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The Role of Desire in
May 28, 2009
New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the archive, as previous
lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why
No matter what our spiritual path may be, it will have its origin and
ongoing sustenance in our desire. It is our longing for truth and a
willingness to act upon our longing that is the root cause of everything
else that occurs on our path.
It has been said that a prerequisite to enlightenment is the end of all
desire. This is not entirely true. Without desire there can be no path, and
no practice of any kind. Even if we deny the need for practice in favor of
stand-alone self-inquiry, a desire for truth will still be necessary to keep
us going in that.
Desire in relation to the spiritual path is often misunderstood,
particularly in the realm of advaita-vedanta (non-duality). As we come into
a direct realization of the truth of what we are, it is true that our desire
for the ephemeral things of this world will become less. A reduction in this
kind of desire is effect rather
than cause a tail on the dog of rising realization. Even as our worldly
desire may become less, our spiritual desire will be increasing in kind.
Exponentially, some might say. So enlightenment is not about ending desire.
It is about shifting it naturally to higher truth, until all desire is
dissolved in the reality of Oneness,
which is experienced as an unending outpouring of divine love. Then our
desire has become synonymous with divine desire, and continues on...
An intentional desire for the realization of truth is not only useful, it is
essential. When desire is directed toward a high ideal of our own choosing,
and is sustained, it is called devotion.
In the language of yoga, this is called bhakti. We
could also call it active
surrender, which is the giving of ourselves through our actions to our
highest ideal in everyday living.
Besides the obvious motivational power of devotion inspiring us to take
action on our path toward realization, there is an innate
power of transformation in
devotion that directly stimulates inner purification and opening,
independent of any other action taken on our part. In other words, devotion
alone has the power to open us to the truth, assuming the ideal of our
devotion reaches beyond where we are today. This natural feature of devotion
is why it is the most prevalent spiritual practice in all of the worlds
religions. Devotion to a high spiritual ideal (divine personage, icon,
condition or concept) is at the core of all spiritual progress, whether
additional methods are being applied or not. This is equally true on the
path of self-inquiry leading to direct realization of non-duality unity.
Of course, as soon as we begin integrating additional effective methods with
our spiritual desire, our rate of transformation to realization will be
accelerating. In fact, it is devotion that leads us to all additional means.
Devotion increases the effectiveness of all means we undertake, whether it
be deep meditation, self-inquiry, or any other spiritual practice.
So, even if we are highly orthodox in our approach to self-inquiry, denying
other forms of practice in favor of a singular focus on non-duality, we
cannot deny that it is our desire that is carrying us forward, raised to the
level of unending devotion to our highest ideal (bhakti). In the absolutist
advaita-vedanta traditions, the words "desire," "devotion" and "bhakti" are
seldom included in the vernacular. Instead, the qualities of unwavering
"integrity," "commitment," "fidelity," "earnestness," etc., are used to
constituent of the path. It is the same thing.
Without it, self-inquiry will be hollow. Fortunately,
having that essential fire in
the heart is an aspect of the
rise of the witness, and this is why we place emphasis on relational
self-inquiry (see Lesson
325). The presence of the abiding witness brings along with it all the
prerequisites for effective self-inquiry, including an ever-expanding flow
of spiritual desire.
There is something that is leading us to the ultimate freedom of the realization
of our non-dual nature. That something is desire, raised to the level of
devotion (bhakti). It is the unifying power of divine love emanating from
our stillness, leading us to all actions that unfold the living truth within
In upcoming lessons, we will be taking a closer look at how bhakti fuels our
actions on the path and our spiritual evolution.
The guru is in you.
Lessons Topic Path
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detailed discussion on the role of
rising bhakti in self-inquiry, see the
and the Liberation book.
For detailed discussion on the
intensification of bhakti as we progress on our path, see the
Bhakti and Karma Yoga book.