Freedom from Desire
(Continued from previous issue)
Desire Leads to Spiritual Ruin
Worldly enjoyment always exacts a price. We enjoy sense pleasure, but the pleasure forges one more link in the chain that binds us to the recurring cycle of birth and death, and blinds us to our real, divine nature. The Bhagavad Gita (2.62-3) vividly describes the systematic moral descent triggered by brooding over sense objects: “When a man broods over sense objects he develops attachment toward them. Attachment gives rise to desire [to possess them]. Desire produces anger [toward obstacles to its fulfillment]. From anger is born delusion, which results in loss of memory [of the spiritual goal, of what one has learnt from the scriptures, from one’s spiritual teacher, and from past experience]. With loss of memory one loses the power of discrimination. Loss of discrimination is followed by spiritual death.” A person without discrimination is hardly different from an animal. He is dead to his spiritual Self.
How Desire Originates
Since desires spell our spiritual ruin, we need to make a deeper study of them in order to conquer them. Desires originate from subtle impressions, or samskaras, in our mind. There are good and bad samsksaras, corresponding to our good and bad actions and thoughts. Accumulated over innumerable lifetimes, samskaras determine what we are at any moment, how we face problems, how attached we are to sense objects, how aware we are of being in bondage and long to be free, and our inclination or lack of it for spiritual practice. In short, samskaras account for our character.
A samskara has the following components:
1. The knowledge of how we perceived or enjoyed an object. For example, the samskara arising from eating cheesecake for the first time contains in it the knowledge of how cheesecake differs in its sweetness and taste from other desserts. 2. The desire to repeat the action. 3. The memory of the action. 4. The potency to unerringly bear fruit of the action in the future. In a person lacking self-control, desire and memory are indistinguishable. But a spiritual seeker learns to differentiate between them. He is not unduly worried about the memory of a bad action, but tries to detach himself from the desire to repeat it.
It is important to note the difference between the memory of an action and the desire to repeat it. By itself the memory of an action is harmless and does not bind us. We become bound only when we connect ourselves with the desire to repeat the action, and actually move toward its fulfillment, first at the mental level and then at the physical level. We succumb to desire at the mental level, and if the will is too weak, we succumb at the physical level too.
Every repetition of an action deepens the samskara and strengthens the desire to repeat the action. When the samskara becomes sufficiently deep, the action develops into a habit and makes us do good or bad acts in spite of ourselves. We develop thought-patterns in the same way. The deeper the samskara, the greater is the effort required to change the habit. The task could sometimes be so daunting as to make many people give up their struggle midway and become their old selves again.
(To be continued) ─ Swami Yuktatmananda
Copyright© 2015, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York.