Desire is a Phantasm
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on January 4, 1998)

If a person is invested with authority and power he can do good to people, but when power goes beyond limits it corrupts the very same person. Desire is a self-defeating process. The mind that desires is a coward, not a hero. Only a coward asks for more and more of things. It is implied in this process that what the mind wants is somewhere away from itself. If the thing that the mind wants is inside the mind itself, there is no point in the mind wanting anything.

Do you understand what I am saying? If the mind feels that what it wants is inside itself, it cannot want anything afterwards. It imagines that what it wants is outside the mind. Now, here it is committing a blunder. If a person has decided that the thing he wants is outside him, how will he get that thing when he has already decided that it is outside? How can the outside become the inside? It can never take place. The outside is outside, the inside is inside. They are contradictories. So how can the mind which is supposed to be inside want a thing which is outside? That is why I said desire is a self-defeating process. That is number one.

Number two: How can we get out of this problem? Great thinkers, philosophers both in the East and the West, have argued this question. There are six schools of philosophy in India: Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta. In the West we have got great philosophers such as Plato, Kant, Hegel, and so on. Plato said that desire arises in the mind because the desiring individual is a shadow of its own original which is in heaven. You are not satisfied with anything because your original is in the heavens. He calls it the archetype, the original. This person sitting here is a shadow of the real person who is in heaven. That real person is calling the shadow person, “Come, come to me.” So there is always distress in the shadow person. You are never satisfied because your real nature is calling you from heaven, but you do not know why you are distressed. You think that somebody is doing some wrong thing, somebody is not giving you what you want, that person is bad, this person is bad. This is what you see, but the real difficulty is not that. You are not in yourself. You are now outside your own self. What can be worse than that? Do you understand me? You are outside yourself because you are in heaven and this person sitting here is something outside it. The shadow is outside the light so the light is telling the shadow “Come!” and the shadow is unable to catch the point. This is briefly what Plato is saying.

Now I am coming to Immanuel Kant. He says desires cannot be fulfilled under any circumstance because a desire is an operation of the mind. The mind works within the framework of space and time; therefore, no desire can be fulfilled as long as space and time limit the operation of the mind. Is there anything beyond space and time, or is everything within space and time only? Here Kant could not give an answer. He was a very intelligent man, but he could not go very deep. Everything is limited by space and time. Who is making this statement? The limited one cannot say that it is limited. If you want to know that something is limited, you are already aware that there is something outside the limitation. Do you understand the point? You cannot say that you are limited unless you are aware at the same time that there is something outside the limitation. The unlimitedness is implied in your being limited.

Now, what is limited is called phenomena and what is unlimited is called noumena. Kant’s point is that noumenon cannot be known because the knowing process is limited to phenomenon. How did he come to know that there is a thing called noumena when he has already said that every knowledge is within the phenomena only? The idea that there is a thing called a phenomena cannot arise in the mind which is limited to phenomena. So here Kant got caught, and he could not go beyond that.

There was another man, called Hegel. He turned the tables around and said that Kant is wrong. There must be somebody within the person who is saying that the unlimited does exist. You yourself have a potential of the unlimited; otherwise, you cannot know that you are limited. Now I will not go into Western philosophy. I will come back to Indian thought.

The great technical process of setting matters right was heralded by Patanjali Maharishi, who wrote his Yoga Sutras. There is no use of thinking an object and merely imagining that you want it. Here what Kant said is correct because what you want is outside the capacity of the thinking process. Patanjali goes ahead of him and says the mind which is wanting something is making a mistake of thinking that what it wants is away from itself.

Psychologists say you should not go on saying and thinking that “I want that thing”. Assert that: “I have got it. The thing that I want is in me. It is not only my possession, it has become me itself. I am the thing which I want.” Go on telling this. “I am the thing which I want. I am the thing which I want. I am the thing which I want.” Then how will you desire it? What do you say? The desire is finished because you are the thing which you are desiring. He set the matter right. “I am the thing that I want.”

Now, merely saying it is not okay because when you think “I am”, you think of yourself only. It is not the person that is wanted. Something other than yourself is what you want. Let the other thing which you want be you yourself. You yourself are that thing which you are wanting. Suppose you are wanting a mountain of gold. Feel: “I am the mountain of gold. I am not this individual. I am a huge mountain of gold sitting here. Oh, I am a mountain of gold, a mountain of gold.” If you yourself are the mountain of gold, how can you say that you want the mountain of gold? The mind is infected with a disease that is a self-contradictory process of wanting a thing which it cannot get.

Patanjali’s system is samadhi. In samadhi everything is settled. Samadhi is the art of developing a consciousness whereby the object thinks of you instead of your thinking the object. You want something. When you want something, you think the object. Can you imagine a situation where the thing is thinking of you? Is it possible? Transfer your personality to that object. This is not you sitting or someone else sitting. The thing which is wanted is sitting. Be clear in your mind what you want. You may say, “I want God.” All right. God Himself is sitting here, and God is seeing everything. God does not want anybody because that ‘anybody’ you can think is inside God Himself.

There are three things taking place in the process of the perception of an object. I have mentioned this many times in my books, but people don’t remember it. You have an idea about the object, you give a name to the object, and the object by itself without the name and the idea also exists. Nobody needs a name. We can exist without a name. Just imagine you are alone in the whole world. Nobody need call you. When you are alone in the world and nobody is there around you, why should you have a name? Then nobody will have an idea about you also. Can you imagine what kind of person you will be at that time? There is no idea about you that anybody is holding, and there is also no name. So you are something without the idea of yourself, and without any name also. Just think: “There is nobody in the world. I am alone existing somewhere. Only trees are there, and the wind is blowing, the mountain is there, rivers are flowing, but no human being is existing anywhere. Then how can there be a name? Nobody calls me by any name, and there is also no idea about me.” Neither are you a good person nor a bad person, nor were you doing anything or not doing anything. All characteristics of yours vanish. You become the thing as it is.

This is Patanjali I am speaking about. You become the thing as it is, minus the idea that anybody might have about you, and minus a name. You become what you are. You will feel, “I am something different from what people are thinking about me, and also different from the name associated with me.” At that time you will feel you are neither a man nor a woman. Who is to call you a woman? You are existing alone in the world. Nobody will call you a woman or a man. You are only a human being existing. Slowly you are rising from the lower concept to the higher concept. “Neither have I a name, nor has anybody an idea about me. I am a human being.”

Now the idea goes further up. “I am a cosmic human being, a cosmic person because when there is only one thing, how can there be anything outside?” On that you meditate. “I am a cosmic individual, a cosmic person, a cosmic being, cosmic consciousness, cosmic power.” This is samadhi. Go on contemplating like this; meditate on this continuously, and don’t forget it. Every day go on meditating. Always think like this even when you are going for a walk, even when you are taking food, even when you are doing some work. Don’t forget this idea: “I am a total individual. There is nobody outside me. Alone in the whole universe I am. I am a cosmic being. There is no question of desiring anything. Who will desire anything? I am alone there. How can I desire myself? So desire has no meaning.”

All desires fly away with this kind of meditation. We are so much afraid of desire, but it does not exist at all. It is a hobgoblin, a kind of phantasm; it is a kind of malady that is called desire. If you think like this, in a moment the desires fly away as darkness flies away when the sun rises. So everything is wonderful, beautiful.