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What The Vedas Teach About Pleasure & Play

by Acharya Shunya

We so often think of a spiritual life as one lived in deprivation — that in order to be “truly spiritual” we must abstain from the pleasures of the material world. The Vedas, however, teach otherwise. As we go about the business of life, of inhabiting a material body in this physical world, the pursuit of pleasure and joy is one that is, in fact, a deeply spiritual endeavor. Here’s why.

The concept of Kama, one of the Purusharthas (four divine goals for conscious living outlined in the Vedas), circumscribes this aspect of play. Kama literally stands for divine love and enjoyment of fine arts like music, dance, poetry, sports, sexuality etc. It directs us to seek pleasure, not only through consciously-cultivated romantic intimacy, but also through a playful attitude in life and to enjoy outdoor and recreational activities.

Several thousands of years ago, it was suggested that all work (and even all meditation!) does not necessarily lead to a balanced life. Pleasure for pleasure's sake is vital to the health and wellbeing of the human being. The ability to pleasure ourselves, and to draw pleasure from the simple joys of life and each other, is an inherent dimension of spiritual living.

"She loves him. But she is proud.

Yet her pride would melt, when sandalwood scented fresh breeze blows to envelop her."

– From Shringara Shataka,

by Bhartrihari, 5th century CE, Ujjain, India

It is also true that Great God Shiva and Great Goddess Shakti are said to have created our known world in divine sexual playfulness, from which they have manifested this beautiful universe with its myriad creatures, sophisticated intelligence, and infinite beauty. There was never ever a conception of a journey, human or divine, without an intent to play and to draw some version of pleasure from that play.

Unfortunately, in modern times, we so often forget to play. Nor do we prioritize healthy pleasure and activities that bring joy. We forget to get in touch with that inner child, that inner being which is at rest, which is in leisure, which is not constrained by our to-do list. Your inner being deserves expressive outlets from time to time, or else you will feel suffocated inside you.

Further, Kama does not stop with attainment of worldly pleasures, but it is also the quest for or the supreme desire to inquire into the truth of the Absolute Spiritual Reality, namely Brahman (what is boundless). Kama at this stage turns into Bhakti, amalgamated with wisdom, or Jnana, leading to Moksha, the final goal of freedom.

To enjoy the rays of the rising sun or an all-natural landscape, to listen to divine music, to read an uplifting book — these are all both sensual and spiritual!

I am Kaamdev, the God of Love.

– Sri Krishna's words: Bhagavd Gita, 10, 28

I hope my words extolling Kama inspire you to take a moment to debrief, to simply smile and give yourself permission to spend some time doing things for no other reason than to enhance your happiness, your pleasure, your joyfulness and your sense of ease and wonderment at just being alive. This may look like going hiking with friends, playing board games at home as a family, or simply rolling over on the floor and having a great time with your animals at home. Those precious moments of laughter and joy renew the inner being in so many ways. In doing so, we are activating the Vedic goal of Kama, or life lived with simple pleasures, and connecting with that universal goodness and innocence within.


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