Exploring the wisdom of the Upanishads, this episode explains the pursuit of pleasure as a part of your spiritual practice. We discuss:
Can You Pursue Pleasure as a Spiritual Practice? Transcript
Welcome to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado of CreativeMind. Join us each week for inspiring conversation about personal development based on Jungian philosophy, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience. Spend each week with us to explore deep topics in a practical way. Let's begin.
Debra Maldonado 00:28
Hello, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Soul Sessions. I'm Debra Maldonado of CreativeMind, here with Dr. Robert Maldonado. We are continuing our series on spiritual psychology, talking about the four human pursuits, the purusharthas. If you love our show and would like to hear more, make sure you don't miss an episode, please push the button below that says Subscribe. Or if you're listening to us on one of the podcast services like iTunes or Spotify, click Subscribe and make sure you don't miss another episode and me mispronouncing Sanskrit. Today we're going to talk about everyone's favorite topic, pleasure seeking, kama. Not to be confused with karma, it's kama, K-A-M-A. You probably heard us or someone talk about Kama Sutra, that's where that comes from.
Robert Maldonado 02:00
We're approaching this from a spiritual psychology perspective. The great author, Houston Smith, says “If you look at enduring religions from around the world at their best, when we distill their knowledge, we find the wisdom that has persisted for thousands of years.” Humans have used that wisdom to live their lives. These pursuits we're talking about, in a philosophical sense, they were meant to guide us, to give us a way to continue these pursuits, definitely to pursue them, but in a spiritual way, in a proper way, in a way that benefited not only us individually, but society as a whole.
Debra Maldonado 02:57
If you think about it, why would God give us this body that seeks pleasure and has all these tendencies, not to enjoy it, not to have sexual pleasure, emotional pleasure, the connectivity we have with others. When we think about pleasure, let's clarify, pleasure is health, being able to feel good in our bodies, not feel stressed, breathe easy, be able to walk and run and do activities that we like to do. That's part of pleasure. When we're not in health, we suffer.
Robert Maldonado 03:39
But it also means the enjoyment of beauty, each other, nature, music, the arts, aesthetics, which means how we construct the beautiful world around us, as well as movies and theater. All those are enjoyable activities to us, humans. Of course, food, who doesn't enjoy that?
Debra Maldonado 04:06
I love food and dance, I like to dance, move your body, listening to music. We all enjoy these things of life. If you took all that away, it’s really scary. During the pandemic, when it first happened, a lot of people couldn't socialize, we couldn't do the things we needed to do. We had to find a way to have pleasure in our lives when the normal things that would give us pleasure, the activities that provided us to be around other human beings, were taken away and restricted. How do we cultivate pleasure in our lives? Reading spiritual texts gives me pleasure. You feel this sense of calm or peace when you're reading spiritual texts.
Robert Maldonado 04:53
It's beautiful that this philosophy includes this pursuit as a natural, important part of our human experience, that it should be thought of, it should be cultivated, it should be understood as an art, not just as an afterthought. We should put some thought into it, it should be part of the bigger system. We talked about dharma, which is finding your higher purpose and pursuing that as a spiritual practice. But also thinking about material success, to support that higher purpose, because if you don't have the money and the success to carry out your higher purpose, it's not going to go anywhere, essentially. Now we add kama, which is pleasure, to the mix. We start to get a sense that it's talking about a complete life that includes someone who is actively working on their higher purpose. They have the material success in order to make their dreams come true, and they're also enjoying it. There's an enjoyment, a joy that comes from living this way.
Debra Maldonado 06:30
When I worked in the marketing field, back in the days of .com, startups, we hired a PR firm. They had a t-shirt that said “If we're not having fun, something's wrong.” It was their motto for the company. Even though you're working in a job, you're pursuing spiritual enlightenment, you're pursuing your purpose, we should also enjoy it. It shouldn't be so serious. Sometimes spiritual pursuits, I know for myself, seem so serious. We have to be serious, we’re spiritual people, we can’t be fun. Adding fun and enjoyment into the things we do to bring us to our higher knowledge and higher principles is very important. The whole idea of sex being a sin, it's bad to have sex — sex is a sacred experience, it can be if you're living the dharma and all the other elements are in place.
Robert Maldonado 07:31
Before we get to the part of how we do this, there is a spiritual sense that some of these things are sinful. Just like with the money, money is the root of all evil, there's this idea that sensuality, enjoying your mind body in the world, is somehow anti-spiritual. It comes from monastic traditions. Monastic traditions said “Leave the world behind, go to the nunnery, become a monk, become a nun, focus on your spiritual path and forget about the world.” Nothing wrong with that if that is your dharma, your path. But most of us are householders, we're going to continue to live in the world. Can we not be spiritual? Can we not practice these higher processes of individuation, becoming our true self, experiencing our true awareness and our consciousness, and still participate in the world in a meaningful and joyful way? That's what this philosophy is talking about. You don’t have to renounce the world completely, reject your body and its experiences in the world. It does require discipline, of course. That's where this higher knowledge comes in. If you understand your ability, your purpose in enjoying the world, which is tied to dharma, the spiritual sacred work, as well as to abundance, artha, you start to see its connection to everything. If you're happy doing your work, you enjoy doing your work, you're more likely to succeed, more likely to do it. Then you can dedicate that success to your higher purpose.
Debra Maldonado 09:38
Other people will be inspired by you, instead of seeing you miserable working in some place you don't love and struggling. It's not very inspiring. We've all had parents or grandparents that worked really hard, almost like we weren't supposed to enjoy life. We have to work hard, maybe on the weekends you can enjoy yourself a little bit. The other side of that is people that just pursue pleasure, which leads to addiction. People that overeat, people that overdrink, people that have too much sex. The need to be in pleasure all the time and avoid discomfort. You need to have pleasure in the right context to be sacred.
Robert Maldonado 10:26
We come again to the gunas, which are the qualities inherent in nature. You mentioned addiction. Tamas is the mindset, the attitude, the quality of addiction in approaching pleasure or pleasurable situations. The quality of tamas in the mind approaches pleasure as something to abuse. If this is pleasurable, I need more, it's going to give me pleasure, therefore I'm dependent on it, which is addiction. It's trying to fill a need that's not there, is not being fulfilled, using a substance, or shopping, or food to fill that need. We've all done it to some extent. But the attitude of tamas creates that addiction, that need to have external pleasure to fulfill my life instead of finding it from within myself. Tamas leads to addiction. Rajas leads also to addiction, but in a different way. It's more of an abuse, an overindulgence, actively indulging in something, too much shopping, too much food, too much wine, too much of everything. Because you feel like more is better.
Debra Maldonado 12:18
It's like the episodes of White Lotus. Everything is so pleasurable that it's insatiable, there’s not enough.
Robert Maldonado 12:30
The best one, of course, is sattva. The sattvic mind is pure, it has a crystal clear understanding that this pleasure is temporary, not lasting.
Debra Maldonado 12:50
You're enjoying it in the moment without grasping onto it. It's going to go away. Like a sunset, it's going to go away, we don't grasp at the sunset, we just sit there in awe with its beauty. We watch it unfold, drop below the horizon, we don't fight it. It's an acceptance, of that temporariness. That's how the sattvic mind would experience pleasure.
Robert Maldonado 13:23
It's an acceptance of its impermanent nature. Therefore, it's a healthy way of experiencing the pleasure of life in all its forms. It can be cultivated, it actually needs to be cultivated. This attitude is not natural in us, it's there already, but it's there in seed form. The sattvic mind has to be cultivated. Why do you see these traditions of the Kama Sutra, the Yoga Sutras of cultivating the mind in this particular way? Because it needs to be cultivated, it needs to be disciplined, it needs to be learned and practiced. It's a practice of enjoying our life in the larger context of dharma, artha, and kama.
Debra Maldonado 14:21
A lot of times we feel like we have to escape life to be spiritual, we have to leave behind all the pleasures of the world, money, the sense pleasures, we have to— not suffer but not get attached. That is the monastic life. It's harder actually for us as householders, as average people in the world because we are interacting with these things that can be lead us to attachment, can lead us to getting lost. In the monastic culture it's just taken away, you don't have to fight with it. Here we have to learn to live with it, as well as enjoy it while creating a spiritual exploration, growth in ourselves.
Robert Maldonado 15:16
At the mystical level, there's this idea that because the essence of you, your consciousness, your pure awareness is the self, that means that the self wants to enjoy the world. Why are we here? We're here to enjoy the world. But we have to be conscious of the deeper meaning of it. If we simply isolate and think the meaning of life is to have as much pleasure as you can, as much as you can get away with before you die, that’s a very poor and limited perspective on your life. People fall into that misperception continuously because the senses present this beautiful world to us. It appears like that's all there is. If we don't dig deeper, if we don't do that self inquiry Jung talks about, looking inward, we fall into this dream where we think that the more I enjoy life, the better I'm doing. That's simply a sensual trap. It traps us into limiting our lives, living a very narrow focus on life, where we think it's out there.
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Debra Maldonado 17:48
What happens when we deny ourselves from all the pleasure of the senses? Buying into this idea that I need to let go of pleasure in my life, it’s wrong or ungodly.
Robert Maldonado 18:03
Either extreme is wrong. If we go into sensuality and think that's the best I can do, just experience as much pleasure as I can in life, that’s wrong. But if we say “The only way I can be spiritual is by negating my senses, I'm going to punish and restrict myself as much as possible, that makes me a spiritual person somehow”, that's also wrong. That's not spirituality. That's just self abuse. It has to be tied to higher knowledge, your dharma, how you are expressing your dharma, your sacred purpose. When it's tied to that, then you're on the right path, then whatever your dharma is, if it's rejecting or renouncing the world, so be it, that's going to be your path, you're going to live as a monastic, meditate and live in isolation. If that is your calling, it's going to make you happy, it's going to lead you to liberation. On the other hand, if your purpose is to be in the world, do your work in the world, that's your dharma, you can enjoy the world, you can enjoy good food, good wine, good company, and still uphold your end of the bargain, which is to do your dharma.
Debra Maldonado 19:37
How does dharma, artha, and kama fit together?
Robert Maldonado 19:42
We start to see the full picture, we're living a life of purpose that not only gives us enough to live on, it actually gives us success, it gives us more than what we need, so that we can help others. Our cup overflows. It's not just enough, it's not just survival. It is abundance. It's a mystical principle that's explained as “The more you become aware, become conscious that you are the self, that you are pure awareness, you're acting as that pure awareness, as the higher self in the world.” The self takes care of itself. It doesn't lack anything.
Debra Maldonado 20:41
I always feel that when I had struggles in all the years we've been in business, there's been ups and downs, the roller coaster, being an entrepreneur, in some of the downtimes I was doubting if we were going to make it. I always remembered that the self takes care of itself. Trusting on some deep level that there's a power greater than me that's helping me, supporting us. I can't take credit for the success I already created. It never fails, all your fear goes away. You're in this pure state, you've talked about the sattvic state, you're in that pure awareness, that place of understanding of what we're really dealing with, not caught up in the world and what the senses are telling you. You can rise to higher perspective. When you're in that higher perspective, that's when you can live your dharma, that's when you can pursue wealth and keep that equanimity between lack and abundance, when it flows or when it stops. The flow of any business, we all go through it, no matter what social status you're at materially, there's always ups and downs. In the end, grasping on money like in some fixed way will make you unhappy, but to be able to just flow with it, not to see it as yourself, as identity based on numbers.
Robert Maldonado 22:12
That's the main principle. These things serve us, they serve a higher purpose, not the other way around. Whereas when we're attached to these things, we see them as fulfilling some happiness in us, or filling some unmet need in us, we're enslaved by them. There's nothing wrong with the things themselves. Money and pleasure are not good or evil. They're simply parts of our existence. But if we approach them with that sense of need, “I need this to make me happy, to fulfill me”, I'm enslaved to those things. Whereas when I approach them as higher purpose, “I'm dedicating these things to my higher purpose, they're helping me fulfill my higher purpose”, they serve us, they serve me.
Debra Maldonado 23:09
How can pleasure serve a higher purpose? There's so many ways. If you can be happy, happiness is contagious, it helps others be happy. What a beautiful service, just to be happy. I met this woman once, when I first started out with Let Love In, getting my book published. Her book was about fun. She was a fun person, that was her purpose, to be fun and silly. She says she’d wear those weird antennas in the airport and walk around. People would be laughing at her. She's like “I'm doing my duty.” It's non attachment. It's that flow of spreading love and joy. What a wonderful way to pursue your life! If you are miserable, you're a Debbie Downer, as Rob sometimes calls me, that dark, miserable, complaining person without joy, how does that serve the world? How does that serve the world for you to be unhappy? Find something that brings you pleasure, don’t feel guilty about it. Say “This pleasurable moment is serving my soul.” When you look at the sunset, or anything in nature that's so beautiful, instead of thinking it's something separate from you, think that you created this beauty, you're a part of this beauty. This pleasure I'm experiencing is me experiencing me, that deeper place where we're connected to it all, understanding that it's not outside of us, the pleasure is already within us, it's all around us.
Robert Maldonado 24:51
Next time we're talking about liberation, nirvana, enlightenment. Thanks for watching. Now, as you go through your day, consider this. Are you enjoying your life? But is that enjoyment serving you, serving your higher purpose? Or are you enslaving yourself to it?
Debra Maldonado 25:24
Or is it a temporary secession of pain that you're going back to? And then you need to enjoy again? What if it's just that pure joy, that lasting, wonderful depth within you? That's who you are.
Robert Maldonado 25:38
It is part of our duty to enjoy the world. We're here to enjoy it, to see its beauty, taste its beautiful nectar, and have a great time.
Debra Maldonado 25:51
Do something today that's pleasurable, just love it and own it, dedicate it to your higher purpose. We'll see you next time for deliberation episode. Hang on, it's going to be really good.
Robert Maldonado 26:09
Debra Maldonado 26:10
Thank you for joining us. Don't forget to subscribe to CreativeMind Soul Sessions. Join us next week as we explore another deep topic where you can consciously create your life with CreativeMind Soul Session. See you next time.