Nisargadatta's "I Am That" - chapter 59
Desire and Fear
Questioner: I would like to go again into the question of pleasure and pain, desire and fear.
I understand fear which is memory and anticipation of pain.
It is essential for the preservation of the organism and its living pattern.
Needs, when felt, are painful and their anticipation is full of fear; we are rightly afraid of not being able to meet our basic needs.
The relief experienced when a need is met, or an anxiety allayed is entirely due to the ending of pain.
We may give it positive names like pleasure, or joy, or happiness, but essentially it is relief from pain.
It is this fear of pain that holds together our social, economic and political institutions.
What puzzles me is that we derive pleasure from things and states of mind, which have nothing to do with survival.
On the contrary, our pleasures are usually destructive.
They damage or destroy the object, the instrument and also the subject of pleasure.
Otherwise, pleasure and pursuit of pleasure would be no problem.
This brings me to the core of my question: why is pleasure destructive?
Why, in spite of its destructiveness, is it wanted?
I may add, I do not have in mind the pleasure-pain pattern by which nature compels us to go her way.
I think of the man-made pleasures, both sensory and subtle, ranging from the grossest, like overeating, to the most refined.
Addiction to pleasure, at whatever cost, is so universal that there must be something significant at the root of it.
Of course, not every activity of man must be utilitarian, designed to meet a need.
Play, for example, is natural and man is the most playful animal in existence.
Play fulfils the need for self-discovery and self-development.
But even on his play man becomes destructive of nature, others and himself.
Maharaj: In short, you do not object to pleasure, but only to its price in pain and sorrow.
Q: If reality itself is bliss, then pleasure in some way must be related to it.
M: Let us not proceed by verbal logic.
The bliss of reality does not exclude suffering.
Besides, you know only pleasure, not the bliss of pure being.
So let us examine pleasure at its own level.
If you look at yourself in your moments of pleasure or pain, you will invariably find that it is not the thing in itself that is pleasant or painful, but the situation of which it is a part.
Pleasure lies in the relationship between the enjoyer and the enjoyed.
And the essence of it is acceptance.
Whatever may be the situation, if it is acceptable, it is pleasant.
If it is not acceptable, it is painful.
What makes it acceptable is not important; the cause may be physical, or psychological, or untraceable; acceptance is the decisive factor.
Obversely, suffering is due to nonacceptance.
Q: Pain is not acceptable.
M: Why not?
Did you ever try?
Do try and you will find in pain a joy which pleasure cannot yield, for the simple reason that acceptance of pain takes you much deeper than pleasure does.
The personal self by its very nature is constantly pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain.
The ending of this pattern is the ending of the self.
The ending of the self with its desires and fears enables you to return to your real nature, the source of all happiness and peace.
The perennial desire for pleasure is the reflection of the timeless harmony within.
It is an observable fact that one becomes self- conscious only when caught in the conflict between pleasure and pain, which demands choice and decision.
It is this clash between desire and fear that causes anger, which is the great destroyer of sanity in life.
When pain is accepted for what it is, a lesson and a warning, and deeply looked into and heeded, the separation between pain and pleasure breaks down, both become experience -- painful when resisted, joyful when accepted.
Q: Do you advise shunning pleasure and pursuing pain?
M: No, nor pursuing pleasure and shunning pain.
Accept both as they come, enjoy both while they last, let them go, as they must.
Q: How can I possibly enjoy pain?
Physical pain calls for action.
M: Of course.
And so does Mental.
The bliss is in the awareness of it, in not shrinking, or in any way turning away from it.
All happiness comes from awareness.
The more we are conscious, the deeper the joy.
Acceptance of pain, non-resistance, courage and endurance -- these open deep and perennial sources of real happiness, true bliss.
Q: Why should pain be more effective than pleasure?
M: Pleasure is readily accepted, while all the powers of the self reject pain.
As the acceptance of pain is the denial of the self, and the self stands in the way of true happiness, the wholehearted acceptance of pain releases the springs of happiness.
Q: Does the acceptance of suffering act the same way?
M: The fact of pain is easily brought within the focus of awareness.
With suffering it is not that simple.
To focus suffering is not enough, for mental life, as we know it, is one continuous stream of suffering.
To reach the deeper layers of suffering you must go to its roots and uncover their vast underground network, where fear and desire are closely interwoven and the currents of life's energy oppose, obstruct and destroy each other.
Q: How can I set right a tangle which is entirely below the level of my consciousness?
M: By being with yourself, the 'I am'; by watching yourself in your daily life with alert interest, with the intention to understand rather than to judge, in full acceptance of whatever may emerge, because it is there, you encourage the deep to come to the surface and enrich your life and consciousness with its captive energies.
This is the great work of awareness; it removes obstacles and releases energies by understanding the nature of life and mind.
Intelligence is the door to freedom and alert attention is the mother of intelligence.
Q: One more question.
Why does pleasure end in pain?
M: Everything has a beginning and an end and so does pleasure.
Don't anticipate and don't regret, and there will be no pain.
it is memory and imagination that cause suffering.
Of course pain after pleasure may be due to the misuse of the body or the mind.
The body knows its measure, but the mind does not.
Its appetites are numberless and limitless.
Watch your mind with great diligence, for there lies your bondage and also the key to freedom.
Q: My question is not yet fully answered: Why are man's pleasures destructive?
Why does he find so much pleasure in destruction?
Life's concern lies in protection, perpetuation and expansion of itself.
In this it is guided by pain and pleasure.
At what point do they become destructive?
M: When the mind takes over, remembers and anticipates, it exaggerates, it distorts, it overlooks.
The past is projected into future and the future betrays the expectations.
The organs of sensation and action are stimulated beyond capacity and they inevitably break down.
The objects of pleasure cannot yield what is expected of them and get worn out, or destroyed, by misuse.
It results in excess of pain where pleasure was looked for.
Q: We destroy not only ourselves, but others too!
M: Naturally, selfishness is always destructive.
Desire and fear, both are self-centred states.
Between desire and fear anger arises, with anger hatred, with hatred passion for destruction.
War is hatred in action, organised and equipped with all the instruments of death.
Q: Is there a way to end these horrors?
M: When more people come to know their real nature, their influence, however subtle, will prevail and the world's emotional atmosphere will sweeten up.
People follow their leaders and when among the leaders appear some, great in heart and mind, and absolutely free from self-seeking, their impact will be enough to make the crudities and crimes of the present age impossible.
A new golden age may come and last for a time and succumb to its own perfection.
For, ebb begins when the tide is at its highest.
Q: Is there no such thing as permanent perfection?
M: Yes, there is, but it includes all imperfection.
It is the perfection of our self-nature which makes everything possible, perceivable, interesting.
It knows no suffering, for it neither likes nor dislikes; neither accepts nor rejects.
Creation and destruction are the two poles between which it weaves its ever-changing pattern.
Be free from predilections and preferences and the mind with its burden of sorrow will be no more.
Q: But I am not alone to suffer.
There are others.
M: When you go to them with your desires and fears, you merely add to their sorrows.
First be free of suffering yourself and then only hope of helping others.
You do not even need to hope -- your very existence will be the greatest help a man can give his fellowmen.