Desire and True Need for a Yogic Practitioner

Today’s civilisation is fixated on possession and ownership of material things, and people are generally respected and honored for their ability to accumulate resources. This has led to extreme inequality in terms of the resources available for use by people on the planet, as a very small number of highly successful (in a material sense) people control ever-larger resources, while vast numbers of people go hungry or live a life of privation and suffering from physical want. The entire culture is permeated with suggestions, images and pressure to acquire and ‘own” more and more.

For a practitioner of yoga living in the world today, it is therefore quite easy to be misdirected by the acculturation and expectations of society and thereby to be misled into both attachment to material objects and their accumulation, and a confusion about what things are necessities and what things are artificially constructed ‘needs’ based on suggestion and pressure.

Sri Aurobindo’s guidance in this area is clear and helps the practitioner of yoga see through the confusing and conflicting ideas about material life. At the same time, while not directed towards a more general population, this advice can be very helpful for people at all stages of development in their lives. There is no doubt that the society has become highly distorted in the way it allocates and utilizes the precious bounty of the planet, and there is no doubt that something needs to change in this regard to restore some sense of balance to the relation between people and the world we all share. Those not practicing yoga actively may find that a new relation to their use and possession of material things will help them achieve a level of peace and happiness that is so frequently absent when they are caught up in the cycle of accumulation, use and disposal that comes with the acquisitive impulses of today’s society.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Desire is a psychological movement, and it can attach itself to a ‘true need’ as well as to things that are not true needs. One must approach even true needs without desire. If one does not get them, one must feel nothing.”

“The necessities of a sadhak should be as few as possible; for there are only a very few things that are real necessities in life. The rest are either utilities or things decorative to life or luxuries. These a yogin has a right to possess or enjoy only on one of two conditions — (1) If he uses them during his sadhana solely to train himself in possessing things without attachment or desire and learn to use them rightly, in harmony with the Divine Will, with a proper handling, a just organisation, arrangement and measure — or, (2) if he has already attained a true freedom from desire and attachment and is not in the least moved or affected in any way by loss or withholding or deprival. If he has any greed, desire, demand, claim for possession or enjoyment, any anxiety, grief, anger or vexation when denied or deprived, he is not free in spirit and his use of the things he possesses is contrary to the spirit of sadhana. Even if he is free in spirit, he will not be fit for possession if he has not learned to use things not for himself, but for the Divine Will, as an instrument, with the right knowledge and action in the use, for the proper equipment of a life lived not for oneself but for and in the Divine.”

“As for the inconveniences, you should take them as a training in samata. To be able to bear inconveniences is one of the most elementary necessities if one wants to enter into the true spirit of yoga.”

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