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13. “I’m already happy.”

Cruising through town in a high-end convertible, tinted windows and maxed-out subwoofers, lined with a windscreen caption which reads, ‘Living the dream!’ People do feel like that: “I have a snazzy car, two houses, great career, time for several holidays a year, beautiful family, and amazing health – what more could I ask for?” Content with almost everything, they see spirituality as a fall-back for those who are missing abundance and achievement in their own lives.
In Chapter Thirteen, entitled ‘Nature, the Enjoyer and Consciousness,’ these subjects are analytically dissected. Krishna delineates two broad approaches to life. In the first, the soul (consciousness) selfishly exploits and enjoys nature, excommunicating God from the picture. In the second, the soul utilises the gifts of material nature in the service of God, seeing Him as the Supreme Enjoyer. According to the approach we adopt, we reap a certain quality of life. When we lack selfless spirituality and the sole objective becomes our own enjoyment of matter, despite the sprinkles of instant pleasure that periodically appear, we ultimately fall way short of the deep, fulfilling satisfaction that we seek so much.
In his paper, ‘A Theory of Motivation,’ Abraham Maslow established the now famous ‘Hierarchy of Needs,’ explaining how we’re driven to pursue happiness on different levels. When basic needs are met, the human focuses on higher pursuits, seeking deeper and more subtle experiences. This continues through multiple stages, with the climax being ‘self-actualisation’ - the most satisfying state of human existence.
The model begins with the baseline necessities of human existence. We require food, clothing and shelter for survival, and until we’re sufficiently equipped it’s difficult to consider anything else. Once obtained, we strive for security and safety; a sense of cementing the future. With this in place, the individual next pursues emotional gratification through family, friendship, society, and meaningful exchange with others. Beyond that, one focuses on building their esteem and sense of self-worth through achievements, accolades and recognition in society. Having realised these four objectives, Maslow posited the ultimate endeavour to be ‘self-actualisation.’ Here, one’s vision expands and they awaken their deeper purpose, inner-calling and authentic self. According to Maslow, only 2% of the world’s population get anywhere near this stage.
Maslow’s first four levels address the external coverings of the soul – the physical body, the mind, intelligence and ego. While we cannot ignore these very real needs, we must simultaneously understand that they’re not the be all and end all of life. Thus, one of Krishna’s striking recommendations in the Bhagavad-Gita, which sounds counterintuitive, is to tolerate happiness. We tolerate insult and criticism, reversals in the world, misfortunes of life – but why should we tolerate happiness? Isn’t that feeling the very thing we’re all looking for?
As we navigate life, varieties of physical and subtle pleasure can attract our attention and indulge our minds. These, Krishna says, should be ‘tolerated,’ since they only cater to the external coverings, the first four levels. If we become indulgent or content with such temporal delights we grab the shadow and miss the substance. Those who venture further, taste real happiness.

“The living entity in material nature thus follows the ways of life, enjoying the three modes of nature. This is due to his association with that material nature. Thus he meets with good and evil among various species.” (Bhagavad-Gita 13.22)

References

13.21 – How the embodied soul attempts to enjoy in this material world.
13.24 – The development of pure spiritual consciousness.