People make all sorts of efforts to find peace and pleasure, but no one tries to earn the pain.
Says Nanak, listen, mind: whatever pleases God comes to pass. ||39||
~ Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, Salok Mahalla
Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang 14128
Question: Acharya Ji, please clarify what is meant here by, ‘earning pain’.
Acharya Prashant Ji:
The constitution of the body is such that it is pleasure-seeking – that’s the guiding principle behind bodily actions. Bodily actions include the impulses of the brain. So that which you call as ‘natural’, in loose language is nothing but pleasure-seeking behavior.
When you say that something is natural, effectively what you are saying is, that it is pleasure-seeking behavior. So that’s how your system is – it wants to have pleasure.
It wants to have pleasure.
What is the definition of ‘pleasure’?
That which helps prakriti (nature) further its agenda.
‘Food’ pleases you because it gives energy to the body to continue, that’s what prakriti (nature) wants. Getting it? ‘Flattery’ pleases you because it gives the subtle-body the energy to continue. It will continue, it will stay motivated, it will further its goals.
Do you get the definition of ‘pleasure’?
That which agrees with the agenda of your physical constitution, is called ‘pleasure’.
Now in getting that pleasure, you get pain as well, and that pain makes pleasure even more necessary. So you earn two units of pleasure, and along with two units of pleasure you also got two units of pain.
What is the inference that your system draws from this? Two units of pleasure is not sufficient, because two units of pleasure came along with two units of pain, and it got nullified. The net was zero. So now your system wants three units of pleasure. But very soon your system discovers that three units of pleasure has come along with three units of pain. So now you want four units of pleasure.
That’s the cycle of human life – chasing pleasure, getting pain.
And pain spurs you on to chase pleasure even more.
This is not the pain that you have earned, this is the pain that has come as a bonus.
What did you want? Pleasure. But pain came tagged along. Had you had a choice, you would have said, “I want only pleasure. Let’s un-tag the pain. I don’t want the pain that comes with pleasure. I only want pleasure. Can we just separate the two? No I don’t want the combo, no I don’t want the one plus one offer. I only want the one that I want – pleasure.”
So we get pain without earning it, or wanting it, or choosing it. We get it as a compulsory attachment, we get it as a compulsory accompaniment of pleasure.
Guru Sahib is talking of something different here.
He is talking of – earning pain. He is saying,”You already have had enough pain. That pain came to you as a compulsion, as a helplessness. You didn’t want it, but you were subjected to it. Now can you willingly go for pain?”
What does he mean?
He means something quite radical.
Your system is designed to go only for pleasure.
And if you are being told to go deliberately for pain, you are actually being told to go against your system.
In a practical way he is teaching you a method of detachment, a way to get dis-identified with the body.
Deliberately go for pain – and this has been a method in India and elsewhere, since long.
Spiritual practitioners those who have really wanted to know and live life fully have invited ‘pain’. Knowing fully well that the road they are taking would hurt them, they have still gone down those roads.
I repeat: To the common man, pain is incidental, uninvited. It comes as a surprise. “Oh pain has come. From where? I didn’t ask for it.” To the spiritual practitioner, pain is almost a target, pain is a value. He says, “I want it. Bring it on.”
Not that there is some great virtue in pain. It’s just that when you are going for pain, you are denying the bodily compulsion of seeking pleasure, you are getting dis-identified. And once you are dis-identified, then there is no need to seek pain either.
If you will see a lot of progress even in the material sense, it happens only by inviting pain. That which we call as ‘discipline’, even in the loose sense, is nothing but an invitation to pain.
Is there discipline without pain? You have to get up at some point in the morning, doesn’t that involve pain? Pleasure is to keep sleeping even after the alarm has rung. Is that not pleasurable?
So all discipline is nothing but pain.
It’s very well-directed pain, it’s very discrete pain.
But nevertheless, all discipline involves pain.
And progress, be it in the material, or in the spiritual realms, moves on discipline.
So all progress is nothing but the art of inflicting pain’upon yourself – wisely, not randomly.
You will get no progress by just slashing your wrist, or holding a cigarette to your arm. Random or mindless pain will not help you. While random and mindless pain will not help you, at the same time there can be no discipline without pain. And there can be no progress without discipline.
Pleasure is a pattern.
In fact, all patterns become patterns of pleasure.
Discipline is the determination to go beyond patterns.
So pleasure has to be transcended, which means your body, your prakriti, your physical tendencies have to be transcended.
That’s what Guru Sahib is pointing at.
And what is it to have discipline?
Be a disciple, be a shishya (disciple).
Be a Sikh.
Who is a ‘Sikh’?
One who can wisely, discreetly, deliberately choose pain.
You cannot be a student if you cannot bear pain.
You cannot be a student if you say, “You know, I want to be handled in cotton and wool. I want to learn a lot from the Teacher, but I don’t want pain from the Teacher.” Then you cannot be a Sikh, you cannot be a shishya, you cannot be a disciple, because you do not have discipline.
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Acharya Prashant is an emerging champion of socio-spiritual awakening in the world today. An alumnus of IIT-Delhi and IIM-Ahmedabad, and a former Civil Services officer, Acharya Prashant is an acclaimed Speaker, Vedanta Teacher and author of over 50 books. Apart from that he wears various hats: a veganism promoter, an environmental activist, a science activist, a campaigner against superstition, and a champion of essential human freedom. Know More