Of Human Bondage

Addiction to excessive sense pleasures is looked down upon and discouraged by Indian philosophy. Materialism and unbridled sense pursuits are considered to be like a  whirlpool, sucking man into their swirling depths, ultimately leading to his destruction.

Adi Shankaracharya, in his classic text Vivekachudamani calls this as bondage, release from which should be the goal of man. Shankara says that this bondage to the world and its sense pleasures is due to ignorance or nescience, which is again due to inability to differentiate between the permanent or real ( the attainment of spiritual awareness) and the transient or sensory pleasures.

The effects of this bondage are the negative traits like desire, attachment, egotism, hatred etc, all of which result in the succession of births and deaths with its attendant woes. This immersion in excessive materialistic pursuits is compared to the ocean, with the rise and fall of the waves being akin to birth and death.  It is said that sense objects, though they appear pleasant are really forms of bondage. Shankara gives the example of the silkworm which spins a cocoon around itself in the hope of staying safe, but finally meets its end due to those very threads.

Similarly, man gets trapped in his web of greed and meets his downfall. Ignorance or lack of discrimination is like mistaking a rope to be a serpent or vice versa. Both lead to misery.  Shankara explains that this ignorance manifests in two ways.

One as concealment of the real nature or form and the other as wrong or distorted  projection of the reality. When man is immersed in materialism, greed, avarice, miserliness, jealousy, arrogance and anger all prevent him from seeing and experiencing the spark of divinity within himself, just as the clouds obscure the bright orb of the sun.

As the Bhagavad Gita says, threefold is the gate to hell- desire, anger and miserliness. Such a state is like being caught in the jaws of the crocodile of delusion. Being deluded, he is unable to extricate himself from this endless cycle of desire and more desire and thus drifts, aimlessly and endlessly, never reaching the shore of realization.

Shankara gives another telling example of a man who goes out on a rainy and windy day. Being subjected to the lashing of the rain and the blasts of the cold wind, he suffers great hardship. So does the man who goes after sense pleasures excessively. A beautiful analogy is given.

Ignorance is the seed of attachment to material pleasures. Resulting delusion is the shoot. Desire is the sprout. Action to satisfy desires is the water. The body is the trunk.

Contacts of the senses with external objects are the tendrils. Sense objects are the flowers. Suffering is the fruits of the actions. The experiencer of these fruits is man, like the bird which eats the fruits.

“Not by wealth, not by crores of rituals can release from bondage be obtained. It is only through the grace of the Lord” says Shankara.

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