Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Desire versus Need

A reader of Sri Cho Ramaswami asked, “our ancient spiritual people advised us to give up desires, but modern spiritual gurus tell us to ‘desire for everything’. What is the reason for this change in between these two times?” Sri Cho Ramaswami answered, “media projected those who have lot of desire and long for advertisement about them as spiritual persons and we also get cheated. This is the reason.” (Thuglak, Tamil, 28/07/10. pp.9-10.)

Neither Sri Cho nor the reader mentioned the names of these modern spiritual gurus, but such teaching (‘desire for everything’) is wide spread amongst New Age gurus. When I thought about this, I remembered the teachings of some old spiritual gurus: Tirumular says, “Give up desire; give up desire; Give up desire even unto God; More desire begets serious sorrow; and giving by desire brings immense joy.” Sri Adi Sankara says, “kaamo muulam samsaram” [desire is the root cause of samsara viz. repeated birth and death]. Likewise, the main teachings of Buddhism and Jainism are to give up desire in order to escape from the cycle of ‘karma samsara’.

It must be noted that translating the Tamil (aasai or ichai) and Sanskrit (kama or trishna) words for “desire” into English is difficult, as these words have different meanings in different contexts.

In general, the ancient spiritual teachings about giving up desire are based on getting relief from ‘karma samsara’ and are more related to Theology or religious doctrine, whereas modern New Age gurus’ teachings deal mostly in psychological needs with a stress-related orientation. When this difference is not kept in mind, we glorify the ancient teachings and condemn the modern guru’s view, which is not justifying to either. In fact, even in ancient teachings there is a proper place given to the legitimate needs of human beings. Krishna says in Gita (7:11), ‘I remain that kama among the human beings which is not against dharma (righteousness)’. However, we also have to recognize the danger of these modern New Age spiritual leaders when they give short cut formulas for success and stress relief in isolation from the religious foundations of such teachings and present them as mere ‘secular’ ideologies. No formula for ‘success’ or ‘stress relief’ will work in isolation, or at the cost of relationship. The foundation for this relationship, in almost all old teachings, is based on religious doctrine and never presented as a secular ideal. For example, the Bible (which I call “Mukti Veda”) clearly says, ‘those who cannot love fellow human beings whom they can see cannot love God whom they cannot see’; ‘[God] forgive our sins as we forgive the sins of others’.

Asking or answering a question comparing ancient and modern wisdom will be misleading if the context of the wisdom is not given. Almost all teachings in India have a religious connection, including the Indian teachings of atheism. So-called ‘secular’ teaching, separating it from religion, is absent in Indian thought. Modern gurus and modern writings try to separate life into different compartments, but in the ancient view, life is treated as one whole. Even eating and enjoying pleasures have religious connotations and are not isolated activities gratifying physical needs alone.

Dayanand Bharati, Gurukulam, August 2, 2010.

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