In my humble perspective, I see material enjoyment laid out in a continuum - a continuum that can be divided into three stages or phases. They are
- Material enjoyment in a mood of habit (hackney).
- Material enjoyment in a mood of fulfilling desires (neutral).
- Material enjoyment in a mood of romance and popular culture (romantic).
Of the three types, I would say the first one is favorable for spiritual life. In other words, ideally devotees who want to be Krishna Consciousness should be enjoying this material world in a mood of a smoker who is smoking due to withdrawal symptoms. In other words, smoking as a matter of habit but gradually reducing the count so one day I can quit. Withdrawal symptoms can be many depending on the person, gradual reduction in smoking is more advisable than going cold turkey. Gradual reduction is more stable and sustainable. Similarly, it is better to gradually reduce the desire to enjoy versus artificially renouncing the tendency to enjoy. This process is more sustainable. However, there are a few who can actually go cold turkey. People in this category enjoy as a matter of habit more than anything. They will have a healthy spiritual life to balance material and spiritual. Srila Prabhupada talked many times of pulling the plug of a fan and yet the fan running due to its momentum. Something like that…the desire to enjoy is unplugged but the habit of enjoyment is continuing due to past conditionings and people with such attitude fit this category
The second category is the people who necessarily are not too analytical in their thought process. In other words, they don’t spend too much time analyzing the end goal of enjoyment. They just enjoy the moment. If it is not there…it is not there and they move on. They are close to being neutral versus anything. They don’t romance any idea or thought or they don’t kill themselves trying to give it up because they never analyze their motivations but just float around and enjoy as it comes. I would say majority fall in this category or at least want to fall in this category. Have you ever heard people say…oh yeah I can quit smoking whenever I want…this does not control me? This may or may not be true but the essence is they really don’t spend brain cells analyzing their motivations. A new devotee or one who may end up being a devotee most likely will be enjoying on this platform. A good preacher with spiritual qualities will be able to convince this person with logic on giving up enjoyment on this platform and move up to category one.
The third category is the people who enjoy with much gusto and planning. In other words, they plan and romanticize their life in such a way that they work so hard to fulfill their goals. Remember Krishna talk about single-mindedness and determination (vyavasathmika buddhi)…something like that except this is material, more than the actual enjoyment, they are attached to romanticizing the enjoyment. People in this category are very difficult to convince regarding the futility of material enjoyment. They always will put a positive twist to material failure and will live life to the fullest. Just fyi…I was a romantic smoker. That’s right…I never liked the smell of a cigarette or smoke yet for me smoking was a romantic idea…hence I took it up in earnest and made sure I smoked cigarettes daily. Because this romantic idea was forcibly manufactured, I could easily give it up. Devotees with such romantic attitude towards material creation are the ones who most likely need more counseling and support spiritually speaking. It is best they have good association and proper guidance in order to give up the romantic attitude. Material enjoyment in itself is miserable and that is what Krishna says in the Gita because gross matter is just that gross. But because we have cultivated this romantic perspective, we are still under the glitter. Prabhupada uses the word “bewilder”. In general, it is very difficult to convince spiritual values to people who see all aspects of life in this romantic way. For them, the best is to give prasad or some books.
Depending on the object of enjoyment (can be smoking or sex or cars or sports etc), an individual will most likely fall in any one category. In other words, the same individual will be in different categories or phases depending on the object of enjoyment. I would guess it would be very difficult to find one lay man who enjoys life purely in one phase. A devotee on the other hand who is making good spiritual progress most likely should see all material enjoyment (regardless of the objects) from the first phase (as a matter of habit or withdrawal symptoms).
If we try to view these categories as a continuum with three being the lowest and one being the highest, then if an individual can go from one end of the spectrum of romanticism to the other end of hackneyism, then he or she is more conducive to receive spiritual knowledge and make progress.