Desire: The Root of All Misery by Pradip Bhattacharya SignUp

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Desire: The Root of All Misery
by Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya Bookmark and Share

"Men with the looks and pretensions of sages will argue that there is no such thing as a soul and will destroy the prestige of moral imperatives. Everyone will have scholarly and literary pretensions, scholars will become self-opinionated and fond of endless disputation. The self-esteem of students will make them mock and hoot at their teachers. In civic life, no one will bother to abide by word given, contracts agreed upon. Rulers will be concerned only with gaining wealth and power and perpetuating their privileged status. Bandits will become rulers, rulers will turn bandits. Poverty will increase, insecurity and anarchy will make more and more people become refugees with no homeland. Men will get addicted more and more to autism, to wish-fulfillment in fantasy. Sexual mores will become libertine, adolescent and premarital sexuality will escalate, adultery will become rampant, prostitution will commercialize sex."  

' Vyasa in Harivamsa about Kali Yuga in which all human values are rejected, money is escalated into an absolute value and power becomes the ultimate morality.  

Inscribed above the entrance to Parliament:

Ayam Nijah Paroveyti Ganaanaam Laghu Chetasaam
Udaara Charitaanaam Tu Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.

'"This is mine, that is yours" is a petty and fragmented way of seeing reality; for those of the noble consciousness, the world is a family.'

The dual goal of life Rig Veda speaks of:  

Atmano Mokshaartham Jagat Hitaaya Cha 

("work to liberate one's soul, but also for the welfare of the world") and

Bahujana Sukhaaya Bahujana Hitaaya Cha
("Happiness of the many, the general weal")

Nachiketa, when offered unlimited worldly goods and pleasures (significantly offered by the Lord of Death who is also Dharma) said:  

Na Vittena Tarpaniyo Manushyo

(wealth alone does not satisfy man). 

Ours is the only civilization which specifically legitimizes the pursuit of wealth and pleasure (Artha, Kama) by carefully channeling their foaming currents within the solid banks of righteousness and the quest for liberation (Dharma, Moksha).

It is in the life of Yayati, King of Kings, that we find the guidance we need. Yayati remains the archetypal human being driven by desire, totally surrendering to the seduction of the senses, as we are eagerly abandoning ourselves to the siren song of consumerism. Yayati passes on to us what he has learnt with great anguish. This earth, he says, is a hell for egotists who are the slaves of greed, pride, anger and fear. Lust, money, power and pride are intertwined. The pursuit of one inevitably traps man in the others.

Pursuing this Adharma, man gains what seems desirable, but actually perishes at the root. It is a profound insight that Yayati's descendant, Krishna, immortalizes in the Gita.

Desire never ends,
Desire grows with feeding,
like sacrificial flames
lapping up ghee.
Become the sole lord of
the world's paddy-fields, wheat-fields,
precious stones, beasts, women,
still not enough.
Discard desire.
This disease kills. The wicked
cannot give it up, old age
cannot lessen it. True happiness
lies in controlling it'
I have lived in many realms,
I was adored by the gods,
I shone like the gods,
I was powerful like the gods'
for millions of years I made love
to apsaras in the Nandana-gardens,
under clustering, lovely trees
ornamented with flowers
shedding delicate scent upon us'
Then a fearful-faced messenger came
and shouted loudly, thrice:
Lost ! Lost ! Lost !
And I fell from Nandana
. [Adi Parva, 85.12-14; 89.17-20] 

As smoke smothers fire,
as dust films glass,
as womb enfolds seed,
so greed destroys judgment. 
Greed is a fierce fire,
it destroys judgment.
It fools the wise.
It hides in the mind,
the intellect and the senses.
It destroys the atman
by working through them.
Therefore, first control the senses.
 [Gita 3.38-41]

Stafford Beer, founder of Cybernetics, points out  - "The biggest casualty of all under the creed of greed is the social good."  

Besides desire, Yayati warns us against pride and vanity as the destroyers of all merit, all good deeds. 

The wise say: Seven gates,
asceticism, charity, serenity,
self-control, modesty, simplicity,
and kindness, lead to heaven.
Pride cancels all these'
Pride is the road to hell.
Study, control of speech, respect
for ritual, performance of yajna'
these remove fear. Mixed with pride,
these four create fear'
'I gave so much,
I performed many sacrifices,
I am learned,
I keep my vows'
All vanity, all pride.
Give it up, absolutely.
   [Adi Parva, 90.22,24.]

Our tragedy, like Yayati's, lies in falling into this pit despite the example of his father Nahusha having suffered similarly:

The man who gives in to lust,
anger, malice and greed 
falls from the human level
to the animal.
  [Vana Parva, 181]

Plato in Republic VIII classifies: ... as the democratic man the person who feels he is entitled to indulge whichever desire takes hold of him at a particular moment, now capriciously embracing asceticism, the other moment wallowing in pleasures of the senses, but never satisfied with what is, with being instead of frenetically doing all the time. Such a man is passion- driven, not ruled by his will, and is never at rest. Plato also compares the desires to wild beasts for the more they are satisfied, the more importunate they grow, driving the man to ever more strenuous attempts to achieve an ever-diminishing satisfaction. Finally, one desire tends to overcome others and wholly possess the person who becomes obsessed with it, be it ambition, drugs, wealth, sexual pleasure, power. Such a person loses control of his self and is described by Plato in the ninth chapter as the tyrannical soul, in whom one aspect tyrannizes over the rest of his self.  

Aldous Huxley in Point Counter Point: "That's the enormous stupidity of the young people of this generation 'they never think of life except in terms of 'How shall I have a good time?' Why am I not having a better time? But this is a world where good times' simply cannot be had continuously, and by everybody' And after it's been had for a little, it becomes a bore. Everybody strains after happiness, and the result is that nobody's happy. It's because they're on the wrong road' For it's not by pursuing happiness that you find it; it's by pursuing salvation. And when people were wise, instead of merely clever, they thought of life in terms of salvation and damnation, not of good times and bad times. If you're feeling happy now, Marjorie, that's because you've stopped wishing you were happy and started trying to be better. Happiness is like coke' something you get as a by-product in the process of making something else." 

C.M. Joad: "The kingdom of happiness is not to be taken by storm any more than it is to be purchased by wealth' Set out to seek happiness and it will elude you; throw yourself body and soul into your work; devote yourself to a cause; lift yourself up out of the selfish little pit of vanity and desire which is the self, by giving yourself to something which is greater than the self, and on looking back you will find that you have been happy. Happiness, in short, is not a house that can be built by men's hands; it is a flower that surprises you, a song which you hear as you pass the hedge, rising suddenly and simply into the night and dying down again."

"A wondrous Kama-vriksha grows in the heart
a tree of desire
born of attachment. 
Anger and arrogance its trunk, 
impulse to act its irrigating channel.
Ignorance its root;
negligence nourishes it.
fault-finding its leaves,
past misdeeds its pith.
Grief, worry and delusion its branches,
fear its seed.
Vines of craving clasp it around
creating delusion.
All around this fruit-giving 
mighty tree of desire 
sit greedy men
shackled in iron chains of desire
craving its fruit.
He who snaps these bonds of desire
slices this tree
with the sword of non-attachment.
He transcends grief-giving age and death.
But the fool who climbs this tree
greedy for fruit,
it destroys him; even as poison pills
destroy the sick.
The roots of this tree
reach far and wide.
Only the wise can hew it down
with the yoga-gifted
sword of equanimity.
Who knows how to rein in desires
and knows the study of desire itself binds,
He transcends all sorrow."
 [Mahabharata, Shanti Parva 254. 1-8]

"Mention is made of a cosmic fig-tree
rooted above,
whose leaves are said to be the Vedas;
the knower of this fig-tree
is the knower of the Vedas.
Its branches reach out below and above,
its flowers are the objects of the senses;
below the ground flourish more roots
giving birth to action.
You may not see its real shape,
nor its end, birth and existence.
Slice this fig-tree with non-attachment."
 [Gita 15.1-3]

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