Some people ask, “Scripture requires us to restrict worldly enjoyment. Why should we restrict our enjoyment like this? Why can’t we enjoy without any restriction?”
The fact is that it is not scripture alone that restricts our worldly enjoyment – many other factors restrict it too, the most inescapable of which is the body itself. Even if we somehow did away with all restrictions such as scriptural (by rejecting scripture), cultural (by adopting a licentious culture) or financial (by having as much money as we want for enjoying), still we can’t do away with the body’s restriction – its limited capacity to enjoy. Consider the enjoyment through eating. Even if we owned the world’s best hotel that had the best cuisines and the best chefs, still we wouldn’t be able to enjoy food unrestrictedly – our stomach’s limited capacity would put an unavoidable cap on our enjoyment.
The same bodily restriction applies to the endlessly glamorized pleasure of sex too. Though the media often depicts unending erotic bliss, such depictions are counter-factual – the fact is that the body’s capacity for sexual indulgence is limited, like a water-filled sponge’s capacity to give out water.
Someone may argue, “Ok, even if we can’t enjoy unrestrictedly, we can still enjoy as much as our bodily capacity. Why does scripture impose further restriction on that enjoyment?”
The purpose of scriptural regulation is not to deprive us of happiness, but to direct us towards lasting happiness. The primary message of scripture is not that we restrict bodily enjoyment, but that we seek spiritual fulfillment. The Bhagavad-gita explains that we are at our core eternal souls and are parts of the Supreme Soul, Krishna, who is the all-attractive reservoir of infinite pleasure. By following the Gita’s guidelines to practice yoga, especially bhakti-yoga, we can realize our spiritual nature, connect with Krishna and thereby relish eternal spiritual happiness. While we pursue yogic connection with Krishna, the Gita asks us to regulate worldly enjoyment so that our mind can peacefully focus on higher, spiritual realities. Otherwise, if there were no such regulation, the mind would be obsessed with, indeed consumed by, cravings for enjoyment. If our mind is filled with the search for the next worldly object to enjoy, we will have no mental space left to search for the Absolute Truth.
Therefore, though it may seem that scripture restricts our enjoyment to even lesser than our bodily capacity for enjoyment, the reality is that it redirects our consciousness from matter to spirit so that we can relish unending spiritual happiness. The Bhagavad-gita (02.64) assures us that by following scriptural rules, we attain mercy and purity – which in turn paves our way to lasting happiness (02.65).
To better understand this, consider the example of a horse tethered to a pole by a ten-feet rope. If it keeps tugging at the rope, it may stretch the rope to twelve feet, but it still remains bound. If on the other hand, instead of wasting its energy in tugging at the rope, the horse focuses on learning what its master is teaching, then once it is trained, it will be freed of its tether and it can gallop joyfully with its master.
Similarly, if we keep tugging at the rope of restriction, we may extend our enjoyment from the ten-feet length of scripturally sanctioned enjoyment to the twelve-feet length of the body’s maximum capacity for enjoyment. But still our enjoyment will remain limited and our longing for lasting happiness will remain unfulfilled. If instead we focus our attention on learning the art of finding spiritual happiness that scripture teaches, then we can raise our consciousness from the material to the spiritual level and thereby attain lasting happiness and fulfill forever our longing for happiness.
Every analogy has its limitation. So while the horse may be able to break free from the rope without obeying its master, we can’t break free from the restriction on our enjoyment without raising our consciousness to the spiritual level. Additionally, while tugging at the tether may cause the horse minor sores on its leg or neck – the bodily part by which it is tethered – stretching our enjoyment beyond the scripturally sanctioned regulation can have major consequences. Overeating can cause various obesity- and food-related diseases and indiscriminate sexual indulgence can cause various sexually transmitted diseases or even martial ruptures. And we have not yet considered the mental enslavement caused by addiction. The urge for sensual gratification, when fed by repeated indulgence, grows into a sickening addiction that goads us perpetually to seek sense objects and strips us of our peace of mind and our concentration-capacity for doing anything constructive.
Much better that we regulate our bodily enjoyment and redirect our search for happiness to the spiritual level. There and there alone will our longing for happiness be perfectly and perennially fulfilled.[ renunciation ] [ sense-enjoyment ]