SEARCH FOR FREEDOM AND HAPPINESS
The outstanding feature of worldly existence is that human life is always beset with duality and contradictions like misery and happiness, rich and poor, love and hatred, joy and sorrow, likes and dislikes, praise and censure, loss and gain, success and failure and so on ad infinitum. The favorable events of life are desired as “means to happiness” and unfavorable ones are avoided as “sources of misery”.
All our thoughts have corresponding objects before them. We think about various things, persons and situations. The anxieties and sufferings of life can all be related to attempts on the part of the mind to synchronize itself with the objects of its perception.
The mind presumes that it is dependent on the objects of the world for many purposes. If the world is absolutely unrelated to us, we should not be dependent on it, and there should be no commerce between us and the world. But the truth is different; we are forced to be dependent on others for our various requirements. From morning to evening we realize the extent of our dependence on the world. We want air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, people to talk to, and many other social relationships, without which life is impossible. The manner of dealing with the world for reducing our dependence on others is the business of existence. Thus, human existence is a fine-tuning of values and training oneself in the process of adjustment with the world in its completeness.
We are living a slavish life, as it were, depending on the things of the world, and nobody wishes to be a slave. So man tries to be independent. He struggles against the odds of life, and fights with nature. “Can I become independent?” is the question. Dependence is a kind of death: sarvam paravasam dukham, says the scripture. Sarvam atmavasam sukham: The more we are self-dependent, the more are we happy. The more we are dependent on others, the more is our unhappiness. The difficulty of the human mind is a set of relations it establishes with the world outside, which we call likes and dislikes. Our relations with the world can be summed up as the process of satisfaction of the likes and dislikes of our mind.
ALL HUMAN ACTIONS ARE BASED ON DESIRE
The mind tries to satisfy desires in order to gain independence over the world. In the satisfaction of the fulfillment of a desire there is an apparent abolition of the conflict between the mind and the object. We regard independence as a state of mind where it is satisfied of having possessed everything on Earth. “If the whole world is mine, I am independent of the world. If the whole world is not mine, and yet I long for it, I am dependent on it.” This is how the mind argues.
All human activities in this world, therefore, revolve around reducing these contradictions and reliance thereby hoping to lead a more free and happy life. Desires are of various kinds, the most prominent of them being hunger, sex and ego, and it is these that become uncontrollable passions. While desires can be many, they can be reduced to these three instincts, hunger and thirst being biological, and ego being psychological. All the struggles of life finally will be seen to be the expressions of these three desires.
When they are in a mild form they go as preferences and likings. But when they become intense, they become wild passions, and then they try to do harm to other people. When desires go out of bounds and cannot be controlled by even the mind from which they arise, they become like wildfire, and everything is destroyed.
The human body, which is like the vehicle pulled by the horse which is the mind, moves onward towards Eternity. A very beautiful image is given in the Kathopanishad: The chariot of this body is being driven by the horses of the senses. This chariot is supposed to have been driven to Eternity along the prescribed path. But if the horses go uncontrolled, they may run hither and thither and break the carriage to pieces. The destination will not be reached. The desires of the human mind are basically reconcilable with the urge for evolution, but they get entangled with an unnatural relationship of the mind with objects and then become passions.
CAN ALL THE DESIRES BE SATISFIED?
The attempts to satisfy our desires have all failed. From all corners of the world we have tried to escape through different doors, and they are all closed, so we look up to the heavens for redress of our woes. When everything fails, man looks to the heavens. Then, like Draupadi looking up for Lord Krishna, the human mind opens to the moral and the spiritual fields of existence.
To put it in another way, all human beings strive for happiness i.e. the less happy ones try to find out ways to become at least equal to those who are perceived to be happier, if not to go beyond them. In this hunt for equality, they look forward to attain happiness by attempting to fulfill their infinite desires and while doing so start facing problems which lead them to disappointment, frustration and misery. The reasons for this paradoxical situation are not far to seek.
• Desires like fire are insatiable; satisfaction of one desire generates more desires. Their basic nature is to multiply like that of the branches of a tree. While desires are many their complete fulfillment is beyond one’s capacity. The result is misery all around. We are so much entangled in the web of desires that there is hardly any time to think about the world beyond our self-created cocoons.
We assume things and situations based on a sense of perceived reality. All living creatures are assumed to be a physical system consisting of a bundle of the body, mind, intellect and the senses. We hardly recognize or perceive the Soul or Self or Atman who is the indweller of the physical system of the living beings.
Because of our identification with the body, mind, intellect and senses equipment we fail to realize the impermanent nature of the objects of our identification as also the eternal nature of its indweller. The result of this misplaced understanding (which is called ignorance or avidya in Vedanta) is our erroneous view of life.
This aberration generates in us worldly attachment and relationship which blur our vision of life and propel us to chase the unreal leaving the Real on the roadside. In this rat-race after an illusion, the end is bound to be short lived and miserable. Such an unawakened view of life prevents us from understanding and accepting the basic laws of nature like when there is birth there is bound to be death, when something goes up it will have to come down etc. which will always be operative in all places and at all times.
Our failure to negotiate with this eternal realism is the root cause for all our false beliefs, false values, false knowledge and false conduct leading to a life full of agony and despair. Hence if we want to reach the correct destination of life we have to take the correct road. Then, what is the correct path?
THE ENEMY IS DESIRE AND ANGER
Verses 36–43 of The Bhagavad Gita examine this issue very clearly. Arjuna asks Sri Krishna under what compulsion does a man commit sin or wrongful acts in spite of himself and driven, as it were, by force?
This question raised by Arjuna is illustrative of our daily situations. Everybody knows what is right and what is not right, what is good and what is bad. Yet when it comes to action people are invariably tempted to commit the wrong.
Arjuna's query is why this paradoxical confusion between one's ideology and one's own actions. The Divine in us wants us to achieve great things but the animal in us wants us to do most abominable things many times much against our will. We seem to be constrained by an outside force. Arjuna wants to know the cause for this peculiar paradox.
Sri Bhagavan replied “It is desire, it is anger born out of the quality of Rajas, all sinful and all devouring; know this as the foe here (in this world).”
The cause of all sins and wrong actions being committed by man in this world is desire. Anger is also a desire expressed in another form. When a man's desire is not gratified he becomes angry with that which seem to be obstacles in the way of its fulfillment. When a desire arises the quality of Rajas in a man urges him to work for its satisfaction.
The three-in-one combination of desire-anger-emotion is the root cause which makes an individual to compromise with higher values of existence. Once the virus of desire enters the intellectual computer the results are bound to be chaotic, blocking out the entire wisdom because desire is never satiated by its gratification. One gets rid of desire only through the constant practice of detachment. Therefore, Sri Krishna says desire is the man's greatest enemy on the earth because man commits sin only at the command of desire against his will and better judgment which lands him in terrible suffering in the form of repeated birth and death.
HOW DOES DESIRE AFFECT MAN?
Sri Krishna says “As fire is enveloped by smoke, as a mirror by dust and as an embryo by the womb, so is this (knowledge) enveloped by that (desire).”
‘This' means true knowledge or wisdom and ‘that' means desire. The examples refer to the different degrees to which desire in the form of ignorance envelopes and conceals the inner Light in man and deludes his capacity to think rationally. Discrimination is blocked by the sense of attachment in the mind for the worldly objects.
Desires fall under three categories depending upon the quality of attachments - Tamasic - inert, Rajasic - active, and Sattwic -divine. Even Sattwic desires veil the discrimination just as smoke envelopes fire where rise of the slightest wind of discrimination can dispel the smoke of desire. The veiling is thin and hence it requires only a little effort to remove it.
For the Rajasic where intellect is covered by desire prompted agitations, the example is of wiping out of dust on a mirror. Here the covering by the impurities is complete as compared to the Sattwic. In the case of smoke fire can be at least perceived while dust completely blocks the reflection in a mirror. Hence, in this case the efforts for the removal of the dirt of desires require more time and effort.
In the case of a Tamasic, diviner aspects are completely shut out from the view by base animal instincts. The case of a foetus covered with amnion fluid in the womb is given as an illustration. Here there is no method of removing the covering until a definite period of time gets elapsed. Similarly the low desires can be removed only after a longer period of spiritual evolution a Tamasic has to undergo.
Desires are insatiable. They are never satisfied by the enjoyments of the objects of the desires. They grow more and more as does the fire to which fuel is added. Desire screens off our capacity to discriminate right from the wrong, real from the unreal. The ignorant man considers desire as his friend because his senses are gratified. The wise man knows by experience that desire will bring nothing but suffering to him. He knows that the enemy in the form of desire does not allow the ideas of discrimination, dispassion and disinterestedness to get a hold in the mind of a seeker and presents obstacles in the path of his spiritual progress. Hence it is said to be the constant enemy of the wise but not of the ignorant.
SEAT OF DESIRE
If the enemy's hide-outs are known it is easy to capture him. Similarly Sri Krishna gives the clues to Arjuna as to where the enemies of wisdom lurk so that he can locate and eliminate them. The Lord says the senses, the mind and the intellect are seats of action for the desire to play havoc with the inner serenity and equipoise of a man. The sense organs transmit the stimuli received from the objects of enjoyment to the mind which working in close collaboration with the intellect starts living in the experience of sense enjoyments. To eliminate the inner enemy in the name of desire at its source - sense-organs, mind and intellect- is the crux of the problem. The issue involved is how to be free from the shackles of desires.