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Desire In Hinduism

Desire is known as iccha in Hinduism and is one of the basic qualities of the human mind. As per Hindu philosophy, desire is said to be the root cause of all activities.

In early Vedic literature, we do not find the word iccha; instead the word kama is used to convey the same meaning. Kama or iccha is the first reason behind the first creation. Definitely, this was the kama or iccha of the Almighty, the divine. The almighty thinks, “I am lone, how will I become many?” Hence the entire universe was created according to His will. This will is said to be the reason for creation.

This point was later traced to the Upanishads. The 17th shloka of Isavasya Upanishad ends with the mantra 'om kratoh smara krtam samara." Here krtu is supposed to be the will. Even Agni is a symbol of the divine will, as we find Agnisuktas.

The consciousness and energy, knowledge and force, are one with the divine will. It is Jatavedas. It is this divine will that conducts the universe, because it is the first creative power of the omniscient.

Kama is considered to be the first principle of activity, the first seed of the mind, the first born of the absolute. It is a driving force. Kama is the perfection of the expansion of the quality of creativity, the positive dynamis.

Desire In Various Hindu Philosophy

According to Hindu philosophers, three aspects precede any performance of actual action – knowledge, desires and effort. Thus, the desire to procure, maintain or eschew a thing, object, idea or person arises from the knowledge of its conception only. Ancient Hindu philosophers differ on the substratum of this feeling.

The Advaitins and Samkhyas hold the mind to be its substratum or rather the feeling itself to be a transformation of the mind, along with the other modifications like desire, deliberation, doubt, faith, want of faith, steadiness, unsteadiness, shame, intelligence and fear.

The theists in Hinduism hold that desire is of two kinds – eternal and temporal. Desire of Bhagavan is eternal. Since he uttered ‘bhuh’ and created this Earth. God is spoken of as possessing three powers – power of knowledge, power of desire, and power of action. The desire of the jiva (living being) is temporal.

Logicians in Hindu philosophy, however, opine that eight qualities include desire, rest in the atman. Desire is divided into two kinds – towards the fruit of action and towards the attainment of fruit of action. The primary fruit of all desire is happiness or absence of misery. Hence, the goal of human life, release from all sufferings, is the fruit of desire called mumuksha.

Those who consider desire as a mental mode explain that it is like the awareness that an iron burning while, in reality, the burning fire is identical to the iron.

Desire can be defined as the direct cause of action. When one gets liberated, all desires residing in one’s mind, along with itself, are annihilated. In the case of theists, the desires lose their value as the individual soul realizes its existence in God. Hence, desires can no longer be spoken of as desires fulfilled, to be fulfilled, or unfulfilled, etc.

Source - notes taken from Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume V page 125 - 126 IHRF