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How To Become Free From Desire?

Swami Yuktatmananda answers the question how to become free from desire.

Very few people are even aware that they are in bondage, that they are enslaved by their senses and mind. The only freedom they know is freedom for the mind and the senses. 

Only by God's grace do we become aware of bondage, and begin to strive for freedom from the mind and the senses. This happens at the right time. We do not begin to seek God until we are through with desire for enjoyment. When we are disgusted with worldly pleasure, we begin to truly seek God and He responds to us. Till then, God does not forcibly wean us from worldly pleasure. He lets us play with the objects of the world as long as we like.

According to the Bhagavad Gita (7.3), only very few among thousands strive for perfection; among such rare ones only one perhaps knows God in Reality.

How to Become Free from Desire?

Disciplining the senses: Sri Krishna prescribes sense control as the first discipline to free oneself from desire: "Therefore, control your senses at the outset and kill this destroyer of Knowledge and realization." (Gita, 3.41) Our five sense organs-ears, skin, eyes, tongue, and nose-are like windows to the external world bringing us perceptual knowledge and, along with it, the memory and desire acquired from these perceptions. He who does not want to be swayed by desire needs to be careful about what he takes in through his senses and mind.

According to the Chandogya Upanishad (7.26.2), "If the food is pure the mind too becomes pure." In his commentary on the passage, Sri Shankara explains that food is not only what we eat but what we take in through all the sense organs, and more importantly, through the mind, the most powerful of the sense organs (Gita, 10.22).

Senses mean not only the five sense organs, but also the mind. Mind is the inner organ and the most powerful of the sense organs. In any perception the mind connects itself to the concerned sense organ and the sense object, so control of mind is fundamental to control of desires. What controls the mind? It is buddhi, the determinative and discriminative faculty, which lies dormant in us as long as we are swayed by desire.

When we succumb to a desire, our will does not have a separate existence: it merges with the mind and the senses. A man who is a slave to sense enjoyments identifies himself only with his mind and body, and is not conscious of having a separate will. He begins to grow in mental strength only when he succeeds in freeing his will from the hold of desires. 

Though our will is bound, it is through will alone that release is possible. Sri Krishna says that besides the senses and the mind, buddhi is also the seat of desire. (Bhagavad Gita, 3.40) But he also says elsewhere in the Gita, "Take refuge in buddhi." (2.49) Thus, all efforts at mind control primarily involve awakening buddhi, which amounts to freeing and strengthening the will.

Sri Krishna describes in the Gita the various aspects of human personality in order of increasing subtlety: "The senses are superior (to the gross body); the mind is superior to the senses; buddhi is superior to the mind; He (the Atman) is superior to buddhi. Knowing that the Atman is superior to buddhi, restrain your lower self with the help of your higher self, and destroy the enemy who comes in the form of desire and is hard to overcome." (3.42-3) Sri Ramanuja explains that this means controlling the mind with buddhi.