Desires, Yoga and the Process of Overcoming the Promptings of the Lower Nature

Change implies giving up something that is currently active and replacing it with something new and different. A change of consciousness, a shift from the normal human egoistic standpoint to the divine standpoint, implies similarly that the normal human habits, traits, actions, drives and motives must be given up and replaced. This is in fact the crux of the difficulties the practitioner faces when he takes up the integral yoga. Every trained-in response, every instinct, long human habit and socialization from childhood builds a formidable obstacle to effectuating real change. Most people do not even think about the issue, as they are living their normal life which is filled with desire, the attempt to satisfy desire, and the frustration when a desire goes unmet and unfulfilled. This is considered to be the framework of human life.

In order to create a social body, people have determined that not all desires can or should be fulfilled. Some interfere with the smooth working of the society, particularly when they infringe upon the life and freedom of others who get in the path or stand in the way of the desire of the moment. Thus, laws, social customs and traditions are built to restrain desire in certain directions and people are encouraged to redirect their energies elsewhere when they approach these boundaries. But even here, many are the times when individuals transgress these societal rules, simply because they have no true control over the desires, the impulses that arise and the pressures that drive them.

For the yogic practitioner, a conscious awareness must arise that highlights these mostly unrecognised impulses for what they are, and the practitioner then must take up practices to not simply suppress or restrain the action of desire, but to reject it entirely and replace it with a new focus for the energy and awareness of the being. No small task!

Sri Aurobindo writes: “It is not yoga to give free play to the natural instincts and desires. Yoga demands mastery over the nature, not subjection to the nature.”

“Most men are, like animals, driven by the forces of Nature: whatever desires come, they fulfil them, whatever emotions come they allow them to play, whatever physical wants they have, they try to satisfy. We say then that the activities and feelings of men are controlled by their Prakriti, and mostly by the vital and physical nature. The body is the instrument of the Prakriti or Nature — it obeys its own nature or it obeys the vital forces of desire, passion, etc.”

“”But man has also a mind and, as he develops, he learns to control his vital and physical nature by his reason and by his will. This control is very partial: for the reason is often deluded by vital desires and the ignorance of the physical and it puts itself on their side and tries to justify by its ideas, reasonings or arguments their mistakes and wrong movements. Even if the reason keeps free and tells the vital or the body, ‘Do not do this’, yet the vital and the body often follow their own movement in spite of the prohibition — man’s mental will is not strong enough to compel them.”

“When people do sadhana, there is a higher Nature that works within, the psychic and spiritual, and they have to put their nature under the influence of the psychic being and the higher spiritual self or of the Divine. Not only the vital and the body but the mind also has to learn the Divine Truth and obey the divine rule. But because of the lower nature and its continued hold on them, they are unable at first and for a long time to prevent their nature from following the old ways — even when they know or are told from within what to do or what not to do. It is only by persistent sadhana, by getting into the higher spiritual consciousness and spiritual nature that this difficulty can be overcome; but even for the strongest and best sadhaks it takes a long time.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Desire, pp. 291-296