Hello everybody, today we’re going to delve deep into the aspect of pain and pleasure according to the teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj.
The questioner is unhappy. He’s facing restlessness and wants to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. So he asks Maharaj, how to do so. Maharaj knows where this question is coming from. He knows there’s no direct answer to the questioner’s dilemma. Instead of giving him a straightforward answer, he wants the questioner to explore the nature of pleasure and pain, so that he can discover the truth by himself.
When Maharaj asks him, what makes you unhappy? He says he has what he doesn’t want, and wants what he doesn’t have. Maharaj tells him to reverse this thought, want what he has, and don’t care about what he doesn’t have.
It’s simple. We always crave things that we don’t have, like money, fame, recognition, cars, phones, relationships, etc., and we don’t value what we already have: our peace of mind at this moment. The mind keeps running after objects of desire tirelessly.
It craves excitement and thrill and calls it happiness. But no excitement is lasting. Everything ends at some point, and then the mind begins craving for either a new experience or the same experience all over again.
If you realize what you are in this moment, you’re free from the mind’s identifications. The mind continues the movement habitually, but you never get involved in transient pleasures.
Maharaj is trying to make the questioner understand his true nature, which is nothing other than peace or bliss. The questioner is now realizing how pleasure is a pain in disguise. The pain sets in as soon as the feeling of pleasure is over. Therefore, the mind relentlessly craves to repeat the experience.
Maharaj tells him that every pleasure or pain needs an instrument. He is referring to the mind-body organism with its belief structures (or what we call “me”) that thinks itself to be real. Whatever pleasure the mind or body craves is not lasting. It is fleeting.
The mind wants to escape pain by engaging in pleasures: drinking, smoking, eating, sex, etc. These are all diversions to remove attention from the underlying void or feeling of emptiness that creates pain and suffering.
This emptiness comes from the ignorance that I am the limited mind-body organism that is moving towards death. Behind every fear is the fear of death or not-existing. What we fail to understand is that we cannot “not” exist, because existence or “being” is our true nature.
So all of this pain that the questioner is concerned with is because of bodily identifications. Now I’m going to quote Maharaj as he goes deep into this aspect.
“Pain is the background of all your pleasures. You want them because you suffer. On the other hand, the very search for pleasure is the cause of pain. It is a vicious cycle.” – Nisargadatta Maharaj, "I AM THAT."
How profound! Maharaj says that the pleasures you seek is a ploy of your mind to avoid pain. But the very search for pleasure creates pain. You search for truth in philosophy, scriptures, books, yoga, meditation, mantra, tantra, and whatnot, but deep down you remain unsatisfied and restless because you’re not sure what you’re looking for.
You chase concepts, theories, and beliefs, in search of your personal idea of truth, evading the reality that lies in front of you. It is right here. In this very moment. Your own “being.”
You think knowing the ultimate truth, being a spiritual person, or being a moralist, being a socialist, or this or that, will give you pleasures, but all of that comes from the thinking mind that doesn’t know what it truly wants. Hence the pain.
When you read spiritual books or listen to discourses, you feel good about yourself temporarily, but soon the ghosts of the thinking mind overtake and start suggesting methods and prescriptions; do this and you’ll be happy. Attend this course and you’re set. Read the scriptures and you’ll get all the knowledge, and then, you’ll be happy. You do all of that but end up more miserable than before.
The questioner is confused and he wants a way out. And here comes the crux of this wonderful teaching. If this much is understood, it can bring great relief. Maharaj says that, and I’m quoting his words from the book I am that.
“The very examination of the mechanism shows the way. After all, your confusion is only in the mind, which never rebelled so far against confusion and never got to grips with it. It rebels only against the pain.” – Nisargadatta Maharaj, I AM THAT.
Then Maharaj further goes on to say, “Be alert. Question, observe, investigate, learn all you can about the confusion, how it operates, what it does to you and others. By being clear about confusion, you become clear of confusion.”
What Maharaj is telling the questioner is to see where the confusion comes from. He’s constantly pointing the questioner to one truth. The mind’s nature is to stay confused. It does not seek clarification to end confusion. It wants to expand by creating more confusion. That is how the ego-mind tricks us.
As spiritual seekers, we look for answers but never look at the source of questions that create confusion. The mind can never be satisfied with the answer. Why? Because movement is its nature. So for every answer, it creates more questions, and the cycle of questions and answers is never-ending. Nothing satisfies the mind.
Only when we start experiencing the never-ending pain of the restless mind, do we start seeking a solution. We mistake it to be like any other worldly problem. Worldly problems have worldly solutions. Mind’s problems have no solution in the world.
What Maharaj is suggesting here is to “see” the problems in totality with an undistorted perception, rather than the biased perception of the mind. But keep in mind that he is not implying that you do this as a practice. Maharaj is not advocation a method or prescription to end psychological suffering.
He’s trying to bring your awareness to how your mind operates. How it does drama and gives justifications for what happens based on its identifications. Pain and pleasure are a part of duality created by the mind, hence, there is no truth to either. Suffering happens when we cling to one part and condemn the other.
For example, if I start identifying with one political ideology, I will literally condemn other contradicting ideologies. The “other” becomes my enemy, therefore, whatever they say is wrong, and I am right. So much so, that I’m even unwilling to listen to anything else other than what my mind identifies with.
And when this political party or ideology that I identified with fails to deliver the happiness that I was expecting, I’m in confusion. Now I want a solution. And the solution should convince “me” that “my” thinking is correct. You see where I am going with this.
In this quest to find a solution to “my” problem, I don’t see the confusion for “what it is.” Maharaj tells the questioner to look at the confusion itself. Stay put with that confusion and see where the pain is arising from.
When you do this repeatedly, you see that your pain arises from a set of thoughts. Being aware of this mechanism, in and of itself, brings relief from pain. What you “see” with an unfiltered perception frees you from its influence.
That’s why Maharaj says, “By being clear about confusion, you become clear of confusion.”