Desireless Action: The Problem

The crux of the problem faced by anyone trying to implement the Gita’s teaching is how exactly to overcome the impulsion of desire, both the overt force of desire as commonly seen and understood, and the more subtle, but nevertheless very real impulsion of desire that accompanies “disinterested action”. Sri Aurobindo explains with respect to disinterested action: “For what we call ordinarily disinterested action is not really desireless; it is simply a replacement of certain smaller personal interests by other larger desires which have only the appearance of being impersonal, virtue, country, mankind.”

Another aspect goes back to the earlier concepts set forth by Sri Krishna. “All action, moreover, as Krishna insists, is done by the Gunas of Prakriti, by our nature; in acting according to the Shastra we are still acting according to our nature,–even if this Shastric action is not, as it usually is, a mere cover for our desires, prejudices, passions, egoisms, our personal, national, sectarian vanities, sentiments and preferences; but even otherwise, even at the purest, still we obey a choice of our nature, and if our nature were different and the Gunas acted on our intelligence and will in some other combination, we would not accept the Shastra, but live according to our pleasure or our intellectual notions or else break free from the social law to live the life of the solitary or the ascetic.”

There appears to be no easy solution to overcoming the impulsion of desire and the bondage of the play of the Gunas. Sri Aurobindo provides insight to Sri Krishna’s solution: “We cannot become impersonal by obeying something outside ourselves, for we cannot so get outside ourselves; we can only do it by rising to the highest in ourselves, into our free Soul and Self which is the same and one in all and has therefore no personal interest, to the Divine in our being who possesses Himself transcendent of cosmos and is therefore not bound by His cosmic works or His individual action.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 11, Works and Sacrifice, pp. 103-104,