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Series II - Chapter 27 - ‘The Nature Of Desire’
IT WAS A calm evening, but many white sails were on the lake. In the far distance a snow-covered peak hung as though suspended from the skies. The evening breeze from the north-east was not yet blowing, but there were ripples on the water towards the north and more boats were putting out. The water was very blue and the skies were very clear. It was a wide lake, but on sunny days the towns could be seen on the other side. In this little bay, secluded and forgotten, it was very peaceful; there were no tourists, and the steamboat that went round the lake never came here. Nearby was a village of fishermen; and as the weather promised to be clear, there would be small boats, with lanterns, fishing late into the night. In the enchantment of evening they were preparing their nets and their boats. The valleys were in deep shadow, but the mountains still held the sun.
We had been walking for some time and we sat down by the path, for he had come to talk things over. “As far back as I can remember, I have had endless conflict, mostly within myself, though sometimes it manifests outwardly. I am not greatly worried by any outward conflict, as I have learnt to adjust myself to circumstances. This adjustment has been painful, however, for I am not easily persuaded or dominated. Life has been difficult, but I am efficient enough to make a good living. But all this is not my problem. What I cannot understand is this inward conflict which I am unable to control. I often wake up in the middle of the night from violent dreams, and I never seem to have a moment’s respite from my conflict; it goes on beneath the everyday occupations, and frequently explodes in my more intimate relationships.”
What do you mean by conflict? What is the nature of it? “Outwardly I am a fairly busy man, and my work demands concentration and attention. When my mind is thus occupied, my inward conflicts are forgotten; but as soon as there is a lull in my work, I am back in my conflicts. These conflicts are of varying nature and at different levels. I want to be successful in my work, to be at the top of my profession, with plenty of money and all the rest of it, and I know I can be. At another level, I am aware of the stupidity of my ambition. I love the good things of life, and opposed to that, I want to lead a simple, almost an ascetic existence. I hate a number of people, and yet I want to forget and forgive. I can go on giving you instances, but I am sure you can understand the nature of my conflicts. Instinctively I am a peaceful person, yet anger is easy for me. I am very healthy – which may be a misfortune, at least in my case. Outwardly I give the appearance of being calm and steady, but I am agitated and confused by my inward conflicts. I am well over thirty, and I really want to break through the confusion of my own desires. You see, another of my difficulties is that I find it almost impossible to talk these things over with anybody. This is the first time in many years that I have opened up a little. I am not secretive, but I hate to talk about myself and I could not possibly do so with any psychologist. Knowing all this, can you tell me whether it is possible for me to have some kind of inward serenity?” 4 Instead of trying to do away with conflict, let us see if we can understand this agglomeration of desire. Our problem is to see the nature of desire, and not merely to overcome conflict; for it is desire that causes conflict. Desire is stimulated by association and remembrance; memory is part of desire. The recollection of the pleasant and the unpleasant nourishes desire and breaks it up into opposing and conflicting desires. The mind identifies itself with the pleasant as opposed to the unpleasant; through the choice of pain and pleasure the mind separates desire, dividing it into different categories of pursuits and values.
“Though there are many conflicting and opposing desires, all desires are one. Is that it?”
That is so, is it not? And it is really important to understand this, otherwise the conflict between opposing desires is endless. The dualism of desire, which the mind has brought about, is an illusion. There is no dualism in desire, but merely different types of desire. There is dualism only between time and eternity. Our concern is to see the unreality of the dualism of desire. Desire does divide itself into want and non-want, but the avoidance of the one and the pursuit of the other is still desire. There is no escape from conflict through any of the opposites of desire, for desire itself breeds its own opposition.
“I see rather vaguely that what you say is a fact, but it is also a fact that I am still torn between many desires.”
It is a fact that all desire is one and the same, and we cannot alter that fact, twist it to suit our convenience and pleasure, or use it as an instrument to free ourselves from the conflicts of desire; but if we see it to be true then it has the power to set the mind free from breeding illusion. So we must be aware of desire breaking itself up into separate and conflicting parts. We are these opposing and conflicting desires we are the whole bundle of them, each pulling in a different direction.
“Yes, but what can we do about it?”
Without first catching a glimpse of desire as a single unit, whatever we may or may not do will be of very little significance, for desire only multiplies desire and the mind is trapped in this conflict. There is freedom from conflict only when desire, which makes up the ‘I’ with its remembrances and recognitions, comes to an end. “When you say that conflict ceases only with the cessation of desire, does this imply an end to one’s active life?”
It may or it may not. It is foolish on our part to speculate about what kind of life it will be without desire. “You surely do not mean that organic wants must cease.”
Organic wants are moulded and expanded by psychological desires; we are talking of these desires. “Can we go more deeply into the functioning of these inner cravings?”
Desires are both open and hidden, conscious and concealed. The concealed are of far greater significance than the obvious; but we cannot become familiar with the deeper if the superficial are not understood and tamed. It is not that the conscious desires must be suppressed, sublimated, or moulded to any pattern, but they must be observed and quieted. With the calming of superficial agitation, there is a possibility that the deeper desires, motives and intentions will come to the surface.
“How is one to quiet the surface agitation? I see the importance of what you are saying, but I do not quite see how to approach the problem, how to experiment with it.”
The experimenter is not separate from that with which he is experimenting. The truth of this must be seen. You who are experimenting with your desires are not an entity apart from those desires, are you? The ‘I’ who says, ‘I will suppress this desire and go after that’, is himself the outcome of all desire, is he not? “One can feel that it is so, but actually to realize it, is quite another matter.”
If as each desire arises there is an awareness of this truth, then there is freedom from the illusion of the experimenter as a separate entity unrelated to desire. As long as the ‘I’ exerts itself to be free from desire, it is only strengthening desire in another direction and so perpetuating conflict. If there is an awareness of this fact from moment to moment, the will of the censor ceases; and when the experiencer is the experience, then you will find that desire with its many varying conflicts comes to an end.
“Will all this help one to a calmer and fuller life?”
Certainly not at the beginning. It is sure to arouse more disturbances, and deeper adjustments may have to be made; but the deeper and wider one goes into this complex problem of desire and conflict, the simpler it becomes.