There are three types of pleasure as well.
yat-tadagre viṣamiva pariṇāme’mṛtopamam ।
tat-sukhaṃ sāttvikaṃ proktam ātma-buddhi-prasādajam ॥
- Sāttvic sukha is that in which the mind rests and finds that its sorrows cease, that which appears distasteful in the beginning but then results in amṛta-like sweetness. It is due to the purity and pleasantry of oneself. This is the sukha experienced when the intellect completely understands the principle of the ātmā and the mind is fully rid of impurity, delusion, and confusion, and there is peace and tranquillity.
- Rājasic sukha is pleasure derived from worldly pursuits. It is sweet at first but gradually becomes bitter like poison.
- Tāmasic sukha is pleasure that is experienced out of sleep, laziness and carelessness. It creates confusion and delusion in the jīva.
Selfishness — a note : A friend has asked this question. Isn’t at least a little selfishness required to be present in a man? How can worldly life progress without that? The answer to that can be answered in three aspects.
- Firstly, selfishness is natural. One does not have to put any effort into becoming selfish. It comes naturally by birth. The jīva experiences both profit and loss due to it. The objective of dharma is to correct it so that there is more profit and less loss to the jīva. Dharma does not say that selfishness should be completely eradicated. “asmākaṃ saha-kuṭumbānāṃ kṣema-sthairya-vīrya-vijaya-ārogya-saubhāgya…” isn’t this the saṃkalpa for any dharmic karma?
- Secondly, why should we live? Is life just for living or with any objective? Plants and trees, snakes and lizards live just for the sake of living. If another objective is not included in such lives, who will be at loss? If we say that a man has to live for the sake of an objective, it is necessary that this objective be above selfish wants.Then the objective of life becomes great; selfishness only becomes a tool to achieve the real object of life.
- Thirdly, even selfishness is three-fold, like sukha, dhṛti etc.
- Tāmasic selfishness is that which thinks only of its palate, its comfort, its decoration and prestige, and thinks of the rest of the universe as something that exists to satisfy its need for pleasure. It takes whatever it needs from the world, and does not give anything in return. It does not repay its debt to the world. It does not even have an iota of feeling that it has benefitted from the world.
- Rājasic selfishness is that which expands to include one’s family, community, town and country, is part of their happiness and sorrow and shares a part of life with a part of the world. It is better than tāmasic selfishness. It feels that these people are one’s own, they should be part of one’s happiness and sorrow — thus it includes others, loved ones, closely related ones in its circle of me and mine; it expands to that extent. It takes whatever it wants from the world, and gives back whatever it deems possible.
- The ātmā within oneself is the ātmā of the universe; the universe is the body where Bhagavān sports; one has to experience oneself within this universe and become all-containing — the desire to experience Brahma thus is sāttvic selfishness. It realises that it owns nothing and offers everything to Bhagavān and feels happy, or thinks that everything belongs to itself and there is nothing against it; and feels its own ātmā pervading the entire universe.
This verse in praise of mamatā by Appayya Dikṣita is fit to be recalled here.
tyaktavyo mamakāraḥ tyaktuṃ yadi śakyate nāsau ।
kartavyo mamakāraḥ kiṃ tu sa sarvatra kartavyaḥ ॥
“It is only right to give up self-interest and selfishness. If it cannot be given up, it becomes a duty to be self-interested; but that self-interest should be exercised everywhere”. All beings should be included in the realm of self-interest. Sāttvic selfishness is that where “sva” includes the entire universe.
Thus, Bhagavān explains the form of sattva in jñāna, karma, kartṛtva, buddhi, dhṛti and sukha and establishes its supremacy. Then he shows that sattva is not easily found or easy to be followed in the world.
We saw that unless the impurities attached to the jīva in the form of the guṇa-triad are washed away clean, the nature of the ātmā cannot be seen. This cleaning-up does not happen easily or quickly, because the dirt of the guṇa-triad comes from crores of past lives. It takes long and constant effort to erode them, and there should be a proper method in that effort. That method is svadharma.
We have already seen the nature of dharma. Let us recall it now. Dharma is the mutually beneficial relationship between the jīva and the universe. Every person’s jīva comes with some capabilities, some tastes and predispositions attached to it naturally. These capabilities, tastes and predispositions are made of the three guṇas. In the exercise of using them for the benefit and welfare of the world, the dirt in them diminishes and sattva becomes dominant. This is the main principle of dharma. On one side we have an individual person — his alities and capabilities, his likes and dislikes, his remnant pāpas; on the other side we have the universe — its attractions and conflicts and its difficulties. The energy of the ātmā pervades these two spaces, within both of them equally. On both sides, it is hidden by the veil of prakṛti and cannot be seen. That ātmā is what has to be known. Mokṣa is bringing it to one’s own constant experience. However, the veil of prakṛti is impregnable. The trickery of nature shows itself in layers and in colours — it appears as flowers, fruits, man, woman, wealth and song in front of the jīva and calls to him “See how beautiful I am, what pleasures I can give you ! Will you leave me and go? Come to me, my child”. This is why when we begin the study of Vedanta, we first recite śānti-mantras such as —
bhadraṃ karṇebhiḥ śruṇuyāma devāḥ ॥
śaṃ no mitraḥ śaṃ varuṇaḥ ॥
Why do we prostrate to inferior deities when we are trying to experience the Supreme Brahman? Aren’t we desirous of seeing the parabrahman? The answer is this. Before seeing and experiencing the parabrahman, the necessary thing is peace of mind. Before peace of mind, the necessary thing is peace of the body. Stability of the world is required for the stability of the body. Thus, the worship of paramātmā and worldly life are not mutually exclusive, they are always together. Therefore, the śānti-mantras at the beginning of the upaniṣads pray to Indra, Sūrya, Varuṇa and other deities to remove their obstacles and approve of their effort. Aren’t those deities different manifest forms of prakṛti herself in the world? Hence, the devotee prays thus. “O divine beings, do not stop the progress of my ātmā thinking that I might forget you if I experience the Supreme Brahman. Till I am alive I will offer you what I have to. Be favourable towards my worldly well-being and show me the way for my future progress”. This is the intent.
Prakṛti should be favourable to us. We should not be subservient to her. Worldly life should continue well. But one should not stop there, thinking that that is the be-all and end-all. One should always progress. That is the meaning of the above words. When we visit temples at places like Belur, it is possible that we are marvelled by the beauty of the sculpture of the outside walls and forget the inner sanctum itself. Such are the caresses of prakṛti. How do we go beyond it? There is already a scheme for that. That scheme is dharma. Dharma is the means and tactics of dealing with prakṛti so as to escape from the web of infatuation with which she is trapping us. Dharma is the set of rules and methods that help in the elevation of the ātmā, and is equally beneficial to both jīva and the universe in their relationship.
The dirt of the guṇa-triad attached to the jīva should erode, the sāttvic capabilities of the jīva should grow and help in the welfare of the world. Tamas should decrease and rajas should increase; rajas should decrease and sattva should increase. Both tamas and rajas should decrease further and sattva should reign supreme among the three. This is the manner of ascendance of the jīva. The opportunity to erode rajas and tamas and to encourage sattva is given by interactions with the world. It is not easy to grind down the dirt of the guṇas. Shouldn’t a piece of sandalwood be rubbed on a grinding stone for it to wear down? Similarly, our past impressions should be ground on the stones of the world. When our temperaments are ground thus, they wear down and become sharp too. When a sword or knife is rubbed on a whetstone it wears down and becomes sharp. Thus, it becomes more capable in performing its work. Similarly, when an ātmā performs worldly karmas in the prescribed way, its rajas and tamas reduce and sattva increases. Its capabilities increase. It is trained. Along with these two advantages, there is a third — it is the worldly welfare that was made possible because we used our ability in the right way. Sattva thus increases; the mind expands; The ability of the ātmā to be of use to the world increases. Impurities decrease; that is itself the decrease of evil. “mama upātta samasta-durita-kṣaya-dvārā śrī-parameśvara-prītyartham”.
To be continued...
The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.