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Philosophy of Desire

by Swami Sivananda

esire is an impulse (conative) towards an object. It is kept alive by imagination of the object such as 'Oh, how beautiful it is,' etc.

Desire is an earnest longing for attaining some object or goal. It is a wish to enjoy an object. An urge to attain something is desire.

Desire to see has become the eyes; desire to hear has become the ears; desire to taste has become the tongue; desire to smell has become the nose; desire to touch has become the skin; desire to work has become the hand; desire to speak has become the organ of speech; desire to walk has become the feet; desire to copulate has become the organ of reproduction. Desire is the root cause for this mundane life.

Desires are the conative tendencies of your instincts. An instinct is an involuntary prompting to action. In the light of Vedanta philosophy, desire is born of Avidya or ignorance. There are neither desires, nor cravings, nor longings in Brahman. It is ever pure and transcendent. It is not touched by even a trace of desire. It is absolutely free from Maya or Mala (impurities of desire).

When you think of an object, you feel a sort of stirring within you. There is an impulse to action in order to achieve the desired object. A desire arises to attain the object. Then there is Cheshta or Prayatna (effort). You begin to think in a clear and definite form as to how to possess the object. by the force of mere thought of an object, a tendency or hidden subtle Vasana is stirred to action. The senses of action begin to work. You obtain the object and enjoy it.

Vasana is a subtle form of desire. It is hidden desire. Vasanas assume the form of desire which is gross. Trishna is intense craving or hankering after sensual objects. Vasana is intermingled with Samskaras or impressions. Vasanas produce Samskaras (impressions) and Samskaras in turn generate Vasanas. The rotation of this never-ending wheel of Vasana and Samskara constitutes the Samsara Chakra which causes births and deaths.

Impulses are of three kinds, viz., impulse of thought, impulse of speech and impulse of action.

Impulse, instinct, desires, cravings, are all modifications of Prakriti or Gunas. Just as the iron pieces move in the presence of magnet, the impulses, instincts, etc., derive their force or Chetana Sakti from Brahman only, the source of everything.

Abhinivesa is clinging to this earthly life. This is fear of death. This is one of the five afflictions according to Patanjali Maharshi. It is born of Avidya or ignorance. This is synonymous with Bergson's 'elan Vital,' Schopenhauer's 'will-to-live' or Jung's Libido, or Trishna of Lord Buddha. This clinging to mundane life is the cause for rebirth. This clinging should be destroyed through dispassion, discrimination and enquiry of 'who am I?'.

If you wish to withdraw yourself from the objects of senses, you will have to shut out the three different compartments in the mind which perform the conative, the cognitive and the affective processes. The mind runs outside through conation, cognition and affection. Conation is activity. Cognition is perception. Affection is love towards objects. Conation is at the root of all actions. The process of conation is done through Kriya Sakti. The process of cognition is done through Jnana Sakti. The process of affection is done through Prema Sakti.

Do not allow the mental energy to run in these directions. Through the practice of Japa, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dama, Sama, Atmic enquiry, meditation and devotion you can fix your mind on the Lord or the Atman.

From the Avidya Sakti desire arises to enjoy the external objects of desire. As soon as man was enveloped by the veil of ignorance, he forgot his essential blissful nature and began to run after sensual objects to seek his pleasure through the avenues of the senses. He began to exert, to do selfish Karmas, to realise his objects of desire. He lost his original freedom and became bound. Avidya (ignorance), Kama (desire) and Karma (action) are the knots or Hridaya Granthis that have tied the deluded Jiva to this Samsara or wheel of birth and death.

Desire is strengthened by hope and anticipation and repetition. Desire consists of three parts, viz., attachment (Aasakti), longing (Kamana) and preference. If you remove attachment through dispassion, discrimination and enquiry, longing will die by itself. Preference may remain for some time. It will also perish through discrimination. Therefore remove attachment first. Cultivate dispassion and discriminate between the real and the unreal. Persist in your enquiry. There are three sorts of attachment, viz., attachment to a person, or an object or a place.
You may have a preference to coffee or tea, brinjal or potatoes and the like. However nice may be a Hindustani food preparation, a Madrasi or a Bengali or a Punjabi will have preference to his own dishes. It takes a long time to destroy this preference.

Every action is an outcome of some motive. Motive is nothing but some instinctive impulse or combination of two or more impulses.

Any activity is an endeavour to attain a goal. There is a vital impulse or urge to action. The conative process works in man.
There are the reproductive instinct, the pairing or sexual instinct, the instinct of self-preservation, the instinct of escape or shrinking from injury, instinct of combat, instinct of curiosity, herding instinct, instinct of repulsion, instinct of attraction, the parental instinct, instinct of assertion, instinct of laughter, the Bania or Vaishya instinct through which one exploits and amasses wealth for his own comforts, the instinct of lordliness through which man tries to lord or domineer over others, and the destructive instinct through which he tries to destroy others who are more powerful and influential than him.

Man wishes to have children to maintain the race or line. This is reproductive instinct or Putra Ishana. Desire to copulate proceeds from the sexual instinct. The strength of the sexual desire depends upon the intensity of sexual impulse. Impulse is a mighty force. It exerts influence on the mind. It is a force suddenly communicated to the mind. The sexual impulse is controlled by Japa, Pranayama, meditation, pure food and Atmic enquiry.

Man wants to preserve himself. Hunger is a self-preservative instinct. In time of danger, he wants to save himself from the impending danger. This is the instinct of escape. He wishes to fight when he is insulted. This is the instinct of combat. He wants to know about things. This is the instinct of curiosity. He wants company for talking. He wants to have a community of his own. This is the herding instinct. He has an inherent attraction or repulsion for certain persons or objects. This is the instinct of attraction and repulsion. He wants to assert himself, My view alone is correct. I can do anything and everything. I am intelligent. I am a high class Brahmin. I am a scholar. This is the self-assertive Rajasic instinct or the instinct of assertion. He has special inborn affection and love for his children. He fondles and caresses them. This is parental instinct. There is the instinct to retaliate.

According to Gita impulse is Vegam or force. Lord Krishna says, He who is able to endure here on earth before he is liberated from the body, the force born of desire and passion, he is harmonised, he is a happy man (V-23).

Just as the petrol or steam moves the engine, the instincts and impulses move this body. The instincts are the prime movers of all human activities. They give a push to the body and move the Indriyas to action. The instincts create habits. The instinctive impulses supply the driving power by which all mental activities are kept up. These impulses are mental forces. They mould the life of a man. The mystery of life lies in them. These impulses operate through the mind and the intellect.

If you withdraw the fuel, the steam engine will cease working. If you remove the main spring of a watch, the watch will not work. If you do not supply petrol to a motor car and an aeroplane, they will not work. Even so this body will stop working and become inert and motionless if the instinctive impulses are taken away from the organism.

Conquest of desires is conquest of mind, because mind is nothing but a bundle of desires. Annihilation of desires alone is Moksha. The state of desirelessness is the highest Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Desire is a dire enemy of peace, devotion and knowledge.

If you entertain a desire to possess an object, then only the object gives you pleasure. Therefore desire is the cause of pleasures.

Woman in herself is not handsome for man. She is beautiful only in proportion to man's desire for her. A passionate man only sees Urvasi's beauty even in the brow of an ugly woman. A sage or a man of discrimination has neither attraction nor desire for woman.

A beautiful woman loses all charm and becomes an object of repulsion after coital orgasm, when the sex impulse is at its lowest ebb in man. Beauty is a mental Kalpana only. What is beautiful for one is not so for another. The man projects his own idea of beauty in the woman and sees highest beauty even in an ugly woman. This is all due to the working of the mischievous mind which creates hell in heaven and heaven in hell.

Control the senses first. Destroy the desires through discrimination, meditation and Atmic enquiry and rest in the desireless Satchidananda Brahman.

May you be established in your native, pristine state of divine glory and splendour which is beyond the reach of Gunas, senses, mind and intellect, wherein there is neither urge nor impulse nor instinct, neither conation, nor cognition, nor affection, neither desire, Vasana or Trishna, wherein you enjoy perfect peace, bliss and joy through meditation and Nirvikalpa Samadhi.

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