Is Desire Good or Bad?

sunset
sunset

O Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

It’s a great song.[link] But, does desire help or hinder our lives?

Lifeless and Desires

It is said there are 2 types of people without desires – Saints and people who live inert, passive lives. A saint has transcended his personal desires and may be very dynamic and self giving. He lives not to please himself, but for the benefit of others. Others may have no desires, but, then they have no particular aspiration to do anything – apart from perhaps watching daytime TV.

There was a great Spiritual Teacher called Swami Vivekananda – some very serious seekers came to him asking for spiritual instruction – so the Swami told them to go an play and football, he said they would make more progress playing football than studying spiritual theory. What Vivekananda was trying to inculcate was the necessity of dynamism and a need for balance. It is often only after we have realised the limitations of pursuing desires, that we really are ready to turn inward.  Transcending desires does not mean becoming inert and lifeless; it is moving from a selfish perspective to a selfless perspective. In this selflessness there may be great dynamism.

Possession and Detachment

When we desire to possess something or someone we create powerful forces of expectation and attachment. The problem with this kind of desire, is that we are invariably disappointed when we fail to possess what we desire. In relationships we desire to feel that a person belongs to us. With this kind of attitude we can soon become jealous, anxious or miserable when the other person fails to reciprocate our feelings. It is a mistake to feel this kind of emotional attachment is in anyway necessary. Rather than desiring a certain outcome, real love will not have expectations. When we develop this attitude of selflessness – free of desire and expectation we give relationships greater freedom and therefore make them stronger. The secret is to avoid desiring / demanding certain outcomes. It is of course, even a bigger mistake to desire a person changes and becomes what we expect them to be; this is even more damaging than our own desires. Here our desires are being played through someone else.

Never Ending Desires

“There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire; the other is to get it.”

– George Bernard Shaw

The problem with desires is that they feed on themselves. If the Good Lord, did acquiesce to our desires for a new Mercedez Benz, it would probably just encourage us to start asking for a little more. “O Lord, could you also buy my a private helicopter… e.t.c” The point is that desire is never ending and yet the more we get the more empty we can feel. The solution is not to renounce all possessions and live like a wandering sannyasin. But, we do need to make a conscious decision to be happy with less – to appreciate the benefits of simplicity. – see: The Power of Simplicity

Desire and Aspiration

There are of course very different kinds of desires. On the one hand there is the worldly desire for material goods, name and fame, and on the other hand there is the desire to become a better person, to be more self giving and thoughtful. Sri Chinmoy calls this not desire, but aspiration – the desire to grow in something better, more fulfilling and to discover who we really are.

“A desire-intoxicated man, like Julius Caesar, wants to say to the world: “I came, I saw, I conquered.” An aspiring inspiration-man wants to say to the world: “I came, I loved and I am becoming inseparably one with you.”

– Sri Chinmoy (poems on desire at Poetseers.org)

Sometimes life feels a pull between two forces – on the one hand we have the life of desire – the Mercedez Benz and worldly appreciation – the other life of aspiration, is to live in the heart and become a better person. The one life gives fleeting pleasures, and at times can seem easier because everyone else is doing it. The other seems to require more self effort. But, the more we seek to become a better person, the more we appreciation the benefits of aspiration and the less we feel the necessity for countless desires. Indeed we often look back and say ‘Why did I have such a strong desire to be a famous footballer when young?” – the lives of famous people are rarely more satisfying and fulfilling than normal people.

Photo by Ranjit Swanson, Sri Chinmoy Centre Galleries

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3 thoughts on “Is Desire Good or Bad?”

  1. Hi Tejvan, thanks for the very insightful post 🙂 I think an experience of both is essential for someone to truly appreciate the value of pursuing their aspirations. Someone who has pursued and experienced his/her desires before will be able to know that it is something hollow; it is only a mean and not an end in itself.

  2. Thank you Tejvan, This was very helpful. I have been struggling with these issues most of my adult life. I have been well employed and been able to acquire many things. Now that I am feeling a level of understanding that was lacking in the past, I am wanting to share those insights with others. I have been wondering if this is just another ego desire. When you made the distinction clear that a person can have an “aspiration” that comes from the heart instead of the ego it settled my mind. Thanks

  3. …Seems to me that there is a general feeling that desire is undesirable… or rather, that a ‘state of non-desiring’ is a very desirable thing indeed… I can’t wait for it! I want it so badly, that I’m doing everything Sri Chimnoy talks about – so I hope it comes soon…! Thank you.

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