Three Stages of the Transformation of the Force of Desire

When one gets the call to take up the spiritual quest, the human personality is still in place and fully active. As a result, the first response is to engage the vital energy through the force of desire. Some spiritual disciplines counsel suppressing desire, but as Sri Aurobindo has pointed out elsewhere, this generally results in making the force even stronger. Others counsel techniques to sublimate the various forms of desire into more positive forms. Sri Aurobindo describes a process whereby desire can be systematically transformed:

“This craving life-force or desire-soul in us has to be accepted at first, but only in order that it may be transformed. Even from the beginning it has to be taught to renounce all other desires and concentrate itself on the passion for the Divine.” Thus, the powerful vital impulse of desire is first harnessed to the spiritual quest.

“This capital point gained, it has to be taught to desire, not for its own separate sake, but for God in the world and for the Divine in ourselves; it has to fix itself upon no personal spiritual gain, though of all possible spiritual gains we are sure, but on the great work to be done in us and others, on the high coming manifestation which is to be the glorious fulfilment of the Divine in the world, on the Truth that has to be sought and lived and enthroned for ever.” This stage represents a universalisation and impersonalisation of the impulse of desire, which leads to a detaching of the energy from the core ego-personality.

“But last, most difficult for it, more difficult than to seek with the right object, it has to be taught to seek in the right manner; for it must learn to desire, not in its own egoistic way, but in the way of the Divine. It must insist no longer, as the strong separative will always insists, on its own manner of fulfilment, its own dream of possession, its own idea of the right and desirable; it must yearn to fulfil a larger and greater Will and consent to wait upon a less interested and ignorant guidance.” This stage instills patience and faith in the being, and an understanding that the Divine has mapped out the steps of the manifestation, and the individual is purely at the service of that effort.

“Thus trained, Desire, that great unquiet harasser and troubler of man and cause of every kind of stumbling, will become fit to be transformed into its divine counterpart. For desire and passion too have their divine forms; there is a pure ecstasy of the soul’s seeking beyond all craving and grief, there is a Will of Ananda that sits glorified in the possession of the supreme beatitudes.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 2, Self Consecration, pp. 77-78