Can we develop spiritually through wholesale material indulgence?
Question: By indulging wholesale in material desires till the point of satiation, can we transcend material desires and grow spiritually?
Short Answer: No, otherwise all material addicts would automatically be spiritual adepts.
First, let’s understand why we need to transcend material desires. All material enjoyment is unavoidably temporary, whereas we long for permanent happiness and so we can never be satisfied by material indulgence. Sadly, this simple fact eludes most people; they go through their entire life deluded by the blind faith that the next material indulgence will somehow provide the lasting fulfillment that no material indulgence has ever provided till date.
An intelligent few realize that this blind faith has basis neither in experience, nor in reason. So they strive to transcend material desires and relish spiritual happiness by connecting with God, Krishna, who is the reservoir of supreme, eternal happiness. However, transcending material desires is not easy because material desires reproduce prodigiously; one form of indulgence generally breeds and feeds desires for scores of similar indulgences. For example, drinking a sip of wine frequently fuels the desire to drink a glassful of wine – and more. Closer to home, watching one TV program briefly kindles the desire to watch other programs briefly till huge chunks of our precious time lie devoured in the belly of the idiot box. Though the resulting frustration may impel us to switch off the TV and throw away the remote, the renunciation is usually short-lived. After a few days, a few hours or maybe even a few minutes, the desire to enjoy watching TV gets the better off us, and we pick up the remote again.
If wholesale indulgence were the recipe for renunciation, then the world would not need any de-addiction centers; an alcoholic could become free from addiction merely by drinking to the point of satiation. Evidently, that doesn’t happen. Thus, if wholesale indulgence doesn’t free anyone from even one kind of material desire, why should we buy the story that it will free us from all kinds of material desires?
Sometimes, the frustration resulting from wholesale indulgence leads some people to flashes of insights that may be life transforming. However, those flashes originate not in the indulgence, but in the prior knowledge cultivated independent of the indulgence. And that knowledge, if introspected and implemented, can yield the insight without the indulgence. This alternative is safer, being free from the deadly consequences like addiction, disease and bankruptcy that often result from wholesale indulgence. This alternative path becomes easy and joyful if we experience devotional happiness by connecting with Krishna.
Therefore, the best way to transcend material desires, as the Bhagavad-gita (2.64) indicates, is by rejecting or at least regulating material indulgence, and by cultivating spiritual knowledge and devotional happiness.