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PRABUDDHA BHARATATowards Desirelessness | Editorial  

 

                    

 

 

                 Towards Desirelessness

 

 

 

                 EDITORIAL

 

 

 

     In the last editorial we discussed the degrading effect of desires on our personality, and saw how enjoyment cannot quench desire. We also dwelt on the origin, seat and root of desire. Desire pervades our buddhi, mind (manas) and the sense organs. A life of unbridled sense enjoyment is a sure recipe to missing the goal of human life, besides being an invitation to spiritual death.

 

 

 

     Finite Pleasures and the Infinite Bliss

 

 

 

     Vedanta says that true bliss is possible only in the Infinite; there is no bliss in the finite (things of the world). (1) Thanks to maya, the inscrutable power that conceals from us the ultimate Reality and distorts our perception (making us see this world of alluring sense objects in place of the divine Reality), we taste through sense enjoyments only a part of the real Bliss that is our birthright. Sri Ramakrishna illustrates the point with an example:

 

     The grain-dealer stores rice in huge bags in his warehouse. Near them he puts some puffed rice in a tray. This is to keep the rats away. The puffed rice tastes sweet to the rats and they nibble at it all night; they do not seek the rice itself. But just think! One seer of rice yields fourteen seers of puffed rice. How infinitely superior is the joy of God to the pleasure of woman and gold! (2)

 

 

 

     Is Renunciation for All?

 

 

 

     Does everyone need to give up desires? Is renunciation the way for all? Though there are no two opinions about renunciation being a prerequisite to the realization of our true nature, Vedanta accepts human frailties and advocates a graded life. It accepts as perfectly legitimate our righteous desires as long they do not infringe on others rights. In fact, the Bhagavadgita says that God is in the form of desires not opposed to dharma. (3)

 

     Accordingly, ancient Hindu life was divided into four stages. First, brahmacharya, or a life of self-control, studies and deep reflection. This stage was followed by garhasthya, the life of a householder. The institution of marriage is meant for satisfaction of ones legitimate biological desires, but the self-control learnt in the first stage of life formed the sheet anchor of this stage. A householders life does not imply license for enjoyment, but enjoins on him responsibilities that can test his selflessness to its limits. The third stage is vanaprastha, the life of a recluse in the forest, where the husband and wife retire after discharging their worldly responsibilities, spending their time in prayer, worship and meditation. Sannyasa, the last stage of life, is signalled by total renunciation of all worldly ties and characterized by a life of prayer, contemplation and complete self-abnegation. Human life is thus a graded march to the Divine, and sannyasa is its important step leading to the ultimate goal of God-realization. If one does not succeed in taking to sannyasa formally, one should at least strive for it mentally at some stage in life.

 

     Incidentally, the householders life is classified as the centrifugal path (pravritti marga) with worldly prosperity in view. The last two stages denote the centripetal path (nivritti marga) with freedom as the goal.

 

     Heaven, or a life of unmixed sense pleasure after death, is not an ideal extolled in Vedanta. Even if one gains such a heaven thanks to ones efforts on earth towards this end, one needs to return to earth on the exhaustion of ones merits, to begin afresh ones journey towards Truth through spiritual disciplines. (4) Thus, the bottom line is that everyone - monks or householders - conscious of the ultimate goal of life needs to cultivate desirelessness according to his capacity.

 

 

 

     Turning a New Leaf

 

 

 

     If sense discipline and mind control are the way towards desirelessness, why dont most people take to it even when the time is ripe for it? Man does not turn to a sense-transcendent spiritual Reality, or God, unless and until he is through with all desires for enjoyment. It is only when he is fed up with worldly enjoyments that he calls on God and God too responds. Till then, God lets him be happy in pursuit of worldly pleasures. In his inimitable way Sri Ramakrishna gives an example from everyday life to illustrate this truth: So long as the child remains engrossed with its toys, the mother looks after her cooking and other household duties. But when the child no longer relishes the toys, it throws them aside and yells for its mother. Then the mother takes the rice-pot down from the hearth, runs in haste, and takes the child in her arms. (5)

 

     According to the Gita, only a few among thousands strive for perfection; among such rare ones only a few know God in Reality. (6) A true aspirant towards desirelessness (or desire for the Highest) is not discouraged by this fact. He believes strongly that he is one among the few that strives for perfection and has faith that he is sure to belong to those rare few among them to attain perfection. He does not wait for the right time to arrive, but exercises discrimination and creates the right time for himself. Conscious that mere pious intentions do not mean anything unless they are put into action, he is up and doing in his spiritual disciplines.

 

 

 

     Some Aids on the Path to Desireslessness

 

 

 

     Disciplining the senses: In his illuminating discourse to Arjuna on desires, Sri Krishna prescribes sense control as the first discipline to free oneself from them: Therefore, control your senses at the outset and kill this destroyer of Knowledge and realization. (7) Our five sense organs are like windows to the external world and bring us perceptual knowledge and, along with it, the memory and desire from these perceptions. He who does not want to be swayed by desires needs to be careful about the sensory inputs to his mind. Only that can help in purification of the mind and help him gain mastery over it. Says the Chandogya Upanishad, If the food is pure the mind too becomes pure. In his commentary, Sri Shankara clarifies that food does not mean just physical food, but the input through all the sense organs. (8)

 

     Senses mean not only the five sense organs, but also the mind. Mind is the inner organ that is looked upon as the king of the senses. (9) Since in any perception the mind connects itself to the concerned sense organ, mind control is fundamental to control of desires. Who controls the mind? It is buddhi, the discriminative faculty. However, it lies dormant in a person swayed by desire.

 

     We saw in the last editorial that our degradation is triggered when our will (the dynamic aspect of buddhi) gets hooked to the desire. When someone succumbs to a desire, his will does not have a separate existence: it merges with the succumbing mind and the senses. A slave to sense enjoyments (or any bad habit for that matter) identifies himself only with his mind and the body, and is not conscious of a separate will. He begins to turn a new leaf only when he succeeds in freeing his will from the hold of desires. Thus, though the will is bound, it is through the will that release is possible. Though Sri Krishna includes buddhi also among the seat of desire, (3.40) he says elsewhere in the Gita, Seek refuge in buddhi. (2.49) Thus, all efforts at mind control basically mean awakening buddhi, which amounts to strengthening the will.

 

     Faith in the higher Self: Sri Krishna describes in the Gita the various aspects of human personality in the order of increasing subtlety: The senses are superior (to the gross body); the mind is superior to the senses; buddhi is superior to the mind; He (the Atman) is superior to buddhi. Knowing that the Atman is superior to buddhi, restraining your self (mind) with the self (buddhi), destroy the enemy who comes in the form of desire and is hard to overcome. (3.42-3)

 

     Swami Vivekananda ceaselessly stressed the glory of the Atman and the need to have immense faith in ones real nature. In his powerful letter of 25 September 1894 to his brother disciples he energized them saying, What makes you weep, my friend? In you is all power. Summon up your all-powerful nature, O mighty one, and this whole universe will lie at your feet. It is the Self alone that predominates, and not matter. (10) He held that faith in oneself is fundamental for faith in God to become meaningful. He considered strength as the medicine for weakness, not brooding over weakness.

 

     Faith in Gods name: Sri Ramakrishnas two laws of motion are significant in spiritual life: (1) The more you move towards the east, the farther you are from the west. In other words, the closer you move towards God, the farther you recede from desires. (2) If you move one step towards God, God moves ten steps towards you. Those who sincerely struggle with their mind can vouch for the truth of these laws.

 

     There was a hatha yogi in Dakshineswar displaying cleansing techniques of yoga. Sri Ramakrishnas disciple Yogin (later Swami Yogananda) felt that he could not conquer lust or realize God if he did not practise those techniques. One day Yogin asked Sri Ramakrishna how to be free from lust. Sri Ramakrishna asked him to repeat the divine name, but Yogin was not satisfied. He thought Sri Ramakrishna had prescribed something useless since probably he was not aware of any practical technique. He also thought, so many people repeat the name of God without any reduction of lust in them. The next day Yogin went to the hatha yogi and while he sat listening to him, Sri Ramakrishna came there and asked him to follow him back to his room. On the way, the Master remarked, Why did you go there? Dont do that. Your mind will stick to the body if you learn those techniques. It will not thirst after God. Yogin again doubted the Master and thought he was probably jealous of the hatha yogi. He thought again, why not follow the Masters prescription, and started doing japa with some concentration. Soon he began to experience tangible results. (11)

 

     Offering things to God: Another potent means to free ourselves from the hold of desires is to offer anything to God before enjoying it ourselves. There are instances where Sri Ramakrishna gave a new turn to the mind of some of his lay disciples. Surendranath Mitra was given to visiting places of ill fame. When someone reported the matter to the Master, he did not condemn Surendra. He said, Oh yes, Surendra still has some desires. Let him enjoy them for a while. He will become pure soon enough. (12) Later he told Surendra to think of the Divine Mother: Well, when a man goes to a bad place, why doesnt he take the Divine Mother with him? She would protect him from many evil actions. (111) Again, though Surendra directed his energies to spiritual practices, he could not totally free himself from his drinking habit. When Surendra met his Master once in Dakshineswar, the Master encouraged him: Well, Suresh, why, when you are drinking wine, you have to think of it as ordinary wine? Offer it first to Mother Kali and then drink it as her prasad. Only you must be careful not to get drunk. At first youll feel only the kind of excitement you usually feel, but that will soon lead to spiritual joy. (112) Sri Ramakrishnas spiritual influence gradually brought about a spiritual transformation in his disciple.

 

     Prayer and discrimination: It is not for nothing that Holy Mother advocated prayer to God for desirelessness, for desire is the obstacle to liberation. (13) Prayer can transform our mind, if only it is done sincerely, without hypocrisy. Persistent prayer can wean the mind off sense enjoyments. Sri Ramakrishna assures us that God listens even to the sound of anklets on an ants feet. And along with prayer Sri Ramakrishna stresses the importance of discrimination:

 

     You must practise discrimination. Woman and gold is impermanent. God is the only Eternal Substance. What does a man get with money? Food, clothes and a dwelling-place - nothing more. You cannot realize God with its help. Therefore money can never be the goal of life. That is the process of discrimination.

 

 

     Consider - what is there in money or in a beautiful body? Discriminate and you will find that even the body of a beautiful woman consists of bones, flesh, fat, and other disagreeable things. Why should a man give up God and direct his attention to such things? Why should a man forget God for their sake? (14)

 

     Giving a different turn to the mind: When his disciple Hari (later Swami Turiyananda) asked Sri Ramakrishna how to conquer lust, Hari was in for a surprise answer: Why should it go, my boy? Give it a turn in another direction. What is lust? It is the desire to get. So desire to get God and strengthen this desire greatly. (15) Patanjali advocates cultivation of a contrary, wholesome thought to counteract an undesirable thought. (16) In the words of Swamiji, merely shouting about darkness will not dispel it, but only bringing in light will.

 

     Selfless work: According to the Bhagavata, Karma yoga, or the path of selfless work, is a discipline primarily meant for those who have desires and have yet to have dispassion for fruits of work. (17) Karma yoga is the time-honoured preliminary discipline for purification of mind. (According to Swamiji, it is an independent path to Self-realization.) Performing our work with a sense of dedication to and adoration of God, who dwells as our inner Self, and trying to serve others without expectation of return - these can greatly help us in strengthening our will, reducing our desires, and awakening in us the longing to break free from the hold of the senses and the mind on us. Swamijis illuminating lectures on the subject (18) are worthy of deep thought and concerted action.

 

 

 

                                   ~ ~ ~

 

 

 

     Desires in consonance with dharma are perfectly acceptable for a righteous life in the world. But if our goal is God-realization, only desirelessness can lead to it. Nay, desirelessness is synonymous with the state of God-realization; for according to Vedanta a knower of Brahman becomes Brahman and there in no second entity for him to desire. Disciplining the sensory system, training the mind, faith in Gods name, prayer and meditation, and selfless work are some potent means to help us in our journey towards desirelessness.

 

 

 

 

     References

 

 

 

     1. Chandogya Upanishad, 7.23.1.

     2. M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 385.

     3. Bhagavadgita, 7.11.

     4. Ibid., 9.21.

     5. Gospel, 149.

     6. Gita, 7.3.

     7. Ibid., 3.41.

     8. Chandogya Upanishad, 7.26.2.

     9. Gita, 10.22.

     10. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 6.274-5.

     11. Swami Chetanananda, God Lived with Them (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2001), 222-3.

     12. Swami Chetanananda, They Lived with God (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1993), 110-1.

     13. Swami Nikhilananda, Holy Mother (New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1962), 218.

     14. Gospel, 82.

     15. God Lived with Them, 359.

     16. Yoga Sutras, 2.33.

     17. Bhagavata, 11.20.7.

     18. CW, 1.27-118.



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