How do we experience desire? For some, it comes as a drive to possess something we experience in the world, whether something seen, heard, felt, etc. In other words, desire begins with something perceptible by our senses. In the past, this was therefore something close at hand. Nowadays, with the advent of the internet, broadcast media, and world-wide travel, we may have desires that do not arise from immediately seizable objects, and thus, require various steps in order to be achieved. The perception, however it comes, arises as a feeling, or more precisely a craving for something we experience as ‘missing’ from ourselves. The pursuit of the objects of desire can become all consuming and occupy our minds and senses all the time. Fulfillment of a particular desire does not, in fact, lead to the cessation of desire; rather, it leads to the transference of the craving to a new object. The more we validate the seeking and fulfillment of desire, the more powerful that drive embeds itself in our psyche.

Buddha pointed out that the following of desire eventually leads to suffering, and he suggested that the way to happiness and fulfillment was through the removal of desire. Buddha was not alone in his perception. Religious and spiritual leaders, and philosophers and thinkers, have identified the need to overcome desire, and thus, many methods have been tried, throughout human history to accomplish this. Some counseled achieving a desire-free state by indulgence leading to eventual satiation and even a sense of avoidance that comes through over-indulgence. Others counsel the use of a strongly developed will-power to prevent the expression of desire. Both of these methods, and their various offshoots and alternatives, fail to recognise the mechanism of how desire enters into an individual and then rises to a level of perception and realistion in action.

Sri Aurobindo viewed desire as a vibration that enters the being from outside and, when accepted, then rises and manifests, for most individuals seemingly as something belonging to them and arising from inside. For those who see desire as an internal phenomenon, elimination of desire entails a struggle against oneself. Once an individual is able to shift the viewpoint to see the working of the universal forces that create desire, it becomes more a matter of tuning the focus away from those vibratory levels towards the wider, purer, higher levels of the spiritual awareness. Desire then can fall away as the focus is successfully shifted.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The rejection of desire is essentially the rejection of the element of craving, putting that out from the consciousness itself as a foreign element not belonging to the true self and the inner nature. But refusal to indulge the suggestions of desire is also a part of the rejection; to abstain from the action suggested, if it is not the right action, must be included in the yogic discipline. It is only when this is done in the wrong way, by a mental ascetic principle or a hard moral rule, that it can be called suppression. The difference between suppression and an inward essential rejection is the difference between mental or moral control and a spiritual purification.”

“When one lives in the true consciousness one feels the desires outside oneself, entering from outside, from the universal lower Prakriti, into the mind and the vital parts. In the ordinary human condition this is not felt; men become aware of the desire only when it is there, when it has come inside and found a lodging or a habitual harbourage and so they think it is their own and a part of themselves. The first condition for getting rid of desire is, therefore, to become conscious with the true consciousness; for then it becomes much easier to dismiss it than when one has to struggle with it as if it were a constituent part of oneself to be thrown out from the being. It is easier to cast off an accretion than to excise what is felt as a parcel of our substance.”

“When the psychic being is in front, then also to get rid of desire becomes easy; for the psychic being has in itself no desires, it has only aspirations and a seeking and love for the Divine and all things that are or tend towards the Divine. The constant prominence of the psychic being tends of itself to bring out the true consciousness and set right almost automatically the movement of the nature.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Vital, Transforming the Vital, pp. 69-85

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 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.