Yellow Robe - A Real Buddhist's Journal

Apr 21st
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Home Teachings Sensual Pleasures What are Sensual Pleasures

What are Sensual Pleasures

E-mail Print PDF
Article Index
What are Sensual Pleasures
Sensual Objects
Base and Vulgar
Heavenly Bliss in this Life
Not Noble's Practice & Welfare
Four Kinds of Indulgence
All Pages

The Buddha's Similes

The Buddha taught in the Potaliya Sutta the following similes of sensual pleasures,

Sensual Objects

The Buddha taught in his first sermon ( Dhammacakka Sutta),

"There are these two extremes that are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth. Which two? That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects: base, vulgar, common, ignoble, unprofitable; and that which is devoted to self-mortification: painful, ignoble, unprofitable. Avoiding both of these extremes, the middle way realized by the Tathagata -- producing vision, producing knowledge -- leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding."

There are five kinds of desirable sense-objects, namely: pleasurable sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. In brief, all the material objects, animate or inanimate, enjoyed by people in the world.

Delighting in a seemingly pleasurable sight and enjoying it constitute practice and pursuit of sensuality. Here the sense object of sight means not merely a source of light or colour that comes into contact with the seeing eye, but the man or woman or the whole of the object that forms the source or origin of that sight. Similarly, all sources of sound, smell, and touch; whether man, woman or instrumental objects, constitute sensuous objects. As regards taste, not only the various foods, fruits and delicacies, but also men, women and people who prepare and serve them are classified as objects of taste. Listening to a pleasant sound, smelling a sweet fragrant smell are as sensuous as enjoyment of good, delicious food, the luxury or a comfortable bed or physical contact with the opposite sex.


Base and Vulgar

Delighting in sensuous pleasures and relishing them is to be regarded as a vulgar practice because such enjoyments lead to formation of base desires, which are clinging and lustful. It tends to promote self-conceit, with the thought that no one else is in a position to enjoy such pleasures. At the same time, one becomes oppressed with thoughts of avarice, not wishing to share the good fortune with others or overcome by thoughts of jealousy, envy, anxious to deny similar pleasures to others.

It arouses ill-will towards those who are thought to be opposed to onself. Flushed with success and affluence, one becomes shameless and unscrupulous, bold and reckless in one's behaviour, no longer afraid to do evil. One begins to deceive oneself with false impression (moha) of well-being and prosperity. The new informed worldling (puthujana) may also come to hold the wrong view of living soul or atta to entertain disbelief in the resultant effects of one's own actions, Kamma . Such being the outcome of delighting in and relishing of sensuous pleasures, they are to be regarded as low and base.

Furthermore, indulgence in sensual pleasures is the habitual practice of lower forms of creatures such as animals, petas , etc. The Bhikkhus and Samanas, belonging to the higher stages of existences should not stoop low to vie with the lower forms of life in the vulgar practice of base sensuality.

In ancient times, rulers and rich people engaged themselves in the pursuit of sensual pleasurers. Wars were waged, and violent conquests made, all for the gratification of sense-desire.

In modern times too, similar conquests are still being made in some areas for the same objectives. But it is not only the rulers and the rich who seek sensual pleasures, the poor are also arduous in the pursuit of worldly goods and pleasures. As a matter of fact, as soon as adolescence is reached, the instinct for mating and sexual gratification makes itself felt. For the worldly householder veiled from the Buddha Dhamma, gratification of sense desires appears to be indeed the acme of happiness and bliss.


Heavenly Bliss in This Very Life

Even before the time of the Buddha, there were people who held the belief that heavenly bliss could be enjoyed in this very life (Ditthadhamma Nibbana Vada). According to them, sensual pleasure was indeed blissful; there was nothing to surpass it. And that pleasure was to be enjoyed in this very life. It would be foolish to let precious moments for enjoyment pass, waiting for bliss in a future life, which does not exist. The time for full gratification of sensual pleasure is now, this very life. Such is the Ditthadhamma Nibbana Vada - Heavenly bliss in this very life. This is one of the 62 wrong views (Micchaditthi) expounded by the Buddha in the Brahmajala Sutta of Silakkhanda in the Digha Nikaya.

Thus, enjoyment of sensual pleasure is the preoccupation of town and village people, not the concern of the recluses and Bhikkhus. For them, to go after sense desires would mean reverting to the worldly life which they have denounced. People show great reverence to them, believing they are leading a holy life, undisturbed by worldly distractions or allurements of the opposite sex. People make the best offer of food and clothing to the recluses, denying these to themselves, often at the sacrifice of the needs of their dear ones and their family. While living on the charity of the people, it would be most improper for Bhikkhus to seek worldly pleasures just like the householders.

In addition, Bhikkhus renounce the world with a vow to work for release from the sufferings inherent in the rounds of rebirth and for the realization of Nibbana. It is obvious that these noble ideals cannot be attained by the Bhikkhus if they go after sensual pleasures in the manner of householders. Thus, one who has gone forth from the worldly life should not indulge in delightful sensuous pleasures.


Not Noble's Practice and Welfare

Enjoyment of worldly pleasures is not the practice of the Noble Ones (Ariyas). One may ask here why the Ariyas like Visakha, Anathapindika and Sakka, the king of celestial beings, who had already reached the first stage of the Noble Life (sotapanna) engaged themselves in pursuit of sensuous pleasures. In Sotapannas, lust and passions are not yet overcome; there still lingers in them the incipient perception of agreeableness of carnal pleasures (sukha sanna). This point is illustrated in Anguttara by the example of a person who is fastidious in the habits of cleanliness, seeking shelter in a filthy place filled with excrement to avoid attack by an elephant in must.

This defiling, coarse habit being ignoble and unclean should be avoided by recluses and Bhikkhus.

The only way to escape from all forms of suffering is through development of morality (sila), mental concentration (samadhi) and Insight, wisdom (panna). Only these, namely, sila, samadhi, panna are to be sought in the true interest of oneself.

Pursuit of sensual pleasures cannot lead to the conquest of old age, disease, death or all forms of suffering. It only tends to breach morality codes, such as non-commitment of illegal sexual conduct. Seeking worldly amenities through killing, theft or deceit also amounts to violation of moral precepts. Not to speak of physical actions, the mere thought of enjoyment of sensual pleasures prohibits development of mental concentration and wisdom and thus forms a hindrance to the realization of Nibbana, cessation of all sufferings.

Failure to observe moral precepts is a sure step to the four netherworlds of intense suffering. It is to be noted, however, that maintenance of moral character alone without simultaneous development of samadhi and panna will not lead to Nibbana. It only encourages rebirth repeatedly in happier existences, where, however, manifold sufferings such as old age, disease and death are still encountered again and again.

Recluses and Bhikkhus, having renounced the world, with the avowed purpose of achieving Nibbana, where all sufferings cease, should have nothing to do with pursuits of sensuous pleasures that only obstruct development of sila, samadhi and panna .

To recapitulate, enjoyment of sensuous pleasures is low and vulgar, being the pre-occupation of common people; and is not practised by the Noble Ones. It is detrimental to progress in sila, samadhi and panna and thus works against the true interest of those intent on achievement of the unaged, undeceased, the deathless - Nibbana.

The text only says that 'one who has gone forth from the worldly life should not indulge in sensuous pleasures.' The question, therefore, arises whether ordinary householders who remain amidst the worldly surroundings could freely pursue sensuous pleasures without any restraint. Since the gratification of sense desires is the pre-occupation of common people, it would be pointless to enjoin them from doing so. But the householder intent on practising the Noble Dhamma, should advisedly avoid these pleasures to the extent necessary for the practice. Observance of the five precepts requires abstaining from commitment of sins of the flesh. Likewise, possession of worldly goods should not be sought through killing, theft or deceit.


Four Kinds of Indulgence

In Pasadika Sutta of Pathika Vagga, Digha Nikaya, the Buddha had stated four kinds of indulgence in worldly enjoyment.

"Sunda, in this world there are some foolish, ignorant people who promote their own enrichment by the slaughter of animals - cattle, pigs, chicken, fish. This practice constitutes the first form of indulgence in worldly enjoyment.

Theft, dacoity and robbery constitute the second form of indulgence in worldly enjoyment while deceitful means of earning one's livelihood constitute the third. The fourth form of indulgence embraces other means besides these three, by which worldly wealth is gained."

The Sutta stated that Buddha's disciples, Bhikkhus, were free from these indulgences. Lay people, in observing the eight precepts and ten precepts have to maintain chastity and abstain from partaking of food after midday, dancing and singing, all these being forms of sensuous pleasure.

When one is engaged in meditation practices, one has to forego all kinds of sensuous enjoyment just like the Bhikkhus who have gone forth from the worldly life because they tend to hinder the development of sila, samadhi and panna . A meditator, even if he is a layman, must not, therefore, indulge in worldly enjoyment. This should suffice regarding one form of extreme practice, namely, indulgence in worldly enjoyment.



Preserve this Website


" You are now like a withered leaf; the messengers of death are near you; you are about to set out on a long journey; (yet) you have no provisions (for the journey). "

The Dhammapada

Social Bookmark

Yellow Robe Newsletter