Last Updated: 2010/08/22
Summary of question
What are the different types of pleasure? How can we reach the higher and greater pleasure?
Please name the different types of pleasure and particularly mention the highest and greatest one of all?
Concise answer

Man has always lived with both pleasure and pain; he has invariably rejoiced one thing while suffering from another. Still ethics play a great role in moderating these feelings. It is within an ethical criteria that these feelings can be controlled by distinguishing which pleasure is moral and which is immoral and avoiding the immoral pleasures.

There are many types and groups of pleasures, but in a particular categorization, we can divide pleasure into the following types: 1- sensual pleasure 2- illusionary pleasure 3- intellectual pleasure 4- mystical (spiritual) pleasure.

The rank of different pleasures in one’s eyes differ from person to person contingent upon his world-view. A mumin (believer) conceives the greatest pleasure to be acquiring God’s absolute satisfaction even if he has to endure harsh and severe physical conditions along the way. This level of sheer pleasure can be achieved by allowing the soul to govern the body and the physical side of our entity.

Detailed Answer

The true definition of pleasure is the sensation of what is corresponding to and harmonious with one’s essence and true nature, that is feelings like this bring joy, bliss and tranquility. And on the contrary, things that are against man’s original behavior and essence only offer pain and anxiety.

So every human inevitably rejoices some things and at the same time resents some other things but what he enjoys and resents depends on his ethical position. Man is a being that seeks pleasure and does everything with the goal to solely obtain pleasure. Some perceive that pleasure is confined to sensual and carnal pleasure that which if they were to limit and deprive themselves of and withdraw from the haram (prohibited) of them for Allah’s satisfaction they would have to go through a lot of pressure and hardship; these people think that God’s obedient servants never take pleasure in anything and that’s why the world isn’t in their favor. But the truth of the matter is the exact opposite; for pleasure isn’t restricted to sensual pleasure and there are many pleasures higher and greater than sensual and carnal pleasures.

Pleasure can be divided according to several different measures but in a particular division we can categorize pleasure into the following types:

1. Sensual Pleasures: Pleasures that are perceived through our five senses.

2. Illusionary Pleasures: Pleasures experienced through imaginations, such as the pleasure in our dreams, pleasure of imagining to be in a beautiful and tranquil environment, pleasure we feel when remembering a good memory, etc.

3. Aqli (intellectual) Pleasure: Pleasure which is a result of understanding realities pertaining to the intellect; such as the pleasure we experience when we solve a mathematical equation or a tough question in physics and in general pleasure from understanding rational realities.

4. Mystical and (Spiritual) Pleasure: Like pleasure that obedience and servitude before God causes. Though a true servant shouldn’t intend any other purpose by worshipping God because worship should be done purely for God, every person experiences a certain type of pleasure in worshipping God that isn’t lower than sensual pleasure and in some cases much higher and greater than it.

Allamah Jafari has categorized the different types of pleasure and pain into two groups, which are: Physical (materialistic) pleasure and pain and spiritual (mystical) pleasure and pain. The basic materialistic pleasures consist of immediate pleasures like the pleasure of eating, drinking, clothing and indirect pleasures such as talent, drawing affection and attention, dominance over others, the pleasure of tranquility and freedom. The basic spiritual pleasures are inclusive of the serving one’s holy duty and closeness to God. [1]

However, the fact that which pleasure is higher depends on one’s perspective and world-view. In the perspective of a mumin (believer), a man of God the highest pleasure is obtaining God’s absolute satisfaction thus whatever helps him reach God’s satisfaction is also considered to be the highest pleasure.

The Mumin (believer) is invariably looking for a way to commit good deeds; not obtain sensual pleasures and achieve worldly interests. Although at times this good might be bitter and hard; meaning that when it is evaluated by sensual and materialistic measures, neither is it pleasing nor is it beneficial, but ironically it is recognized to be good by the aql (intellect). On top of that there are things that not only appear to not have any material benefits, but the intellect is also mute about them; nonetheless wahy (revelation) which is higher than the intellect and is considered to be its teacher that helps uncover and reveal its treasures dictates that it is good and subsequently the intellect agrees and demands the body to abide by it.

In the Holy Quran it has been stated that our criterion for doing anything, is for that thing to be good, not what entails material pleasures, and the only thing that can tell us what is good and what is not, is revelation: “It may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you, and Allah knows, while you do not know. [2]

This ayah tells us that our true essence is our fetrah (innate disposition towards good) and therefore our body is simply a tool, and what should matter to us and is good, is what benefits the soul and our essence, not the material body which is only a tool.

The path to the greater pleasure:

Regarding this matter Ayatollah Javadi states: “Those who are intellects, pious, mystic and worshippers of God that have experienced the taste of leadership distinguish and assign the position of the leader and follower; meaning that they assign the soul to be the leader and their body to be the follower which is very pleasing. For example the soul demands to fast and despite the hardship the body goes through, it undertakes the struggle which certainly brings pleasure for the soul. Another example is when the one is in a position of defense, jihad and war and the soul orders the body to move from one place and reposition elsewhere and so it listens and goes through the war tolerating the pain of being wounded and hurt. It is at this point where the soul thanks God that he is in the leading and head position to demand instead of the body. Similar to this is the concept to refrain from looking at na-mahram women, listening to haram music or eating haram foods and several other haram acts. But the ignorant one, empowers the body over the soul that is from God, and makes it follow the body.” [3]

[1] See: Jafari, Mohammad Taqi, Afaranish va Ensan.

[2] Baqarah:216 ” عَسى‏ أَنْ تَکْرَهُوا شَیْئاً وَ هُوَ خَیْرٌ لَکُمْ وَ عَسى‏ أَنْ تُحِبُّوا شَیْئاً وَ هُوَ شَرٌّ لَکُمْ ”.

[3] Javadi Amoli, Abdullah, Mabadiye Akhlaq dar Quran, Question 4818 (site: 5098).

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