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Living a Spiritual Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 5: The Sublimation of Desire

Human nature, generally speaking—even when it concerns itself with such things as God, religion, and the like—makes sure that it does not lose its own accepted ground, and unconsciously, as it were, it galvanises its notions of the ultimate meaning of life with its predisposed human characteristics. This happens for the reason that a human being cannot easily be other than a human being.

We have studied earlier, in our previous sessions, that there are levels of human nature. We are not a solid block of individuality. We are a complex structure, with strata of involvements, with different degrees of the levels of development through which we have passed in our various incarnations.

We have varieties of qualities within us, qualities which do not stand outside us. They are part and parcel of our very existence itself. We have the inertness, the lethargy, and the unconscious stability of a stone or inanimate matter, into which level we can descend under certain conditions. We have the appetite of the urge for life, as we see in plants and trees in the vegetable kingdom; and there is no need to mention that we have every quality of an animal which can manifest under given conditions. That they are not revealed in our conscious human way of living does not mean that they are not existent.

The intellect checks the manifestation of these lower instincts. The reason sees to it that, for its own obvious advantage in personal and public life as a human being, these lower strata do not manifest themselves and come to the upper level of consciousness. A forced suppression, as it were, is exerted upon certain layers of our personality by certain other layers which take an upper hand. This is why we are something sometimes, and something else at other times. This is also the reason why we have moods and predilections, whims and fancies, and sudden desires which cannot be rationally explained.

It is necessary to know all these things about our own selves when we take to the spiritual path. "Nothing is lost," is a statement in the Bhagavadgita. When this pithy statement is made, many things are implied. The context in which this is said is that even a little that we do in the direction of our movement towards perfection will be an asset and a gain to us, and even a modicum of it will not be lost.

We can extend this meaning to many other levels and areas of our life and say that nothing is lost. All that we have brought as our heritage from previous incarnations, also, is not lost. Nothing can be destroyed ultimately, though there are suggestions that things can be transformed, transmuted into certain other levels and conditions; but there is no destruction, as such, of anything that is truly existent.

When we take to spiritual life, mostly the conscious level is active. We are all now seated in this hall, consciously thinking in one level of our psyche. The entire potentiality of the psyche is not manifest now at this moment, because the deeper layers of the psyche are irrelevant to the purpose for which we are seated here. So, there is a choice made by the psychic content very intelligently and cleverly, shrewdly, to see that only the necessary appurtenances of its storage are brought to the surface for presentation in public life, and personal life, at the conscious level. But this is not to understand human nature entirely.

That we necessarily behave in a particular way at a particular time may be a rational device which we consider as unavoidable for our existence in one level, in one context of our existence. But we do not belong only to human society. This adjustment that we are making is in terms of our relationship with human society. We know how we have to behave with people, but it is not sufficient if we are intelligent enough to behave with people only, because the structure of the universe is not made of only human beings. The cosmological studies of the structure of the universe will reveal that man is not everything. There are other beings, other textures of constituent individuality which also reign supreme in other levels of existence, other degrees of reality, other planes of being.

We inherit a part of each one of these layers of cosmic existence, and they are microcosmically present in us. In a miniature form, the whole world is inside us and we are actually living a sort of cosmic life even when we imagine that we are living a human life. But the pressure that is put by the conscious level of human nature prevents such considerations as these, and we do not bother to think that we are something different from, or more than, what we are made to appear in our personal human relations.

Spiritual life is not social life. This is something very important to remember. So, any expert adjustment and success that we achieve in society does not mean that we have achieved any success in spiritual life. This illusion must be removed from the mind. Since we have been told again and again, and it is driven into our ears that humanity is something great, society is worthwhile, service is a must, and we have been hearing this from all corners in textbooks, in societies, in public lectures, in rostrums, in churches and temples and everywhere, we have no time to think that there is more truth in this than what is told us. Social relations do not exhaust the spiritual content of life. As a matter of fact, spirituality is not a relation. It is an indivisibility of what we are that is gradually brought into the surface of experience in our spiritual meditations.

When we are ready to take up this task of living a spiritual life in right earnest, the whole structure of our personality will get shaken up. It is like declaring an emergency in a government; everyone is all eyes and all ears and cannot afford to sleep and woolgather. If we are really honest in our pursuit, the entire personality rises up in all alertness, thinking, “What is going to happen?” But if our attention is only slipshod, we are giving only lip sympathy to our spiritual meditations, they understand that we are bluffing, and so these inner potentialities will sleep. They don't bother. But if we are determined, they will also be determined. The whole thing will be roused into action.

What are the things that will be roused into action? Whatever we have in us, and whatever we are made of. All that we have suppressed and hidden from our own eyes and from the eyes of others will come up into the daylight of experience. This will not normally happen in ordinary cases of initial spiritual practice. No gods, no devils will be seen in meditation. In the beginning everything will look all right. But the world will get stirred up into an unprecedented activity. The quarters will be shaken, as it were, because of the power that we exert in our determined intention to go forward in the right direction.

Even this determination is not easy to have. The lower levels of personality mentioned are a large area of our own being and condition even our conscious thinking. This is highlighted very much, persistently, in Western psychoanalytic circles, to the extent that they have proclaimed that all conscious thought is a camouflage of subconscious and unconscious potentials.

Even our freedom of choice is a chimera, because that also is conditioned by the requirements of the inner layers of our psyche. Thus, it is to be seen that our determination to move along the right path for the achievement of perfection is not sullied by any kind of detracting and sidetracking activity of the inner nature. This is why I said in the beginning itself that even when we are concerned with God, spirituality, religion, etc., we would be very careful to see that we don't lose our human outlook, and even our human desires.

Many a time, these whispers will come from inside: What are my requirements? Who will answer this question? You will answer the question. And who are you? All this human nature mentioned in all its potentials, what are its requirements? Normally, except under certain influences from outside—such as study of scriptures, company of mahatmas, etc.—the idea of God will not arise in the mind. If you ask any person what he wants, he will not be able to answer this question abruptly, because he does not know what he wants in particular, inasmuch as it appears that he wants too many things.

The manifoldness of desire is a characteristic of the manifold potentialities of our submerged level of being. What we call obstacles in meditation are not brought by externally operating angels or gods in upper regions. Actually, these so-called upper regions also are centred in our inner being itself. The roots of the total universe is supposed to be within us; the operations of the gods in heaven, also, are to some extent related to what we are in our own selves. The obstacles, the difficulties, the confusions, and various problems that we face in our meditations are the consequences of the gradual manifestation of unattended potentials within our own selves.

Why is it that we are not paying any attention to these potentials inside? It is because we are too much occupied with conscious relationships in human society. For us, human beings are everything, as if nothing else exists. And if our relationship with people gets on very well, we think that we are a success in life. This is not so. The world can topple us even if we are a socially successful person, because there is another world altogether which we have completely ignored. No man can help us when the world stands against us, so social success is no success. Yet, we may go for it, due to the weakness of human nature operating mostly on the conscious level.

Spiritual seekers have to find time to go deep into this subject. Why are you in the ashram, if you have no time to think along these lines? Don't say you are busy, and so on. What are you busy for, sir? Your being busy is only an involvement in the human atmosphere, which has to be taken care of in an appropriate manner conducive to your spiritual progress. Your social adjustment should not be contrary to the requirements of spiritual nature. Else, you can be a good businessman, nobody objects to it. Why talk of God and such things?

It is necessary to see what we are inside, basically and honestly, to our own selves. Many a time it may be said that we cannot know our own selves. People say, "I cannot know what is inside me." We can know, to some extent, what we have, by certain occurrences in our own life. These are very important, just as we have methods in psychoanalysis like automatic writing, dream analysis and certain studies of this nature, sudden answers to questions abruptly put to us, and the like.

When we speak, we know what we are speaking. Many times, speech hides our thoughts, though speech is supposed to express thoughts. Our process of speaking often acts like a filter through which only necessary ideas are made to manifest, and the unnecessary background of it is kept back. We do not speak all that is in our mind. Very rarely do we blurt out everything, and do so only when we are in a very peculiar, out-of-control mood.

For three hours, do not speak to anybody, and do not look at anyone; close the doors of your room and sit quiet. It is good if you can sit a little longer; I am mentioning only the minimum period. Don't read any book, and don't touch any object in the room. Sit quietly. Look at yourself. For three hours, continuously go on looking at yourself: What kind of person am I? You will know you are many things to your own self, and that self of yours is the real self. If you are an honest seeker of truth, you would like to jot down all these feelings that arise in your mind at that time.

But if you go to a distant place, far off from human habitat, and live a long duration of time there without the usual comforts of life, you will know yourself much better than even in your room. If you stay in in an uncomfortable atmosphere in a distant place such as Uttarkashi or beyond for a long time, there will be a stimulation from inside, and voices of certain centres within you will cry for satisfaction and clamour for fulfilment.

Comforts satisfy the conscious nature, and it is then capable of not allowing the unconscious and subconscious nature to come up. When the conscious nature is not satisfied, due to lack of appurtenances for it, it cannot place an adequate check upon the manifestation of the lower levels, and they come up with all sorts of colour and hue. You have dreams which you never thought of, and desires which even in your normal life you would not have revealed. If you can honestly analyse yourself without any kind of prejudice or preconditioning, you can know something about yourself.

One of the ways that you can study yourself is to try to trace back your memories to your early childhood. Many of us can remember our early childhood, even from the age of four. Just remember what you were doing and thinking when you were four, five or six. What did you do at that time? Write it down. And you should not say it is irrelevant or meaningless. It is you in one state that did it, and you have not become another person now. You have grown into a larger dimension of that very thing which you thought and did in the early development of your personality. Trace your mind back: Afterwards, where was I, in my subsequent years of life? Very carefully, little by little, bit by bit, threadbare, remember what you saw, what you felt, what you did, and what you desired.

Make a repertoire of all your experiences until today, right from your childhood. This will be a little biography of your nature, and you cannot be totally different from that. Though you have outgrown much of it, the little modicum of it is still present inside. That little petty, humble desire that you had when you were a baby, a child of four or five or six, will sometimes haunt you even today.

Early childhood experiences are a very important subject for psychological studies. Our present-day feelings, experiences, etc., our reactions to conditions and circumstances in life today at this moment, are very often determined by all the experiences we had in our childhood when we were with our parents. Our reactions and actions with our parents and neighbourhood, our relations, brother and sister, and so on, are brought into a cumulative force and hidden in our lower nature. It is built up into our present personality; it has not gone.

Even if you had one small desire when you were a little child and it could not be fulfilled, you should not ignore that particular desire: "When I was a boy of sixteen, I had this desire; due to some tremendous obstacle, I could not fulfil it." Even today it will eat you from your vitals. If you have forgotten it, it does not mean that it has gone. Forgetfulness is not abolition of its being. Bring it back to your conscious level. This is psychoanalysis, in some way.

If you have any such desire left unfulfilled—it may be even a petty thing, such as a desire to eat something—eat it, and be done with it. Don't say it is irrelevant. If you had a desire to see a place and could not go due to financial circumstances and many other difficulties, go there and see that place and come back. If you have any other lurking desire, see to it that it is sublimated by appropriate means.

Certain desires can be fulfilled immediately without any difficulty, and with no harm to yourself. You can know which desires are detrimental and which are simple and can easily be fulfilled, such as a cup of coffee or even going to see a picture. If you have a great longing to see a film, go and see it. But then tell the mind, "Enough. I cannot give you any further permission. I have satisfied your longing, now keep quiet." Use your viveka, discrimination.

But there are certain desires which cannot, and should not, be fulfilled with impunity. They are to be handled in a very intelligent manner by methods which have to be studied only under a Guru. If you are intelligent enough to handle them, go ahead; but when you are under an intense pressure of a passionate mood and have a very intense desire, you cannot handle it yourself. At that time it is imperative to go to a superior who is compassionate and capable of understanding your problems. Suitable methods have to be found out.

We may wonder why we are behaving like this. It is there with a good reason. That reason has to be accepted as perfectly justified under the given conditions, and the circumstances have to be overcome, handled very carefully, with the help of a guide. Otherwise, if we go just headlong, without considering these pulls from behind, it will be like trying to cross the borders of our country without discharging our obligations to the country to which we belong. The arms of the law will catch us wherever we go, and these little things which are inside us will come with us even to the heavens. Wherever we go, even to the topmost level, these unattended potentials will pursue us like creditors and say, "We are here with you."

We have debts, say our sastras—varieties of debts to the world, to people, and to our own selves. These have to be discharged before we embark upon any further action along these lines. We have borrowed things, we have taken service from certain quarters of the world, and these borrowings and services received have to be repaid in a suitable manner. We cannot expect free service from the world, or from anyone. If we have taken free service without giving any compensation, it will have to be paid in some way or the other—if not in this life, then in the next life. Why should we take another life? It has to be discharged in this life itself. If we have hurt the feelings of somebody, we cannot die with that feeling. We have to see that it is made good.

If we have injured some great saint by our foolish behaviour, we cannot leave this world with that thought. Especially with great people, masters, saints and sages, our behaviour should be very cautious. Very rightly, or humorously, I may say, the scripture says, "What happens to the karmas of a jivanmukta when he leaves his body?" The scripture says that all the good deeds that the great sage did in his life will go to all those people who have lovingly served him, taken care of him, and protected him. What will happen to all the deeds of the other kind which are not pleasant, which he might have committed earlier? They will automatically go to all those people who have insulted him, tried to harm him, and given him trouble in one way or another. This is something with great meaning that we have to study.

The point is that nothing is destroyed and nothing is lost. Everything is to be fulfilled, finally, by way of sublimation in an appropriate manner. Once the ground is firm, the march will be quick and rapid. But if the ground itself is shaking, we will not be able to take even one step ahead. Something will pull us back, and we may, many times, have to retrace our steps also. This is called the fall in spiritual or religious life. The fall is only a pull exerted by those impulses which have not been paid sufficient attention. We have not paid the income tax that is due, so we are troubled. We must pay it, and then we are free from the clutches of these difficulties. Many of the things that are inside us have to be taken care of. Discharged duties will not trouble us. And apart from the duties, what about the longings inside us?

It is very, very important to know what our desires are. Even if we are inside the ashram, there may be desires in the mind which do not pertain to the ashram. They may sometimes look irrelevant to ashram life, but they are there. You cannot say that they should not be there because you are in the ashram. That is no good. They are there, and you have to accept it.

If you can handle it within the campus of the ashram, under the spiritual guidance of teachers within the ashram, blessed you are. But, if you have such desires which cannot be fulfilled in the ashram and you go crazy with them, you should leave this place and go somewhere else. Be comfortable somewhere, for a long time. Cleanse yourself, and then come back. There is no use worrying over the existence of something which you cannot handle. That is a tragedy. This is how you have to be honest to your own self.

We are not practising spiritual life in order to look like spiritual seekers before other people. It has nothing to do with other people at all; it is concerned with ourselves only. What is the good of appearing spiritual to others? What you appear to yourself, in your own closeted room, is what you are. Never judge yourself in terms of how you look in public life, or in the midst of people, because this experience in public is a tremendous adjustment that you are making rationally, which you will not do when you are individually existing, isolated by yourself.

So, when no adjustments are made, you are true to yourself. At that time, what are your feelings? Are you writhing with agony of some kind of thing inside? "I am caught up in this ashram unnecessarily." Do you feel like that? Or, do you feel, "No, this is a good atmosphere for me to clear all my requirements and rise upwards in a positive manner. I have every facility given by Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. There is nothing lacking here."

All these varieties of study have to be made through a spiritual diary that we have to prepare for our own selves. Honesty to one's own self is the same as honesty to God. If we are dishonest to our own feelings inside, then we are not honest to anybody else, because the so-called God that we are aspiring for is speaking from inside.

All this is intelligible enough to every one of us, but when we come to brass tacks and actually start doing things practically, we will find hurdles manifesting from our own selves. Therefore, keep such company which will not irritate you or produce more desires, and have the company of some good people. There are good people in the ashram. There are saintly people, learned people, who can give guidance. To have a little discussion with them is a great blessing. Even today, we have such people here. Why should you ignore their existence and go on brooding in a negative manner, suffering inside for no reason whatsoever?

Study of the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita, or similar scriptures; an honest attempt to know oneself in deep meditative, contemplative practice; maintaining a healthy atmosphere around oneself; speaking what is proper, thinking what is proper, and doing what is not harmful to one's own self are all suggestions that we have to give to our own selves.

While we have guides and teachers outside, finally we will have to be our own guide and our own teacher at some time in the future. When the last moment comes, we stand to ourselves. We have nobody to guide us at that time, and whatever we think at that time will be carried forward to the next life.

The next life is not always and necessarily a bad thing. It may be a higher region. What is the harm if we are born as the son of a great sage like Vasishtha or Vyasa? If rebirth is our fate, all right, but let it be a birth in the family of such great masters. It is not that we are craving for another birth, but if it is impossible to avoid it, we have to see that it is a noble, worthwhile living, from where we can automatically go upwards, with the help received from that condition of living.

But, if we think that it is possible to end this life forever now itself, and no rebirth is required, that will burn our desires. I have mentioned certain little snippets of advice for fulfilling or sublimating desires, but the greatest masterstroke of the fulfilment of all desires, or the burning of desires, is deep thought of God. It can, like a blazing sun, burn up all the desires. Why does it burn desires? Because all desires are centred in God-Being. God does not negate desires, but fulfils all desires.

Anantha kalyana guna sampurna is one of the qualities attributed to God. Infinite blessing and beneficent qualities are embodied in God-existence. If you want anything, all right, want it; but you will get it through God—through the proper channel, as we may say. Do not go directly, horizontally, and try to get it. Even in fulfilling a desire, it must be with permission, through the proper channel. What is that channel? Through God. Tell God, "This is what is troubling me. Give," and let Him give, if He wants to give. If He says, "No this is not good for you," He may not give it. But you don't purchase it.

Though intense longing for God will burn up all desires, and no other way of sublimation can equal it, intense love for God cannot arise due to several misconceptions regarding the notion of God Himself. One of the notions is that God is far away, He is not very near us, so we can mischievously, secretly, do something without His knowledge. That idea also creeps in, even in the best of people. "After all, some distance is there between me and God. He is very far, very distant, in seventh heaven, in Brahmaloka." Even after the greatest and the best of learning, this thought of distance of ourselves from God will not leave us. We cannot believe that He is touching our very nose.

The second difficulty is that the world has a wealth of glorious presentations which it can give us at the mere asking. Will God give that, or will He deny it? One of the suspicions in the seeker's mind is that all our desires which are supposed to bring great pleasure, satisfaction, bliss inside, perhaps may be denied by God. It is a fear. This thinking is the height of foolishness. God does not deny our desire, but gives us in its true reality.

When we pursue an object of desire, we are actually pursuing a shadow of that thing which is in the truth of its nature in the higher realms, in God's kingdom. When God will give you the truth behind your desire, why do you want the falsehood of it, in the form of the shapes, colours, and objectivities thereof? This again requires proper discrimination of the nature of God. There is suspicion in the mind of whether it will come.

What is the final outcome of this great struggle? This question will harass the mind of everyone at some stage, if not just now: After all, what am I going to gain with all this effort? All the world has gone, my relatives are dead. My money, property, everything has gone to ashes. I am going naked, as it were, to an unknown region, knowing not what is going to happen to me. What is all this effort for?

We hear such stories even in the biographies of saints and sages like Buddha. Great doubts come at the last moment, like a huge pit into which we can fall, and we will not know where we will be at that time. That is why in the sadhana-chatustayaviveka, vairagya, shadsampat, and mumukshutvaviveka and vairagya are considered as pre-eminent characteristics to be achieved and imbibed and made one's own at the very outset; subsequent things are shadsampat, mumukshutva, etc.—longing for God. Longing for God means longing for God only, and not with something else. That 'only' is a word that we have to underline. That aloneness of the longing for God can take possession of us only if we are convinced that whatever the world can give us, God can also give, much more than what the world can give.

These are the ways in which we have to spend sufficient time in our daily life. We have to find time for it. There is no use saying we have no time, because if we have no time for doing something good for our own self, then what for is our time for doing all other things that are just trash before these things? So, we must be honest to our own self—which is honesty before God—and to love God wholly, solely, as the be-all and end-all. That will burn up all longings. Even our prarabdha may not sting as it might otherwise, because God's interference in our life will act like the interference of a snake charmer before the cobra that is near us. It cannot do any harm. The prarabdha is a cobra, but God is a snake charmer. He will not allow it to come and harm us in any way. Even prarabdha cannot sting, and tragedies can be averted, sorrows will vanish, and all life will be blessed, if only we are true to that One who is looking at us from moment to moment. He is not far away in the high skies. He is just here and now. May these thoughts be with us always and we shall be blessed.