Pleasure and Pain

Let us pass again from that to another statement made by this great teacher of Yoga: “Pentads are of two kinds, painful and non-painful.” Why did he not say: “painful and pleasant”? Because he was an accurate thinker, a logical thinker, and he uses the logical division that includes the whole universe of discourse, A and Not-A, painful and non-painful. There has been much controversy among psychologists as to a third kind — indifferent. Some psychologists divide all feelings into three: painful, pleasant and indifferent. Feelings cannot be divided merely into pain and pleasure, there is a third class, called indifference, which is neither painful nor pleasant. Other psychologists say that indifference is merely pain or pleasure that is not marked enough to be called the one or the other. Now this controversy and tangle into which psychologists have fallen might be avoided if the primary division of feelings were a logical division. A and Not-A — that is the only true and logical division. Patanjali is absolutely logical and right. In order to avoid the quicksand into which the modern psychologists have fallen, he divides all vrittis, modes of mind, into painful and nonpainful.

There is, however, a psychological reason why we should say “pleasure and pain,” although it is not a logical division. The reason why there should be that classification is that the word pleasure and the word pain express two fundamental states of difference, not in the Self, but in the vehicles in which that Self dwells. The Self, being by nature unlimited, is ever pressing, so to say, against any boundaries which seek to limit him. When these limitations give way a little before the constant pressure of the Self, we feel “pleasure,” and when they resist or contract, we feel “pain”. They are not states of the Self so much as states of the vehicles, and states of certain changes in consciousness. Pleasure and pain belong to the Self as a whole, and not to any aspect of the Self separately taken. When pleasure and pain are marked off as belonging only to the desire nature, the objection arises: “Well, but in the exercise of the cognitive faculty there is an intense pleasure. When you use the creative faculty of the mind you are conscious of a profound joy in its exercise, and yet that creative faculty can by no means be classed with desire.” The answer is: “Pleasure belongs to the Self as a whole. Where the vehicles yield themselves to the Self, and permit it to ‘expand’ as is its eternal nature, then what is called pleasure is felt.” It has been rightly said: “Pleasure is a sense of moreness.” Every time you feel pleasure, you will find the word “moreness” covers the case. It will cover the lowest condition of pleasure, the pleasure of eating. You are becoming more by appropriating to yourself a part of the Not-Self, food. You will find it true of the highest condition of bliss, union with the Supreme. You become more by expanding yourself to His infinity. When you have a phrase that can be applied to the lowest and highest with which you are dealing, you may be fairly sure it is all-inclusive, and that, therefore, “pleasure is moreness” is a true statement. Similarly, pain is “lessness”.

If you understand these things your philosophy of life will become more practical, and you will be able to help more effectively people who fall into evil ways. Take drink. The real attraction of drinking lies in the fact that, in the first stages of it, a more keen and vivid life is felt. That stage is overstepped in the case of the man who gets drunk, and then the attraction ceases. The attraction lies in the first stages, and many people have experienced that, who would never dream of becoming drunk. Watch people who are taking wine and see how much more lively and talkative they become. There lies the attraction, the danger.

The real attraction in most coarse forms of excess is that they give an added sense of life, and you will never be able to redeem a man from his excess unless you know why he does it. Understanding the attractiveness of the first step, the increase of life, then you will be able to put your finger on the point of temptation, and meet that in your argument with him. So that this sort of mental analysis is not only interesting, but practically useful to every helper of mankind. The more you know, the greater is your power to help.

The next question that arises is: “Why does he not divide all feelings into pleasurable and not-pleasurable, rather than into ‘painful and not-painful’?” A Westerner will not be at a loss to answer that: “Oh, the Hindu is naturally so very pessimistic, that he naturally ignores pleasure and speaks of painful and not-painful. The universe is full of pain.” But that would not be a true answer. In the first place the Hindu is not pessimistic. He is the most optimistic of men. He has not got one solitary school of philosophy that does not put in its foreground that the object of all philosophy is to put an end to pain. But he is profoundly reasonable. He knows that we need not go about seeking happiness. It is already ours, for it is the essence of our own nature. Do not the Upanishads say: “The Self is bliss”? Happiness exists perennially within you. It is your normal state. You have not to seek it. You will necessarily be happy if you get rid of the obstacles called pain, which are in the modes of mind. Happiness is not a secondary thing, but pain is, and these painful things are obstacles to be got rid of. When they are stopped, you must be happy. Therefore Patanjali says: “The vrittis are painful and non-painful.” Pain is an excrescence. It is a transitory thing. The Self, who is bliss, being the all-permeating life of the universe, pain has no permanent place in it. Such is the Hindu position, the most optimistic in the world.

Let us pause for a moment to ask: “Why should there be pain at all if the Self is bliss?” Just because the nature of the Self is bliss. It would be impossible to make the Self turn outward, come into manifestation, if only streams of bliss flowed in on him. He would have remained unconscious of the streams. To the infinity of bliss nothing could be added. If you had a stream of water flowing unimpeded in its course, pouring more water into it would cause no ruffling, the stream would go on heedless of the addition. But put an obstacle in the way, so that the free flow is checked, and the stream will struggle and fume against the obstacle, and make every endeavour to sweep it away. That which is contrary to it, that which will check its current's smooth flow, that alone will cause effort. That is the first function of pain. It is the only thing that can rouse the Self. It is the only thing that can awaken his attention. When that peaceful, happy, dreaming, inturned Self finds the surge of pain beating against him, he awakens: “What is this, contrary to my nature, antagonistic and repulsive, what is this?” It arouses him to the fact of a surrounding universe, an outer world. Hence in psychology, in yoga, always basing itself on the ultimate analysis of the fact of nature, pain is the thing that asserts itself as the most important factor in Self-realisation; that which is other than the Self will best spur the Self into activity. Therefore we find our commentator, when dealing with pain, declares that the karmic receptacle the causal body, that in which all the seeds of karma are gathered Up, has for its builder all painful experiences; and along that line of thought we come to the great generalisation: the first function of pain in the universe is to arouse the Self to turn himself to the outer world, to evoke his aspect of activity.

The next function of pain is the organisation of the vehicles. Pain makes the man exert himself, and by that exertion the matter of his vehicles gradually becomes organised. If you want to develop and organise your muscles, you make efforts, you exercise them, and thus more life flows into them and they become strong. Pain is necessary that the Self may force his vehicles into making efforts which develop and organise them. Thus pain not only awakens awareness, it also organises the vehicles.

It has a third function also. Pain purifies. We try to get rid of that which causes us pain. It is contrary to our nature, and we endeavour to throw it away. All that is against the blissful nature of the Self is shaken by pain out of the vehicles; slowly they become purified by suffering, and in that way become ready for the handling of the Self.

It has a fourth function. Pain teaches. All the best lessons of life come from pain rather than from joy. When one is becoming old, as I am and I look on the long life behind me, a life of storm and stress, of difficulties and efforts, I see something of the great lessons pain can teach. Out of my life story could efface without regret everything that it has had of joy and happiness, but not one pain would I let go, for pain is the teacher of wisdom.

It has a fifth function. Pain gives power. Edward Carpenter said, in his splendid poem of “Time and Satan,” after he had described the wrestlings and the overthrows: “Every pain that I suffered in one body became a power which I wielded in the next.” Power is pain transmuted.

Hence the wise man, knowing these things, does not shrink from pain; it means purification, wisdom, power.

It is true that a man may suffer so much pain that for this incarnation he may be numbed by it, rendered wholly or partially useless. Especially is this the case when the pain has deluged in childhood. But even then, he shall reap his harvest of good later. By his past, he may have rendered present pain inevitable, but none the less can he turn it into a golden opportunity by knowing and utilising its functions.

You may say: “What use then of pleasure, if pain is so splendid a thing?” From pleasure comes illumination. Pleasure enables the Self to manifest. In pleasure all the vehicles of the Self are made harrnonious; they all vibrate together; the vibrations are rhythmical, not jangled as they are in pain, and those rhythmical vibrations permit that expansion of the Self of which I spoke, and thus lead up to illumination, the knowledge of the Self. And if that be true, as it is true, you will see that pleasure plays an immense part in nature, being of the nature of the Self, belonging to him. When it harmonises the vehicles of the Self from outside, it enables the Self more readily to manifest himself through the lower selves within us. Hence happiness is a condition of illumination. That is the explanation of the value of the rapture of the mystic; it is an intense joy. A tremendous wave of bliss, born of love triumphant, sweeps over the whole of his being, and when that great wave of bliss sweeps over him, it harmonises the whole of his vehicles, subtle and gross alike, and the glory of the Self is made manifest and he sees the face of his God. Then comes the wonderful illumination, which for the time makes him unconscious of all the lower worlds. It is because for a moment the Self is realising himself as divine, that it is possible for him to see that divinity which is cognate to himself. So you should not fear joy any more than you fear pain, as some unwise people do, dwarfed by a mistaken religionism. That foolish thought which you often find in an ignorant religion, that pleasure is rather to be dreaded, as though God grudged joy to His children, is one of the nightmares born of ignorance and terror. The Father of life is bliss. He who is joy cannot grudge Himself to His children, and every reflection of joy in the world is a reflection of the Divine Life, and a manifestation of the Self in the midst of matter. Hence pleasure has its function as well as pain and that also is welcome to the wise, for he understands and utilises it. You can easily see how along this line pleasure and pain become equally welcome. Identified with neither, the wise man takes either as it comes, knowing its purpose. When we understand the places of joy and of pain, then both lose their power to bind or to upset us. If pain comes, we take it and utilise it. If joy comes, we take it and utilise it. So we may pass through life, welcoming both pleasure and pain, content whichever may come to us, and not wishing for that which is for the moment absent. We use both as means to a desired end; and thus we may rise to a higher indifference than that of the stoic, to the true vairagya; both pleasure and pain are transcended, and the Self remains, who is bliss.

»Lecture IV: Yoga as Practice