“I’m famished for material fulfillment,” the mind begs the body. “Make me feel like a natural enjoyer.”

Your senses need no pleading. “Oh yes—set us loose.” They guarantee: “We’ll light your fire. Saturating you with desire, we’re sure to take you higher.”

Quickly the piggy mind computes: “I’ve worked hard for the right to enjoy. I owe it to myself. Senses, lead me—happy time is here.”

Wolfish, the senses assure our mind that, immersed in diverse entertainment combined with the usual gratification, ours can be moments so awesome we’ll even sing out: “Life never felt so good!”

Real Yoga, Real Happiness

Real yoga develops another way: when we admit we don’t know what is real happiness. Amazingly, genuine human progress begins when we acknowledge the hush-hush predicament that’s actually universal: our failure at material enjoyment. The struggle, the daily grind to squeeze significant satisfaction out of material nature has cheated us. Wielding material bodies and minds through countless lifetimes, we’ve gained only a mirage. But who would dare confess this? Only a loser, a daydreaming no-hoper?

When the Hollywood megastar comedian Robin Williams took his own life, the world took note: “How could a man with everything—talent, wealth, fame, and on the third marriage a wife he cherished—wrap a belt around his neck and kill himself in his bedroom?”

Robin Williams was sometimes honest in analysis but utterly lacking in solutions. Once, walking off the stage to thunderous acclaim, his fans on their feet, wild for more comedy, he disclosed to fellow entertainment celeb Dick Cavett: “Isn’t it funny how I can bring great happiness to all these people, but not to myself?”

Tragic indeed.

What may bewilder us even more is the report by social scientists specialising in measuring global happiness that a coolie carrying loads on his back through the streets of Kolkata experiences the same level of life-satisfaction as the average American.

How to solve the riddle of real happiness? Brave minds abandon feeble fantasies like “Be happy in your own way—whatever gets you through the day and night.” If the courageous, the potential inner explorers, frustrated by today’s predator lifestyles, take to the path of valour, they can do the most good for the outer world.

A reality check begins with classic honesty that cuts to the chase: “Never mind the media-hype; the hell with what people say—I don’t think I actually know what is substantial or lasting happiness.” This entry-level candour can swing open the door, to the timeless bhakti-yoga wisdom of the ancients.

Appropriate knowledge, spiritual technology, can drag us drowned gratifiers to the shore. In Bhagavad-gita, the principal yoga text, Krishna explains: “Now please hear from Me about the three kinds of material happiness that the illusioned soul enjoys, and consequently sometimes comes to the end of all distress.”

Think about it. Though repeatedly stung and bitten deep in the forest of temporary enjoyment, we could reach the end of all despair and suffering? How? What’s that stunning beach like, at the end of the labour-intensive trail?

The Three Flavours of Material Happiness

First, though, let’s get an overview, as Krishna categorises the threesome of material happiness.

Type number one is rare these days: the material happiness of virtuous goodness. Relished by those dedicated to genuine yoga practices, for becoming qualified masters of their own mind and senses, this uncommon and topmost material happiness can lead farther ahead—to spiritual self-realisation, enlightenment.

Krishna describes that through the lens of ordinary material consciousness, we may misperceive the happiness of a beneficial lifestyle honed by virtuous goodness. Ironically, at best we see: “poison in the beginning, but nectar in the end.” (Bhagavad-gita 18.37)

What’s going on is that to the uneducated eye, the lifestyle of self-discipline and sense control can seem unattractively strict and rigorous—even repressive. Our vision so victimised by hedonistic propaganda, we assume that the more we toss away the reins to our mind and senses—allowing them to stampede, consume, and cavort—then the more pleasure we’ll achieve.

If, however, determined practitioners of authentic yogic discipline persist through these faulty presumptions, such steadfast climbers gradually recognise they’re actually tasting inner calm and tranquillity.

This goodness of self-mastery, the highest level of material happiness, can then become a suitable springboard for accessing the nonmaterial pleasure of the nonmaterial self in connection to the Supreme Self.

Let’s leave the rarified atmosphere of happiness in virtuous goodness and get right down to the real nitty gritty. We all know that what’s so prevalent today is passion.

Krishna describes this second category: “Happiness in passion is generated by the body’s senses connecting with their craven objects. At first the experience appears like nectar but then ends as poison.” (Bhagavad-gita 18.38)

Here we have the groan and grunt approach to life, so common in material society. Work hard, party hard. The repetitive reward for such high-energy, passionate exertion: heaps of mind-numbing entertainment combined with fleshy relationships—all spiced with periodic intoxication.

Sooner or later the passionate, mundane accomplishments and sensual gratifications unmask, revealing their identity as disappointment, distress— even disaster. The price for this seductive process is high. Depletion and dehumanisation is the payback.

The rock-bottom level of material happiness, for most, is easier to reject— that is, as a constant way of life. Krishna classifies this third variety as lethargic ignorance—outright darkness from beginning to end. In other words, not even a sham of benefit to allure us.

“The happiness that is complete delusion from beginning to end, and that arises from sleep, laziness and illusion is of the nature of lethargic ignorance. It’s wholly blind to self-realization.” (Bhagavad-gita 18:39)

Absorbed in this debased happiness—a type easily recognised as perverse— the dedicated devotees of drink, drugs, and half-day sleeping waste their life. Lost in cloudlands of intoxication, inertia, and daydreaming, these most unfortunate persons are more self-destructive than even those driven to achieve and indulge on the hedonistic treadmill.

The everyday go-getter, committed to passion, energetically pursues happiness in the routine groan and grunt existence that consumer societies promote. Attracted by a mirage, such a false hero labours mightily, to squeeze out some shadowy, insubstantial version of happiness.

The gutsy adventures of passion, at the onset, seem sure to deliver the fulfillment they promise. But persistently the thrill fades, abruptly or gradually. The shadowy happiness that so enticed us inevitably morphs into painful dismay at the end.

For the passionate illusory hero, the temporary, false reprieve of intoxication does play an important role. The customary weekend foray into ignorance, however, soon segues into Monday-morning realities of brace up and bear it, as the work- and school-week recommence their cycle.

The hardcore inhabitant of happiness in lethargic ignorance, however, fares much worse: aimlessness and intoxication almost 24/7. Not even a false ray of light beckons them onward. All is darkness and delusion—a wasteland from start to finish.

Genuine Heroes Offer Escape

Now let’s return to what Krishna said in the opening statement of His presentation. Sometimes, journeying through the three flavours of material happiness, a soul trapped in the matrix of illusion may reach the end, escaping the maze.

That greatest fortune can be yours—if you can count as your friends, your allies, experts who can expose the illusion for what it is and the naught it’s worth.

The preeminent bhakti preceptor A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, world-renowned for presenting Bhagavad-gita As It Is, concisely elaborates on what could happen to you, while trekking through the forest of material fulfillment:

“A conditioned soul tries to enjoy material happiness again and again. Thus he chews the chewed. But sometimes, in the course of such enjoyment, he becomes relieved from material entanglement by association with a great soul. In other words, a conditioned soul is always engaged in some type of sense gratification, but when he understands by good association that it is only a repetition of the same thing, and he is awakened to his real Krishna consciousness, he is sometimes relieved from such repetitive so-called happiness.” (Bhagavad-gita 18.36 purport)

Yes, it happens. Real light at the end of the materialistic tunnel. But you don’t get there just by attempts to “thoroughly” experience material happiness. Endeavours to experience illusion simply grant you . . . more illusion.

Night in the forest of self-deception finally turns to enlightening day when you associate with the right persons—society’s genuine heroes—thriving outside the stale materialistic mirage and inside the dynamic spiritual reality.

Come on in from the storm. Directly from the Supreme Self, Krishna, the ultimate goal of all yoga and meditation, the wisdom-culture of nonmaterial lifestyles and happiness awaits you.

About Author

Devamrita Swami

Devamrita Swami

Devamrita Swami is an international speaker, author, Yale graduate, and monk. Travelling extensively on every continent of the planet, he has been sharing the path of bhakti-yoga with others for over 40 years. He advocates spiritually based economics, sustainability, and environmentalism. When he is not travelling, he calls New Zealand home.

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