna with intelligence, which pleases Him very much.
The calculating soul then takes a further step forward by pondering how to help others. They describe Krishna and bhakti-yoga in ways that are understandable to the people of the time and the circumstance. They may make use of insightful phrases like “sense gratification” and “lording it over” in order to catch the attention of the bewildered. Their calculations in this regard further please Krishna, who is the one most worth serving.
When for spiritual knowledge to yearn,
Likely to come across “sense gratification” term.
Though heard before not,
Meaning from words alone got.
Calculating always in this manner so,
Can be applied also in bhakti know.
For Krishna’s happiness seeking out,
Eventually desires become without.