One should not place their thoughts on pleasure or pain. 0 Goddess, know that True Reality lies between the two.Verse 103, Vigyan Bhairava Tantra
The Katha Upanishad says that the soul is attracted to two paths – the path of pleasure and the path of joy. Those who follow the path of pleasure, go from life to life, and do not reach the Supreme. Those who follow the path of joy reach the other shore, and are liberated. This verse is teaching the same thing – do not be attached to pleasure or pain. There is no salvation there. There are other texts that also state that attachment to pleasure does not lead to salvation. The Ashtavakra Gita says that life after life we indulge in different pleasures, only to lose them all. It then advises that we should stop all this.
When we live life through our sense organs, we experience pleasure and pain. To reach God, we have to transcend the world of pleasure and pain. How do we do this? We do this by detaching from all the information we receive from our sense organs. Instead, we turn within and look for joy within ourselves. This is a message this text gives repeatedly. When we are no longer affected by the external world, then the external world ceases to have any power over us. Then, we become masters. Pleasure and pain are transient, they are not real, and they do not last. That is why this verse tells us not to place our thoughts on them. Do not waste your time on something temporary. It does not lead to everlasting happiness. For lifetimes we keep seeking pleasure. This pleasure is always short lived. It is usually followed by pain. You cannot have pleasure without pain. If you have a mountain, you must have a valley. So, for many lifetimes, one continues with this cycle. We seek pleasure that is obtained for a short period, only to be followed by pain. This pleasure-pain duality continues for our entire life, or for many lifetimes, till we finally seek something higher.
0 Goddess, know that True Reality lies between the two. What lies between pleasure and pain? The state of awareness and joy. That is where we find True Reality. When we are aware, we experience pain and we experience pleasure, but we do not suffer. Suffering comes from judgement. We judge pleasure and say it is good, and we judge pain and we say that it is bad. A master never does that. He or She is simply aware. He experiences pleasure and pain without judgement, and therefore does not suffer. When we live life through our body or ego, we are constantly reacting to the external environment. Pleasure feels good and we like it. Pain feels bad, and we dislike it. The master has no ego, and therefore there is no like or dislike. She is constant. She is always joyful. When one reads a sentence that says that one should be unaffected by pleasure or pain, one may think that this means one should be like a machine. with no feelings or emotions. This is incorrect. It means one should by joyful irrespective of one’s external environment.
That is what this verse is telling us. One is not to enjoy life when there is pleasure and dislike life when there is pain. One is to enjoy life whether there is pleasure, pain, or anything else. That is why the second path Katha Upanishad talks about is the path of joy. This is the path that leads to God. It is the path of being joyful regardless of what is happening in the external world. In this path, the world ceases to have any power over you.
Why choose to be unhappy when you can be happy?
Osho also explained this beautifully. He said that we always have a choice whether to be unhappy or happy, miserable or joyful. We may not have control over external events, but we always have control over how we react to them. Why choose to be unhappy when you can be happy? Why choose to be miserable when you can be joyful? The wise are the ones who choose to be joyful.
Lord Krishna demonstrated this truth in his life. He was always joyful, always celebrating life. This is a side of his life that is not highlighted today. Instead, only his message given in the Bhagavad Gita is given importance. Yet, his life lived, was a demonstration of the truth he taught in the Bhagavad Gita. It is okay to celebrate life, it is okay to enjoy life, and it is also okay to enjoy the pleasures of life. Do not think that this verse says that one should not enjoy the pleasures of life. Tantra would never say that. What this verse means is that one should not be dependent on them one’s happiness or joy. Enjoy everything, but need nothing external for your happiness. Everything you need to be happy, you will find within yourself. The pleasure you obtain from the external world cannot compare with the joy you will find within.
The Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad discusses this at length. It says that if you take all the pleasures of the world – fame, fortune, power, etc., you can consider that to be one unit. Now as you progress spiritually, the joy you experience within keeps growing. The Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad quantifies this joy at each stage, and it is several times more than the pleasure you experience from the outside world. Finally, the joy of liberation is quantified at a million times a million (1 000 billion) more than the sum of all the pleasures you can experience in the external world! How does one practice this verse? First, one should not think about pleasure or pain. Instead be aware, and live life in the present. Once you reach a certain level of awareness, you will automatically be joyful. Alternatively, as Osho and the Katha Upanishad say, one can be joyful. Be aware of what you are being, and change that so that you are joyful. Remain aware of what you are being throughout the day so that you remain joyful. A time will come when you are fully aware and totally joyful. In this way, you take the path of joy to God.