Recently I asked my friends, “What is the first example you think of for something “pleasant”? This is what they said:
High on my pleasant list is bread hot from the oven… A cat purring in my arms… A leisurely evening with Tsvet, reading aloud from one of our favorite Discworld novels…
I was interested in understanding the word pleasant better due to the Bahá’í Writing that says, “Pleasant is the realm of being, wert thou to attain thereto…” (Bahá’u’lláh, Persian Hidden Word #70)
Does this mean that if one were to attain the highest level of enlightenment available, it would be reminiscent of sunrise, spring, beaches, reading, spending time with friends, and being snuggled in and warm (not to mention the purring and the tea and the fresh bread…)? 🙂
The first definition of pleasant that the American Heritage Dictionary gives is, “Giving or affording pleasure or enjoyment; agreeable: a pleasant scene; pleasant sensations.” Next comes our use of pleasant to describe people: “Pleasing in manner, behavior, or appearance.” The third definition is atmospheric: “Fair and comfortable: pleasant weather.”
“Pleasant is the realm of being, wert thou to attain thereto…”
If this is so, the heights of insight, reality, truth, honesty, authenticity, genuineness, understanding, awareness, communion – however you might define the ultimate state of experience and knowledge – are agreeable, enjoyable, and give pleasure.
Our words pleasant, please, pleasing, and placid all originate from a root in Latin or an earlier language. Placid is “pleasantly calm or peaceful; unruffled; tranquil; serenely quiet or undisturbed: placid waters” (Dictionary.com).
Perhaps we associate pleasantness with the tranquil, serenely quiet, and undisturbed quality of placidness. The American Heritage’s fourth definition for pleasant, however, is “merry; lively.” Dictionary.com describes the definition “gay; sprightly; merry” as archaic, and includes an obsolete meaning: “jocular or facetious.”
Where did those meanings come from? Let’s look at the definitions in Webster’s 1828 dictionary for a hint:
Ah, I see… Pleasant company is cheerful and enlivening; a pleasant companion is, too.
This helps me understand the example Webster included for pleasant in his 1828 dictionary: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalms #133).
Living in company (even with people you get along with) isn’t always placid — maybe it’s seldom placid — but it could certainly be lively, merry, enlivening, cheerful, humorous, and even jocular (which means “fond of or characterized by joking; humorous or playful”).
So now, if we look at our quote again, “Pleasant is the realm of being, wert thou to attain thereto…” we have the experience of enlightenment as merry, lively, cheerful, playful, and even tending toward jokes. And it’s a quality that can result when people associate with each other in unity.
I think of the Trickster character that is part of so many mythologies — the Kokopelis and the Monkey Kings that cavort through our destinies, piping on flutes and throwing bananas into our carefully laid plans. I think of the laughing Buddha.
You can’t just have Kokopelis, of course. Kokopeli needs a unified community within which his playfulness can enliven in balance. But all in all, pleasant as the experiential goal of our social constructions sounds good to me.
Let’s do it.