Monday, July 11, 2011

Beyond Desire to Spiritual Awakening

"When a man surrenders all desires that come to the heart and by the grace of God finds the joy of God, then his soul has indeed found peace. He whose mind is untroubled by sorrows, and for pleasure has no longings, beyond passion and fear and anger, he is the sage of the unwavering mind."
-- The Bhagavad Gita, 2:55-56 --
"Spiritual experience," writes famed translator, Jose Mascaro, "is the only source of true spiritual faith, and this must never contradict reason, or as Shankara, c. AD 788-820, says in his commentary of the Bhagavad Gita: 'If a hundred scriptures should declare that fire is cold or that it is dark, we would suppose they intend quite a different meaning from the apparent one!'"

"What," he then asks, "is the indispensable condition for this spiritual experience? It is very simple, and it can be very difficult: it is the absence of desires."
[Mascaro, "Bhagavad Gita (Penguin Classics)," p. li.]

But, the question remains: How will we know when we have mastered desires?

In his treatise, "On Desire: Why We Want What We Want," author, William Irvine observes that when we have mastered desire, "(w)e will experience what . . . has been the goal of most of those who have thought about desire - a feeling of tranquility."

"This should not be confused with the kind of tranquility brought on be ingestion of a tranquilizer," he cautions. Rather, he notes, "(i)t is instead marked by a sense that we are lucky to be living whatever life we happen to be living - that despite our circumstances no key ingredient of happiness is missing."

"With this sense," Irvine observes, "comes a diminished level of anxiety: we no longer need to obsess over the things - a new car, a bigger house, a firmer abdomen - that we mistakenly believe will bring lasting happiness if only we can obtain them. Most importantly," he points out, "if we master desire, to the extent possible to do so, we will no longer despise the life we are forced to live and will no longer daydream about living the life someone else is living; instead, we will embrace our own life and live it to the fullest."
[Irvine. "On Desire: Why We Want What We Want," pp. 6-7.]
The "desireless realm" described by the Buddha, and so many others, is thus, a universal spiritual state of being described in all of the world's great wisdom traditions. In the New Testament, for example (at Matthew 6:27-34), Jesus addresses our overwhelming desires and worries, observing:
"And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!"

“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
"(T)he time and effort we spend trying to master desire," Irvine suggests, "are probably considerably less than the time and effort we will expend if we instead capitulate to our desires and spend our days, as so many do, working incessantly to fulfill whatever desire floats into our head."

"Do thy work in the peace of Yoga and, free from selfish desires," says the Gita (at 2:48), be not moved in success or in failure. Yoga is evenness of mind - a peace that is ever the same."

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