Principle 6 Pleasure 1

Principle 6, first week

We’ve been considering one of the 12 Principles of Valid Action each month. In the same way we’ll spend the next four weeks considering various aspects of principle #6 from chapter 13 of the book (The Inner Look). It is also called the principle of pleasure, it says: “If you pursue pleasure, you enchain yourself to suffering. But as long as you do not harm your health, enjoy without inhibition when the opportunity presents itself.”

We spend all this time thinking and talking about each principle not just to understand it in itself but also to begin to reflect more rigorously about our behaviour. These principles, or guidelines, or however you think of them are elements that we can form into a discipline which can be practiced at every moment and in every circumstance. They are a kind of dynamic meditation. With time and application these efforts will give all my activities a particular tone, mood, and mental direction. Our goal is to weave these general ideas that you can weave together into a coherent style of life.

In the next weeks we’ll look at how we applied, or could have applied, this principle in the past, how we apply this principle in the present moment, and how we have might apply it in the future. Here are some general considerations about this principle. In order to illustrate various aspects of the principles I’ve drawn ideas from conversations with various people, as well as from materials we created over the years. If I can know who to credit for these contributions I will.

Some people are shocked when they first come across this principle. They understand it as saying something like, as long as you do not harm your personal physical well being enjoy yourself even at the expense of others. But this is not what the principle is saying. Rather it is pointing out the absurdity of harming yourself through excessive indulgence in something pleasurable or in pleasures

Additionally, the principle makes us aware that, on one hand it is harmful to participate in pleasures when you have moral qualms. However, it also reminds us that you also cause yourself suffering when you reject or deny pleasure because of your beliefs or prejudices.

So the central idea is simple – not to pursue pleasure but to enjoy it when it presents itself. To search for a pleasure when it is a absent or reject it when it is present are two seemingly very different things but both are ways you harm yourself, both carry suffering with them.

Another very important thing to notice is that this principle – like all the others — should not be taken in isolation. None of the principles, should be applied by itself and none of them should be interpreted in ways that oppose any of the others. For example, in this case there is another principle that says, “When you harm others you remain enchained. When you treat others as you would have them treat you, you liberate yourself” and a third that says “If you do not harm anyone you may freely do whatever you want.” As with everything else, the principles do not exist in isolation from each other. The meaning of each one changes in light of the others. Applying them well requires applying them as a whole.

Here is an unusual tale that may help to illustrate this Principle:

The master of a monastery was forced to suddenly leave on an arduous but important journey. Before his departure he presented his assembled disciples with a magic cake. Among its virtues was the power to provide all the nutrition one required. The master told them that it had even more amazing abilities since each disciple could eat as much of this extraordinary pastry as they wanted and yet the cake would in no way be diminished. The only condition was that they had to promise to eat some cake only once a day.

One disciple cut off some and put it on a plate. Taking a bite he was astonished by its delicious flavour and gobbled up the entire piece. He was barely finished when he began imagining tomorrow’s portion. Each day he finished his share even more obsessed than the day before. Finally he decided to put an end to the problem by eating enough that he would be satisfied until his next turn. So he ate an enormous piece – so much so that he fell ill with such terrible indigestion that it brought him to the brink of death.

In remembrance of this a plaque was affixed to the monastery gate. It read: “They suffer who seek and desire to conserve.”

Another disciple seeing what had happened did not even want to try the cake, even though he desired almost nothing as much as he desired to taste it. But he thought to himself: “as we have seen, pleasure brings pain. Therefore better not to enjoy so as not to suffer later. As we have seen, one thing leads to another.”

So it happened that this ascetic monk thought all day long of cake, he dreamt of mountains of cake but could not take a bite. One day, unable to bear it any longer he tasted the marvelous cake. In this way he betrayed his convictions and did not decrease his obsession in the least.

In front of the monastery they placed another plaque. This one said: “The sin is not in the cake nor in the belly. It is in what is dreamt and imagined by the mind.”

Finally a third disciple asked about the tasks that the master had entrusted them with before he left. He saw that the monastery, and its farm with its fields and animals had been left untended. Making things even more complicated the diversity of opinions regarding the cake had divided the community. There was much to do so he made himself responsible to get things in order before the master’s return. One day while cleaning he came to one of the rooms he came across the source of so much argument, the magic cake. Being hungry he cut himself a fair sized piece and slowly savoured its wonderful taste. But there was so much to do he soon forgot all about it as he went about his tasks.

When the master returned he saw the two plaques at the monastery gate and asked what they meant. Hearing about the chaos and problems his cake had instigated he had it removed. Later however he said, “a great injustice has been done” and he had a third plaque erected. It read: “The excess of a strong fool and the asceticism of a weak scholar lead to the same end. But what creates so many problems for the greedy and fearful is just a morsel for a saint

These notes have been sent to the email list of The Community of Silo’s Message Toronto Annex, and posted on Facebook, as well as on my blog at

We’d all love to hear your comments, thoughts about, considerations of, or artwork inspired by this theme.