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Your Questions Answered
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 2: Beauty and the Psychology of Desire

Lyle: Swamiji, I have a question about beauty. You have written that beauty is a mild manifestation of the soul. I find myself always looking for beauty, and I want to know how I can work with that as part of my sadhana.

Swamiji: Beauty is the characteristic of that object which exactly fits in as a counterpart of the lack in the mind of a person. There is a kind of lacuna in the mind, and the exact counterpart of it is the beauty of the object. It is a purely psychological question.

There is a particular lacuna in the mental structure of a person which keeps that person restless, unhappy, etc. Though everyone is unhappy in some way, the cause of that unhappiness is not uniform in all cases. The restlessness and unhappiness may be caused by different factors in the case of different persons, and a corresponding object must be presented before that particular type of mind in order that it may be made to feel happy.

What looks beautiful to me may not look beautiful to you. People sometimes get attracted even to ugly things. What you may consider as ugly and uninteresting may be an attractive thing for another person, because he/she is in a different kind of mental make-up. Each one has to find out what it is that attracts. Unless you are hungry, the food will not be satisfying. Your particular kind of hunger will determine the kind of diet that you need.

Unhappiness cannot be removed by a uniform remedy or a common medicine for all people. Either you find out yourself what you are lacking, or you try to know it through the help of some person who can guide you and analyse your mind in depth. Once you know why you are unhappy, you can also know the remedy, and you will know what kind of beauty you are after.

Lyle: The curious thing about beauty is that it is undefinable.

Swamiji: It is not that beauty is spread out everywhere in the world so that people can go and see it. It is not visible like that. It is visible to the individual eye only, and not to the common perception.

Beauty is not independent of the observer. Actually, there is no such thing as beauty. It doesn't exist. It is like taste. There is no such thing as taste; it is only an action of a particular thing upon the working of the taste buds in our tongue. If the taste buds don't operate, nothing will be tasty. The object as such is not tasty. There is nothing sweet, nothing bitter. There is no such quality in objects, but they act upon a particular structure of our physiological operation, and they feel palatable or otherwise. The world as such has no quality. It is impersonal-neither good nor bad, neither beautiful nor ugly. We react to it due to our own unique structural make-up.

Lyle: Then, in what way were you saying that beauty is a mild manifestation of the soul?

Swamiji: It is a manifestation of the soul, something like a square rod entering a square hole, when, immediately there is a sense of perfection. The soul is nothing but the symmetry, completeness and harmony of consciousness. If we thrust a round rod into a square hole, there is no perfection in the act. The round rod should go into the round hole only. There is some kind of want in the mind of a person, which craves for its fulfilling counter-correlative.

The soul is not a substance. It is consciousness, a feeling of completeness. The consciousness of completeness is the soul. There is no soul outside or inside; consciousness is the soul. The soul is not directly acting. It has to act through the mind. So, whatever we perceive or conceive is the mental operation. The mind reflects the soul, and only then we become conscious of certain things, but we are incompletely conscious; we are not "completely" conscious of anything since the mind is rarely an undivided function.

There is no sense of completeness in any of our perceptions. Just as when the sun's rays pass through a defective set of spectacles we will not see things properly, we will also not see things properly when the soul is reflected through a defective mind. When the mind is set right, and the defect is removed by bringing before it the exact counterpart of its lacuna, it appears as if the soul is reflected entirely. That entire reflection is the feeling of satisfaction. Then we call that medium beautiful, tasty, nice. It is a deep psychological process.

The need will differ for each person. The kind of perfection that you need will be quite different from another's. And you can't love the same thing for all times, either. Even one's own wish will change according to circumstances. You can never be happy with the same thing throughout life. That is not possible. Our longings are fickle, not of a uniform type.

Lyle: Swamiji, how can we sublimate desires?

Swamiji: You will never be able to sublimate the desires until that which they seek is given to them. The important point is how you will give them what they want. The manner of supplying their demand is your wisdom.

You cannot suppress a desire; no desire can be buried down. If you suppress it, it will create further trouble. You have to fulfil it, but how you fulfil it is the wisdom of the seeker.

Sometimes you may supply its need even by not giving it literally what it wants. If you literally start supplying all its demands, then it will be a very difficult problem. Sublimation is different from fulfilment. Fulfilment is a direct sensual process, whereas sublimation is a spiritual integration.

The mind wants some particular things, not all things at the same time. The mind does not want the whole world to be given to it. Nobody asks for the whole world; so every desire is intriguing in its working. When you are prepared to give it the entire thing, it doesn't want it; it will want only certain particular chosen things. This is the sign of lack of wisdom behind any kind of desire.

There are simple desires, strong desires, permissible desires, depleting desires. Desires which deplete your energy should not be fulfiled. Those which are harmless, like wanting to take a cup of tea in the cold weather, will not harm you in any way; but there are other dangerous desires which may exhaust you completely and make you weak. Such desires should not be fulfiled.

From the point of view of a sadhaka (a spiritual seeker), gradually the mind should be educated to feel satisfied with the whole, rather than a part. If you ask for particular things, you will never have an end for these desires, because today you will get this particular thing, and you feel that you are satisfied; tomorrow the very same mind, like a dacoit, will want another thing. If you start supplying the demands of a dacoit, today he will want your purse, tomorrow your house, the next day your land and, finally, he may want your life. So, you cannot go on satisfying the highwayman.

Desires are such things, and you should educate them. Introduce educational ways of thinking, holistic thinking. Don't give just particular things to the mind, but try to give wholesome things. Finally, nothing can satisfy you, except God Himself. All other desires are futile, and they will only bind you into more and more troubles. You must educate the mind to have trust in God and feel satisfied with the beauty of God.

We were discussing about beauty. God is the most beautiful object. No object in the world can be as beautiful as God, but we have been taught by religions that God is an old man, the Creator, Father in heaven, with a long beard; how can He be beautiful?

No religion openly holds that God is beautiful. He is rather a judiciary, lawmaker, a terror sometimes, ready to dispense justice, but no religion says that He is a beautiful person. Here is a mistake of religious teachers. We go for beautiful things, rather than a judiciary.

We must accept that God is the most beautiful, and no beauty can equal that beauty. Then the heart will feel satisfied with that perception of the most beautiful thing before us. God is not merely grand or magnificent; He is also beautiful! Let the heart accept it. Then you will see the desires subside, and you will ask for nothing in the world afterwards. Any other method is not going to be successful.

Lyle: My mind says that God can't be conceived.

Swamiji: You can psychologically conceive Him by adjusting the mind in a wholesome manner. Anything that is wholesome is God. God does not mean something far away from you. It is the characteristic of wholesome thinking, total thinking, and not partial or fragmented thinking. The object of perception should be included in the process of perception itself. It should not stand outside you. Our perceptions are partial as long as the objects stand outside the process of perception.

We don't see things properly; we see them partially, as isolated from us. Objects are not really isolated. They don't stand outside the process of perception. You have to educate yourself into the conviction that the object of perception is included in the very process of perception. This is the holistic thinking that I am mentioning. Then you will not desire the object as an "outside" something. When the object is included in the very process of perception, how will you desire it? The desire ceases immediately. Sadhana is also a process of education. One must be very careful in thinking, and not think in a haphazard manner. It is a difficult art, but you will be happy if you succeed in it.

Lyle: So, we should try to include the object in the subject?

Swamiji: What you see with your eyes is included in yourself, in some way. We are unable to understand it because we think through a finitised form of the mind. There is a process by which we are able to know that the object exists. If you analyse that process, you will find the object does not stand outside you. If it is totally outside you, you would not be even conscious that it is there outside you. It is an integral process taking place in perception. This itself is a kind of meditation.

Lyle: Swamiji, in the process of meditation, do you suggest a sequence to draw the mind into pratyahara concentration?

Swamiji: This is explained in the sutras of Patanjali. There are two types of psychological processes dealt with in modern days, in what we call abnormal psychology and general psychology. All thinking in terms of a particularised desire for anything in the world is abnormal perception. Thinking of objects without any particular desire for anything is general perception. If I look at a wall, I don't have any particular desire for the wall; but if I see an orange, there may be a desire to eat it. So, these are two types of thinking. The mere consciousness of an object without particular emotional reaction towards it, and consciousness of an object with emotional reaction towards it, are both reactions of the mind called vrittis.

The emotionally charged vrittis are called klishta vrittis, by which the author means pain-giving psychoses. Pain is caused by the feeling that you have not got it, while you would like to have it. Secondly, you have pain even after getting it, from the fear that you may lose it; worse still is the pain when you have actually lost it.

So, the object of desire is always a source of pain. When does it give you pleasure? Anyway, such desires and ways of thinking are klishta vrittis. These have to be dealt with in the beginning. You asked me the sequence. The pain-giving ones should be dealt with first, just as in medical treatment, acute diseases are treated first, and the chronic ones later.

Suppose a person is breathless, and also has eczema. You don't treat eczema at that time; you treat the breathlessness first. So also we don't bother about general perceptions of mountains and rivers and all that, though they are also vrittis. We have to deal with acute conditions first (desire-charged vrittis), which have been classified by Patanjali briefly into objects which you like, and objects which you dislike. Both are connected with desires. The desire to have and the desire to avoid are both desires only.

Actually, you cannot desire a thing unless you do not want certain other things. You exclude certain things automatically when you go for certain chosen things, and those things which you exclude become the objects of dislike or hatred. So, love and hatred go together; they are like the obverse and reverse of the same coin. The one cannot be without the other.

These are two types of vrittis connected with likes and dislikes, as Patanjali mentions. There is another vritti which takes the form of fear of death. All struggle in life seems to be towards the maintenance of oneself towards survival. By some means or the other, one wants to survive. With all the glorious possessions of the world, one does not wish to be threatened in regard to one's life. Fear of death, love and hatred for things, and egoism, self-assertiveness, I am first and everybody else afterwards, are considered by Patanjali as pain-giving vrittis.

Every seeker of truth, spiritual seeker, sadhaka, should dispassionately analyse these psychoses. If you want things, make a list of all those things and find out the ways and means of handling them. All the other vrittis mentioned also have to be taken independently, one by one. They should be dealt with in such a way that they do not cause harassment in ordinary life. Very rarely do people succeed in controlling these abnormal vrittis.

Even if you succeed in having no such abnormal longing for things, you will have the general perception of an object outside you in the form of the world itself. That has to be dealt with as a second stage. This is more difficult than the earlier one. You may somehow withdraw your mind from desiring things in some way, but how would you withdraw the mind from being conscious of the world itself? That has to be dealt with by samadhi or samapatti. There are stages of meditation prescribed by Patanjali. I have detailed these processes in my book, "Yoga As a Universal Science."

These desires have certain peculiarities. They do not always manifest themselves openly. Often the desires have very good intelligence. They know that a frontal attack does not always succeed. They lie in ambush and, when you are unaware, suddenly pounce on you, and you will be caught by these desires even without your knowing that you have been so caught. Suddenly you will start doing something and later you will repent, because you were not circumspect about the possibility of hidden desires.

Desires can also be dormant, like a sleeping thief. Or, when you try to corner them from every side by your meditations, they may become thin, attenuated, as if they are going to die, but they can again become robust when the occasion for it comes. A starved thief also is a thief only; he may eat well and afterwards become robust.

Also the desires may appear sometimes, and disappear at other times. When they disappear, it doesn't mean they are absent; a thing that is out of sight is not necessarily non-existent. And sometimes, they openly come and face you. So, they can be sleeping, attenuated, interrupted, or directly attacking. These are the ways in which desires catch hold of a person. One has to pass through many years of struggle in order to get over them.

In case you, by your maturity of meditation, succeed in overcoming these abnormal longings, you will have the problem of the consciousness of externality itself. That is a very serious matter. The universe has to be identified with the Self in deep meditation so that the phenomenon of externality is absorbed into universality of perception. Briefly, this is the sequence of how you have to handle your mind.

Lyle: I have been thinking that in the sitting process itself to first take care of the tamasik and rajasik mind.

Swamiji: These abnormal desires are a mixture of tamas and rajas. The mere consciousness of an object without desire is a sattvik or quality operating. If you are conscious of a tree in the forest, it doesn't harm you in any way; yet the consciousness of it being outside you is an important matter. It is a sattvik vritti, but it is a vritti, nevertheless.

Merely because you are bound by a golden chain, it doesn't mean that you are not bound, and the sattvik vrittis must also be overcome. So, from rajas and tamas, you go to sattva, gradually.

Lyle: And after that, don't you still have to be neither in ida nor in pingala? You have to establish in sushumna.

Swamiji: They will take care of themselves by your meditation. You need not even think of the ida and pingala. Actually, they are effects of thought. The channel through which you breathe is a consequence of the manner of your thinking. When the thinking is corrected, the prana gets corrected automatically. You need not bother about it at all. You just ignore it. It will go into the sushumna automatically.

The first and foremost duty is to take care of the thoughts. The prana will be next, and it won't bother you much. The trouble is from the mind only. It has to be considered first. All yoga is a mental operation finally, an adjustment of thought integrally.

Lyle: In the process of meditation, I find the mind in a tamasik or rajasik state. What can I do at that time?

Swamiji: At that time when actually tamas and rajas are supervening and they are very troublesome, stop the meditation. Take a cup of tea, have a little stroll on the verandah, take deep breaths some ten or fifteen times, and sit again for meditation. After that, the mind will start concentrating once again. It has entered into tamas and rajas due to the fatigue felt in meditation. It got exhausted, like a horse pulling a cart for a long distance. After some time the horse will halt and then there is no use of simply hitting it and making it go further.

When the mind is tired or unwilling, you should not meditate. If it is exhausted, take rest. If it is unwilling, you find out the reason for it. It wants something else other than what you are doing.

Lyle: Usually it can be worked through, can't it?

Swamiji: When it is turbulent, you cannot meditate. If it is a little distraction, well, just keep quiet for a few minutes and then restart. For ten or fifteen minutes don't meditate; keep quiet, take a deep breath and start again. Sometimes you can munch something, so that it may be satisfied. The mind wants satisfaction, not too much harassment. Then, afterwards, you sit for meditation. It will come down.

Sometimes, if it is very difficult and it is not coming down at all, go to sleep for a few minutes; then get up and start meditation once again. You have to employ various methods, as you treat a naughty child which will not at all listen to anything. You have to employ various methods of controlling it. Sometimes you have to fulfil its longings; sometimes you have to use educational methods; sometimes you may give a medical treatment, etc. You have to use your intelligence in understanding the problem.

Lyle: Do you suggest pranayamas?

Swamiji: They are useful to some extent, but not completely. You cannot control the mind merely by pranayama. How will you remove your desires when they are strong, merely by the breathing process? Simultaneously you must work with the mind also. Pranayama is necessary as a secondary aid, but is not the complete solution.

Lyle: Swamiji, how can we try to sublimate desires?

Swamiji: First you must find out why desires arise. Why should desires arise in the mind at all, if you conclude that they are not good things? If they are good things, there is no need of sublimating them. If they are not good things, why are you allowing them to rise? You deliberately manufacture them under the impression that they are good, and at the same time you say that they are not good. So, you have a dual attitude towards them.

Now, who creates the desires? Are you deliberately creating the desires, or are they, in spite of yourself, coming up? That you have to find out first. It is a process of self-analysis. The deep root of the desire has to be found out.

Lyle: I think they are from basic urges.

Swamiji: When you use the word "basic," you perhaps imply that these desires are inseparable from your very existence as a person. That is the meaning of "basic." Your existence as a person implies the existence of these desires, also. So, that would mean that they will go only when you (as a person) go, because they are inseparable from your very existence.

How will you go? The personality of yours should cease to be; then the consequence in the form of these desires also will cease, according to our analysis. When the cause goes, the effect also goes. The whole question is the very existence of the person as an individual psycho-physical existence. That has to go. That has to be sublimated, not the desires. The poor desires are only henchmen of the very existence of the person. The chief culprit is the existence of the individual himself, and the desires are only offshoots of the existence of the person. That is to say, the sublimation is not of the desires, but of the personality-consciousness.

The personality-consciousness can be sublimated only by transcending it in a universal consciousness. You are conscious that you are a person named Lyle, and it is a very wrong definition of yourself. This is a nomenclature of the physical personality. As long as this physical personality persists, your problems also are going to continue. If you want to get rid of these problems, you must be sincere in handling this issue. You should not just say something and forget these things afterwards. Your physical existence itself is a problem, and that has to cease.

The individual existence ceases only in Universal Existence. It cannot cease anywhere else. So, when your meditation is fixed on the consciousness of Universality of Being, the individual consciousness gets merged into It and transcended. Together with that, the desires also get sublimated at one stroke. This is the highest technique that one can think of. There is no other solution, finally. All other solutions are temporary and a make-shift. The final solution is only this deep meditation on the Universal Existence, before which no problem can stand. The whole thing vanishes like darkness before the sun.