Yogic practitioners have a number of different methods they have utilized to try to gain control over the movement of vital desire. The disturbances caused by desire, and the distractions that result are clearly inimical to success in the yogic sadhana. Some, like those who practice various forms of the tantric tradition, believe that the ‘hero-yogin’ can conquer desire through conscious indulgence. For most people, however, this becomes an excuse that the vital uses to convince the mind to ‘play along’.

Indulgence need not be through outward action. Inward indulgence is every bit as distracting and disturbing to the practice as outward indulgence. Inward indulgence occurs when one abstains from the outer action prompted by the rising desire, but nevertheless dwell on it in the mind and the inner senses. Former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter famously admitted that he had committed adultery in his heart, although not in any outer action. He recognised what many people fail to understand; namely, that the inner indulgence is every bit the same, in practical effect on the inner being, as the outer indulgence.

If not indulgence, then there are those who attempt to suppress desire through force of will, or in some cases, through exercise of physical torture. The monks who practice self-flagellation or use the cilice to oppress the body and thereby “train” it not to give in to desire, eventually find that they are not only harming the physical instrument, but in fact are dwelling on the force of desire far more than they likely would otherwise. Thus, the mission fails!

This leaves then the method of ‘rejection’ of the desire. The vibration, as it is entering from outside, can simply be refused, the channel tuned elsewhere. Just as a child outgrows childish toys and games as he matures, turning his attention elsewhere, we can tune our awareness and focus to vibrations other than those that raise up desire in the vital being. One method is to bring forward the psychic being and focus on the aspiration that resides there. Another is to shift the attention to the spiritual consciousness and simply concentrate the being in that direction.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “It is true that the mere suppression or holding down of desire is not enough, not by itself truly effective, but that does not mean that desires are to be indulged; it means that desires have not merely to be suppressed, but to be rejected from the nature.”

“Your theory is a mistaken one. The free expression of a passion may relieve the vital for a time, but at the same time it gives it a right to return always. It is not reduced at all. Suppression with inner indulgence in subtle forms is not a cure, but expression in outer indulgence is still less a cure. It is perfectly possible to go on without manifestation if one is resolute to arrive at a complete control, the control being not a mere suppression but an inner and outer rejection.”

“You do not seem to have a correct idea of the nature of vital desire. Vital desire grows by being indulged, it does not become satisfied. If your desire were indulged, it would begin to grow more and more and ask for more and more. That has been our constant experience with the sadhaks and it confirms what has always been known about desire. Desire and envy have to be thrown out of the consciousness — there is no other way to deal with them.”

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 http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky 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.