The Value of Desire

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Desire is a tricky thing when it comes to the human psyche. It is usually seen as the beginning of man’s downfall. The Bible depicts Eve’s desire for the apple as the beginning of sinful temptation; the Bhagavad Gita wtinesses Lord Krishna urging Arjun to ‘act without desire’.

In the New Age, however, desire is seen as the motivator of success. Having goals, aspirations and desires to better ourselves is encouraged. Looking back on religious texts, we in the West generally see the rejection of desire as an attempt to control the masses – take away people’s aspirations and rule over them more easily so that they will be subjugated by guilt and fear. Maybe there is some truth in this, because fear of punishment is something that keeps society in check after all. But on a much deeper level, on the level of heart and soul, what is the relevance of desire? Can it be truly useful for our betterment, and if not, can it be so easily rejected?

In The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, a wonderfully concise book by Deepak Chopra, the author discusses the value of desire as the primary motivating force of humanity’s progress. At the same time, he advises ‘detachment from desire.’ I found this very hard to grasp, for the desire is in itself a form of attachment to something, so how can you have a desire that you are detached from? For instance, if I want to be rich (desire), I obviously have some longing. If I became detached from wanting to be rich, would it still be called a desire?

Then I started to see this idea of desire in Chopra’s book more in terms of preference. I might prefer being rich to being poor, but I don’t have a strong longing or need for it, so I can be emotionally detached. This puts the idea of the old religious desire into perspective. What the texts were really warning about was not aspirations in themselves, but the attachment and neediness that comes with those aspirations. Hence, Krishna urged Arjun to act (towards a goal), but let go of the need to win (the battle). Why was it so important to let go of the attachment that came with having ‘desires’? Because the attachment feeds the ego, the belief that we are separate entities that need something ‘out there’. Why is the ego described as such a bad thing? Because it makes us believe we are something we are not; it separates ‘us’ from ‘the world’ and starts within us all kinds of misconceptions that lead to suffering. The ego is a psychological construct we hold so dear that we are willing to hurt ourselves and others to protect it. And the ego is closely linked to desire: it is those desires we have become attached to for our own sense of worthiness to stay intact. So along with the attachment to a desire is the FEAR that our world will collapse if we don’t get our desires. This fear is a intuitive knowing that we are chasing after something which will ultimately cause us pain, as a mirage in a desert. Knowing all this theoretically makes little difference, though!

Rupert Spira’s talks focus a lot on the desire for happiness as the primary motivator within all humans. It is the search for happiness that keeps us going until we realise we actually never find happiness out there. It is the despair at knowing this that makes us give up. It is the giving up (relinquishing of desire) that leads us to turn inward. After much pain, like the prodigal son, we turn towards what can never be found in the ‘world’. It happens to us through repeated struggle and suffering, it cannot be forced by following the dictates of texts and applying superficial knowledge. As Rumi said, “the heart must be broken several times until it opens.”

Awakening

When I started thinking spiritually around 15 years ago, going to meditation centres and reading spiritual texts, the word ‘awakening’ did not come up much. Now it seems to be everywhere in spiritual circles. Anyone who has entered the realm of spirituality will have come across the idea of spiritual awakening. There are two layers of meaning here, and the second layer goes pretty deep into a place that’s hard to even explain, a non-place, if you will.

The first aspect of spiritual awakening has been popularised by the work of Eckhart Tolle, which has reached millions of us across the planet. The Power of Now emphasises again and again the immense importance of living in the present moment, mentally. This means not dwelling in the psychological aspects of past and future, but being in the moment without mental commentary. Another writer that drew attention to this in the West is Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now. The awakening spoken of here is mainly to wake up from mental ‘unreality’ into the reality of the present moment. The whole art of Buddhist mindfulness meditations focus on this.

But there is a second layer to awakening. This one takes us down the rabbit hole, and it is the waking up from our perceived identities. This act of questioning or knowing who we are starts in the present moment but takes us beyond into the realm of timelessness. Time is understood as an illusion by those who can live in the present moment (neither past nor future can be experienced except in the present moment as memory or imagination). But those who take awakening to the next level of questioning their own identity (the process which Sri Ramana Maharishi called atma-vichara), enter a level of awareness in which even the manifestation of the present moment loses its objective qualities: they no longer experience a world outside of themselves, but rather experience themselves as the consciousness in which the world is appearing. This is why the world, in Vedanta and Buddhism, is referred to as illusion. It is not a magic trick but rather that our concepts, superimposed onto it, have made it unreal to us. The fact that we hear the word ‘awakening’ so much now is evidence of the fact that our shared consciousness is waking up from the illusion, albeit in faltering steps…

Good fruit and bad fruit

I have been thinking about CHARACTER, and whether there is such a thing as natural good and evil, or whether we are just products of our environments. Understanding character helps us understand more about how we fit into our environment and how we can relate to each other. But it’s difficult to be objective when trying to assess our own or another person’s qualities. Some say that if you want to know a person, you should look at the friends they keep. Yet another way of seeing a person’s character is explained in the Bible through the analogy of trees bearing fruit.

In this analogy, the qualities of human beings are revealed by what they do, just as the quality of a tree is shown by the type of fruit it bears. This is an interesting metaphor, and the way I understand it, it has nothing to do with materialistic accomplishments (e.g. a tree can bear a large quantity of fruit, but the fruit could be good or bad, just as a person could have a lot of wealth, but the wealth could come from good work or unethical work). What we give out to the world in terms of our service to humanity, our contribution of time and effort is what matters in this analogy.

But I feel that a label such as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ leaves little room for development and does not take account of the fact that human beings have the potential to change. Even a tree, if it receives good soil, water and sunshine, will bear better fruit than if it grows without vital nutrients.

People, like all things in nature, depend on their environments. The big difference is that human beings have the conscious ability to change themselves and transform their environments.

Jesus and the rest of us

According to Christianity, Jesus was God made flesh. He came onto Earth in order to lead a life of pain so that humans who accepted him could go to heaven instead of hell in the afterlife.

Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they had become sinners. Their punishment was infinite suffering carrying on for generations, death and hell. Sin became human nature, ingrained into the human condition (natural sin). All of creation became marred by sin. Jesus came to suffer immense pain although he was guiltless, in order to pay the price of human sin – a karmic exchange of sorts, he paid the balance. Humanity became indebted to him, and by accepting him Christians say we are freed from our debts to enjoy heaven after the Day of Judgement.

I do not believe this story word for word. I see it as a metaphor about knowledge and experience.

Human beings are born in a state of ignorance about their very nature (‘who am I?’) and they enter into an experiment with opposite forces (good vs. bad) in order to understand themselves. They finally come to see themselves beyond dualities, come to identify their inherent nature in connection with God (source of consciousness). All creation goes through this journey in some way, and it is its own kind of struggle. BEING IGNORANT TO OUR OWN IDENTITY YET HAVING THE ABILITY TO QUESTION IT is hard. But we choose this suffering in order to experience the reward of reuniting with God and realising ourselves. This happens cyclically over and over again, perhaps through lifetimes.

Jesus was a good man who understood God. He was innocent yet he was punished – he therefore took on pain that was undeserved, which goes against the law of karma (you reap what you sow, what goes around comes around etc.) As a result, the world owes him for his pain. How the world balances this karma is unclear, because it’s very hard to see exactly how karma works. Perhaps to respect and understand Jesus’s teachings is the answer.

I don’t believe all the things about heaven and hell. Heaven and hell are all here on Earth as an experience of duality which we subject ourselves to. I only believe in knowledge versus ignorance. Jesus shed some light on the knowledge of who we are, but then a lot of interpretations were made about what he said which are not necessarily what he intended. Nevertheless, it’s up to us to create and understand what we can on this Earth, and the words of spirtual leaders can guide us in our personal (not political or social) search.

The meaning of sin

I have been thinking lately about the seven sins. Although I don’t believe everything I read in religious texts, I think the Bible has some value here. I tried debating the logic behind the seven sins, but finally came to the conclusion that, actually, the logic makes sense.

The first consideration for me was, why is a particular quality essentially ‘wrong’ or sinful? Is it because it’s harmful to society, to the government, or to ourselves? I came to the conclusion that, from a religious perspective, God represents love. So a quality is considered wrong if it goes against the impulse to love (one’s self, one’s neighbour, family, friends, society). Hate, envy, greed, anger, lust, pride, sloth – they all block out love. Love is the feeling of caring for another as selflessly as possible, and loving one’s self on a deep level rather than loving our egotistic fashionings (which are sure to change). The problem with love is – if love depends on the idea of an enduring self (something which will last forever) then what if there is NO enduring self at all? If the person you loved became a ‘sinner’, would you still love their ‘inner’ self, knowing that they were inherently ‘good’? If you can love one person like that, why not everyone? Buddhism says there is no enduring self, only flux and change. So, where does love fit into that?

I haven’t lost all hope yet. I do believe in an enduring self. That’s why we can feel compassion for almost anyone in the world, because we recognise another soul’s inherent energy as being from the same source as our own energy. And the reason why we become closer to some people more than others is to do with the varying experiences we have on earth, and the karmic relationships we have built. That’s why once certain experiences and karma change, our relationships tend to change too.

Going back to sin, if we see God as representing our original source, and if we see our essential nature as love, then it follows that we should avoid everything that blocks out feelings of love. This is in our best interest as well as in the interest of society at large. But I find it very unhelpful to focus on what we need to avoid, so instead I’ve made another list of what it is we need to embody…

Anger -(needs to change into)- Compassion

Envy – Admiration

Pride – Humility

Greed – Generosity

Lust –  Love

Sloth – Perseverance

Gluttony – Satisfaction

In our lifetimes, a certain number of errors are inevitable. No matter how hard we try, some of us cannot become saints right now. You will notice in your life that you made certain mistakes without realising, and other mistakes you tried to avoid but you were not able to control. If you make the same mistake again and again, then you are choosing to suffer again and again until you reach a greater understanding and eventually become strong enough to avoid making that mistake – like learning to balance on a bicycle. But along with the karmic inevitability we have predestined for ourselves, there is a small element of choice. In this small field of free expression, we are the creators – here, we choose to exercise the Seven Virtues.

Jesus and Mary Magdalen, by Khalil Gibran

The following is an excerpt from Khalil Gibran’s work, Jesus the Son of Man… It recounts the first meeting between Jesus and Mary Magdalen, and it is written in the voice of Mary:

It was in the month of June when I saw Him for the first time. He was walking in the wheatfield when I passed by with my handmaidens, and He was alone. The rhythm of His steps was different from other men’s, and the movement of His body was like naught I had seen before. Men do not pace the earth in that manner. And even now I do not know whether He walked fast or slow. My handmaidens pointed their fingers at Him and spoke in shy whispers to one another. And I stayed my steps for a moment, and raised my hand to hail Him. But He did not turn His face, and He did not look at me. And I hated Him. I was swept back into myself, and I was as cold as if I had been in a snow-drift. And I shivered.

That night I beheld Him in my dreaming; and they told me afterward that I screamed in my sleep and was restless upon my bed.

It was in the month of August that I saw Him again, through my window. He was sitting in the shadow of the cypress tree across my garden, and He was still as if He had been carved out of stone, like the statues in Antioch and other cities of the North Country. And my slave, the Egyptian, came to me and said, “That man is here again. He is sitting there across your garden.” And I gazed at Him, and my soul quivered within me, for He was beautiful. His body was single and each part seemed to love every other part. Then I clothed myself with raiment of Damascus, and I left my house and walked towards Him.

Was it my aloneness, or was it His fragrance, that drew me to Him? Was it a hunger in my eyes that desired comeliness, or was it His beauty that sought the light of my eyes? Even now I do not know. I walked to Him with my scented garments and my golden sandals, the sandals the Roman captain had given me, even these sandals. And when I reached Him, I said, “Good-morrow to you.”

And He said, “Good-morrow to you, Miriam.” And He looked at me, and His night-eyes saw me as no man had seen me. And suddenly I was as if naked, and I was shy.

Yet He had only said, “Good-morrow to you.”

And then I said to Him, “Will you not come to my house?”

And He said, “Am I not already in your house?”

I did not know what He meant then, but I know now.

And I said, “Will you not have wine and bread with me?”

And He said, “Yes, Miriam, but not now.”

Not now, not now, He said. And the voice of the sea was in those two words, and the voice of the wind and the trees. And when He said them unto me, life spoke to death. For mind you, my friend, I was dead. I was a woman who had divorced her soul. I was living apart from this self which you now see. I belonged to all men, and to none. They called me harlot, and a woman possessed of seven devils. I was cursed, and I was envied. But when His dawn-eyes looked into my eyes all the stars of my night faded away, and I became Miriam, only Miriam, a woman lost to the earth she had known, and finding herself in new places.

And now again I said to Him, “Come into my house and share bread and wine with me.”

And He said, “Why do you bid me to be your guest?”

And I said, “I beg you to come into my house.” And it was all that was sod in me, and all that was sky in me calling unto Him.

Then He looked at me, and the noontide of His eyes was upon me, and He said, “You have many lovers, and yet I alone love you. Other men love themselves in your nearness. I love you in your self. Other men see a beauty in you that shall fade away sooner than their own years. But I see in you a beauty that shall not fade away, and in the autumn of your days that beauty shall not be afraid to gaze at itself in the mirror, and it shall not be offended. I alone love the unseen in you.”

Then He said in a low voice, “Go away now. If this cypress tree is yours and you would not have me sit in its shadow, I will walk my way.”

And I cried to Him and I said, “Master, come to my house. I have incense to burn for you, and a silver basin for your feet. You are a stranger and yet not a stranger. I entreat you, come to my house.”

Then He stood up and looked at me even as the seasons might look down upon the field, and He smiled. And He said again: “All men love you for themselves. I love you for yourself.”

And then He walked away.

But no other man ever walked the way He walked. Was it a breath born in my garden that moved to the east? Or was it a storm that would shake all things to their foundations?

I knew not, but on that day the sunset of His eyes slew the dragon in me, and I became a woman, I became Miriam, Miriam of Mijdel.

What is Satan?

Satan only exists in relation to God. Everything in the Bible is allegorical: a figurative, metaphorical representation of humanity’s fundamental understandings of life. ‘In the beginning was the word and the word was God.’ There was nothing else; everything was merged into God, even the potential for Satan to exist was within God. The concept of mankind was within God. All potential division and opposition was unified in God. Everything was merged into Source, in perfect union.

When creation took place, everything divided into contrasting, relative realities. All the animals, different from each other, male and female. Mankind also had opposition (but man being created FIRST and woman coming from his rib, I think, is just an attempt at subjugation and total human error in the rest of the allegorical bible story). The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil represents the adventure into this elusive reality of opposition, of pain and pleasure, dark and light, love and hate. The opposite of unification, of truth, of love, is selfishness, ego, arrogance. If God is the personification of love, then Satan is the personification of hate. It is a force on earth which keeps us wrapped up in selfishness and prevents us from feeling unity and compassion with the rest of creation. It’s all part of the same system. Basically, Satan is ignorance of our higher self. And ignorance can be dispelled by knowledge.