Monday, October 27, 2003

The Pain of Pleasure

The Pain of Pleasure

The world is full of pleasurable things and our appetite for them is insatiable. We want our pleasures to last forever. We want to maximize them and limit pain to the minimum if not eliminate them entirely. Is that possible?

As the Buddhists like to say, all pleasures in this world are impermanent. Attachment to these pleasures is a certain cause of pain. Everything--from the beauty and charm of a woman, to the shine and lustre on one's expensive new car to the glory and grandeur of empires--ultimately desintegrates and die. Nothing escapes the Second Law of Thermodynamics. All pleasures contain the seeds of pain.

But isn't that a rather morbid way of viewing life? Are we not entitled to enjoy the pleasures of this world? At least while they last? The answer is yes; but we must also realise that pain and pleasure always come in equal proportions. Put in another way: everything has a price.

The man who wants nothing suffers nothing. But his life might as well not be lived at all. On the other hand, the man who wants the world must also be strong enough to endure " the whole of the world's tears, and all the sorrows of her labouring ships", to use the words of Yeats.

Hardwork is pain. But the rewards are always pleasurable. We want the pleasures of those rewards to remain there forever without additional pain. But that is not possible. Losing those rewards become a painful thing. The continuance of these rewards also require the constant pain of hardwork.

A windfall is a pleasure. But that comes with the pain of having to protect oneself from all the parasites who want a piece of it too. We sometimes also suffer the pain of feeling undeserving of such rewards. We have not proven ourselves. Fear, worry and self-doubt are great pains indeed.

The greater the pleasure, the more intense the pain or potential pain that one must be prepared for. The old cliche that there is no free lunch is true because it is in total accordance with the laws of nature. For every bulge in the ocean somewhere, there must be an equivalent trough elsewhere. We sink and swim in this ocean of karma.

Pain and pleasure come bundled together. We can never have one and not the other. We just choose the pains that we are willing to endure, in order to get the pleasures that we want. And ultimately what is happiness? It is just manageable pain.

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