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
Pleasures and the Infinite Bliss
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:
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)
Renunciation for All?
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)
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 one’s
legitimate biological desires, but the self-control learnt
in the first stage of life formed the sheet anchor of this
stage. A householder’s 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.
the householder’s 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.
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 one’s efforts on earth towards this end, one needs
to return to earth on the exhaustion of one’s merits, to begin
afresh one’s 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.
a New Leaf
sense discipline and mind control are the way towards desirelessness,
why don’t 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)
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.
Aids on the Path to Desireslessness
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)
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.
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
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)
Vivekananda ceaselessly stressed the glory of the Atman and
the need to have immense faith in one’s 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.
in God’s name: Sri Ramakrishna’s 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.
was a hatha yogi in Dakshineswar displaying cleansing techniques
of yoga. Sri Ramakrishna’s 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? Don’t 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 Master’s prescription, and
started doing japa with some concentration. Soon he began
to experience tangible results. (11)
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
doesn’t 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 you’ll feel only the kind of
excitement you usually feel, but that will soon lead to spiritual
joy.’ (112) Sri Ramakrishna’s spiritual influence gradually
brought about a spiritual transformation in his disciple.
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 ant’s feet. And along with prayer Sri Ramakrishna stresses
the importance of discrimination:
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.
- 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?
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.
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. Swamiji’s illuminating lectures on the subject (18) are
worthy of deep thought and concerted action.
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 God’s name, prayer and meditation,
and selfless work are some potent means to help us in our
journey towards desirelessness.
Chandogya Upanishad, 7.23.1.
M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda
(Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 385.
Chandogya Upanishad, 7.26.2.
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta:
Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 6.274-5.
Swami Chetanananda, God Lived with Them (Kolkata: Advaita
Ashrama, 2001), 222-3.
Swami Chetanananda, They Lived with God (Calcutta:
Advaita Ashrama, 1993), 110-1.
Swami Nikhilananda, Holy Mother (New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda
Center, 1962), 218.
God Lived with Them, 359.
Yoga Sutras, 2.33.