By Arcana Siddhi Devi Dasi 

Back in the sixties, when I was eleven years old my father changed jobs and we moved from the quiet, subdued island town of Oak Harbor, Washington, to a suburb between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. My new friends didn’t play with Barbie dolls or jump rope like I was used to; they hung out together listening to popular music, smoking cigarettes, and drinking beers stolen from their parents.

I wanted to fit in and be accepted, so, among other things, I gave up listening to my beloved Beatles and started to listen to the Rolling Stones. Unlike the Beatles, the Rolling Stones portrayed a bad-boys image. In the beginning I found their music abrasive and harsh, but I listened anyway, and the lyrics pulled me out of my pre-pubescent innocence. The Rolling Stones’ top-of-the-charts recording “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” haunted me. The words played over and over in my head like an involuntary negative affirmation.

The lyrics ushered me into my teens as I distanced myself from my family and entered deeper into the counter-culture psyche. I listened to other bands with loud, whining electric guitars and pounding drums, but their lyrics didn’t have the same impact as “Satisfaction.”

My worldview changed forever as I pondered the plight of remaining endlessly dissatisfied in my life. I would look at others and see through their thin veneer of success and happiness and detect a profound lack of fulfillment. People weren’t happy, and neither was I. Over the next few years I searched for satisfaction in academics, food, relationships, entertainment, and psychedelic drugs. But in the background of all my pursuits were the lingering lyrics “I can’t get no satisfaction.”

One day an internal voice asked, “How could anyone feel satisfied without meaning and purpose in life?” I had never considered this simple, common sense question before. It changed the course of my search. I felt confident that if I could find an answer to that question, I would find satisfaction as a byproduct.

After some time I had the good fortune to be introduced to the path of bhakti. Since I always believed in a personal God, bhakti’s goal of life—to love and serve God—resonated with me. I was charmed by the Vedic descriptions of God as an eternal beautiful youth playing with His friends in a pastoral paradise. I was also attracted to the bhakti way of reaching the Supreme Person: by hearing about Him through revealed texts, chanting His names in quiet meditation and congregationally, praying to Him, and serving Him in His deity form.

The Source of Dissatisfaction

After moving into a community of bhakti practitioners, I began to study the scriptures in more depth. One day I came upon a verse in the Bhagavad-gita (17.6) wherein Krishna tells Arjuna that satisfaction—along with simplicity, gravity, self-control, and purification of one’s existence—is an austerity of the mind. As an austerity in the mode of goodness, it helps one progress spiritually. I found Srila Prabhupada’s purport to the verse edifying: “The more we think of sense enjoyment, the more the mind becomes dissatisfied. In the present age we unnecessarily engage the mind in so many different ways for sense gratification, and so there is no possibility of the mind’s becoming satisfied.”

When I read this, the Rolling Stone’s song came back to me. I’m sure that Mick Jagger, singing about his own dissatisfaction, wasn’t trying to convey an eternal truth from the Gita. But he was expressing a universal feeling, and his words resonated deeply with the youth of the sixties. Even today many young people know the song. The aging Rolling Stones are still playing it, but apparently haven’t changed the way they live. If they were serious about finding satisfaction, they’d look beyond sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll—or, for that matter, beyond anything this world has to offer.

Time to Stop Chewing

Most people seem to be doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. A materialistic person extracts all the juice from the objects of the senses but continues trying, in vain, to obtain some pleasure. Prahlada Maharaja, a great devotee of the Lord, describes this phenomenon as chewing the chewed. If you chew on sugar cane you get sweet juice, but once the juice is gone, it’s time to stop chewing.

The revealed scriptures relate many stories of people pursuing their spiritual life and of people averse to serving God. One person who opposed God was Prahlada Maharaja’s father, Hiranyakashipu, an incredibly powerful king who possessed great wealth and beautiful women. He had everything imaginable with which to enjoy his senses. Still his mind was tormented, and his efforts to satisfy his desires were like a man trying to quench his thirst by drinking sand. On the other hand, his son Prahlada had great devotion for the Lord, and his mind was pure and peaceful, even in the presence of his irate homicidal father.

At every moment we all have to decide whether to follow in the footsteps of the angelic, godly Prahlada Maharaja or those of the atheistic materialist Hiranyakashipu. Most devotees, especially in their beginning stages of bhakti, can recognize both godly and atheistic tendencies in their heart. Both material and spiritual pursuits give pleasure, but the pleasure from material sense objects is fleeting and temporary. Our senses naturally tire of mundane sense objects. When that happens, we may renounce sense pleasure for some time, but after a respite, we try again. For our own benefit, we need to be convinced that ultimately material pleasures lead to suffering.

On the other hand, spiritual sense gratification—or satisfaction of our spiritual senses—lasts forever. Not only is it eternal, but the pleasure is ever increasing. In the beginning of our spiritual journey we might not have much taste for spiritual practices, since the mind and senses may still be attached to material objects. But the more we practice, the more the senses and mind become purified of affection for the ephemeral world and our natural taste for spiritual practices surfaces.

Engage the Mind

Prabhupada continues his purport to Bhagavad-gita 17.16 by offering a solution to the mind’s dissatisfaction: Absorb the mind in hearing about the Lord’s activities and adventures. When we divert our mind from contemplating sense objects to contemplating the Lord’s pastimes, it becomes purified and pacified.

In the beginning, spending our discretionary time hearing Krishna’s pastimes may require us to muster some self-control. For example, many of us grew up with television as our main form of entertainment. We became accustomed to flicking a switch or pushing a button on a remote to enter another reality and, for some time, to forget the pressures and discomforts of our life. But viewing someone becoming happy in materialistic pursuits will only prolong the illusion of finding satisfaction in the world of matter. It will make maya seem real and Krishna the illusion. Watching media that glorifies a life in this temporary existence will also diminish our taste for hearing about Krishna.

Srila Prabhupada says that satisfaction depends on acting without duplicity or deceit. We can unpack this statement by understanding that deceitful behavior often results from a desire to control a situation. We learn from the Bhagavad-gita that a devotee should work honestly and depend on Krishna for the result. But if we are attached to a particular outcome, we may lose sight of this principle and try to manipulate the circumstance by dishonest means.

On the other hand, when we are straightforward in our dealings with others, we gain their trust and have more meaningful, satisfying relationships. When Srila Prabhupada was working in Dr. Bose’s chemical laboratory in Calcutta, he was promoted to manage the company over many senior workers. Dr. Bose chose Srila Prabhupada because he was trustworthy, a quality Dr. Bose considered more important than years of experience in the chemical industry.

Working for Others’ Benefit

The last thing Srila Prabhupada advises in his purport as a means to become satisfied is to work for the welfare of others. Practically everyone knows the feeling of being more satisfied with giving than with taking. The ultimate welfare work is to give others a chance to connect with Krishna. We can do that in many ways, such as conducting Krishna conscious home programs, distributing books, writing articles and books, speaking to others, and chanting in public—there are as many ways as there are minds.

Any devotee who has sincerely tried to give Krishna consciousness to others can attest to feeling deeply satisfied and enlivened by such activities. The pleasure comes from pleasing the dearest servants of the Lord, who, happy to see us serving Him in that way, reciprocate with our efforts by giving us a taste of the transcendent reality.

Now by some inexplicable good fortune, I live a satisfying and fulfilling life. Instead of hearing “I can’t get no satisfaction” playing in my head, I now hear the lyrics “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” in a wide variety of melodies.

Rupa Goswami, a sixteenth-century Vaishnava saint and scholar, wrote the following verse to describe the effects of hearing and singing this song: “I do not know how much nectar the two syllables ‘Krish-na’ have produced. When the holy name of Krishna is chanted, it appears to dance within the mouth. We then desire many, many mouths. When that name enters the holes of the ears, we desire many millions of ears. And when the holy name dances in the courtyard of the heart, it conquers the activities of the mind, and therefore all the senses become inert.” (Sri Vidagdha-madhava 1.15)