Monday, 23 January 2012

Aryadeva on Pleasure

This is very loosely based on verses by Aryadeva on the subject of abandoning belief in hedonism. There is an arc to the argument as the imagined author of the haikus gradually changes perspective.

The image is "Diana's Maidens" by Edward Robert Hughes.

Though impermanent,
Sustained discipline and care
Keep the body well.

The body’s pleasure
Is transient like a hot wind
Across a river.

Pleasure’s time is short.
Like a burst of summer rain,
Soon no trace remains.

Hunger, cold and pain
Afflict the poor, whilst the high
Suffer from their minds.

Joy cannot withstand
This body subject to pain,
This mind to suffering.

Not really my foe,
The body aches by nature.
Joy comes from elsewhere.

A hull of suffering
Beset by woe, am I still
Devoted to flesh?

Joy’s balm cannot cure
Yet I keep chasing after,
So the wheel goes round.

Joy is ruled by thoughts,
Thoughts are ruled by fear and pain
And nothing rules pain.

Pain’s a cruel master,
Its power ever increasing
With age and sickness.

Causes of pleasure
Are few, and when amplified
Their symptoms painful.

Causes of suffering
Too many, they overwhelm
Joy’s little respite.

Pleasure like a dream
Treads delicate on life’s sands
Footsteps of longing.

When the tide rolls in,
Pathless, which way should I go?
Night’s footsteps effaced.

Life’s little comforts
Mean but death, languishing in
Epicurean sighs.

How can I find ease
When this abode of earth is
Slowly burning up.

In rising waters,
Trapped, alone and breathing death,
Who could find joy then?

The five elements
Find harmonious rhapsody
Through fitful struggle.

I take no pleasure
In my own or others’ pain.
Ill deeds make ill births.

Who would feel delight
Retching in a pot of gold
Rather than of clay?

It seems pleasurable
To ride instead of walking
Since the effort’s less.

To act gives me joy,
Yet acts requires exertion,
Even lying down.

Relief from trouble
Seems to bring joy, yet joy’s source
Never existed.

If joy were so good
At disguising my suffering,
Why not completely?

Seeing my attachment
To things which last not ever,
I’m done with pleasure.


  1. Great post, Okei.

    Arjuna's response is that of a good Buddhist. Admirable, Arj.

    I'm afraid mine is to think, 'poor sod!' Of the Brahma Viharas, equanimity is by far the most difficult for me when faced with people's suffering.

  2. Thanks Arjuna & Jon! :))) Gee, you both get up early!

    In the face of suffering, I guess equanimity is love without either getting caught up in attachment to suffering or to indifference to it?

  3. Nice work, Okei - I find the line "Joy is ruled by thoughts, thoughts are ruled by fear and pain" a little judgmental. I think it is a good thing to analyze thoughts, and certain thoughts may be tempered (disciplined) by fear and pain, certainly. It can be what keeps us from following through with a wrong action. :)

    I can understand Jon's statement about how difficult it can be to stay calm in the midst of being faced with suffering. We can get drawn into that emotion, but discipline can help to maintain peace. By looking within and considering possibilities (or how we might respond), we might be more aware when actually faced with a situation.

    Interesting contemplations ~ Blessings!

  4. I always used to think that equanimity meant not being disturbed by another's pain. I've changed my mind a bit. Now my thinking is that we are fully human when we are touched by someone else's suffering - but it's how quickly we come back to centre.

  5. We can go either way- trying to abandon the consciousness of suffering or trying to abandon hedonism, and it is right to abandon either of them, but it helps to learn both of these to the core, to the limit, to see their intertwined unity, so we can arrive to a new place where while suffering we know that it is joy and while being hedonistic we know that it is suffering.

  6. Thanks a lot Kathy for sharing your contemplations too! Much appreciated. I'm happy that line came from Aryadeva, not from me, lol. I'm still contemplating.

    I like what Jon says about coming back to centre.

    Nancy, Hille, thanks! This is reminding me of Buddha's first Noble Truth.

    I'm curious about how a conversation would go between Buddha/Aryadeva and Epicurus. The one says the nature of life is suffering, joy comes from elsewhere, the other that life is by nature pleasurable and pain comes from elsewhere! From these different starting points, Aryadeva concludes we must not be attached to life's transient pleasure because it is no different from suffering. And in a way Epicurus agrees because he seeks through the elimination of suffering that tranquil pleasure that underlies it, not an outright pursuit of pleasure, but still pleasure and pain are what ultimately define good and evil. In particular, he has a famous "tetralemma" relating the four things: pleasure, wisdom, virtue and justice:

    It is impossible to live a pleasant life without wisdom, virtue and justice and it is impossible to live with wisdom, virtue, and justice without living a pleasant life.

    Not so different after all?