At some point every conditioned soul realizes the futility of material life. However, while there is still hope of sense gratification, most will strive to overcome each and every obstacle to it. This generally continues until just prior to the moment of death. At that point everyone starkly understands their utter defeat – everything they have worked for will be taken away, including their very conception of who they are. It is a rare soul who, understanding this inevitability, anticipates this dilemma and endeavors for that pleasure and realization that transcends the activities of the material body.
tasyaiva hetoh prayateta kovido/ na labhyate yad bhramatam upary adhah/ tal labhyate duhkhavad anyatah sukham/ kalena sarvatra gabhira-ramhasa – Persons who are actually intelligent and philosophically inclined should endeavor only for that purposeful end which is not obtainable even by wandering from the topmost planet down to the lowest planet. As far as happiness derived from sense enjoyment is concerned, it can be obtained automatically in course of time, just as in course of time we obtain miseries even though we do not desire them. Srimad Bhagavatam 1.5.18
That purposeful end is Krishna, or God, consciousness with complete knowledge of one’s constitutional position as sat, cit and ananda, or eternity, knowledge and bliss. There is, however, a very social component to one’s determination to, come hell or high water, continue striving for greater and greater sense pleasure. Virtually everyone takes on the values and goals of those around them, especially role models like parents. If one is raised in a family or society where self-realization is emphasized, such as Vedic culture, there is that much less chance they will devote themselves to bodily pursuits. Even most indigenous cultures stress non-material attainments.
This is not the case in Western society, or those which, in imitation, are shamelessly abandoning more restrained traditional lifestyles. In the West there is an entire sector of the economy, advertising, which strives to generate as much material desire as possible. Although not as crass, Western education is similarly materialistic and manipulating. Students are often browbeaten to accept “science-based” ideology where matter is dogmatically said to be all that exists. And the goal of every “worthwhile” course of study is to develop the career skills one needs to indenture themselves to one corporation or another for forty years. Even many adherents of the prominent Western religion, Christianity, believe that God’s favor is indicated by the level of one’s material success. Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian scholar of the traditionalist Muslim Brotherhood, spent some time in the American Midwest shortly after World War II and later wrote:
“And when humanity closes the windows to faith in religion, faith in art, and faith in spiritual values altogether, there remains no outlet for its energy to be expended except in the realm of applied science and labor, or to be dissipated in sensual pleasure. And this is where America has ended up after four hundred years.” The America I Have Seen, Sayyid Qutb
Over the last hundred years Western culture has become exponentially hedonistic. The pre-60’s America described by Qutb is now ironically considered prudish, repressive and Puritanical. This “modern” period of the West was characterized by the belief that technology and capitalism were going to allow every generation to be more prosperous and carefree than the previous one – “progress.” This conviction empowered most with the hope that anything was possible, and that Western culture was capable of overcoming anything standing in the way of both individual and collective sense pleasure. Many even believe that science will provide the “singularity” that will enable them to avoid death. Why anyone would want to live eternally in Western society is nevertheless puzzling? Continue reading