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A Textbook of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 6: The Three Root Desires

The necessity to be in a state of accordance, assonance and harmony with the world outside is not merely a requirement on the part of yoga practice, it is essential even for a reasonably comfortable life in this world. The world is not so very unimportant as to deserve our total neglect or to assign to it a kind of secondary importance in relation to our own self.

I mentioned previously that the world is called the secondary self, the gaunatman, in the sense that it is something that is foisted upon our personality by an involvement of our consciousness in a very specific manner. Most people cannot be sure as to how they are involved in this world. Everything is taken for granted, usually. That something is happening in the world, and we are seeing it happening, and we have to do something with it, is a crude, rustic way of interpreting things. But things in the world do not happen unnecessarily or randomly, so we should not take them lightly.

The world's importance arises on account of our consciousness being involved in it. The content of consciousness is what is important, or rather, the very existence of a thing is conditioned by the extent of the involvement of our consciousness in it. If the consciousness is withdrawn from a thing, it does not exist for consciousness.

We are told that there are realms of being above this world of which we are totally unaware. They do exist, and perhaps they exist more significantly than this physical world; yet, they do not exist for us. In our daily considerations, we do not regard them as being there at all. Let them be there or let them not be there. Let the forces of nature be operating or not; we are not concerned with earth, water, fire. We are concerned with people, relations, and a little bit of our daily occupation.

As far as any person is concerned, the world exists to the extent of its involvement in one's consciousness. This is why it is called a self. You will be wondering how the world is called a self, how an object is a self. Its selfhood arises on account of your self, which is consciousness, being involved in it. If you are not consciously involved through your mind and through your affections, that particular thing does not exist for you. Therefore, the world cannot be handled very easily because it is another way of handling a larger social extension of your own self. You cannot say you will renounce the world. There are people who say that they have no commitments; but you have every commitment because you are living in the world. If you are not living in the world, you have no commitments.

Now, what is meant by saying that you are in the world or not in the world? The very consciousness of there being something outside you creates fear. The Upanishad says dvitīyād vai bhayaṁ bhavati (B.U. 1.4.2): Wherever there is another beside you, there is fear. Even if in the whole world there are only two people living, there can be quarrel and war.

The position that one maintains in relation to another beside oneself is important. The world cannot be renounced in a slipshod manner, as we usually think, because it is like renouncing one's own self in some way. A part of yourself goes when you renounce the world. If you leave a geographical location and go a thousand kilometres away to another place, it does not mean that you have renounced that place. That place will cling to you as a part of yourself as long as your mind is there in some way—either because you want it, or because you do not want it. Even if you do not want a thing and you are conscious that you do not want that particular thing, it will still cling to you. The attachment of a particular thing to consciousness is either positive or negative. It is concerned, that is all, a kind of concern that you have about things. It may be any kind of concern.

Hence, the usual religious ordinance or requirement that seems to be a part of yoga practice—that renunciation is a precondition for spiritual evolution—is to be taken in its true scientific spirit. You can renounce a thing only if it belongs to you. A thing that is not your property need not be renounced, because you have no business with that thing; and what is there that can be called your property?

There are two ways of looking at this. How did you happen to own any property in the world? You did not bring it when you were born from your mother's womb, nor will you take it when you leave this world. A thing that was not with you in the beginning and will not be there in the end, how did it become part of you in the middle? It is by a kind of psychological association. “This is my land,” you say. That land was there even before you were born. How did it become yours? An operation of thought takes place, and you begin to imagine that it has a vital connection with you. And if you sell that land to somebody else, that vital connection is snapped because the mind says that it does not belong to you anymore. That land has not moved from that place; it is just there. Even if it has been purchased or sold a hundred times, it will be in the same spot. Nothing has happened to it. It may not even be aware that the sale process is going on. But something is happening in the ethereal world of somebody's mind. Do you call this an important situation to consider?

The concept of property is psychological; you cannot physically possess anything. Even if you have a valuable thing in your grip, in your hand, it cannot be called your property, because it is still outside. It can drop away. A thing that can drop from you cannot be called your property. And what is it that will not drop? There is nothing. There is nothing from which you cannot be bereaved, and there is nothing which you cannot lose. Therefore, there is nothing which you can really call your belonging. This is one aspect of the matter.

The other aspect is the involvement of consciousness. Are there things in this world in which you are consciously involved? This requires a tabulation of the items of your involvement, which is to be done gradually, with a calm thought. The so-called spiritual diary is nothing but a method of self-checking that people adopt by putting questions to themselves.

You cannot know what kind of involvement with things that your consciousness actually has because the conscious mind operates only in one level at a particular time. It cannot operate in all levels at the same time. If a wedding ceremony in your family is going to take place after a month, for one month you will think about only that. All other things will be brushed aside from the conscious level. It does not mean that other engagements are not there, but the pressure of the immediate phenomenon will be so great that, for the time being, other involvements are suppressed. All things cannot come to the mind at the same time. There are various levels of operation of the mind, and it can think only one thing at a time. Though it looks as if you can think many things at a time, it is not so.

Like a cinematic picture in which only one picture comes at a time but it looks as if there is a living movement, the continuity of the mind in its daily operations is actually a rapid movement of little bits of thought, as a cloth is made up of little bits of thread. The mind is involved in only one particular occupation at a time. People who are so totally involved in certain things that they cannot think anything else in the world will not even be aware that they have other commitments. Each problem will start pricking you at different times.

If you are students of yoga who are intent on a real practice for self-development, you can adopt this method: Have a diary, and when you wake up in the morning, write down the first thought that occurs to your mind. As far as possible, write down all the thoughts that arise in your mind throughout the day until you go to bed at night. When you are busy working, you may not be able to do this always. But if you sit quietly for a few minutes in the evening, you will be able to gather a general idea of the processes of thought that occurred to your mind throughout the day. Let there be a list of all the thoughts that arose in your mind on one particular day, from morning to night. Do this for one month. Let there be thirty pages of your diary, giving a list of thirty sets of ideas that occurred on thirty days. You can strike a common denominator of the whole process, and you can know something about yourself. “This is the kind of person that I am. For one month I have been basically thinking this kind of thing. I encountered this. I faced that. I handled this in this manner.”

When I speak of your need to make a checklist of your thoughts, this also includes the things that you faced, encountered, and had to deal with in your daily life: how many people you met and your reaction to them—how you felt about it, how you handled it, etc. After a month's practice like this, you will be able to take the cream of your thoughts from this large assemblage of various bits of thinking for so many days. The whole of yoga practice is a psychological process. A student of yoga has to be a good psychologist. It is not that you have to teach psychology to somebody; rather, you have to teach yourself how your mind is working.

It is true that we should not be attached to things and there should be an amount of renunciation spirit in ourselves. The initial step in yoga, as I mentioned in the previous session, is to set ourselves in a state of harmony with things, which is another way of saying that we should not be attached to things.

Now, not to be attached may look like detachment. Is it identical? Is non-attachment the same as detachment? They seem to be the same, but they are slightly different. There is a positivity of meaning in ‘non-attachment', whereas the word ‘detachment' implies a little bit of negativity. It will look that we have to cut ourselves off from connection with certain things when we speak of detachment. But when we speak of non-attachment, it will mean a kind of conscious adjustment of being free from association with things. They look identical, but there is a slight shade of difference.

Association with things arises on account of desire for things. ‘Attachment' and ‘non-attachment' are words that have connection with the amount of desire that one has for certain things. This secondary self, this gaunatman, this world of objects which we like or dislike, all this is nothing but a phenomenon created by the various forms of desire arising in the mind.

There is a little bit of philosophy behind even the act of renunciation. What are these desires that seem to be pressing you so deeply into involvement in so many things in this world? What do you want from this world that makes you concerned with it so much? It is a muddle. At present, in the beginning, it will look like chaos. “There are so many desires,” you will say. “I want many things, many involvements.”

You require certain things from the world outside in order to compensate for the finitude that you feel in your own self. You feel small before the big world and, in a sense, you are little because you are one individual. The physical body requires its own security and sustenance. It cannot itself manufacture all the things that it requires. There are a hundred things that it needs every day. You know very well that these needs are available only in the world outside; they cannot come out from the body. The food that you eat, the water that you drink, and the many other needs of the body do not crop up from the body itself. They come from a secondary source, which is the world outside.

So for physical sustenance and security, to see that the body continues to exist safely, you have to see that certain appurtenances from outside are continuously associated with it, and those associations should be made one's own. They should not be precarious. “Tomorrow I may get; tomorrow I may not get.” The body does not want this kind of thing. It should be assured that it will permanently get what it wants. For that, there is a struggle. Day in and day out you struggle to see that these associations are maintained. Otherwise, if it is only the promise of a possibility and it may not actually materialise, anxiety crops up: “For how long will I get it?” So you make investments, and so on, for the future.

Apart from that, there are other needs of your personality which require you to be concerned with the world. It is not that you are concerned only with this body. There are certain other things with which you are very much concerned and would even die for, such as recognition in this world. Do you wish to be a non-recognised non-entity in the world—just riff-raff, a man of straw? Would you like to live like that? It is like death. You have food to eat, you have a house to live in, you have good clothes to wear, but you are a nobody in this world. You would rather starve for days and run about in search of ways and means to see that you become a recognised person. Even starvation does not matter. Therefore, you should not think that eating is the only important thing. I mentioned that this body has to be maintained by food, clothing, etc. It is true, but there are other things, for the sake of which you may even renounce the pleasures of the body for some time. You will not sleep when there is a question of name, fame, authority and power, which are mere thoughts, and which cannot be seen with the eyes. They are not objects like food, clothing and shelter, but they exist. Do they exist? Where do they exist? Can an unseen thing be called existent?

Many people say that to believe that something exists, it should be capable of observation; it must be visible. The greatest thing in the world, which is name, fame, power, authority—for which people can die—is not visible. That shows we have a personality in us which is not necessarily a visible phenomenon like the body. There is an invisible person inside, which is more important than the physical, visible person.

You must listen carefully. The first thing you require is to exist in this body; and you want to exist for a very long time, not only for three days. So the struggle for existence involves, on the one hand, the worry about appurtenances necessary for the maintenance of the body and, on the other hand, the qualification that they should be enduring. Why should you add that qualification? If you are comfortable today, is it not sufficient? Why do you worry about tomorrow? It is because you feel that you must exist tomorrow also. What is this peculiar thing that the mind is thinking? What has happened to it? What is the harm if you exist very comfortably today and tomorrow you do not exist? One day is as good as any other day. What is the harm? If you are given something for only one day and afterwards are denied everything, it is as good as being given nothing. You think that this is no good; but why?

There is a desire for continuity in the durational process of time, about which you must bestow sufficient thought: the existence of the body for a long time—if possible, endlessly. You do not want to physically die. You would like to continue your existence. How long would you like to live in the world? You cannot say. Would you like to live a hundred years? It is a good thing; rarely do people live for a hundred years. Suppose, theoretically at least, you are granted a lease of life of three hundred years. You will feel happy and comfortable, and not worry afterwards. Suppose two hundred and ninety nine years are over; one year is left. What will you say at that time? Even three hundred years are not sufficient. It is not the number of years that are important for you, though it looks as if you are very much concerned with them. You do not want to die at all.

Why does this happen? This is an in-depth point for consideration. The desire for perpetual, continuous existence even in this body is a reflection of the timeless eternity that is masquerading inside you. There is a great man inside this little man that you appear to be, and that big man is eternity. He says no, he cannot die.

The fear of death is an unavoidable phenomenon that goes together with the desire that you should not die. There is a contradiction in your thoughts. On the one hand, you know that you must die; on the other hand, you know very well that you should not die. How is this? These two types of thought arise in your mind at the same time because you are involved in two worlds at the same time: the phenomenal and the noumenal, the empirical and the transcendent. Time and timelessness—you are involved in time and, also, in that which is not in time. The higher world to which you belong, which is timeless in its nature, tells you always that you should never die, because really you will not die as an eternity. But your involvement in this body, which is perishable, tells you this hope has no meaning. Your hope will not be fulfilled. You will perish.

The other aspect is psychological. You want to have a good name and a lot of fame in the world. You should be a recognised person, with power and authority. You would like to have a good name, not merely while you are alive, but you wish that even after you die, people will know that you were an important person. Your name should not vanish. Would you like to be a great, noble man in the eyes of people now when you are alive, and after you die they call you an idiot? You do not want that to be said about you. You will not even know what people are saying, so what does it matter? You have died, but still it is as if you are hearing what people say. The eternity in you tells you that people are still speaking this way.

See the mysterious, chaotic working of the mind! You do not want that even after death your property should go to some wrong person. What is this ‘wrong person'? Once you have gone, you do not even know whether the property exists or not. Do you know what property you owned in the last birth? You do not know; and the same thing will happen in the next birth. Why are you worrying what will happen to your bank balance and land after you die? Why do you think like that? The eternity in you persists because there is an inner continuity in your consciousness saying that it is no good losing things even after death, so even after death you must be a great man in this world.

The mind and the body act in this manner in two different ways. Though I mentioned only two things, mind and body, there are many involvements in these two classifications. For the time being, we shall be satisfied with only two. The bodily requirement is the source of the struggle for physical existence and for security, etc. The mental requirement is the way in which you seek to be recognised and have power, authority and position in this world.

The Upanishads are great psychologists. In their wonderful psychological analysis they have said that, finally, we have only three desires. Though we seem to have a bundle of desires, every desire can be boiled down to these three desires. In Sanskrit they are called eshanas: dhaneshana, putraishana, vittaishana. The desire for physical possession and security, the desire for perpetuation of oneself in time, and the desire for name and fame—these are the three desires. All other desires are included in these.

You look very small physically. As you are just one person among many other people, what is your importance? In a large sea of humanity, you are one drop. You will feel very miserable about it, and you do not want to feel that way. You think, “I am a big man.” You cannot become physically big; you know it very well, so you impose upon yourself a bigness by social association by what is called authority over other people, by becoming a king or a minister or a president, etc. When you are invested with this kind of position or authority over a large area of land and people, it looks as if your personality has grown so big that you are not one person among many others; you are one big person, under whom every other person is subsumed.

A king thinks that the entire population of his kingdom is inside him and that he can do anything with them. Physically it is not so, but psychologically he feels it is so. The entire country is inside him, as it were; he holds it in his grip. The largeness that he required has been achieved by this expansion of the gaunatman, or the secondary self. Why does this desire arise? It arises because the finite hungers for the infinite; the little thing craves for the big thing. The thing that is confined within a little dimension wants to break that dimension and become dimensionless. How large should your kingdom be? Kings are never satisfied; they go on annexing more into their kingdoms. The whole Earth and even the sky must be theirs. There is no end for this desire to expand oneself.

The endless desire to expand yourself physically, socially and politically is the desire of the inner infinity in you to assert itself. You will never be satisfied with any amount of property, belongings or kingdom that is given to you unless an endlessness of belonging is achieved, which cannot be possible. So you will die without fulfilling desires of this kind. No one dies having fulfilled every desire. On the one hand, the infinity that is incipient, latent in the finitude of your personality asserts itself when it eagerly seeks to expand itself in the form of kingdom, authority, wealth, property, etc. Then there is the desire to perpetuate oneself. This desire is a great phenomenon in the world because to be cut off by time is worse than death. You should not be cut off by time. Perpetuation of your position is very important—perpetuation physically, as well as psychologically.

Physical perpetuation is wrongly attempted through the desire for progeny. People who have no children cry and go to all the gods and pray that one child should be born, as if they become gods merely because a child is born. Children are a nuisance, as everybody knows, but still they are necessary; otherwise, people cannot exist. Why is there so much desire? It is a false manipulation by the devil inside, which is a distorted form of the desire for perpetuation in time, which says that continuity by physical progeny in a lineage of children and grandchildren, etc., is equal to one's being there in the process of time. But this is really not the truth. So this is another misconception that takes place.

The Upanishads say there are three things: the desire for physical expansion by the accumulation of property, wealth, kingdom, etc., the desire to perpetuate oneself through progeny, which looks like actual continuance in time, and the desire for endless recognition, that one's name should be remembered even after the body goes. You have no desires in this world except these three. You can go on thinking a thousand things, but you will find that they come from only these three, which are like a big umbrella covering all your desires.

In this circumstance of your placement in this kind of world, what are you supposed to do when you seek salvation? Can you imagine how much inward effort is necessary on your part to take steps along the line of yoga practice? These involvements should be disentangled. They should not be severed by a sword. You do not kill your desire; you disentangle it and untie the knot.

It is said that there are three knots: Brahma-granthi, Vishnu-granthi and Rudra-granthi—Brahma's knot, Vishnu's knot and Siva's knot. Perhaps these three knots have some connection with the three desires that I mentioned just now. They are very much emphasised in kundalini yoga and hatha yoga, etc. They are the tamasic, the rajasic and the sattvic; they are the outward, the inward and the universal. They have to be carefully handled by educational methods which do not ride roughshod over them.

The whole of yoga practice is an educational process. The student is not hit the head with knowledge in order to force it to enter. It is not a sudden jerk or a push that is given, but it is a gradual entry of a river into the ocean of the mind of the student. Desires are not to be abandoned. You cannot abandon a desire as if it is some outcast. The point is, the desire should not be there. You have to find out why it has arisen. I have told you something about the reason why desires arise. They arise due to a misconception in the mind that eternity and infinity can be had by these associations, which is a hopeless affair and a futile attempt. Eternity cannot be had in time, perpetuation is not possible, and endless possession is also not practicable.

Therefore, all the efforts of man in this world are finally baseless. He is born like a psychological pauper and dies like a psychological pauper, but in the middle he looks like an emperor. This is no good. We do not want to go like paupers. Therefore, let us have some education, some knowledge.