Craving is intrinsic to human nature. If you don’t wish to be enslaved by it, you have to root it out.’
Chapter 5: Yayati and Shukracharya. (From Bride of the Forest)
To live a happy, fulfilled life one needs a zest for living. While this is a good thing, an excess of it, lust, is bad. This is what the story of King Yayati tells us.
Yayati was an early ancestor of the Kauravas and Pandavas. He appears in the Puranas and the Mahabharat. His tale has never lost its appeal for the questions it raises, such as: Are health, wealth and prosperity enough for a fulfilling life? If not, how can one become truly happy? While these are perennial questions, every generation must find the answers through its own experiences.
In a nutshell, the story is this: Yayati breaks a promise given to an all-powerful Brahmin, Shukracharya. As the word of a king should never be broken, his punishment is immediate and terrible. He is cursed with extreme old age. To become ill and decrepit overnight, when you are at the height of your physical and mental powers and your prosperity, is an especially raw deal. Yayati longs for the good life he enjoyed and pleads with Shukra to take back the curse, but is told that once issued, a curse cannot be revoked. However, its effect can be lessened: if Yayati can get one among his sons to agree to live out the curse instead of him, he can continue to enjoy the pleasures that a royal lifestyle offered.
Now, Yayati has five sons and he goes to each one with the aim of exchanging his old age for youth. But the first four refuse the barter and only the youngest, Puru, a mere boy, agrees to it. Overnight Puru becomes a frail white-haired old man, and Yayati is young again. He carries on as before, indulging his love of a good life by enjoying every pleasure he can think of, but ultimately, as is the case with all addictions, finds that the hunger of a pleasure seeker is insatiable. The pursuit of happiness through satisfying sensual desires is a fruitless quest. The further one chases such happiness, the more elusive it gets. It’s a bit like being trapped in a labyrinth. This is because becoming attached to the feelings he enjoys, a pleasure seeker’s commitment is, basically, only to himself. When selfishness and greed become part of his disposition, he is doomed to remain trapped forever. To lead a richer life, one has to move away from one’s cravings, reach outwards and find other ways, such as work that engages your body, mind and soul, or a worthwhile cause to which you can devote your efforts. While it’s important to know what you want out of life, it’s essential to know what you have to offer it, that is uniquely yours to give.