Many people confuse joy with blessedness, but in fact in the world joy is often the accompaniment of triumph. The Psalm which runs ‘He will prepare a table before me against those that trouble me, and my cup shall be full’ is often understood – like a number of other well-known passages – as a vague assurance of blessedness.
However this is a psalm of David which contains the above triumphal line, referring to the cruel practice in which defeated kings, generals and leaders were starved and then put in chains on the ground before the table of the conqueror and his friends. They feasted while the captives watched them, occasionally receiving a piece of meat contemptuously thrown to them. This was thought to be a peak of jubilation after a battle, a final seal on the triumph.
Such supposed joys are never free from fear; time may bring a reversal of the roles, as the conqueror gets older and the younger men plot against him.
The very word ‘joy’ is associated with excitement; it comes from the Latin gaudium, which is associated with festivity and gaudy, makeshift, accessories.
Yoga points to the reaction after excitements; there is not only a hangover, but a lasting damage to the physical and nervous systems, what to say of the mental. Students are asked to examine their own experience, and observe the effect on others.
Excited joy is contrasted with ‘bliss’ which is serene. Its after-effect in life is creativity: inspirations which accord with the divine purpose and leading to beauty and peace. There are no adverse reactions; mind and body are invigorated, not depleted.
We see this in the tired nerves of today, where rational long-term goals are sacrificed to short-term impulses, and art has to be shocking and mould-breaking to be noticed at all. Such a phenomenon happens from time to time in history; a great yogin remarked of one such time: ‘Men of mediocre ability throwing themselves into grotesque postures to attract attention.’