"It's a Pleasure"
When we are fortunate to enjoy a great thing, it is natural to feel on top of the world. Along with this feeling comes a pity for others who are not so privileged. Whether it be material attainments or spiritual accomplishments, the pride of achievement is always tinged with compassion for the less fortunate, who have not been able to reach one's state. For example, the heart of the successful applicant who has landed a job goes out to those who have lost in the race.
Azhwars are in much the same position: Having tasted the nectar of Bhagavat guNa anubhavam in all its facets, and having become intoxicated on the heady elixir, Azwars look around them, only to find prosaic people, delighting in the ephemeral pleasures of this miserable world.
The pleasures that this world offers us are but fleeting.
An impoverished man, walking through a jungle, is sighted by a tiger. Having identified its lunch, the big cat starts chasing the man, who, in his anxiety to escape, runs without direction and falls into a deep well. Fortunately for him, there is a big tree growing out of the well, which he manages to hold on to, though his perch is pretty precarious. He heaves a sigh of relief for having escaped the danger. However, his relief vanishes when he espies a deadly snake slowly creeping up the trunk of the tree on which he is perched. Having been temporarily cheated of its prey, the tiger lies in wait, peering hungrily over the parapet of the well. The young branch to which the hapless man is clinging for dear life, looks as if it would give way any moment, and plunge him into the well's apparently unfathomed depths.
The man's cup of woe is full-he can't climb up to freedom, for the tiger would gobble him up the moment he reached the top. He can't go down too, for there is the deadly reptile creeping up. Nor can he stay where he is, as the tree bark would break, sending him to a watery grave.
At this perilous moment, the man feels a drop of thick liquid fall on him, and finds it to be honey, falling from a beehive further up the tree. He laps up the drop of honey and eagerly awaits the next drop, hanging his tongue out in anticipation, apprehensive lest the precipitation should change direction.
What could be more paradoxical? A person in mortal danger, besieged from all directions and unable to stave off fast approaching predators, takes time off to enjoy a drop of honey!
Shastras caution us that we are in much the same position, and the worldly pleasures which we delight in, are akin to the aforesaid drop of honey. Sri Tirumangai Mannan summarises the transient and illusory delights for which we constantly strive-
" vendriyE vENdi veezh porutku irangi, vErkaNAr kalaviyE karudi nindravAnillA nenjinai udayEn".
We hanker after power, prestige, riches, social acclamation and other sensual pleasures, little realising their ephemeral character, especially when we are unsure of how long this human body, with all the frailties of the flesh, would last, and knowing full well that disease, old age, poverty and death stalk us all the time, awaiting an opportune moment to strike.
In ten pAsurams beginning with "oru nAyakamAi Oda ulagu udan Andavar", Sri Nammazhwar essays a graphic description of what happens to those addicted to sensual pleasures.
And for those with a craving for the pleasures of the flesh, there is a stark reminder that the body, (ours and others'), for which they have an undying attraction, is after all a bag of flesh and bones, filled with all sorts of refuse. If only one's sight were able to penetrate the skin cover, one would shrink from touching oneself or any other person, be it one's spouse or children. Whoever coined the adage "Beauty is skin deep" never said a truer word. Of all the pleasures that stand in the way of emancipation, the pleasures of the flesh are counted first, and Sri Tirumangai Mannan emphasizes this time and again-
"VAn nilA muruval siru nudal perum tOL
mAdarAr vana mulai payanE pENinEn pEdayEn..iLayavar kalaviyin tirattai nANinEn"
"Vel kaNAr kalaviyE karudi nindravA nillA nenjinai udayEn" etc.
Obsession with the body would disappear in a jiffy if one constantly recollects its contents and composition, and also its tendency to adverse change due to age, disease, etc. Most of the matinee idols of yesteryears, who occupied the dreams of countless fans, present a pitiable picture today, attesting to the havoc that age and ill-health can wreak.
The pleasures one derives from one's so-called relatives is shown up in its true colours by Sri Nammazhwar in all of ten pasurams beginning with this-
"KoNda peNdir makkaL utrAr suttratthavar pirarum
kaNdadOdu pattadu allAl kAdal matru yAdum illai"
"TuNayum sArvum AvAr pOl suttratthavar pirarum
aNaya vanda Akkam undEl attaigaL pOl suvaippar"
Sri Nammazhwar, after considering all the so-called "pleasures", comes to the conclusion that these are not delights at all, and exhorts us to realise their true nature-
"illai kaNdIr inbam andO!", and prays the Lord for deliverance from these ephemeral enchantments for which our senses hanker-
"Avi tigaikka iyvar kumaiikum chittrinbam
pAviyEnai pala nee kAtti paduppAyO".
Azhwars marvel at the ability of fellow human beings to derive pleasure amidst all their travails, and to commit sin after deadly sin in their pursuit of the illusory delights. Once a person sets his sight on a desirable objective, we see him strain every nerve to attain the same by hook or by crook, many a time by the latter mode. What starts as minor infringements graduates into major infractions, in due proportion to the magnitude of the target.
Azwars wonder too at the fickleness of the human mind and its obsession with ephemeral delights, forsaking its claim to the everlasting bliss that awaits every man, if only he would realise his follies and reform. In their efforts to wean us away from sensual pleasure, they bring before us graphic pictures of the endless delight that is in store for us, merely for the asking. They tempt us with accounts of "andamil pErinbam" awaiting us at Sri Vaikuntam, in contrast to "terivariya aLavillA chittrinbam". They try to din it into our hardened hearts that pleasures of the paradise are for ever, compared to transitory mundane gratifications.
Paradoxically, once one reaches Paramapadam, one ceases to be concerned about one's own pleasures, and instead, does all one can to please the Paramatma. Our aim is to please the Lord ("praharshaishyAmi") through service of all sorts at all times. It is the Lord's satisfaction, resulting from our kainkarya, which bestows on us infinite pleasure. The BrahmAnanda (described in Anandavalli of TaittirIyOpanishad) of which every inhabitant of Sri Vaikuntam partakes, is essentially the joy arising out of affording delight to the Lord.