|The mind will be tempted to nurture the unhealthy desires. Therefore,
it is essential that an intelligent person must create an inner strength
to discriminate between his needs and desires. Herein lies the importance
There are two types of reactions to this phenomenon called desire. Some
people nurture their desires, and feel successful with the fulfilment
of each desire. But there are some who aspire to vanquish desires even
before they surface. They believe in relinquishing material possessions
and try to conquer the desires that take birth in their minds. They do
not gloat with pride when their desires are fulfilled, nor do they suffer
in deprivation. The first category of people enjoy worldly success in
the fulfi lment of desires whereas the second category of people experience
spiritual ecstasy on conquering their desires.
A mind that is free of desires is calm and serene but a mind that is disturbed
by desires is insatiable. The more you try to satisfy it, the more you
get ensnared in its web. If life was like a smooth highway, one could
speed through it without any stops or pitfalls. But, alas! Such is not
the case. Life is full of difficulties and obstacles. And how do we face
these obstacles? By always being hurt by them, and allowing the thorns
of unrest, hatred and jealousy to pierce our very flesh! There is calmness
and serenity before desires are born, but when obstacles arise in the
path of desires, then the mind gets agitated, and as a result, negative
emotions like anger and pride arise.
All of man’s desires can never be fulfilled; this is a universal
law. In life, unfulfilled desires are always greater in number. On one
hand, man’s heart and mind are constantly troubled because these
desires are not fulfilled, and on the other hand, his mind burns with
frustration against those circumstances and powers that create obstacles
fulfilment of desires. Often, a person begins to hate himself to the extent
of committing suicide. There is not a single person whose every desire
has been fulfilled, nor is it likely to ever happen. One who makes such
a tall claim is obviously suffering from delusion or self-deception.
This is similar to the case of a man who first inflicts a wound upon himself
with a knife and then bandaging himself, feels happy when the wound has
healed. This is only an indication of his foolishness. After all, joy
can exist only in the state prior to the wound, then why inflict the wound
at all? So also the state prior to the arising of desire is the state
of peace, contentment and joy. Infact, any experience of contentment stems
from an absence of desire. To create desires is to inflict a wound upon
oneself with a knife. The wound on the body may heal in time, but the
wound inflicted by the knife of desire does not ever heal. And a wounded
mind has no space to rest. It is always restless, always searching. Day
and night the mind is troubled by worries and burdened by obstacles. And
at the end of the day, even if the wound starts healing, of what use is
it? The peace that existed before the emerging of desires is anyway lost
forever. In its place lies the conflict arising from desire, which is
akin to the self-inflicted wound. This is just like prāṇāyāma
done in reverse. In fact, the entire analysis can be simply summed up
by the argument that if there is joy in the absence of desire, then why
entertain desire at all?
Religious scholars have said that an in-depth analysis of our emotions
and desires will reveal that meaningless and petty emotions trouble the
mind all the time. Even if we wish to fulfill desires so that there may
be peace, only a few can be fulfilled; most desires can never be fulfilled.
It is often the case that in the fulfilment of one desire, many new ones
emerge. This life is like a palace that has a thousand doors, all of them
locked. If a person tries to open the fi rst door, he will find the second
one locked. After a lot of effort, he will open the second just to fi
nd the third one locked. In this manner, his entire life is spent on opening
one door after another. Until finally, in the maze of unlocked doors,
the door of death opens before him and he has no choice but to enter it
leaving all unopened doors behind.
When Rāvana was lying on his death-bed in preparation for the final
departure, he was asked if he had a final wish. He said sadly, “Some
desires, some wishes of my life remain unfulfilled, unable to fly, like
a broken-winged bird. Now they have to remain within me, tortured. They
cannot be fulfilled.”
When he was asked what these wishes were, he said:
“It was my desire that fire should burn, but not emit smoke and
blackness. It should emit only brightness and light. That gold, which
is so beautiful to the sight, should have a lovely fragrance as well.
That the salty seas on all the shores of Lanka should have sweet water,
so that it can be useful to all.
“There are many more desires, but these three desires are my most
cherished ones. I have established my sovereignty from one end of the
world to the other. I have created the Lanka of gold and acquired magical
powers. And yet, here I lie, waiting for death to free me of the pain
caused by my most cherished, unfulfilled desires.”
When one as mighty and powerful as Rāvaṇa accepts defeat at
the hands of unfulfilled desires, then what can be said of ordinary mortals?
From time immemorial, desires have emerged, have been extinguished and
have re-emerged with greater passion. Even on becoming king of the heavens,
desires have not been satiated. Such is the appetite of desires.
A wealthy man once said, “I aspire to spend time in religious activities.
I yearn to attend discourses, but I have to work so hard to manage my
basic necessities that I find no time.” It is this appetite of the
mind which cannot be satisfied even with the wealth of a thousand emperors
and that of Lord Indra combined. A handful of grain is all our stomach
needs, but the appetite of the mind is so large that you can go on fi
lling it, yet it remains unfulfilled. If fat is poured on blazing flames,
will they ever subside? On the contrary, they will be further kindled.
The same is the case of pacifying desires by trying to fulfil them. It
is said in the Manusmṛti that trying to fulfil desires is like adding
fat to fire.
Where is joy? Sometimes I wonder, after all where does it reside? As long
as desires exist, whether you fulfil them or whether you allow them to
remain in your mind, they will only frustrate you. As long as you try
to satiate desires, the moment of total fulfi lment cannot arrive, and
without that, how can everlasting joy be found?
A monarch who rules over six regions still thirsts for a seventh one!
Just think - if the opulence of six regions cannot give contentment, then
what is there in the seventh one which would satisfy him? Lord Mahāvīra
For avarice is boundless like the sky.
The scriptures say that the hope to be able to fulfil all desires is like
the woman whose countless children have lived and died, but her life has
not reached its end. That moment when you will reach the end of your hopes
and desires will be the moment when you will discover the spring of joy
and peace in your soul. Material satisfaction is transient, the joy of
the soul is eternal.
This is the crucial issue regarding sādhanā - how is one to
stop this flow of impulses? As we reflect on sādhanā, a question
looms before us - an old and deep question. As we dwell deeper into fi
nding an answer, the question becomes more profound.
A person floating on the surface of water has no idea about its depth.
So also, when we ponder over a problem, we may be just skimming at the
superficial level. By believing that we are thinking deeply about the
problem, we may be deluding ourselves. Constant and patient refl ection
is an art to be learnt.
We are concerned now with the mind of the seeker. All actions, whether
mental, physical or verbal, create subtle impressions in the mind. Thus
the mind has impulses and values, some of which have been companions of
the soul for many lives. The soul also gathers fresh impressions all the
time. However, let me explain to you that impulses are not eternal. It
is their impressions in the mind which have an endless flow. For example,
anger is an impulse which has a beginning; so also greed and pride. But
the stream from where they all emerge is eternal. To explain this simply,
the stream of impulses has no beginning, no end. It flows eternally. It
has been and will always be. From this stream, impulses like anger and
jealousy surface in the mind at different times and in different forms.
As a seeker progresses on the path of sādhanā, he reaches a
state of conflict within himself, a crossroad where he has to make a choice.
It is here that the two roads of sādhanā are born. Some choose
the path of suppressing impulses, known as upaśama, while others
choose the path of slow lulling of impulses, known as kṣaya.
Let us now think. What happens when we get angry? When we are criticized,
we feel wronged and angry. As anger increases, memory begins to deteriorate
and our body becomes weaker. Do you understand that this feeling of anger
is not born from an inner discrimination? Rather, it is born out of external
pressure, influence and attachment. We wish to suppress our anger, to
hide it so that others do not think of us as short-tempered; also because
we do not want its negative consequences to affect our body. But just
like fire is concealed in ashes, the heat of anger remains within us,
masked in the veil of diplomacy.
You may recall – I recently stated in a discourse that if you want
to see a person’s true colour, see him in his home. Outside, a person
wears many masks, he responds to social and societal pressures, he fears
for his reputation. Therefore, a person’s true colours are revealed
only in the privacy of his home and not outside. At home, he is free of
societal pressure and so is able to express himself freely. In man’s
life, there is a constant play of diplomacy. He presents different facets
of himself at different times depending on what is required of him, thus
rarely revealing his true self. In today’s world, political diplomacy
has invaded simple, mundane lives as well.
In the Mahābhārata, Vyāsa has stated the qualities of a
king A king’s words are soft like butter, but his heart is like
a sharp-edged knife.
That is, keeping his innermost thoughts hidden, maintaining an external
calm, speaking sweet words of diplomacy, and weaving deadly plots to weaken
an enemy’s barriers – these are the distinguishing features
of a king.
Thousands of years later, this political ethos continues. I agree that
in the past, such tactics were part of political policies, but today they
have become an integral part of even our family and personal life. What
was earlier considered as a necessary evil to combat enemies has now been
adopted and justified as a way of life. A Sanskrit verse says:
Three indicators of a wicked person are: Face radiant like lotus, speech
soothing like sandal paste and heart sharp like scissors.
In the past, these complex facades of the body, mind and speech were characteristics
of a cunning mind. So the verse says that if you look at the face of a
cunning man; it looks like a blooming lotus. A radiant expression, a welcoming
smile and a soothing voice. But look into his heart and what you will
fi nd is cunningness of such a high order that it spares no one, not even
his best of friends. But in the present world, these have been mastered
even by those who are known to be simple and sagacious.
Earlier, I spoke about those who mask their true selves in the presence
of others. Such a suppression to create a façade before people
is the cause of ultimate downfall. The upaśama of sādhanā
is of a different nature altogether. By this, a seeker does not indulge
in treachery, deceit or pretense any more, but his inner resolve is not
yet strong enough to destroy the impulses. The fire of attachment and
aversion that is within cannot be destroyed easily; it remains suppressed.
But by the power of sādhanā, a momentary state of calmness or
detachment is achieved – this is the upaśama of sādhanā.
Therefore, at this stage impulses are merely suppressed. And at the first
opportunity, these suppressed impulses rise to the surface.
In this regard, let me give you an example. Imagine your house is messy
and has not been swept for many days. All of a sudden, you have visitors.
So what do you do? In a hurry, you throw a beautiful rug over the mess
so that your guests do not think that you have a dirty house. Thus the
mess has not been thrown out but merely hidden. This explanation can be
broadly used to understand the upaśama of impulses.
Look at this second example. Imagine you have filled muddy water in a
glass jar and set it aside for a while, without disturbing it. Shortly,
the mud will settle at the bottom, the clear water at the top. But what
kind of clarity is this? If the jar is shaken a little, the mud will again
mix into the water and make it murky once more. When mud settles at the
bottom, it is upaśama, but when it rises to the surface again, it
is in the audayika6 state.
Thus, supression of impulses leads to the state of upaśama, while
their manifestation leads to the audayika state.
In the state of upaśama, the impulses of anger, pride and greed seem
to be dormant and calm on the surface. But suppressed impulses cannot
stay dormant for very long. The time-span of upaśama is said to be
no more than antarmuhūrtta7. In every moment of our lives we experience
the faltering of the mind. How unstable and fi ckle the mind is with its
rise and ebb of emotions and thoughts! Don’t all of us experience
this every moment of our lives? Thus, we see that suppressed impulses
are easy targets of temptation. At the fi rst prospect, they rise to the
surface again, and return to their audayika state.
In psychological terms, in the state of upaśama, the impulses that
arise in the conscious mind retreat to the sub-conscious. There they remain
hidden as sanskāras. In moments of confusion, they re-surface to
the conscious level once again.
Just imagine – a thief breaks into your house, hides quietly in
a corner and you are oblivious of him. How can your wealth remain safe?
A moment of carelessness on your part and he vanishes with your valuables.
How can we be safe from a thief who is within our home? In upaśama,
the impulses stay hidden quietly like the thief, but for how long? After
the antarmuhūrtta of forty-eight minutes, they become active once
Once a young lad was wandering on a cold, hilly terrain. At night, he
came across a snake which lay unconscious in the cold. Assuming it to
be dead, he picked it up fearlessly and put it in his pocket. He wanted
to take it home to frighten his siblings. With this playful thought in
his mind, he reached home, hands and feet frozen from the cold. He sat
by the hearth to enjoy the warmth of the fi re. As the warmth reached
into his pocket, the snake slowly gained consciousness. Before he knew
it, the boy was dead from the deadly bite of the snake.
The snake frozen from the cold outside gained consciousness appears in
water in which dirt has been mixed. from the heat. The invigilant boy
who wanted to make fun of others, met his death.
Impulses like anger, pride, delusion and greed are like the snake which
sometimes lies dormant due to the cooling and serene effect of sādhanā.
But by believing that our impulses have been completely vanquished, or
that anger and greed have been dissipated, we tend to become careless
and invigilant. Because, in reality, these impulses have only been temporarily
rendered inactive or unconscious, they have not lessened but have been
suppressed. They can easily be activated with the slightest provocation.
Once they awaken, the aspirant-like-existence comes to an end.
The lad had made an error in calculation by assuming that the snake was
dead, a mistake that cost him his life. Often, such errors are made by
our aspirants in the sphere of sādhanā. As a consequence, people
often judge them as proud and haughty, and shirk them away as fraudulant
Recently, newspapers carried shocking reports on the gross negligence
of renowned hospitals where doctors without careful examination, declared
unconscious patients dead. Due to this callous error, those unfortunate
people were made to lie along with dead bodies in the mortuary. When some
of them regained consciousness, there was obviously an uproar against
the negligence and insensitivity on the part of the doctors.
A similar kind of invigilance often derails the life of the negligent,
unsuspecting aspirant. He commits a grave error by taking for granted,
even for a moment, that all his negative or physical impulses are dead.
Therefore, when these impulses surface unexpectedly, his actions cause
distress to those around him. The person is also shocked at his own negative
impulses. Constant introspection of the self is of extreme importance
in order to keep our impulses in check.
Calmness in the face of fear is the sign of true renunciation. Succumbing
to objects of fear is not true renunciation. Fear can direct even an animal
to tread warily. Take the example of an animal that is led to graze by
its master in the field. However tempted the animal may feel to stop and
chew the luscious grass, it moves straight on without daring to succumb.
Why? Is this restraint? Has he become a yogī? No, this is not restraint,
it is fear. The fear of the cowherd’s cane keeps him steadfast on
his path. An Ācārya has stated in Sanskrit:
He who has overcome his impulses is one, who in the face of rampant corruption,
immense material and sensual temptation remains calm and unaffected.
Even in an untoward situation, his worldly impulses remain dormant. Such
detachment is possible only when one has earnestly and absolutely renounced
from within. Such a renunciation is not an external garb. It is born not
out of anger, greed or bitterness towards life, but from discrimination
and vigilance. It is a true awakening of the soul.
How can we initiate a spiritual revolution in today’s world? Are
changes in impulses and values necessary? Yes, they are. The thought process
and vision prevalent in the present day sādhanā is not a healthy
one, for it is directed by cowardice; it is false renunciation caught
in the clutches of fear and shame. There is a need for change and revolution.
A change in vision can change the universe.
Imagine you find your child indulging in an unhealthy habit like smoking.
What would your first impulse or reaction be? Either you will resort to
anger or you will say, “What are you doing? What will people say?”
The very statement – “what will people say” - stems
from fear of others rather than concern for a loved one. Such logic cannot
change nor squash his negative impulse. It can only suppress it and create
the impulse of fear in him. By creating the fear of social disapproval
in his mind you have encouraged him to follow his impulse, in this case
to smoke, in hiding. Your intention may be to inspire him to think ethically,
but your reason and logic fail to prepare an ethical grounding for him.
In the same manner, there are so many customs and traditions in social
life which you do not believe in, which you keep condemning, but continue
to live up to. Only for the same reason – what will people say?
You want to protect a child by instilling societal fear in him because
you yourself pander to societal pressures. Thus, you are caught between
two worlds. But I say - a change in thinking and reasoning is the need
of the hour. Old values of societal fear must be replaced by new values
of self realization. Our vision needs rectification.
I once chanced upon a monk who was admonishing his disciple by saying,
“Brother! What are you doing? What will theśrāvakas say?”
I spoke to him saying, “Oh monk! I am happy that you stopped your
disciple from wrong-doing, but your method was not right. This is not
the way to impart wisdom to one’s disciple.“What will the
śrāvakas say?” – by this statement, you have created
within him the need to hide his impulses. You should have said, “How
will your soul feel?” If you have restrained someone by external
pressure, it means that there has not been an awakening, nor has a path
towards self-reflection been etched out.” Until self-reflection
is awakened, no man or woman will make an honest attempt to uproot negative
I often think about this and have stated on more occasions than one, that
externally forced renunciation does not work. We speak of prohibition
of smoking and consumption of alcohol. The ethos of this prohibition is
correct, but it stems from a materialistic justification. Reasons such
as bodily harm and wastage of money are worldly reasons and justifications
for forced prohibitions. The strong pillars of renunciation cannot rest
on such feeble foundations. We must learn to assess our lives based on
what is good for the soul. Our inner vision has to awaken.
Is our renunciation true or is it a facade? The portrayal of
religious conduct with regard to renunciation can often become
melodramatic and therefore absurd. This is most often due to a
need to make an impression in one’s society or community.
Once, on our return from Palanpur, many of us arrived at Sachore town
in Rajasthan. It was an ancient region, and deeply influenced by another
following. While one of our younger monks set out to receive alms for
our meal, an elderly monk from our group advised him, “Today while
receiving gocharī, you must make an impression. Let the people of
this town always remember us as highly evolved and self-realized monks.”
In obedience, the younger monk went about receiving the
gocharī with high-handedness. “Oh, this food is asūjhatā.10 It does
not look like it was prepared with vigilance”, he fussed. People
were astounded and exclaimed, “Oh monk! We have never seen
such evolved saints earlier! Such an uncompromising attitude
refl ects your austerity and inner will.”
Later the monk reported to the elder one saying, “Master,
we have created such an impression that people have forgotten
the previous saints.”
I was surprised as well as amused and observed, “What is all
this? Why did you not do the same today that you do everyday?
Or why don’t you do everyday what you did today? Why these
double standards in behaviour?”
To this, they retorted, “After all, we don’t have to live
here everyday. We have come for a day and we will go away soon enough.
At least, the people here will remember that some great saints who were
perfectionists had visited here once.” The point that I am making
here is that the need to impress is not just a disease of the common man.
It has corrupted even the so-called enlightened ones. When can one achieve
a wholesome state? Even in the time of Lord Mahāvīra, this confl
ict, this duality was prevalent. It was to end this conflict that he preached
Whenever an aspirant observes any vow, performs any
penance or act of sādhanā for his soul, he will be blessed with
an inner vision and will therefore never be involved in deceit.
For one who can see clearly within himself, there will remain no
duality - asleep or awake, in solitude or in a crowd, he will only
be his true, singular self.
Because, whatever he does, he does for his soul, rather than to create
an impact on others. His actions and his speech are pure and devoid of
dualities and discrepancies. Such is his ultimate ideal. As he says, thus
he acts. As he is within, so he appears outside. As he appears outside,
so he is within.
I believe that this is the purest picture of an aspirant’s life,
a true reflection. And such a condition can exist only when an aspirant’s
renunciation is illuminated with the light of his inner self - that light
which will emanate from his depths and illumine his entire life. You may
ask now, “When will this light within be lit, and how can this true
form of renunciation be achieved?” My answer to you is this: Your
inner light will dawn from the moment when you see the difference between
uprooting your negative impulses and simply suppressing them. When this
discrimination illuminates your inner gaze, it will inspire you towards
true renunciation rather than renunciation by external forces. When impulses
are uprooted, liberation will naturally follow.
We use the word ‘nirvāna’ to mean liberation. The actual
meaning of nirvāna is ‘to be extinguished‘ – a burning lamp to
be snuffed out. As an ācārya has stated in Sanskrit literature:
What is the use of pouring oil in a lamp which is at the point of extinction ?
The renowned Buddhist scholar Ācārya Aśvaghoṣa has also
used the word nirvāṇa in the same context.
A burning lamp is extinguished, its fl ame flickers away– can you
tell me where that flame goes? Does it go down, or does it vanish into
space above? Does it vanish in the easterly direction, or does it disappear
into the west? It goes nowhere. When it runs out of oil, it is extinguished
right there. It attains liberation.
According to the Buddhist philosophy, the same understanding applies to
the soul. They believe that the lamp of our soul burns with the oil of
attachment and aversion. But at a point, when the oil is completely emptied,
the lamp of consciousness is extinguished. As the flame dies out, the
soul, ripe with wisdom attains liberation at the very spot. It needs to
travel no further.
Jainism does not accept the Buddhist theory of the soul getting extinguished.
It has an independent understanding about nirvāṇa. At this
juncture, I wish to tell you that Jainism also accepts the primary meaning
of nirvāṇa as blowing off, to be put off. Until the fl ame
of attachment and aversion does not get extinguished, until the volcano
of passions does not become dormant, liberation cannot happen. When the
flame of desires is extinguished, the soul comes into its pure form and
attains its primal state. This is nirvāṇa, this is liberation.
Nirvāṇa is not the snuffing out of the soul, but rather the
snuffing out of attachment and aversion.
I reiterate once again that if we have to move towards liberation, if
we have to attain liberation, then we must learn to put out the fire of
anger and desire. It is not just suppression of these emotions, but an
uprooting and slow lulling of impulses. The flame of sādhanā
should be bright and blazing, not feeble and weak. We must move towards
eradicating external pressures and circumstances that exert an influence
on our sādhanā nowadays. The values of sacrifice, renunciation
and sādhanā which are dependent on external factors have to
be redirected towards the inner self. When the external sight transforms
into an internal insight, the path of liberation will be lit up for the
soul to move on.