“Beguiled from our original state by the deceitfulness of sensual pleasure, we choose death rather than true life. Let us then gladly endure the bodily hardship which puts such pleasure to death. In this way the death of pleasure will destroy the death which came about through pleasure, and we shall receive back, purchased with but slight bodily hardship, the life which we sold for the sake of sensual pleasure.
“If when the flesh has an easy life the force of sin tends to grow stronger, it is clear that when the flesh suffers affliction the force of virtue will also increase. So let us bravely endure the affliction of the flesh, which cleanses the soul’s stains and brings us future glory. For the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us.
“When physicians are treating the body they do not administer the same remedy in all cases. Neither does God, when treating the illnesses of the soul, regard a single kind of therapy as suitable for it and effects its cure. So let us give thanks while we are being created, however great our suffering, for the result is blessed.” ~the Philokalia
Beguiled by Pleasure
Pleasure is a great thing, but also a deceptive one. It can feel good but is often keeping you away from something better. It is like stopping to pick up a dollar bill on the sidewalk and missing out on the pot of gold up ahead. So it is deceitful because it gives you the idea that it is helping you, but it is really stopping you from moving forward and claiming the real treasure of life.
If you have ever watched documentaries of real treasure hunters at work, you know that the hunters don’t just casually ride up to a suspected location in a luxury yacht, dive down into calm and pleasant waters, and come back up clutching bags of gold and jewels. They are on some old boat with tiny, uncomfortable cabins, they face storms, breakdowns, sharks, and other perils before they realize there is no treasure their and move on to another spot. They go through similar experiences in that location and the next. After several stops, they finally find the treasure, having earned it through hard work and strain. That is the way it is with seeking the real treasure, the treasure of eternal spiritual life.
We Choose Death
I’m sure most of us will say we never choose death, it just happens. But what the author of this section of the Philokalia is saying is that by choosing a life of happiness and pleasure, we are choosing death without knowing it. That is because gaining an eternal spiritual life takes work—hard work and lots of it. Those ancient mystery schools in which people like Plato and Pythagoras trained and later taught didn’t spend years teaching spiritual growth just to make the simple seem difficult. Real spiritual growth is difficult. Just declaring that you are spiritual because you are fed up with the pursuit of material wealth, or because you have finally realized that materialism is a failed paradigm, isn’t enough. It isn’t even being awakened yet, not in the sense that the term is used in real spiritual schools. It is just the first step on a long journey to enlightenment and eternal life. So we may not truly be choosing it, but by pursuing materialism, or false concepts of spirituality, we choose death anyway.
Death of Pleasure for Life of Spirit
I don’t quite agree with the Philokalia on this one. First, it is possible to have some pleasures in life and still grow spiritually. We simply have to be reasonable about it and not, as the quote says, choose death by pursuing pleasure and happiness above all things. Second, ending a life of idle pleasure does not, in and of itself, make us spiritual. It doesn’t even guarantee that we will grow spiritually. What it does do is give us the opportunity to not choose death and pursue an immortal life of spirit. We have to want it, though, and we have to be willing to work for it. So choose life and leave those who choose death behind.