zen buddha

Sense Pleasure vs Joy

by Saṃsāran 

This discussion is not based on morality. It is based exclusively upon observation of the human mind. Our mental states are solely chemical based. We are just machines after all. Nature has provided us with various means of reaching states which may be called pleasurable. Animals seek pleasure and wish to avoid pain. The things which in nature give us pleasure are those things which are generally good for us. We take pleasure in sex, food, rest, drink and even things less tangible such as success at the things we do. 

Humans, being the clever little apes that we are soon learned ways to short-circuit the pleasure systems in our brain through the use of chemicals which mimic natural pleasures such as alcohol, opium, and cocaine. The problem with sense pleasures of these kinds is that we are designed to become accustomed to these sensations and to build tolerances to them requiring more. The reason is purely electrochemical. 

The upshot of this is that if we attempt to chase pleasure without balance and moderation the system breaks down and we fall into addiction and our health suffers and the pleasure becomes harder and harder to attain. Moreover, on a psychological level, we cease to find contentment and we find ourselves increasingly depressed and anxious which leads to further attempts to cure this with sense pleasures which lead to a further degradation of the system.

There is a different source of pleasure which we may call joy. Joy cannot be attained through artificial means. Joy comes from leading a life of the spirit. This joy does not tear our body down rather it increases our overall health and contentment. We do not build a tolerance to joy. The more we have the greater our sense of contentment and well-being.

When you plant seeds in the garden, you don’t dig them up every day to see if they have sprouted yet. You simply water them and clear away the weeds; you know that the seeds will grow in time. Similarly, just do your daily practice and cultivate a kind heart. Abandon impatience and instead be content creating the causes for goodness; the results will come when they’re ready.
—  Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron
  • Unawakened Person: I'm better than you.
  • Awakened Person: Okay.
  • Unawakened Person: No, really. I am richer, better looking, drive a better car, have a better job and live in a bigger house.
  • Awakened Person: (With no sarcasm) How wonderful that you have a nice house, job, and car. You are blessed.
  • Unawakened Person: Wait! No envy? Aren't you jealous?
  • Awakened person: No, I feel joy for your good fortune and wish you more of it.
  • Unawakened Person: How are you able to be happy for me when I have more than you and am bragging about it?
  • Awakened Person: You see my friend each of us values certain things. The things you have mentioned, the possessions and privileges are not important to me. Love is important to me. Compassion is important to me. Kindness is important to me. When one lives this way then there can be no envy of another's material success.