Our hankering for experiencing newer pleasures can fulfilled by adopting the right process.
By Rukmini Vallabha Dasa
It is said, variety is the spice of life, and therefore novelty-seeking is an innate human propensity. By dovetailing this propensity expertly and effectively, humanity has ushered progress and pleasure from time immemorial.
However, this propensity can be misdirected, taking us away from the true purpose of life and the world. This can lead to serious ramifications today. Let us study this propensity from ontological, historical and spiritual perspectives.
The nuances of Novelty
According to Vedic terminologies, the principal energies of creation are knowledge potency (jnana-sakti), creative potency (kriya-sakti) and sensual potency (dravya-sakti) [Bhag. 2.5.24]. The knowledge potency makes us aware of the world. It helps us to derive new information through consciousness and retain it with the help of memory (mind). This is generally denoted as inquisitiveness or discovery. The creative potency helps us to synthesize newer conceptions and derive newer understandings through intelligence and perform newer actions through senses. This is generally denoted as creativity or innovation. The sensual potency helps us to derive newer experiences with different objects of the world in different ways through means of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. This is generally denoted as novelty. For brevity’s sake, we are treating all these three propensities as novelty.
We are pleasure-seeking by nature. The purpose of novelty-seeking, be it through art, science and philosophy, is pleasure. When we direct these propensities to find pleasure in this world, we have created the present civilization as we see and know of today. Novelty-seeking is directly influenced by the conception and mode of the happiness of the seeker. Bhagavad-gita (18.37–39) defines happiness in the mode of goodness, passion and ignorance. In the same lines, different modes of novelty-seeking can also be placed in modes of goodness, passion and ignorance.
Novelty-seeking in the mode of goodness is aimed at exploring the truth and nature. The process of creativity or exploration is based on the truth and is in tandem with universal human values. The seekers are principled, patient and perseverant in their creativity. Novelty is experienced primarily in the effort more than the results (Gita 18.26). The philosophy of universal rational thought propounded by Socrates falls under this category. It is in tandem with the truth and universal human values.
In the mode of passion, novelty-seeking is self-centered. It is characterized by gross indulgences and sensuality. The purpose is faster profits at the cost of complicating life and society, and it leads to compromise of virtue and values. Novelty is experienced primarily in the results more than the effort (Gita 18.27). The current factory and industrial culture falls in this category. It is created by the greedy capitalists for maximizing their profits. It leads to air pollution, water pollution and land pollution.
Novelty-seeking in the mode of ignorance is greatly against the truth and universal human values. It involves seeking happiness through violence, cheating and other illicit and base means (Gita 18.28). The novelty experienced is not in tune with reality. It is detrimental to both the individual and the society. The Nazi philosophy propounded and propagated by Hitler falls under this category. It is based on false claims like “Aryans are superior” and “Jews are sub-human species.” It led to persecution and extermination of innocent Jews in millions.
The term creativity as it is used today came into usage only after the Renaissance. Before this, terms like genius, talent, invention, discovery or imagination were used. The chief means of seeking novelty or creativity today are scientific exploration, art and philosophy. In the ancient era before Renaissance, these were considered as means of discovery rather than creativity. All these branches of knowledge were closely associated with spirituality. The early scientists like Newton and Galileo were actually natural philosophers whose goal was to probe and investigate the creation of God. The novelty-seeking propensity was directly or indirectly connected with spirituality.
During Renaissance, an intellectual movement called humanism arose that advocated an intensely human-centric outlook on the world. Philosophy began to focus more on pursuit of human happiness, systems of governance and economics rather than spiritual discourse. Art was greatly directed to depiction of realistic world like human life events and human romance. Science was divorced from spirituality.
The current predicament
The modern ways of novelty-seeking tend to break the harmony and balance in nature. Industrialization and urbanization that are aimed at adding variety and comfort to human life have caused pollution of land, air and water. This also adversely affected the natural habitat of a great number of aquatic and land species affecting the food chains and other symbiotic dependencies in the environment.
Our creative solutions to the problems of the day tend to undermine the value of ethics and human values (Gita 16.7). The modern weapons which are supposed to be easy and efficient means of self-defense to individuals and effective ways to control crime ended up supporting the very evil forces of terrorism and extremism. The modern technology, financial systems and social media made the monitoring and enforcement of ethics complicated and costly. In some cases, defining ethics itself became ambiguous, relative and debatable as in the case of abortion.
The modern ideas of career and socializing led to increase of self-centeredness and narcissism (Gita 16.8). The individuals tend to prefer vocations and education that are considered popular and promising in society against the ones they are naturally gifted with. This leads to lack of job satisfaction and boredom. The social media with the selfie technology became more of a tool for self-promotion and marketing rather communication and exchange of ideas. Modern practices of live-in culture, sologamy and divorce led to the ruin of age-old structures of marriage and joint family that are vital for the upkeep of emotional health and social harmony.
The current business and technology innovation is focused on fruitive gains. The focus is to minimize the effort involved owing to cozy and comfort-loving culture. People quickly resort to corruption and illegal trade for quick and easy gains. Material gains and comforts are prioritized over relationships. The focus on the good for others and society is more or less utilitarian.
The modern forms of recreation and entertainment are greatly hedonistic (Gita 16.10). Owing to being centered on matter, the resultant pleasure is limited, transitory and is coupled with pain and problems. Most of the focus of people is to try new cuisine, new music, new partners, new outfits, new sports and thrills and new gadgets. As a result, the level of frustration is high and so also the demand for newer pleasures.
The above analysis indicates the strong prominence of passion and ignorance. Self-centeredness, hedonism and fruitive mindset are strong symptoms of passion. (Gita 16.11–12). This takes severe toll on physical and emotional health. There is widespread confusion and lack of clarity regarding the purpose of life. The solutions for the problems are often imperfect and create further problems. Finally, the purpose of novelty-seeking — both individual and collective pleasure — stand defeated.
The way out — Bhakti-yoga
One way out of the current predicament is to increasingly adopt the principles and practices of mode of goodness in our lifestyle, personal habits, relationships and profession. We can increase the use of natural foods and organic foods. We can inculcate the values of charity, compassion and care for nature in the fields of technological innovation and business expansion. Ethics, integrity and other-centeredness can be inspired in the trade and governance sectors. But the reality is that the corruption of values, principles, systems and practices by passion and ignorance is very rampant and intricate. A better solution is to transcend the influences of passion and ignorance through practice of Bhakti-yoga.
The real, reliable and realistic way out of the current predicament at an individual level is to practice Bhakti-yoga. This gradually elevates our consciousness from the lower modes of passion and ignorance to goodness and beyond. Bhakti-yoga involves meditation, devotion and worship of the All-attractive God — Krishna. This helps in dovetailing our desires, thoughts and emotion in love for God. This relationship with God is eternal and completely fulfilling at all levels of existence — physical, emotional and intellectual. The Supreme God — Krishna is all-attractive, most attractive and ever attractive. He most expertly and affectionately fulfils the ever-dynamic and ever-variegated desires of his innumerable loving associates.
He performs unlimited pastimes constantly with his countless loving associates in the transcendental realm. He manifests unlimited qualities like compassion, gratitude, integrity, expertise etc. through his unlimited acts. He displays unlimited variety of forms to reciprocate with the unlimited desires of his loving associates (Bhag. 3.9.11). The novelty reaches its crescendo in the transcendental realm (Bhag. 12.12.50).
This description is about the situation in the transcendental realm. What about the devotees of God in the earthly or material realm? The Lord is omnipotent and omnipresent. When the Bhakti-yoga practitioners or devotees listen to, recite or remember the variegated pastimes, qualities, forms and names of the Lord with the help of the descriptions in the texts like Srimad-Bhagavatam, the Lord reciprocates in the heart of the devotees. The Lord also advents in the deity form, which the devotees in the material world can personally decorate, meditate upon, tend to and worship. All the aspects of novelty like philosophy, art and science can be dovetailed in Bhakti-yoga. The art can be engaged in decorating the deities and the places of worship. Philosophy can be used to study the science of Bhakti yoga and realize its importance. These all creative traits can be further engaged in sharing the message of God with the people of the world in interesting and relatable ways.
Can a novice practitioner of Bhakti yoga experience this novelty? Not immediately. In order to experience the above described novelty and variegatedness, we need to slowly disconnect from worldly novelty and gradually connect to the spiritual novelty. This takes time. One may wonder, will not the path be dry for the new practitioner since he can relish neither worldly novelty nor spiritual novelty? The solution is to make the shift gradually. Take to the essential practices of Bhakti yoga and dovetail our worldly skills and talents in the service of God and share God’s message in the world as much as possible (Gita 12.10–11). Our worldly engagements and activities needed for making a living can be regulated i.e. performed in mode of goodness, so that they do not act as a distraction to our practices of Bhakti-yoga. Then, as our desires, emotions and thoughts become centered on Krishna and service to Krishna, we can relish the spiritual novelty and variegatedness. By taking to Bhakti-yoga, we are not deprived of novelty but are gifted with a pure, pleasurable and permanent novelty.