Society tends to teach us one thing—well, it tends to teach us many things, but I will focus on one specific thing. Society teaches that one should satisfy one’s desires. Society teaches that satisfying one’s desires is very important; it is not only important, but sacred. Success in life is measured in terms of how well one has satisfied his desires. To fail to satisfy them is to fail at life.
TWO TYPES OF DESIRE
However, there are different types of desire, and, as a matter of fact, material desire, which is a selfish, possessive desire, is the desire one would do best to ignore.
Material desire is also known as kama. Kama refers to the desire to please oneself, in the process of which one tends to become possessive of the beings or things that in some way bring one satisfaction. When the enjoyer experiences a sense of pleasure caused by another being or an object, the enjoyer becomes possessive of that being or object. Oftentimes people confuse this with love. Plato, for example, wrote in his Symposium about the difference between varieties of experience that often get lumped into one single category: love. He wrote, “The vulgar love of the body, which takes wing and flies away when the bloom of youth is over, is disgraceful, and so is the interested love of power or wealth.”
When one’s senses—eyes, skin, nose, ears, etc.—come in contact with their appropriate sense objects—form, touch, smell, sound, etc.—one may experience pleasure. This pleasure is the enemy of the sense enjoyer. Srila Prabhupada writes in his commentary on Bhagavad-gita 3.39: “While one enjoys sense gratification, it may be that there is some feeling of happiness, but actually that so-called feeling of happiness is the ultimate enemy of the sense enjoyer.” The pleasure that comes from the contact of the senses with their objects is not the real problem. The real problem is that the sense enjoyer, due to the experience of pleasure, starts to become possessive. At this moment everything starts to turn bad! This is the beginning of trouble.
In other words, satisfying kama results in greed. Greed is not a good thing. Greed means that one wants more of the thing he already has. Since greed knows no limits, one can never satisfy this desire, or kama. To help us better understand this concept, the analogy of fire is given. Fire burns fuel, and the more it burns, the more fuel it wants. The more fuel that one places into the fire, the fire, unlike a civilized and cultured human being, does not say “Thank you” but wants more. In this way a simple attempt at satisfying kama, or material desire, results in greed, which, like fire, can never be satisfied. Thus one is left perpetually agitated.
Trying to satisfy kama is not a smart option. But what if one does not satisfy kama? What happens then? Unsatisfied material desire results in frustration, and anger is a symptom of frustration. Frustration of desire, and only of the type of desire known as kama, results in anger. When one is angry, one is certainly not happy and tends to commit stupid acts.
In the Bhagavad-gita (2.62–63) Krishna teaches: “While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment material desire develops, and from such desire anger arises. From anger, complete delusion arises, and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost, and when intelligence is lost one meets destruction.”
Anger can run on the surface, and that is when one may commit some fleeting stupid act, after which one can return to one’s normal state. But there is another type of anger. This anger is deeply rooted. This is a solid anger, sitting fat in the foundation of the sense enjoyer’s psyche, nurtured by kama.
SO, WHAT TO DO?
It seems that one should neither satisfy kama nor not satisfy it. What is the solution? The solution is to ignore it. To ignore or avoid it, one should know how to differentiate between a healthy desire and kama, or unhealthy desire. This is something that is not taught enough, or at all, in secular society and its educational institutions. First one should make it a point to not develop kama, and if one has already developed kama, then one should try to ignore it. If you do not feed it, it subsides and ultimately goes out.
I have been a monk for almost twenty years. In these twenty years I have trained and taught many monks. When they first come to the monastery, new monks have a lot of anger. They often exhibit this anger in the form of hate of many things. They may hate the world, cities, night life, computers, cars, sometimes even women – usually the things they feel possessive about. This, however, never disturbs me because I know that it is a good symptom. I know that their anger is arising due to ignoring their kama. If they manage to continue to not feed their kama, I know that the fire of their kama, and along with it their anger, will subside and then go out. Once their kama has subsided, the monks become very happy, satisfied, and situated in their natural spiritual position of love—love of God, the root of all existence.
The spiritual message, unlike society’s message, is that material desire should be ignored. As Krishna teaches in Bhagavad-gita 5.22: “Pleasures that are due to the contact of the material senses with their objects are sources of misery. Such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise person does not delight in them.”
Since no living entity can cease to desire, and since material desire is unwanted, one should take care to learn what spiritual desire is. Spiritual desire is based on love, love of God. One who loves God transcends selfish, possessive desire and is always inspired to please the object of his love. Krishna being the root of all existence, the love that has Krishna as its object is distributed equally throughout the world, just as the water that nourishes the root of a tree nourishes the whole tree—its trunk, branches, twigs, leaves, fruits, and flowers. One who is in love is always inspired. One who is in love with God is always selflessly inspired.