Keeping It Real

Gauranga Prema
October 11, 2016
Man observing another

When I was in high school I had a good friend for telling a great story. She was just the type of person who was always in the right spot at the right time to see the action. She would go away for the weekend and return with tales of police raids at her friend’s party, shark sightings in the waters off Victoria’s coastline, alcohol poisoning and drug overdoses.

As the years passed and we got to know each other better, she revealed more about her life from before we met. Initially, we met in Year 10, when she had just changed schools. Later she told us how she had fallen pregnant and had to change schools to escape the talk of her classmates. Her son had been left with relatives outside the city. Occasionally she got to visit him on weekends.

It was years later and I was in another city when news reached me that her son had died. By the time I returned I found her to be well nurtured by our friendship group. Her partner at the time had offered her full support, allowing her to leave her job and be financially supported by him while she received counselling and grieved.

The day it was confirmed that my friend was a pathological liar was, I admit, a great shock. Her partner had been paying for counselling for the mother of a child who had never been born. A whole life had been fabricated and we had accepted it on faith, blindly assuming that people don’t lie about these sorts of things: deaths and drug overdoses, abusive relationships, and estranged children.

For the sake of accepting a good story we had accepted so many fallacies and when confronted with reality we understood that we simply had never questioned whether it was possible she could be lying. Why would someone lie about something so serious? Why would someone affect the lives of so many people, emotionally involve caring people into a world that was simply fantasy, in pursuit of her own agenda?

From this experience, I began to perceive that there were so many things in life I accepted as real simply because they were based on a good story. If there is a small amount of evidence that could prove a part of the story then it must be true. With that small amount of truth, I can adjust so much of my life accordingly. Eventually, I’ll prove it as fact, right?

We can accept that many of the stories we collect as children cave quickly under the pressures of adolescent life. The cotton beard of Santa Claus begins to fray while the tooth fairy files for bankruptcy. However, I’ve realised that we don’t so much grow out of accepting good stories so much as we simply change the stories we accept.

Take for example, the marketing strategy “planned obsolescence,” which aims to convince consumers to throw away perfectly working products and replace them with slightly updated products because of a change in style. In this process a manufacturer will redesign a working product in order to create a new fashion so that those who don’t need a new product will still buy one, thereby generating sales. Those who need the product will buy it regardless; those who don’t need it are sold a story: the product you have is old, time for a new one.

Many people will happily purchase a reasonably good story in their pursuit of pleasure. It seems perfectly natural to undertake a quest for happiness. My experience with my friend forced me to ask: Why are people so willing to undergo great difficulty, even undertake so much stress and hardship, pursuing a good story that promises pleasure but delivers heartache?

So I immediately began a quest to discover if there was any happiness in the truth. Rather than blindly accepting stories for the pleasure of the tale, I wanted to find the happiness that could be derived from something honest and real. My journey finally led me to the Bhagavad-gita, a yoga text of antiquity.

Though Bhagavad-gita is a timeless classic, it still shines light on the stories we calmly accept in our modern world. One of these stories is the belief that we are lacking as individuals, and to fill the void we simply need: {insert spouse}, {insert holiday}, {insert better home in a better country with a better job}. However, when we consider all these stories we can perceive an underlying theme:

Become Happy by Giving Pleasure to your Body.

A fallacy that permeates every story in recent history is that we can obtain the greatest satisfaction through the body’s senses. Unlike in previous ages, this is the only offer for satisfaction provided to people of today. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna, the Supreme Source of Happiness, clarifies this misconception in his presentation of the Absolute Truth to Arjuna:

“An intelligent person does not take part in the sources of misery, which are due to contact with the material senses . . . Such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise do not delight in them.” (5.22)

The pleasures of the body have a beginning and an end, yet people struggle tirelessly to maintain temporary situations as though they were eternal. To accept that we can give permanence to the impermanent is to accept a fallacy, even if it is sugar coated with the possibility of attaining the greatest happiness as a result.

Fortunately, Krishna is not arguing against the pursuit of happiness. Rather, he advises that we should understand who it is that is experiencing that happiness. To understand this, we must first realise we are not our physical bodies.

It’s so much easier to accept that real happiness can be derived from giving pleasure to the body because, when the pleasure begins to fade, the solution is to simply find something else to do with the body. As many people in today’s society are discovering, this solution is not only dissatisfying but also distressful, as they hop from one temporary pleasure to another with no lasting fulfilment.

But how could experiencing temporary sensory pleasure cause distress? Isn’t this a contradiction? Take this simple example: A person is driving a car, and while driving, the driver starts to feel hungry. To relieve his hunger, he decides to fill up the car with petrol. While the driver is certainly the controller of the car, the relationship is not so close that to meet the needs of one will meet the needs of the other. As Krishna explains in the last chapter of Bhagavad-gita:

“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone’s heart, and is directing the wanderings of all living beings, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (18.61)

The body is compared to a machine and the real living force is considered the driver. While there might be many individuals in the world who are very attached to their cars, all would probably consider it ludicrous to fill the engine with fuel when their body feels hunger. However, Krishna explains that this is synonymous with the pursuit of material sensory pleasure. While the desires of the body have been met, the needs of the living being for real peace and fulfilment have not. The longer people go without fulfilment, the more stressful their life can become.

We should not consider that the danger lies in the pursuit of happiness itself. Krishna does not deny the pursuit of happiness but simply redirects it to be received by the real self, the living force within the body. Unlike many quick fixes with no tangible results, or dreamlike scenarios that never manifest, Krishna, in the Bhagavad-gita, provides the process for unlocking real, sustainable happiness. By outlining a pathway leading to the real living self that drives the body, Krishna offers an opportunity to live the happiness each person is seeking.

Thankfully, there is no expectation that the reader of Bhagavad-gita simply believes in Krishna’s words with no direct experience. Rather than a theoretical concept with afterlife rewards, Krishna offers a genuine experience of the self through realisation. By participating in the techniques offered in Bhagavad-gita, the reader is offered an experience that is everlasting and joyfully performed.

Certainly one of those joys is that we have nothing to lose. No one is expected to run to the mountains or turn their backs on society. Krishna’s only request is that we conduct this journey honestly and objectively, to endeavour until the end and not settle for the temporary. The truth can be very revealing.

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Gauranga Prema

Gauranga Prema graduated in English and Philosophy from La Trobe University in Melbourne. Currently he lives as a monk studying and sharing the science of bhakti-yoga.