dhyāyato viṣayān puṁsaḥ
saṅgāt sañjāyate kāmaḥ
kāmāt krodho 'bhijāyateDownload this episode (right click and save)
One of the central teachings of the Bhagavad-gita is that material sense gratification is not the aim of life. This is antithetical based on the fact that the default position from the time of birth is to seek out just that. Try your hand at playing with this toy and that. When you get bored, move on to another. In adulthood the toys become bigger and more expensive, but the same shifting is there.
Shri Krishna doesn’t just make the claim and leave it at that. He explains the pattern to sense gratification. First there is the object of enjoyment. Then gradually attachment develops. Attachment gives way to lust, which is kama. Soon after there is anger. The reason for the anger is frustration, as in sense gratification the enjoyment is not guaranteed. From anger comes delusion, then bewilderment of memory, concluding with a loss of intelligence. Intelligence is what sets the human species apart. If intelligence goes, then surely the activities in life will not be worthwhile.
There is something beyond kama. It is known as bhakti, which is devotion. The two bear resemblance to one another externally. One person is eating to enjoy their senses, while another is consuming food for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord. The first person becomes entangled, even though they don’t realize it. The second person, who should have the same experience due to the identical engagement, is detached from the process. Their consciousness is elsewhere. It is this consciousness which is key. Whatever is on the mind at the time of death determines the type of existence in the subsequent birth.
yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ
tyajaty ante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
An example helps in illustrating a concept. Let’s pretend there is a destination that I visit on a regular basis; say weekly. This place is almost two hours away from my home, if I drive. In the beginning I have no choice. There is no other way to get to this place. Though I like going there, the drive is getting to me. Sometimes there is traffic, so the two hours becomes three. This is especially painful when it comes unexpected. For several consecutive weeks there is little traffic, so I get accustomed to arriving at the destination at a specific time. My frustration thus increases whenever something breaks the routine and causes me to be late.
After a year, the government has built train service to the destination. Now the journey by car is only one hour, with an hour on the train after that. At first I am excited and relieved. After a few weeks, however, frustration mounts again. The issue is parking. It is difficult to find a space around the train station. Others are taking the same train, so they too have cars to park. If somehow it takes me longer than normal to find a parking spot, I get frustrated. I have totally forgotten how there wasn’t even train service before.
Another year passes and now there is train service to the same destination leaving from someplace close to my house. No more long drive. This train travels directly, leaving once an hour. At first I am so relieved. After a while, that changes too. This train is so popular that it is difficult to find a spot to sit. Now the game every week is to find the specific train car that has open seats. When I do, I am relieved. But when I don’t, I am frustrated.
Soon thereafter the train starts offering Wi-Fi inside. Now I can surf the internet. This is a great way to pass the time while sitting. Again, after a few trips there is frustration. This is due to the Wi-Fi signal cutting out every now and then. I get so angry when I lose the signal while I’m in the middle of watching a movie.
From this example we see that even after the original desire was satisfied, frustration still persisted. This is due to attachment to the enjoyment. Kama has this limitation. No matter how much sense gratification a person engages in, they are never fully satisfied. There is the law of diminishing returns to consider also. The same experience begins to lose its taste after repeated indulgence. The response is to change the experience, jumping from one thing to another. There is actually no more taste left, but the faint hope is that maybe things will change. Prahlada Maharaja refers to this as chewing the chewed.
matir na kṛṣṇe parataḥ svato vā
mitho ’bhipadyeta gṛha-vratānām
adānta-gobhir viśatāṁ tamisraṁ
punaḥ punaś carvita-carvaṇānām
“Prahlada Maharaja replied: Because of their uncontrolled senses, persons too addicted to materialistic life make progress toward hellish conditions and repeatedly chew that which has already been chewed. Their inclinations toward Krishna are never aroused, either by the instructions of others, by their own efforts, or by a combination of both.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.30)
Fortunately, I don’t have to be trapped in the cycle of attachment and lust forever. I can take to bhakti-yoga and have a completely different experience. Then the enjoyment increases with further progression. At first I may not feel any magic whilst chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. If I stick with it, however, following guidelines from authorities who are above kama, then gradually things start to change. Soon I have attachment to the chanting, since it brings so much pleasure. That attachment is not in kama, as it has no stake in birth and death.
ananyāś cintayanto māṁ
ye janāḥ paryupāsate
yoga-kṣemaṁ vahāmy aham“But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form-to them I carry what they lack and preserve what they have.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.22)
The material nature offers little mercy to its followers. Others are trying to enjoy as well, trying to chew what has already been chewed. Thus there is competition for resources and experiences. The material nature can only provide so much facility. Bhakti-yoga, on the other hand, is supported by Shri Krishna Himself. He provides to the devotee what they lack and preserves what they have. If He sees someone genuinely interested in turning their kama into bhakti, He helps them. He is the most capable to help as well, which makes bhakti the best path for the intelligent human being to follow.
When for sense objects to yearn,
Then from lust to anger quickly to turn.
After valuable intelligence lost,
Sense gratification coming at a cost.
Advantage of your intelligence take,
And turn towards bhakti-yoga make.
No longer from material nature limited,
By Krishna’s guiding hand benefited.