Overcoming Desire Without Suppression or Indulgence

The mental consciousness likes to frame issues in terms of black and white determinations, as ‘either/or’ considerations. So we tend to swing from one extreme to the other. Either we try to indulge ourselves in fulfilling desires, in some cases with the idea that by satisfying the desire we will overcome it, or else we undertake harsh suppression of the desire and utilize all kinds of punishing methods to enforce this suppression. It is rare that we find a way out of the conundrum that both of these methods, by fixating on the energy of the desire, are actually strengthening its hold! Sri Aurobindo describes the method he recommends which, over time, attenuates the hold of desire and frees the yogic practitioner from its clutches.

For the human ego-personality, which craves the excitement and energy of ‘doing’ something, the idea that one actually simply removes oneself from active involvement in the desire is a difficult concept to accept. Yet with practice one finds that the process of detachment, and observation with a calm view as if from outside oneself is actually the leverage needed to free oneself from the clutches of the desire-soul.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “… if you want to do yoga, you must take more and more in all matters, small or great, the yogic attitude. In our path that attitude is not one of forceful suppression, but of detachment and equality with regard to the objects of desire. Forceful suppression stands on the same level as free indulgence; in both cases, the desire remains; in the one it is fed by indulgence, in the other it lies latent and exasperated by suppression. It is only when one stands back, separates oneself from the lower vital, refusing to regard its desires and clamours as one’s own, and cultivates an entire equality and equanimity in the consciousness with respect to them that the lower vital itself becomes gradually purified and itself also calm and equal. Each wave of desire as it comes must be observed, as quietly and with as much unmoved detachment as you would observe something going on outside you, and allowed to pass, rejected from the consciousness, and the true movement, the true consciousness steadily put in its place.”

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

Two Options for the Seeker to Eliminate Desire

When the spiritual aspirant hears that he must eliminate desire from his consciousness, he frequently takes this as a message of ‘renunciation’ and thereby determines to live an isolated life free from the efforts involved in living in the world and interacting within the societal framework. Even when he tries to live quietly in the forest, or the desert, or some kind of monastic retreat setting, he finds that desire follows him there. There eventuates then a struggle or battle to try to defeat the promptings of desire and in some cases, the seeker even resorts to mortification of the flesh and other types of abuse to ‘punish’ the recalcitrant body and vital being for giving in to desire, or, at the very least, constantly fixating on it. These methods however, tend not to work!

Whether one fulfills the desire, or aggressively suppresses the expression of the desire, the focus and attention remains tuned to the vital-physical centre where the desire arises. Further, by taking ‘ownership’ of the desire, the seeker believes that he must excise something that is part of his own nature and personality. Giving full license to the desire in the guise of ‘exhausting’ it also tends not to work. The seeker can deal with desire by moving outside the frame within which it is active, thereby taking the position of the neutral or disinterested observer of the action, rather than being involved and controlled by its energy.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “When one lives in the true consciousness one feels the desires outside oneself, entering from outside, from the universal lower Prakriti, into the mind and the vital parts. In the ordinary human condition this is not felt; men become aware of the desire only when it is there, when it has come inside and found a lodging or a habitual harbourage and so they think it is their own and part of themselves. The first condition for getting rid of desire is, therefore, to become conscious with the true consciousness; for then it becomes much easier to dismiss it than when one has to struggle with it as if it were a constituent part of oneself to be thrown out from the being. It is easier to cast off an accretion than to excise what is felt as a parcel of our own substance.”

“When the psychic is in front, then also to get rid of desire becomes easy; for the psychic being has in itself no desires, it has only aspirations and a seeking and love for the Divine and all things that are or tend towards the Divine. The constant prominence of the psychic being tends of itself to bring out the true consciousness and set right almost automatically the movements of the nature.”

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