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There is a story in the Mahabharata about the Pandava brothers, who followed the path of righteousness and virtue, and were sent into exile in a forest by their Kaurava opponents, having lost at a game of dice.
One day, as they were feeling very tired and thirsty, Yudhishthira, the eldest brother, requested Sahadeva, the youngest one, to go and look for some water. Sahadeva climber a tree and saw that somewhere near there was a lake with crystal clear water.
He then started in that direction and soon reached the lake. Just then however he heard the voice of a yaksha, a demi-god, saying: "Wait. I am the owner of this tank. I shall allow you to take the water if you can answer my question." Sahadeva ignored the intimation of the demi-god and continued his way towards the water, but the minute he touched it, he fell dead.
Not seeing Sahadeva returning, after a while Nakula, the fourth Pandava brother, went to see what had happened and also to fetch some water as they all were by now very thirsty.
He reached the pond, saw Sahadeva dead, and at the same time he heard the voice of the yaksha saying: "Wait. I am the owner of this water. You will be able to take the water if you first answer my question. You brother refused to do that and as you see he is now dead."
Nakula also did not pay any heed and dropped dead as soon as he touched the water. The same thing happened to Arjuna who followed his brothers' path and also ignored the warning of the demi-god's voice.
At this point Yudhishthira, feeling concerned for his brothers, decided to go see himself what had happened. This time the yaksha appeared and challenged Yudhishthira in the same way as he had done before with Sahadeva, Nakula and Arjuna, threatening him of immediate death if he did not answer his questions in the right way. Yudhishthira, a very wise man, did not say "Yes, I shall answer your questions" but, with a display of humility, only said "I shall try my best to answer your questions. Please ask your questions".
Then the demi-god asked several interesting questions and Yudhishthira gave several wonderful answers. One of the questions was: "What is the fastest thing in this world?"
And the next question was: "There are so many grass leaves in a field and it is almost impossible to count how many grass leaves there are in the world: what is even more numerous than the grass leaves of the world?"
The correct answer to the first question is: "The mind" and to the second question is: "The thoughts". (The Mahabharata then informs us that the yaksha, pleased with Yudhishthira's wise answers, revived his brothers and also allowed them to take the water they wanted.)
Let us now come to the subject of desire.
About desire there is a beautiful quotation: "There are different units for measures: the lowest unit is a mountain, and that is already so big. But even vaster that a mountain is an ocean.
The next unit for measures is the sky, which is even vaster than an ocean. And then Brahman, that is infinity: greater than the greatest and smaller that the smallest. But what is even vaster than Brahman? Desire."
This similitude is not totally correct, as nothing can be greater than Brahman. But it well represents how vast, how infinite desire can be.
So desire is the subject of our discussion. Why is this discussion important?
Some of you here are young persons who are involved in passing examinations at school or university. You should understand that passing school examinations is much easier than passing the examinations of life.
It is unfortunate that the educational institutions in Japan as in the rest of the world do not teach students how to face the examinations of life. We have to be equipped to face such examinations.
We have to know how to face the problems of life, family, and so many others. The problem of desire is not an imaginary problem it is a very practical, real one.
We are tormented by some desires, which we know are not good. But it is so difficult for us to give up such desires.
We are sometimes at a loss on how to become free from negative desires. Sometimes we are also confused on which ones are right desires and which ones are wrong desires.
We should understand how desires affect us both in this life as well as in the after-life. We should also examine the problem of uncontrolled and unlimited desires. We should study how to go from desire to desire-less-ness.
What is desire-less-ness?
Once the devotees asked Holy Mother: "Mother, how can we realize God? How can we have the vision of God?"
Holy Mother said: "My sons, you meditate on God, you chant the name of God, you repeat the name of God, and then you realize God."
Then she added a very important remark:" If you can completely get rid of desires, on that very moment you realize God."
It sounds so simple and quick.
But when we consider how many and how vast desires are, we understand that it is not so easy. We understand that some real struggle is necessary to become free from desires. So our spiritual journey is just to go from desire to desire-less-ness.
It is like a one hundred floor building where the top floor is desire-less-ness. One cannot jump from the ground floor up to the top: one has to pass through every single floor In spiritual life there is no high jump or long jump: it is like tracking on a mountain.
So we have first to understand what desire is. Although most of the thoughts have some connection with desires, not all of the thoughts are about desire, like for instance some memories. In the vast variety of existing thoughts one can define desires the thoughts where one either would like to get something or to avoid something. There are different types of desire. Some desires are mere fancies. For instance we see a bird and we think: how nice it would be if we could fly. Some wishes are of low intensity.
Some wishes are of high intensity, like craving for something. Then there are conscious and unconscious, subconscious desires. Think of an iceberg: the portion floating on the water is very small in comparison to the vast part which remains under the water.
That is why we say that we can only see the tip of the iceberg. Likewise we can only see the tip of our desires: a huge part of our desires is in our subconscious mind and we are not aware of it. Sometime these subconscious desires surface at times in dreams or meditation.
Many of our desires are conditioned by our previous births, thoughts and deeds. It is wrong to think that we are born with a new mind.
It is not like a "tabula rasa", a clean board; there are already many things written on that board, but we cannot see them. So we are born with previous impressions which affect our desires.
Our family background, gender, education, health, work and age, are also factors affecting our desires. Sometimes a child wants to be a father, but a father sometimes wants to be a child, and there could be so many more examples like that. A long time ago we were about to discuss at the Kyokai the basic desires of a human being and I asked such question to some of the participants. I was expecting answers such as: joy, eternal life, wisdom. I asked the question also to a young girl attending the meeting. She very frankly answered: "I weigh so much, I need to reduce my weight!" In the same way those who are underweight want to put on weight.
And maybe those who have a perfect weight have a problem about falling hair! These are examples of how one's health can affect one's desires.
What is the center, the core, of our desires? I-ness and my-ness.
There are some words that are frequently used by people without really thinking in a deep way of their meaning. One such word is "God". This word is very frequently used equally by believers and by non-believers, but in both cases those who pronounce that word often have no proper understanding of its meaning.
Another word like that is "I". So, when we talk about "I" and "I-ness", we have to be sure we really understand what that means. I-ness depends on our perception of what we are and there are two types of perceptions: a limited perception of ourselves and the complete perception of ourselves. Our perception of I-ness influences in a strong way our feelings, our behavior and our relationship with others.
So it is very important to understand what this "I" means. One very common understanding is that "I" means: I am body, senses, mind, ego." In the case of animals "I" involves only body and senses.
So their whole consciousness revolves around the body and senses: eating, drinking, sleeping and procreating.
In additions to those concepts, human beings also consider mind, intelligence and I-ness. But even if human beings reach a superior level than animals, their level is still limited as all of the factors - body, senses, mind and intelligence- are finite, limited.
What is the basis of our personality? Has the mind any real consciousness or is body-consciousness or mind-consciousness a borrowed consciousness?
According to Hindu philosophy mind-consciousness and body-consciousness are borrowed, in the same way as the moon has no light of its own and borrows the light from the sun. Now let us introduce the concept of body-mind complex borrowing consciousness from the Soul, Atman, which is pure consciousness.
Why is Atman regarded as pure consciousness?
Because all other kinds of consciousness are mixed, combined with something, with some specification or definition, such as mind-consciousness, body-consciousness, etc. In the case of Atman, the Self, there is only pure consciousness, and that is the source, the anchor of our personality.
So when our perception of ourselves only includes body-, mind-, senses-consciousness, such perception is limited; when however it includes the Atman then our perception of ourselves becomes true, complete, holistic, integrated.
When we do not include the Atman in the perception of ourselves we are like an object adrift in the water, without an anchor. Ninety-nine percent of our desires revolve around this complex of body-mind.
So when we say: "I want to eat" we identify ourselves with the body, when we say: "I want to listen to a song" we identify ourselves with the sense of hearing. If we say: "I want to remember something" we identify ourselves with our brain, intelligence. If we say: "I feel love for someone" we identify ourselves with mind, emotion.
We always identify ourselves with body, mind, senses or intelligence. So we now understand the center of our desires. The next step regards the fulfillment or satisfaction of desires (both when these imply wanting something or avoiding something).
There are two methods: acceptable methods and non-acceptable ones, legal and illegal ones, moral and immoral ones. It is interesting that sometimes an action can be moral but not legal, or viceversa.
For instance if one omits to take care of one's father and mother that is immoral, but not illegal, at least in most places (I hear that in China they are making a law by which people have to take care of their parents). So normally we satisfy our desires with the help of money, or other persons. And when we are unable to do that we refer to God!
Supposing that we were able to satisfy all of our desires by ourselves, who would then care for God? The vast majority of people would not. And God may probably be confused by some of the prayers addressed to Him by persons who want to satisfy their desires.
Think of that lady, the wife of a doctor, who asked Holy Mother to let her husband earn more money. Holy Mother said she was unable to accept a prayer like that understanding that the way a doctor may earn more money would consist of more people suffering for illness. "Management" has now become a very commonly used word, today we discuss a specific aspect of management: management of desires. This is not a theoretical discussion, is has a direct link to our every-day individual life. Whenever we consider desires, we automatically consider their fulfillment. The problem is uncontrolled and unlimited desires.
Why is it a problem?
Because we cannot fulfill all of our desires, as such fulfillment depends on other persons, environment, nature and other factors which we cannot control. So the fulfillment of our desires in many cases becomes impossible. Forcibly fulfilling desires, regardless of others and other external factors, represent a sin. Bhagavad Gita tells that Arjuna asked Krishna why sometime people are compelled to commit sins even if they have no intention of doing so. Krishna explained that it is desire behind such sins, people are forced by their desires and that is the reason why there are so many crimes in this world. The problem is also that the more we satisfy a desire, the more there is thirst for it.
There is a story in the Mahabharata about king Yayati, who reached old age but still wanted to continue satisfying his desires. He then asked his sons to exchange their youth for his old age. One of the sons accepted so that Yayati was then able to continue satisfying his desires. It took him a very long time to finally realize that you cannot get rid of desires by satisfying them, in the same way as you cannot extinguish a fire by throwing more fuel on it. But there is also another problem: if we try to get rid of desires by repressing them that also does not work and can cause psycho-somatic diseases.
So failing to fulfill our desires brings us sadness, frustration, depression. A further problem is that the joy we expect from the fulfillment of a desire is in most cases bigger than the joy we feel once such desire is fulfilled, in other words fulfillment of desires mostly falls short of our expectations. It is only part of our natural inclination to long for joy and to avoid suffering.
But this is does not happen in reality: pure joy is impossible; pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin. Swamiji gave a beautiful example of this concept by saying that the sum-totals of pleasure and pain are always the same. So after analyzing all this we can conclude that the problem is how to control desires.
Listen to this story by Buddha.
A man is running away from the police after committing a crime.
In order to escape the police he hides himself in a well.
He descends towards the bottom of the well by taking hold of some vines on the walls.
Approaching the bottom he notices that poisonous snakes are there and he decides to stop his descent by clinging to the vines.
He then notices two ferocious and big mice, one white and one black, gnawing at the vines and threatening to breaking them and making him fall to the bottom where the poisonous snakes are.
Although finding himself in a precarious situation he suddenly looks up and sees a bee hive from which a drop of honey falls down every now and then. He then tastes the honey with delight forgetting his situation of danger. The explanation of this parable is as follows: The man represents us, born to live and die alone;
The snakes refer to the body with all its desires; The vines indicate the continuity of human life; The two mice, white and black, refer to the duration of time, day and night, as well as the passing years; The honey represents the physical pleasures and desires. Shankara wrote a story about a very old man, with all the hair grey, no teeth left, walking only with the help of a stick, liable to die any moment, and still not able to get rid of his desires.
So from these stories you see how deep-rooted our desire for enjoyment is. Bhagavad Gita explains how our desires become a source of trouble and fall in chapter 2, verse number 62 and 63. "In one who dwells longingly on sense objects, an inclination towards them is generated. This inclination develops into desire, and desire begets anger. Anger generates delusion, and delusion results in loss of memory.
Loss of memory brings about the destruction of discriminative intelligence, and loss of discriminative intelligence spells ruin to a man." So it starts by a man thinking deeply of an object of enjoyment and thus generates an inclination to be associated with such object. Then it becomes a desire. And when such desire is not fulfilled due to some obstacle, the man becomes angry. And when anger is there, the man loses his ability to distinguish right from wrong, forgetting what he has studied and learned as being proper or not. At that stage the man is unable to discriminate what should be done or not done, and does things that he never intended to do.
If we study the cases of persons imprisoned for criminal cases (but not civil cases), in most cases we find that such persons had never intended to do anything wrong, but committed crimes on a fit of anger. And the origin of that anger was desire.
So this is the vicious circle of desire: you have a desire, want to fulfill it, when you do so karma is originated and its effect follows resulting in some more desire. And this carries also in subsequent re-births.
There is a beautiful story by Rabindranath Tagore.
There was a palace where the emperors used to live. They had plenty of unfulfilled desires:so much so that every stone forming the palace vibrated with unfulfilled desires.
So why is there re-birth?
First of all it is because when we die we have unfulfilled desired that we need to satisfy in the next life.
Secondly it is because some of the actions we performed in this life did not yet bear fruit: we then have the results of such actions realized in another life.
So this is how re-birth is connected to Karma and Karma is connected with desires: this is the vicious circle of desire which cannot be escaped until and unless we finally feel a tremendous urge to exit it.
Many devotees used to visit Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar, among them there were elderly persons as well as very young ones. The elderly devotees were surprised at how some of the very young ones, with no experience of the world and its secular enjoyments and suffering, held the belief that this world is unreal and only Brahman is real.
Sri Ramakrishna explained that these young devotees had already had their experiences of the world repeatedly in their previous lives and were therefore born into this life with the knowledge acquired in the previous ones. Naturally these young boys represented exceptions as it is very rare to be born with a very developed spirituality and knowledge.
All young disciples of Sri Ramakrishna belonged to such category. On the contrary, the category to which most of us belong includes persons who received repeated blows resulting from the satisfaction of their desires, with the inevitable pain, frustration and pain involved (and the dimension of the suffering is normally far greater than that of the enjoyment).
The Upanishads exemplify that in the following beautiful story. There is a tree with two birds sitting on its branches. One bird sits on a lower branch and the other bird sits on a branch at the top of the tree.
The bird on the lower branch eats the fruits of the tree: some are sweet but most are bitter and the bird is disappointed. It then looks at the bird sitting at the top of the tree, which looks very calm and relaxed.
The bird on the lower branch is very impressed by the other bird and notices that it is not eating any fruits at all. Most of us e belong to that category, developing knowledge very slowly by repeatedly trying to satisfy our desires and receiving blows instead. Only then we start our search for a way to exit the vicious circle of desires.
There is a third category of persons who start their search for avoiding the endless cycle of desires and suffering only after reaching a kind of saturation point where they cannot continue any longer facing such cycle.
There is another category of persons who have reached a very good position in the society and have everything that they might possibly wish in terms of material needs, good social position, name and fame, and still they feel that something is missing in their lives.
When such feeling of emptiness grows to a certain point these persons realize that they need to pursue something which is not secular in their lives and they start searching for it.
Again there is another category of persons who have a discriminating mind. They do feel desires, but they are able to discriminate and analyze whether or not the fulfillment of such desires will give them the expected satisfaction.
The Upanishads mention a story about such category of persons gifted with a discriminative mind. There was a wise worldly man who had two wives.
Having reached the third stage of life according to Hindu tradition (student life, family life, life of retirement in the forest and life of total renunciation), he called his two wives and told them about his intension and also his wish to divide between them his worldly possessions.
One of the wives asked whether the share of the properties that her husband intended to give her would allow her to reach immortality and the bliss of God-knowledge. Her husband answered that no, her share of the properties would enable her to enjoy some material desires, but it would not give her immortality and Brahman-knowledge.
She then stated that she was not interested in something that would not allow her to attain the bliss of God-knowledge She was a very good example of a person gifted with a discriminative mind: asking herself whether the satisfaction of some worldly desires would or not allow her to reach liberation. In her case the desire for secular enjoyment was replaced by the desire of spiritual bliss.
Our discussion should not give us the impression that our life is bound to have only dark days, days of suffering caused by the satisfaction of our desires. That is not the purpose of discrimination. On the contrary we should always be aware that real peace and joy, spiritual bliss, can be attained. How to attain that is the purpose of discrimination. Some devotees were concerned that renunciation would take everything away from their lives, in that respect Sri Ramakrishna said that renunciation should be a combination of dispassion for worldly enjoyments and devotion to God. Dispassion for worldly enjoyments without devotion to God is a negative concept.
With this we end the discussion about persons with a discriminating type of mind. Another category of persons receive a sudden revelation that the world is just an illusion. As an example I shall mention the story of a very famous and rich person who an afternoon was passing in a carriage in a street in Belur. He casually heard the daughter of a washer man address her father and ask when they should burn basana and get the ashes they needed to carry out their washing job. Basana in Bengali language has a double meaning: it indicates the dry leaves of banana which, once burned, produce an ash used for washing clothes, but it also means "desire".
So the rich man who casually heard the daughter of the washer man address her father about a matter concerning their job in fact perceived a completely different message: "When will you set fire to your desires?"
So the rich man who till then had enjoyed life realized that time was passing by quickly and the moment had come to renounce desires: right then and there he abandoned his previous life style and went to Vindravan, where he spent the remaining part of his life in spiritual practice. Since then the street where that rich man was passing has been named after him. Now let us study how desires originate in our heart.
We previously discussed the psychological origin of desires as explained in the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 2, verses 62 and 63).
Now we try to see what the spiritual reasons of the origin of desires are. The Upanishads, on which Vedanta is based, say that we are eternally pure, full of bliss, free, sinless and perfect. So why do we feel miserable, why do we feel we are bound, deluded, imperfect?
What is the reason of our pitiable condition and the origin of our desires that create it?
A Hindi expression recites: "Oh desire, you are lowliest of the lowly, you are responsible for my condition!"
Next question is then: how this Basana, this desire came?
One of our basic desires is: we want to live. Even an old man with many afflictions and sicknesses tells Yama, the god of death, when he comes to pick him up: "Please wait for a while". So nobody wants to die, one wants to live eternally, if possible. Another basic desire is the desire for knowledge.
Even children have this natural impulse and pester their parents with so many questions, trying to satisfy this basic desire, And joy, as well as avoiding sufferings, are also basic desires common to all, young and old. We also want company, friends, family, colleagues; we do not like to be alone, in most cases. Sometimes company is appreciated even in the presence of disagreements.
In some countries it is not infrequent for people to marry and divorce and marry again even when the reach an advanced age. They do that sometimes not really to enjoy the physical aspect of family life as much as to get some company as their children in many cases live elsewhere and do not really care for them. Finally we all feel the urge to work, have some activity, and avoid sitting idle. And this desire for work and activity is also associated with the other desires mentioned before.
The nature of Brahman is: Sat, Chit, Ananda, eternal existence, knowledge and bliss. Brahman has created this universe, has entered it, and dwells in it, with the result that Brahman is also inside us. As Brahman is inside us, and we are Brahman, our real nature is also the same: absolute existence, knowledge and bliss.
There is only one problem: Maya, spiritual ignorance. Because of Maya our urges for eternal life, knowledge, joy, our urge to unite again with Brahman are misdirected. So instead of getting united with Brahman we want to get united with another human being. As a result we only get an infinitesimal part of the joy which we would get by uniting again with Brahman. The joy we get is adulterated, mixed up. It is a reflected joy, the worldly beauty we see is a minimal part of the real beauty of God. Ravana, a character of the famous Indian epic Ramayana, had stolen Sheeta with the intention to marry her.
After tempting her in various ways without success he was advised to use some magic powers and appear to Sheeta disguised as Ramachandra, her real husband. Ravana was an ill-minded person, but at the same time he was inwardly a great devotee of Ramachandra. He said: "In order to take the form of another person I have to meditate on the form of such person. So if I want to take the form of Ramachandra, I have to meditate on him. If I meditate on Ramachandra the beauty of Sheeta, the most celestial, beautiful woman on the world, appears to me only like insignificant ash compared to the beauty of Ramachandra." The beauty of God is such that all other beauties are only insignificant reflections of the beauty of God.
So when we direct our search towards worldly desires we misdirect our search; we should then direct our path towards the search for God, and undertake the right kind of journey. There is a second explanation of the origin of desires and that is related to Indian cosmology. According to Indian cosmology the universe is formed by five elements: hearth, water, fire, air and ether.
Each of these elements has three components: sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva is purity, love, compassion, perfection, freedom. Rajas is activity, desire for secular enjoyment, ambition, conflict, restlessness. Tamas is violence, beastly enjoyment, lethargy, dullness, laziness. And each of these elements is both substance and quality.
Everything we see and perceive is made of these five elements with these three attributes. Differences among persons as well as differences among objects are just a matter of proportion among sattva, rajas and tamas. Now we can clearly understand that our minds are also made of those five elements with their three components. We now understand why our minds have so many types of inclinations so that we feel momentarily pure or impure, free or bound, happy or sad. And the prevailing component in each of us can be changed by spiritual practice.
A third explanation of the origin of desires regards purana, devotion. The Divine Mother created this universe and she enjoys its play, in which we also participate. If we were conscious of our real nature, which is eternal existence, knowledge and bliss, we would quit playing, that is why the Divine Mother makes us forget our real nature by the power of Maya and the play can go on.
One may ask why the Divine Mother wants to play with us. Sri Ramakrishna answered that we should think that we are not different from Mother, that we are Mother: in this way we can take part in Mother's play and enjoy it even when we are suffering.
When we buy a ticket to go to a dramatic movie we know that we are going to feel anguish and even cry while watching the movie. That shows that crying is also a form of enjoyment. People play soccer knowing that sometimes accidents are there and pain is part of the game, but still enjoy playing. The concept of joy is there because that of suffering is there too.
So Sri Ramakrishna told some devotees: "Why do you complain, if Mother wants to play, let Her play, play along. You will become Mother's playing companion." If we are established in the view that Mother is playing with us there will not be any suffering, but if we forget or do not consider such view, suffering will be there. And under such view desires will be there but under a different concept, in fact desires will be purified by considering that we are playing Mother's game. In order to reach the stage when we regard our life as Mother's play, we need to undergo a spiritual process and distinguish between right desires and wrong desires.
That has a simple answer. If the result of fulfilling a particular desire is real joy; that means that it was a right desire. If the result of satisfying a particular desire is pain; that means that it was a wrong desire. Once a disciple of Swami Vivekananda asked him what sort of enjoyment should be regarded as right and proper. Swamiji's very significant answer was: "Do not indulge again in enjoyments that provoked pain, sadness and repentance to you." Sometimes a right desire becomes wrong if we cross the limit.
For instance if we take food just for keeping our body in healthy conditions, that is a right desire. But if we take too much food, that is a wrong desire. That same can be said for drinking and smoking, although these are areas where it is easy to exceed the limit and should therefore be preferably avoided. First we drink alcohol; then alcohol drinks us. First we smoke cigarettes, and then cigarettes smoke us.
The last point of our discussion concerns management of desires and God realization or realization of truth. First of all we should try to control our desires by analyzing what are the minimum basic desires avoiding uncontrolled desires.
This can be done by setting a goal. For instance we should evaluate how much money we need to reasonably support our lives and avoid earning money for the sake of money. We should avoid holding too many things, shopping too much, in many cases we shop for unnecessary things. Let us then set a goal, both in kind and in quantity, regarding our desires of every kind. Let us try reducing and minimizing whatever desires we have. Let us try to enjoy with discrimination, knowing that we cannot get real joy and peace by satisfying our desires. Real joy and peace can only be found elsewhere, in spiritual practices, in meditation on God.
Let us purify our desires through prayers, by repeating the name of God and by meditating on God. This will help us reduce our desire for secular enjoyment and at the same time will develop our love for God. Let us turn our desires to God. What does that mean? Once Swami Turiyananda asked Sri Ramakrishna how to get rid of lust. Sri Ramakrishna answered: "Why get rid of lust, increase it instead! Lust means wanting the company of someone.
Why do you not want something bigger, the company of God?"
This is what is called spiritualization or sublimation of desire: it is a wonderful practice, if one can manage it, so positive, so helpful! As we said previously suppressing, repressing desires may cause psychosomatic diseases. On the other hand the solution suggested by some western psychologists - fulfillment of all desires – is also not working, it is in fact dangerous. So the best way is to canalize the desires in a positive way, in a spiritual way.
That is how we can spiritualize our thought pattern, behavior pattern and action pattern. As an example when we cook we can think that cooking is a spiritual work given to us by the Lord: this food is Ramakrishna, these ingredients are Ramakrishna, this fire is Ramakrishna, this cooking pan is Ramakrishna and Ramakrishna is in me, so I am also Ramakrishna.
And we can apply the same concept to whatever we do. One of our greatest problems is how we can drive out the negative thoughts that come to our mind. A very good solution is to think positive thoughts. That works in two ways: it helps suppressing the negative ones and at the same time it purifies us, our desire. And we should try to be ready beforehand to counter negative thoughts with positive ones and also to spiritualize whatever we do.
This is applied religion; this is spiritualizing our life at all times: not just to read Scriptures, to perform japam and meditation every now and then. There will be no paradox or contradiction; we shall be able to harmonize things.
You may call this "Ramakrishna Advaita". This is also Advaita.
As we cannot concentrate on pure consciousness, pure Advaita, we can first realize "Ramakrishna Advaita". In the same way, depending on our Ishta, chosen Deity, we can have "Sarada Advaita", "Rama Advaita", "Buddha Advaita", "Christ Advaita" and so on: the effect will be the same. If we consider this under the different concepts of "I" and "I-ness" (limited aspect of I as opposite to the complete aspect of "I"), which we discussed before, we now understand that we have to give more and more emphasis to the unlimited aspect of "I" as well as to the unlimited aspect of others.
A husband will really love his wife if he gives more emphasis to the unlimited aspect of her. A wife giving more emphasis on the "Ramakrishna" aspect of her husband will really love him and attain joy. This is how Jnana and Bhakti can be harmonized.
Finally we can also take the position of a witness. Sometimes desires may be so strong and deeply rooted that is becomes very difficult to get rid of them. It is of course necessary to pray God for help in uprooting such desires, but at the same time it is very helpful to take the position of a witness. This is a Vedantic technique and consists of thinking, when desires come, that they affect only our mind. But our mind is not us: we are Atman, we are pure. In this way we separate, we dissociate from the desires and by doing that their intensity will decrease more and more.
By moving from tamasic or rajastic desires to sattvic desires, we can slowly move from wrong to right desire and finally to desire-less-ness, a state of no desire which allows us to realize God. Desire-less-ness is reached when a devotee wants God, nothing but God.
Sri Ramakrishna compared such state with the time immediately preceding the sunrise: the eastern sky becomes red and we know that soon the sun will rise; accordingly desire-less-ness indicates that soon God-realization will be achieved. We now close by mentioning a dialogue between Swami Nikilanandaji and Swami Shivanandaji. Swami Nikilanandaji asked Swami Shivanandaji: "Maharaj, it is said that one has to take birth again if a desire, even the smallest and most trivial one, is left unfulfilled at the time of death.. On the other hand Holy Mother said that Sri Ramakrishna promised to grant liberation, if not earlier at least at the time of death, to those who took His Name. How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction?"
Swami Shivanandaji answered: "Suppose that Sri Ramakrishna appears to you and asks you whether you still have some unfulfilled desires for which you want to take birth again. What would you say to Him?" Swami Nikilanandaji then said: "No Maharaj, I do not think that I would tell Sri Ramakrishna that I have some desire left for which I want to take birth again." "Then you will not be born again, then you will have liberation." Swami Shivanandaji answered. A similar question was asked to Holy Mother by devotees, who had taken initiation from her: "Mother, we have so many desires and we know that we shall have to take birth again if we have desires at the time of death!"
Holy Mother gave the same answer: "My son, my daughter, towards the end you will get rid of all these desires. At the rime of death surely you will have no desires. At the journey's end all these desires will vanish and you will get liberation."