Long in shadow, short in substance
Few things are as long in shadow and as short in substance as sensual pleasures, especially sexual pleasures. The actual experience of the pleasure is the substance and its influence on us before and after the experience is the shadow. Prior to the experience, the mind often goes into a hyper-drive of fascination, anticipation, even manipulation for getting the enjoyment. This shadow may extend for hours, days, weeks, months, even years, depending on the extent of one’s inner obsession and the culture’s outer glamorization of the pleasure.
Yet the substance is sickeningly short; the much-touted enjoyment ends within a few minutes. Nothing can circumvent the inescapable limitedness of the body’s capacity to enjoy.No fancy, no sophistry, no technology can change the tininess of the substance.As soon as the substance ends, its second shadow begins; disbelief, disappointment, distress, even disease and devastation, start enveloping us.
By analyzing these negative consequences, we can realize the hollowness of the substance. Unfortunately however, before we can analyze, the shadow of a new opportunity for enjoyment falls on our mind. We get seduced by the hope that this upcoming enjoyment will be better. And thus we stay trapped: expecting the substance that barely lasts and enduring the shadow that rarely leaves.
The Bhagavad-gita offers us the liberating insight (05.22) that all sensual enjoyment has a beginning and an end and so is a source of misery.
To apply this insight and prevent the pre-enjoyment shadow – the imagination – from seducing us, we need to illuminate ourselves internally by cultivating remembrance of Krishna. This devotional illumination not only highlights the insubstantiality of sensual pleasures, but also reveals the way back to Krishna. In marching towards him by loving him purely, we relish life’s supreme happiness, the substance that had always eluded us in our sensual pursuits.
“An intelligent person does not take part in the sources of misery, which are due to contact with the material senses. O son of Kunti, such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise man does not delight in them.”