Lovemaking: What a Playboy Sci-fi Story Can Teach Us by Satya Chaitanya SignUp
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Lovemaking: What a Playboy Sci-fi Story Can Teach Us
by Satya Chaitanya Bookmark and Share

In 1971 the Playboy Magazine brought out a science fiction short story collection with the title The Fiend. The collection had fifteen stories by such writers as Algis Budrys, Charles Beaumont, Hugh Nissenson, Robert Bloch, Arthur C. Clarke and others but what fascinated me most was one of the two stories by the leading science fiction writer of the day Frederik Pohl, named Lovemaking. The story also known by the name Making Love was centered on a character called Katzenherr who runs a futuristic pleasure house for men and women.

“As the end of the month approached,” begins the story, “Katzenherr began to be sharp with the maintenance crews and to press his office girls to complete their progress reports for the main office. It was like that every month. The stresses accumulated. Katzennherr, who was a poet as opportunity offered, took pride in his work because it was socially useful and pleasure because the House was so vast, so beautifully landscaped and so handsomely decorated.”

He did not like his customers though. “For them he had a sort of fatherly contempt, as for a child who writes a letter to Santa Claus. The child is deceived and foolish, although he does get his gifts, because his father reads the letter. So deceived and foolish were Katzenherr’s customers.”

Katzenherr was a committed project chief who believed that a boss should be able to do any work his subordinates did. So occasionally he did jobs like making sure that the lyserge dispensers were full and conducted them to the cubicles “that, to them, were motels or sylvan nooks, as their hallucinated desires dictated.”  At other times he checked the tapes inside the male and female clay mannequins that chatted endlessly to the customers, cooed to them, made orgasmic sounds of ecstasy as the visitors made love to them, begged for more. He checked to make sure flowers were ready in the dispenser outside the cubicles for people to pick up and give the girls they were going to be with. Katzenherr did all that was needed to make sure his customers never suspected that the men or women they made love to were toys made of clay, but inside he laughed at their foolishness.

However, because of his knowledge that what went inside the pleasure house was ludicrous, by the end of every month he became “irritable as he stalked the hall with the faint sounds of oscillator squeals and ragged breathing from beyond the cubicle doors” behind which his customers were living out their sexual fantasies in their imagination unleashed by the drugs they were given at arrival.  

“Love, thought Katzenherr wryly, like beauty, is in the mind of the observer,” says Fredrick Pohl in the story.

As his irritation at the goings on in the bordello grew, particularly towards the end of the month, Katzenherr began fretting and fuming. But he calmed himself down, consoled himself, because he knew he would himself be going on a pleasure trip soon, but with a difference: His would be real pleasure, with real women, not drug induced illusions with mannequins from inside whom tapes hissed and squealed.   

“At this time,” says the story, “Katzenherr appreciated his success most of all. As a project chief for the Population Control Administration, he possessed the privilege of real love. Not often. Not easily. But once a month he turned his affairs over to the deputy, packed a bag, caught the southbound jet and spent the weekend that made up for all the rest.”

The story ends with a description of Katzenherr’s journey towards his own reward. “An hour after the end of his working day he was airborne. Strain was gone. He sipped a cocktail and stretched, yawned, smiled to himself with an anticipation of delight. At the journey’s end, his Helen was waiting, beautiful, bright, loving Helen, and he would be with her that night. There, among the pleasant gardens where she lived, bringing her his gift of violets from the dispenser outside her door, Katzennherr would expend his budget of rapture. He was too contented to despise, but he could not help feeling gentle contempt for, the patrons of his House, who would live out their lives gulled by an electronic sham and never know true delights of love.

“Any more than would he”.

~*~!

Amazing indeed is the power of the mind to delude us. It is this power that is called maya. Maya is life as seen through the mind that deludes us, the world as seen through the mind that deludes us. To go beyond maya is to go beyond the mind and see life and the world from the dimension that exists beyond the mind because so long as we are living within the realm of the mind, we are in the relentless grip of delusion.  

Speaking of this power of the mind to delude us, to entrap us, to create illusions, Krishna in the Gita says: mama maayaa duratyayaa – hard it is to transcend my maya. The Saptashloki Durga speaks of this as the power of the Goddess and says: jnaaninaam api chetaamsi devee bhagavatee hi saa balaad aakrshya mohaaya mahaamaayaa prayacchati. The minds of even the wise, she, the Goddess, mahamayaa, attracts and carries away by force through her power of delusion.

The man in the story Lovemaking is certainly not wise, but he knows. He knows the people who come to his pleasure house are deluded, what happens there is nothing more than illusions created by the mind assisted by drugs. He sees it every day of the month, he is even irritated by the stupidity of the visitors to his brothel, becomes edgy by the end of the month by watching this ludicrous comic monstrosity in which he aids them, it is he who runs this place as its boss, there are no secrets for him in the place; he knows the pretty girls are nothing but clay dolls, their cooing and heavy breathing and ecstatic squeals are nothing but what the visitors imagine and put meanings into, actually the ”tapes had only four sounds – a white hiss as they entered, a five-minute 420-cycle whine for conversation, an ecstatic eep! eep! An infrasonic drone diminishing at the end.” He knows “it was the mind that painted features on the caricature of a face and saw landscapes in the abstract of light on the walls.” But when it comes to his own trip where exactly the same thing happens, he is as much deluded as everyone else is. He arranges flowers in dispensers for his customers to pick up and give the girls, but when he picks up violets on his trip from dispensers and offers them to his Helen, he thinks it is to a genuine girl he gives them, the love he gets from his girl is genuine love.

That is the power of the mind to delude itself. As Sogyal Rinpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying says, this mind “is as cunning as a crooked politician, skeptical, distrustful, expert at trickery and guile.” It is ingenious, as Jamyang Khyentse says, "in the games of deception." It is about this that Adi Shankaracharya says in the Vivekachudamani:

na hyastyavidyaa manaso’tiriktaa
mano hyavidyaa bhavabandhahetuh |
tasmin vinashte sakalam vinashtam
vijrimbhite’smin sakalam vijrimbhate ||
VC.169|

The verse means: There is no avidya, primal ignorance, other than the mind. The mind itself is avidya, the cause of our bondage to the world of ceaseless change. When that is destroyed, everything is destroyed and when that manifests, everything is manifested.

We are prisoners of the mind. We live our entire lives as prisoners of the mind. When India talks of moksha, liberation, India is talking of liberation from this mind that holds us as its slaves, prisoners to its scripts with which we arrive already programmed. And because of these scripts, called karma in Sanskrit, we see substance where there is none, exactly as the people in Frederik Pohl’s story Lovemaking does, experience joys and sorrows, successes and failures, we swoon in pleasure and faint in pain. This is what Vedanta calls bhava, sansara: the world of constant becoming, the world of ceaseless changes. It is all the mind’s play. The mind makes us believe what is insubstantial is substantial, what is illusory is real.

The Bhagavad Gita says of such people: Bound by hundreds of ties of hope, given to lust and anger, they make wealth in heaps for sensual enjoyment by unethical means. Deluded by ignorance, they think: "I have destroyed that one, and I shall destroy others too. I am a great lord. I enjoy. I am perfect, I am powerful, and I am happy. I am rich. I am of great lineage. Who else is there equal to me?

It so happened once that Indra, the lord of the gods, in his arrogance insulted Brihaspati, his guru and was cursed to become a pig. As a pig, Indra had a sow whom he loved, with whom he wallowed in dirt, played the games of lust. Living with her, the couple had several little baby pigs. Indra ate from gutters, slept in gutters, and when other pigs lusted for his wife, fought them in the gutters. And Indra was very contented and said to himself, in the words of the Gita, “ishwaro’ham aham bhogee, konyo’smi sadrsho maya.” I am the lord of all, I relish life to its full, eat to my heart’s content, I make love to my sow, I fight, I wound and kill other pigs when they approach my sow, everyone fears me, everyone respects me, who else is there like me, he thought. Eventually Indra was needed in heaven since things were not running well there in his absence. So Brahma, the creator, came to him to request him to go back with him to heaven. And the story says Indra snorted violently and attacked and chased him away when he told the pig Indra he was really the lord of the gods and not a pig, so contented was he as a pig. “Who wants to live in heaven?” he asked, says the story. “How is heaven better than where I am living now? And Indrani and your apsaras – do you mean to say they are better than my sow here?” he bawled angrily as he drove Brahma away.

That is how the mind deludes us. The mind can tell us that a gutter is better than heaven, that a sow is better than the queen of heaven, the pleasures you have with a sow is better than the joys of being with Indrani, and that the sewer food and sewer water are better than any delicacy in heaven. The mind can not only tell us this, it can make us believe it all and make us fight for these! That is the power of the mind.

Indra who has become the pig is told he is Indra. The pig realizes it is Indra and recalls Indrani and the apsaras but then its mind tells it that its present life in the gutter is better than life in heaven and his sow and pleasures with her are better than Indrani and pleasures with her. And when its mind tells these, the pig-Indra believes its mind and acts on it by attacking Brahma and driving him away. Similarly, the boss of the brothel in Lovemaking knows what exactly happens in the cubicles of his pleasure house, arranges these things for others and yet is deluded into believing the same things given him in another identical place are real, the clay dolls there are real women, the noises the tapes inside them make are real loving speech!

Frederik Pohl’s Lovemaking is our story, the story of our life.

And the way to wake up from this delusion is the path known by different names like awakened living, wakeful living, conscious living, awareful living, mindful living and so on, along with the practice of meditation.

A beautiful story about the ancient Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras tells us that on his way to India he happened to stop in an Egyptian monastery. In the monastery he saw the monks practicing meditation, was fascinated by it and requested them to teach him too meditation. They told him the meditation was quite an advanced one and required forty days of initial practice and could be taught only to those who have completed this practice. Pythagoras said he did not have that much time, he was in a hurry to reach India. But the monks regretted that the meditation just could not be taught to anyone who hasn’t completed the basics. Pythagoras was a sincere seeker and agreed to do what they wanted because his curiosity had been awakened by them and their way of life. Pythagoras was sent to a cave to practice the basics for forty days.

The first question Pythagoras asked when he came out after forty days of practice was what happened to the world. With wonder filling his voice, he asked: “Why are all people walking in sleep, talking in sleep, and doing everything in sleep?  What has turned the world into one of sleepwalkers in forty days?” The monks laughed and said nothing has happened to the world, but something has happened to him. The forty days practice has awakened his mind and as he looks at the world through that mind, everyone seems to be asleep – they are, compared to his awakened state.

The meditation Pythagoras had practiced for forty days was one of wakefulness. Wakefulness to your breath, wakefulness to your body, awareness of your thoughts. In other words, mindfulness.

The Shiva Sutras, a Kashmiri text, discussing this highest wisdom that teaches us wakeful living tells us: trishu chaturtham tailavad aasechyam. Pour the fourth into the three as incessantly as oil flows out of a jar. The three mentioned here are the three states of waking, dream and sleep and the fourth means pure consciousness. What the sutra asks us is to remain awake in our waking state, awake in our dream state, and awake in your sleep – be awake in jagrat, in swapna and in sushupti.

That is indeed a very advanced practice. But if we can remain fully awake just in our jagrat, the waking state, that alone will take us a long way towards becoming masters of the mind, prevent us from being victims to the illusions the mind creates. Be awake when you drink a cup of coffee, when you have a glass of water. When you walk, be fully conscious of walking; when you talk, be fully conscious of talking. Chop wood mindfully, carry water mindfully, as the ancient masters said.

This is what the great mediation master Thich Nhat Hanh, Nobel Prize Winner, asks us to do. Be fully aware of whatever you are doing and fully focus on it. If you are washing vessels or if you are mowing the garden, be fully aware of it and focus fully on it. Then The Miracle of Mindfulness would happen to us.

Vijnana Bhairava Tantra is an ancient Sanskrit text that talks of 112 meditation techniques. And among the meditations recommended most highly is being conscious of the now.

Conscious living makes us masters. With that we are no more slaves to the mind. With that our life will cease to be what it now is: the kind of life that Katzenherr’s customers live, Katzenherr lives. Life suddenly becomes meaningful and beautiful things start flowering within us: love, kindness, compassion, sensitivity, joyfulness and other feelings that make life worth living.

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29-Dec-2019
More by :  Satya Chaitanya
 
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