Spiritual Pleasure vs. Sensual Pleasure

Greeting all,I have been deeply contemplating giving up sensual pleasures and pursuing the the spiritual life but I recently I have been starting to think there is not that much pleasure in being a monk or renouncing the sensual world.I know that living the Buddhist life is not all about Jhana pleasure and beautiful bliss but apart from the the jhanas that Buddha talks about there doesn’t seem to be that much happiness in renouncing sensual pleasure.I hope everyone knows I am not thinking about renouncing sensual pleasures just because the jhanas are better, because I also want to get as far as I can go in regards to attainments and taking my practice seriously but life without sensual pleasures just seems so empty and boring, so in conclusion I would like to know what do monks do to get pleasure and how can I live the spiritual life without it feeling empty and boring?

With Metta



Welcome to the D&D Forum Rock. I hope that you find people here who can help you along your path, both by sharing relevant experience and pointing you to relevant teachings of the Buddha among the early Buddhist texts stored on Sutta Central.

I suggest you also put “sensual pleasures” into the search field above and see what comes up from previous similar discussions. :slight_smile:


Antan, your question is a great one, and it could come with myriad answers. I’ll take a shot at one perspective.

The sensual world comes with a lot of disappointments. Ultimately, if we pin our true happiness on sense pleasures, we know that these pleasures are unreliable and short-lived. So, there is really a level of true happiness found in renunciation. Life becomes simpler. A minimalist life has fewer moving parts and fewer complications and attachments. Instead of placing our hopes for happiness with transient sense pleasures, we can with our practice try to find some truly positive experiences and emotions through living a simple life infused with lovingkindness, altruism, generosity, compassion, and practice/study of the Dhamma.

Being bored can really be just dukkha, the state of suffering/disappointment that comes from clinging to sensory experiences and unreliable aspects of human life.

You may not need to renounce everything that you have or experience in your lay life to feel happier, but if you just practice this path of gradual renunciation or minimalism, adhere to the Buddha’s advice of how to live a life well-lived (the ennobling Eightfold Path), you might find that life starts to feel truly lighter, happier, and more grounded in wisdom and goodness. Once that well lived life begins to feel grounded, you’re then in a position to work with the 8th step of the Eightfold Path, the jhanas. And there, it is said, true bliss and happiness can be experienced, surpassing any transient happiness than one might have felt with sensual pursuits.

What do monks do to get pleasure?

Myriad answers there, too. Here’s a vid of one example that might provide some answers.


The practice is profound enough that when you would progress deeper into your practice/further on the path, begin to develop certain mental strengths, experience the fruits, etc. that the type of thinking your question is stemming from would no longer exist.

On a more mundane sense, I guess I’d just say your sense of what you see as pleasure would change. No different than a middle aged scholar seeing no pleasure in staying up till 4am getting drunk. There’s a talk where ajahn chah talks about how fun it is to train the mind. There’s numerous other monks or suttas that talk about the pleasure of the fruits from progressing on the path.

I don’t mean to belittle the enormous decision to renounce sensual pleasures of lay life (even wanting to sleep in and enjoy bed, or grab food whenever you feel like it, not to mention the real fun you’re referring to)… But to answer your question in all seriousness, you also have to take into account the extreme profound depth of what the Buddha taught, truly what they talk about in the texts. I truly do not think if you’re experiencing the fruit of certain attainments… freedom from longings/cravings/thoughts /wantings/urges/ and what arises from those… that you will be interested, longing, or thinking of sensual pleasures.


I think you have not fully understood the gratification,drawbacks and escape from sensual pleasures as yet.


I’d suggest taking things one step at a time. The path is a gradual one, like the ocean slope is gradual until it drops off, and only after a long stretch (Ud 5.5). Maybe try learning more of the teachings, taking the five precepts, and starting a meditation practice. And most importantly, be patient, especially with regard to “attainments.”


I think you have to learn to get a kick out of hardship and find a deep sense of meaning in spiritual struggle if you want to get your practice far enough off the ground to soar to the heights of spiritual bliss.

The person who learns to love cold showers, hard exercise, almost constant soreness, pushing the edge, will later be able to climb high mountains and bathe in cold mountain streams delighting in views that those afraid of the cold and the hard climb can only dream of as they eat potato chips on their couch and live vicariously through their television screens.

It’s not a total binary though, it’s a spectrum, sometimes after a long hike in some hills you’re gonna eat potato chips and veg out on the couch. But if you want to climb the high mountains it requires a higher discipline.

Similarly, in spiritual life, living a lay life with a commitment to precepts and a meditation practice can bring a lot more peace, calm, releasing unnecessary tensions and enjoying the beauty of good deeds. But you also eat what you want and have romantic relationships. But if you want to realize the bliss of renunciation and the destruction of craving, you must leave lovers and family and friends and foods behind. You must persevere through the jagged steep places of the mountains of the mind, careful not to fall or turn back in fear. You must train in the higher discipline and one day you may ascend to the peaks above the worldly winds that turn the world below, and reach the highest peak where all else falls away but perfect peace, Nibbana.

Or something like that, it was fun to write at least, now I should go meditate for a bit.



When you put your situation into a Buddhist perspective, it will go from boring to as if your head was on fire.
The path is gradual, and the relinquishment of conditioned pleasure is not arbitrary , it is an essential progression brought about through the realization of the second and third noble truths, which draw the distinction between pleasures of the flesh and spiritual pleasure. Investigation of the suffering that follows gross pleasure and the joy (piti) that is the result of maintaining the higher mind is the main task of insight meditation with the approach to stream entry and the elimination of doubt.


Sensual pleasures are like mosquito bites–we want to scratch.
Spiritual pleasures are like water to the thirsty–we are grateful.

1 Like

One who seeks out and indulges much in sensual pleasures is longing for spiritual pleasures, on this account he experiences regret and is envious of those who practice. Furthermore his faculties are neglected, his unskillful qualities increase, his wholesome qualities decrease, on this account too he experiences sorrow and regret. Furthermore whenever he wants to obtain concentration, whenever he wants to obtain pleasure of seclusion, he does not easily obtain it, on this account too he experiences sorrow and regret.

One who seeks out and indulges much in spiritual practice does not long for sensuality, on this account he experiences joy and is not envious. Furthermore his faculties are not neglected, his unskillful qualities decrease, his wholesome qualities increase, on this account too he experiences joy. Furthermore whenever he wants to obtain concentration, whenever he wants to obtain pleasure of seclusion, he does obtain it without difficulty, on this account too he experiences joy.

There is also the fact that what is born must die and this human state is not all sunshine and rainbows. People get cancer, parkinson’s, skin problems and all kinds of illness and one who pursues sensuality will have to do it again for an indeterminate amount of time, to speak nothing of falling to lower realms.

Whereas one who develops the faculties might see with discernment the most extreme happiness, most profound happiness, a pleasure beyond conjecture in this very life and be completely released, arise a master of thoughts, not liable to undergo discomfort and stress after the breakup of the body.

How to do it is a not so easy to answer but it takes effort and knowledge. You have to make the effort and nobody can do that for you, knowledge you can get from other people or the texts. More you know thus easier it is to navigate the Path and troubleshoot.

There are jhana which are pleasant abidings and there are other pleasant states to be experienced which are secluded from unwholesome states, either way by developing the faculties one attains to the immediacy leading to the ending of effluents. The mode of practice associated with the pleasant abidings is refered to as Pleasant Mode of practice and it is favorable to that extent.

The practice isn’t really boring but apparently it can seem boring if one becomes disheartened and stuck in discontentment without a friend to inspire and help one out.

1 Like

Thank you, everyone for your replies.

Hi RockLee,

It sounds like noble thoughts you are having. I have had several contemporary young friends who have joined the sangha recently, so if that is what you choose, know that you are not alone. From an early Buddhist perspective, we are told spiritual happiness openness up for a dedicated practitioner. We should never degrade or trivialize spiritual happiness. If you are serious in your commitment and do not cling to your views, then for sure meditation and nature living will reveal to you the joy of the homeless life. This joy must be guided by commitment and the texts though. I live in Sri Lanka and what I see is that there is a tradition of beetle nut chewing which brings some sort of calming sensual pleasure, this is also commonly mixed with tobacco to give it some zing. Im bring this up because even for monastics in Sri Lanka, if they do not dedicate themselves to cultivating samadhi, then they will have to resort to some sort of sensual stimuli. We all do. Please read the first four Nikayas, they are not lacking in spiritual wonder. I look forward to hearing about your success in dhamma.

Peace, Weston


It’s ok to renounce just because you experienced Jhana pleasures as much more beautiful than spiritual pleasures. Those who make much of Jhana, that is practise it again and again can expect one of the four sainthood as fruits.

Monks do nothing to attain Jhana pleasures.

Also the other pleasures of renounced life is the pleasures of keeping pure precepts or at least keeping a good virtue. There is less people who would blame you for not working to earn money compared to if you’re unemployed layperson.

There is the satisfaction of being a good person. With meditation, there is less negative thoughts which troubles you. Although laypeople use sensual pleasures to mask the negative thoughts, so it might take a while to get used to seeing the thoughts and be ok with yourself after renouncing sensual pleasures.

One of the other greatest pleasures are to read the words of the Buddha. They greatly inspires you to continue practise meditation.

The other pleasure is to teach the dhamma to those who are suitable to listen. As the dhamma benefited you, you feel joy just seeing how you can help benefit others.

I recommend also to renounce smartphones, internet access to get rid of all temptation. Documentaries on youtube can be not counted as shows for entertainment strictly speaking, but because it’s something similar to shows, and like the best kind of sensual pleasures available, one can get addicted to YouTube, facebook etc as a way to “indulge” in sensual pleasures to escape the suffering of monks life. That’s not the spirit of renunciation then. So better to stop it cold, and once one is better trained, adopt them only if it helps to spread the dhamma.


Coincidentally, my husband sent me this Sutta today on different sorts of pleasure:


I see it more like a continuum than a dichomy. So for example watching a beautiful sunset is a more refined “sensual pleasure” than eating ice-cream, and arguably a “spiritual” experience.
It seems more to do with one’s state of mind than with a particular activity or experience.

1 Like

Hi Erka
Is this Bahuvedaniya Sutta?

Really not just to be contrary, but I have seen that for some, including myself, there can be useful learning from indulging the senses to total satiation, over-satiation, even until you are nauseous with satiation - at least sometimes - just to remind oneself that sensual gratification truly can’t do the trick.
But spiritual greed can then take over, so the same process can be helpful even there: over-meditate, over-abstain, just like the Buddha did, and learn from that…?


I can certainly attest to the path being gradual. I’ve only been practicing seriously for eight years but, over time, desire for sensual pleasures has changed dramatically for me. It really is a testament to the noble eightfold path. Discovering the myriad hooks that have been habitually ingrained and followed, noticing the reaching and grasping, feeling the fleeting gratification and unquenched dukkha accompanying all of it loses its appeal after a while. Sometimes abandoning something takes various degrees of effort, sometimes it just falls off like rotting fruit.

For me, I think all I’m grasping for are concepts, something that’s going to relieve the undercurrent of dukkha. There are many things that I used to think brought me a lot of pleasure that now are actually burdens rather than pleasures, entanglements that come with more complications. I don’t need to give them up as I step around them like I would step over a pile of dog shit. Simplicity has such beauty as stillness beats thumping music hands down.


Negative. But that’s a good one, too :slight_smile:

I find this kind of conceit driven pursuits mean you have to have little mindfulness because you are eventually going through a lot of suffering for a few minutes of happiness. The spiritual trip isn’t a self torture.

It was tried and rejected, as impossible by the Buddha. It’s a path of give and take or interspersed pleasure and ‘growing pains’.

On other side is ‘spiritual bypassing’ of blissing out or ‘I’m a stream entrant/enlightened right now, or spiritual masochism. There is the bliss of jhana conjoined with the ‘burn’ of nibbida. I don’t know anyone here so these comments aren’t meant at anyone.

1 Like