Freedom From Desire (Part 4)

Finite Pleasures and Infinite Bliss

The Chandogya Upanishad (7.23.1) teaches that true Bliss is possible only in the Infinite, that there is no bliss in the finite [things of the world]. Infinite Bliss is the very core of our being. We are oblivious of this Bliss because of the two-fold power of Maya: the power of concealment and the power of distortion. Maya conceals from us our true blissful nature, and distorts our perception, making us see the world of multiplicity with its alluring sense objects in place of the one divine Existence. Through sense enjoyments we experience only an infinitesimal part of the real Bliss inherent in us. Sri Ramakrishna explains this fact 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'!"

Should Everyone Give up Desires?

Is renunciation the way for all? According to Sri Ramakrishna, renunciation is a prerequisite for spiritual progress: "None can taste divine bliss without giving up his animal feeling. A devotee should pray to God to help him get rid of this feeling. It must be a sincere prayer. God is our Inner Controller; He will certainly listen to our prayer if it is sincere." He taught that aspirants who cannot renounce formally should practice renunciation at the mental level.

For many seekers the journey from desire to desirelessness takes place in stages. According to Vedanta, human life is governed by four values: Dharma (morality), artha (pursuit of wealth), kama (fulfillment of desire), and moksha (freedom). Freedom from bondage, freedom from the cycle of birth and death, is the ultimate goal of human life. However, for the mind to be able to aspire after freedom, our pursuit of wealth and desire should be based on morality. The Bhagavad Gita (7.11) teaches that God is in the form of desire not opposed to dharma.

The ancient Hindus divided life into four stages. First is brahmacharya, or a life of self-control, study, and deep reflection. This stage is followed by garhasthya, or the life of a householder. The life of a householder is considered very noble since it forms the support for the other three stages. The self-control learned in the first stage helps the householder lead a well-regulated life of selflessness, love, and service. Some of the responsibilities enjoined on the ideal householder can test his unselfishness to its limits. The third stage is vana­prastha, or the life of a recluse in the forest, where both husband and wife retire after discharging their worldly responsibilities, and spend their time in prayer, worship, and meditation. Sannyasa, the last stage of life, means total renunciation of all worldly ties, a life of prayer, contemplation, and complete self-abnegation. Human life is thus a graded march to the Divine, and sannyasa is the step leading to the ultimate goal of God-realization.

Incidentally, heaven, or a life of unlimited sense pleasure after death, is not an ideal extolled in Vedanta. Even if one gains such a heaven due to one's efforts on earth, one needs to return to earth on the exhaustion of one's merits, to begin afresh one's journey to Truth through spiritual discipline. (Gita, 9.21) Thus, at some stage of life every sincere seeker of freedom has to cultivate desirelessness.

Part 5

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