The Bhagavad Gita devotes considerable focus to the operation of the three gunas, qualities of the action of the nature, Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas. The Gita indicates that all actions are modified and controlled by the action of the gunas. This includes the practice of spiritual sadhana. Rajas taints the sadhana through the action of desire. When rajas is active, we come to the sadhana with a demand, an expectation or some kind of pressure to achieve a specific result in a certain time. Some try to carry out extreme austerities to “storm the gates of heaven”, so to speak. As is the nature of the gunas, when rajas fails to achieve its expectation, it falls to tamas, and the seeker then can experience discouragement, depression or fatigue. Both of these forms of reactions indicate that vital desire remains very active and is distorting the action of the sadhana.

Aspiration, when it is pure, based in the psychic being, does not make demands. It turns the being towards the divine and accepts what comes, when it comes, without impatience and without also flagging of the effort.

There is an apocryphal story about the divine singer Narada, who met a devotee who had undergone long and hard austerities. The devotee asked Narada when he would achieve enlightment. Narada replied that it would be several lifetimes. The devotee responded with anger and depression that his efforts had not borne more immediate fruit. Narada later met another devotee, who singing and dancing in his devotion, asked the same question. Narada replied that it would take as many lifetimes as there were leaves on the tree under which he was dancing and singing, implying thousands of lifetimes for his release. With that he burst out in tears of joy that he was going to obtain the grace of the Divine after some time. He was then granted immediate release from the bondage of suffering and illusion as he succeeded in taking the right attitude in his aspiration.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “There is no doubt the mixture of desire in what you do, even in your endeavour of sadhana, that is the difficulty. The desire brings a movement of impatient effort and a reaction of disappointment and revolt when difficulty is felt and the immediate result is not there and other confusing and disturbing feelings. Aspiration should be not a form of desire, but the feeling of an inner soul’s need, and a quiet settled will to turn towards the Divine and seek the Divine. it is certainly not easy to get rid of this mixture of desire entirely — not easy for anyone; but when one has the will to do it, this also can be effected by the help of the sustaining Force.”

“If there are good desires, bad desires will come also. There is a place for will and aspiration, not for desire. If there is desire there will be attachment, demand, craving, want of equanimity, sorry at not getting, all that is unyogic. … One should be satisfied with what one gets and still aspire quietly without struggle, for more — till all has come. No desire, no struggle — aspiration, faith, openness — and the grace.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 5 Bases of Yoga, Desire and Aspiration, pg. 109

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at He is author if 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. he is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.