Dear Francis, I have a question for you about desire. Please forgive the length. I notice that whenever I feel fear, it is the result of the possibility that some desire I have will not be fulfilled, be it a small desire for some sort of pleasure, or a large or instinctual desire, such as my body’s desire to avoid pain or death. Through following various teachings, I have had several powerful experiences of sensing that the physical body to which “my” eyes belong is not truly me. This has led to feelings of peace in which I find that my desires do not seem as strong. After these experiences I notice that some desires are even fulfilled effortlessly. Yet I eventually always sense numerous desires returning, and with them pleasure and pain and fear—the byproducts of desire. I feel so much confusion over desire and what to do with it, and I hear so many seemingly contradictory messages in various teachings. I have thought that one solution would be to strive to eliminate all desire through intensive meditation and renunciation, yet such an effort would ironically stem from more desire, specifically the desire to eliminate desire. This seems to be an inherent contradiction (desiring not to desire), and I sense that striving to eliminate one’s desires would cause them to fight back with equal strength, though I could be wrong, as so many Buddhist monks seems to suggest. I have also read statements by Ramana Maharshi (a sage with whom I feel a deep connection) that the jnani’s desires become “pure,” thus implying that the jnani still has desires, but that they somehow doe not cause him or others suffering. At times I have felt that I have discovered such “pure” desire, only to realize that I had begun to suffer because of the desire. I have also read statements specifically made by teachers aligned with advaita who say things like, “there is no doer,” “all is the will of God,” and “all sense of personal choice and free will are illusions.” With the exception of a few great teachers, many of these teachers get accused of unethical, harmful behavior, and often point to such teachings to defend themselves. I do not know whom I can trust! I have also read teachings that seek to allow one to “manifest” or “attract” all that one desires. But through trying these teachings, I have found that they offer no peace, for no matter how many self-centered desires one brings into reality, one always seems to want more and to fear losing what one gained. So my question is, what am I to do with desire? I have tried to run from it, and to fulfill it, and neither seems to offer the highest. I am afraid to wholeheartedly pursue my dreams because I feel that I may simply be setting myself up for endless cycles of pleasure and pain (what so many sages say are the inexorable results of desire). One’s dream’s are, after all, desires. Yet dreams entail some true happiness, and to sit idly and deny them seems to produce as much suffering as pursuing them. Should one give up all desire except the desire for liberation and strive for it? What does such a decision look like in real life? With deep gratitude, Jay
As separate individuals, we don’t have the freedom to give up our desires. There is nothing we can do when a desire arises, since we don’t have control over our thoughts. If we did, it would be easy, we could choose for instance to have no desires, or to have only those that we can fulfill easily. All the techniques aiming at such a control require an effort upon the cessation of which the desires come back with a vengeance. You ask: “Should one give up all desire except the desire for liberation and strive for it?” One should give up the desire to control our desires, which should be easy due to the understanding that such a control is an illusion. The good news is that such a control is not necessary. Follow instead your interest, your enthusiasm. At some point it will naturally focus on the search for your Reality. Nurture your love for the Truth, whenever it invites you. As your energies get spontaneously transferred from the world to the Self, the causeless joy that emanates from your Presence will become more and more overwhelming. The desires for objects will become pale in comparison, just as the rising sun obliterates the weaker light of the stars and causes their seeming disappearance. To put it in a nutshell: always follow your main desire, the one which takes you to the Truth. Regarding the lesser desires, fulfill them if you can, and if they are harmless to yourself and to others.