Sayings of a Paramahamsa
Swami Satyananda Saraswati
What is the best way to manage our wishes, desires and aspirations?
These are all different words that point to one basic principle, in the same way as rasagulla, pedha, rasmalai, chamcham and chhena are all the names of sweets made from one single substance, which is milk. Do not bother about the different names. From time immemorial man has cherished one resolve deep within himself which cannot be uprooted, and that is the desire to become many. According to the Upanishads, man inherited this primordial desire from Brahman or paramatma, who became bored being alone and sought to become many. This basic desire is, therefore, indestructible. So, desires, wishes and cravings, kamana, ichcha and vasana, are endless. Even the wish for moksha or bhakti is a desire. The form has changed, but basically it is one and the same wish.
The saints, mahapurushas, spiritual masters and god-men tell us that the river of desire flows in two opposite directions – good and bad, auspicious and inauspicious. We all have thoughts which flow in good and bad directions. Where there are good thoughts, there is prosperity and happiness. You have good thoughts for your near and dear ones, such as your children and friends, but you also entertain bad thoughts about people whom you dislike. You think well of those who are nice to you and ill of those who treat you with disrespect. So, good and bad thoughts are the two reactions of the mind. It is not the real nature of the mind, but a reactionary nature. Thus, the mind has two natures, the natural and the reactionary. Mind is the supreme manager, the chief secretary, and good and bad reactions are its modulations. Therefore, you should leave the mind alone.
Channel the desires into good actions
Do not attack the reactionary mind for its desires, wishes and cravings. Do not hate your desires or feel guilty about having them. Sometimes you feel upset at seeing your bad thoughts, but this does not help. You will have to pave a way, set a trend, and create a channel to direct the bad thoughts into good ones. The shastras tell us to put the inauspicious thoughts on an auspicious track. Auspicious or good thoughts are generated by good actions, good turns done to others. Thus I keep telling you to get involved in good works. Start doing good to others and to yourselves. Singing God's name, visiting pilgrimage places, temples and places of worship are good acts. Serving the country or community, building hospitals, schools and orphanages are good actions. But the best action is to help and support women, because the female principle is the basis of creation.
All heroes, saints and godly men are born of women. Rama, Krishna and Hanuman were all born of women. Hanuman was not born in a Maruti factory, he was born of a mother. So, if you serve women well – and I am using the word woman to convey mother – then the babies of the coming generation will be of a high quality. The baby daughters born of good mothers will be intelligent and capable. In the present times, the best action is serving the mother, your own as well as others.
If you do this, you will find that the turmoil of desires and passions within you will subside and you will be serene. The passions and cravings will be subdued and toned down. Our shastras tell us that man has three basic desires: desire for a woman, desire for wealth and desire for progeny. Nobody is free from these three desires. There are hardly any exceptions to this rule. Those who try to find freedom from these desires through sadhana are wasting their time, because they will never be successful. I was never freed from the desire for progeny. Instead of sons, I got disciples. I wanted to get away from money and wealth, so here I am sitting amidst gold and silver. This is the law of nature which cannot be avoided.
The law of nature tells us to walk the natural path. These three desires are part of human nature, just like hunger, sleep and excretion. At the same time, you can manage these basic instincts with proper awareness and regulation. Desires are present in all stages of life: brahmacharya ashrama, grihastha ashrama, vanaprastha ashrama, but the objects of desire change according to one's age. In childhood one desires toys, games and sports. In youth one desires wealth, women and progeny. In the later stages of life one does not continue with the same desires. Grihastha ashrama, householder life, is followed by vanaprastha ashrama, retirement. Retirement and old age succeed youth and middle age, so the objects of desire must change accordingly.
Vanaprastha ashrama should make way for sannyasa ashrama. Sannyasa is necessary because it provides an opportunity to give your desires a new direction. It is a turning point. I do not claim to be free of desire, but I have given a new turn to my desires. During youth and middle age you lead a life of bhoga, pleasure, but when old age comes the desires never wane; they still play havoc. Therefore, at that time the shastras suggest you turn towards sannyasa life. Either you shave your head and enter an ashram or open a hospital and involve yourself in a life of service. Once your mind is engrossed in the work of the hospital, the desires will change their direction and form.
Transformation not suppression
Ultimately, the desires should be channelled in such a way that they lead to desirelessness. The desires should be sublimated or transformed in such a way that they no longer remain personal. Serving others selflessly and doing good turns will transform your desires into noble inclinations. If you are thinking of killing your desires, you will never succeed, and I will also tell you why you will not succeed. Paramatma is inactive, a mere witness, like a passive watchdog, but when he comes in contact with prakriti, the three shaktis, powers or capabilities rise within him. He begins to have ichcha shakti, the power of desire or motivation, kriya shakti, the ability to act for the fulfilment of desire, and jnana shakti, the capacity to know and recognize. Purusha manifests these powers only after union with prakriti.
Once purusha is associated with prakriti, he then comes within her purview. Hence paramatma begins to abide by the laws of prakriti. Sri Rama and Sri Krishna both did the same when they incarnated in human form. Once paramatma becomes linked with prakriti, he too begins to have the same desires which reside and work through all beings. This is the primordial origin of desire. So, man is born into a physical body with desire, and nobody can say, “I am free from desire.”
Didn't Mirabai have passion? Why did she look upon Sri Krishna as her husband and not as her son, father or brother? She had passion, therefore, she chose the Lord as her husband and lover. The words that Mirabai uses in her poetry are all charged with eroticism: Giridhara mero sacho piya – “Giridhara is my real husband”; Main to Giridhara ke ghar jaoongi – “I will go to the house of Giridhara.” But the difference is that her passion was directed towards God and so it elevated her; it took her to sublime heights. It was the same with Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Even in Christianity the idea of a conjugal relationship between man and God is present. Man is the bride and God is considered to be the bridegroom. All the Christian saints dress in black like the widows of Christ.
There was a devotee from Munger who migrated to Vrindavan and started the Sati Sampradaya there. He was an inspector of schools and whenever he had inspection duty, he had to visit the school according to the schedule and sign the report in the register. However, by nature he was drawn to saintly people and lovers of God. He used to welcome all sadhus, wash their feet, feed them, serve them and offer whatever money he could to them. Once he became so engrossed in his hospitality to a visiting saint that he lost track of time. Instead of reporting for duty at ten a.m., he visited the school at four p.m. and discovered to his amazement that the register already bore his signature. The peon then told him how he had already come for inspection on schedule and completed his work. This miracle brought about in him an instant change of heart. He thought to himself, “If God can keep an eye on me and do my inspection for me, can he not fend for me too? Can he not give me my daily bread?” That very instant he left home for good and headed for Vrindavan, where he began to live like God's bride.
The transformation of desire is a very important topic. The shastras, classical texts and modern psychology all affirm that desire and passion cannot and should not be killed. Freud has said in unequivocal terms that the suppression of desires and natural instincts leads to mental sickness and neurosis. Suppression and repression are the cause of all diseases. Modern western civilization has grown out of this Freudian theory. Therefore, desire has to be redirected and rechannelled in order to achieve the highest goal of life.
Sita Kalyanam, Rikhia, December 1997