Desire — and the Need to Control Desire

People believe that suppression of the vital forces that are actuated by the force of desire can lead to imbalance and mental illness. For this reason, Western psychology has recommended the moderate expression of these forces, and has generally counseled having a healthy vital life that does not try to suppress the desires as they arise. It is also true that an attempt to control desire, done incorrectly, can lead to extreme imbalances and we see in the attempts to torture the body to overcome desire, or the attempt to shame a person into abiding by the cultural expectation, are unhealthy both for the individual and for the society. People have the idea that somehow by satisfying a desire they are going to bring it under control, but generally this proves to not be true; rather, it feeds the desire which can then reoccur. There are those who attempt to satiate the desire through extreme indulgence. This too does not work, and can lead to imbalances and unhealthy fixations. People can also be attached to the energy that flows with the force of desire, whether fulfilled or denied, and they begin to treat it as part of their fixed identity.

Why is it important to bring desire under control in the first place, and how can this be accomplished? Yogic psychology treats desire as a vibratory pattern that invades the being and takes over control if allowed to dominate. The ‘mind-stuff” becomes disturbed and distracts from the yogic practices. Fixation on controlling desire only enhances its force. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have examined this issue at depth, and their prescriptions in this regard are the subject of a major portion of the current text.

Dr. Dalal observes: “The fact that repression of the vital leads to disturbances is well-recognized both in psychiatry and yoga, and therefore need not be elaborated here. What is not recognized in psychiatry is that the free expression of the vital, too, produces disturbances. Even though most psychiatrists would recommend moderation in the satisfaction of desires, such a recommendation is based upon common-sense and physiological considerations rather than on psychiatric principles. For psychiatry knows of no specific psychological disturbances resulting from an excessive satisfaction of desires. And as for the normal expression of desires this is deemed not only perfectly all right but indispensable for maintaining psychological health.”

“Yoga, on the other hand, looks upon desiring per se as a disturbance. The metapsychology of such a view is expressed in the following words of the Mother:”

“To have needs is to assert a weakness; to claim something proves that we lack what we claim. To desire is to be impotent; it is to recognise our limitations and confess our incapacity to overcome them.”

Dr. Dalal continues: “As for the free play of desires, yoga holds that (per the Mother) ‘this brings on fairly serious disorders.’ “

Dr. Dalal goes on: “The essential morbidity of the untransformed vital nature is particularly evident in masochistic tendency to continue clinging to a disturbance and to wallow in it. Sri Aurobindo refers to this trait in the following extract from a letter:”

“…a habit of the human vital — the tendency to keep any touch of grief, anger, vexation, etc. or any kind of emotional, vital or mental disturbance, to make much of it, to prolong it, not to wish to let it go, to return to it even when the cause of disturbance is past and could be forgotten, always to remember and bring it up when it can. This is a common trait of the human nature and a quite customary movement.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Introduction, Disturbances Associated with the Vital, pp. xix-xxiv

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