Obstacles in Yoga: The Three Basic Desires
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on September 28, 1995)

I hope you all remember what I told you last time, and I believe that it has entered your mind. I do appreciate that it is not easy for these thoughts to enter the mind of an ordinary person, because nobody in the world thinks like this. Nobody can think like this, unless that person who attempts to think like this rises above ordinary human nature.

Right from the beginning, right from childhood, you have been seeing things in one way, thinking in one way, and interpreting things in one way. All that way is the wrong way, according to the requirement of Yoga practice. Because of this wrong way adopted in your thinking, feeling, and dealing with things, there is perpetual suffering, agony of mind, frustration of emotions, conflict everywhere, and nobody can be happy.

This is so because of the fact that the whole world is against you, because you are considering the world as an object to be dealt with in some particular manner. You will certainly not like me to deal with you as an object. Would you like to be dealt with by somebody? It is a very objectionable word: "You want to deal with me in some way. Have I no self-respect? Am I not what I am? What right have you?" This is what the world is telling you.

The prodigal son wanted to separate himself from the father, from the estate. Everyone, in this sense, is a prodigal son. Our father is this whole universe itself – call it God, if you like. We want our own share. You are telling everybody, "Give me my share," and you know what happened to the prodigal son. He had to weep and repent and come back to that from which he had separated himself.

Can you remember always that you belong to this world, and you are not an observer of the world? Can you remember, also, in the process of the creative evolution of the world, that the world came first, and you came afterwards? The world is the subject, therefore, and you are the object, if at all you would like to consider yourself as separate from the world. Instead of you regarding the world as an object of your perception, more properly, the world should consider you as its object, and it is the subject in the sense that you cannot stand outside it.

Can anybody think like this? Go the marketplace, to the shop, to the railway station, to the bus stand; will anybody like to think like this? It is not possible because Yoga, if you are sincerely aspiring for it, is not intended for a casual person who takes everything lightly: "OK, let it be or let it not be. If it comes, OK; if it does not come, that is also all right." This kind of attitude is repugnant to the real and true aspiration for Yoga.

The brain will refuse to think in the manner required by the practice of Yoga because, as I have mentioned earlier, this is not the only occasion that you have come to this world. There are layers and layers of planes of existence, through which the mortal individual has passed in the process of evolution. In this process, you have accumulated varieties of impressions, all which centre round the wrong thinking that you are accustomed to.

You want something from the world, and you do not want to be friendly with the world. If you want something from a person, that person cannot be your friend. The friend is more important than that which the friend is likely to give you. Don't you think that? Your friend is more valuable than that which you are expecting from the friend, but you want to grab things from the world.

Is this not the whole story of economic life, political, social, personal and emotional life? Why do you want to grab anything from the world, since you are made up of the same substance as the world? You are made up of the same thing as the world is made of. When you try to grab anything from the world, as if it is an object outside you, you are affecting your very soul, because virtually you are grabbing something from your own self. You are tearing your personality by the insistence that you want something from the world, because you cannot stand outside the world. Your personality, your psychological alignment, gets torn to pieces, and you become a wretched person because of this habit of wanting things.

From whom are you asking things? Who is the giver of it? The giver has substantially stood in the same position as you are. If you are observing a thing, that thing which is observed can also observe you. If a thing is an object before your sense organs, that object, with all the eyes that it has, will look upon you as an object. This is the cause of conflict.

Everything is a subject by itself. It has a status that it maintains. Every little thing, even an atom, has a status of its own, and it is not an object to be dealt with by somebody else. It refuses to be dealt with, even by the very careful eye of a physicist. It eludes the grasp of even the very minute observations and experiments of a laboratory. You cannot grasp it, because it is not an object. It stands by itself, as you are also standing by yourself. So, if you can gather this information of everything standing by itself, and to put it in the language of the philosophers, if you can consider everything as an end in itself, then the whole world becomes an empire, a kingdom of ends. Nobody, not even a thin little broomstick, can be regarded as a means to an end. It has self-respect. You will be laughing at me: How can a broom have self-respect? It has. If you are honest enough, you can see how it can speak to you.

There was a Russian mystic called Ouspensky who wrote several books. He was a very psychic person who could feel the vibrations of things outside. He went to a hotel and saw an ashtray where ashes had been thrown down. These ashes started speaking to him, and he could visualise the form of the people who had thrown the ashes there. The very vibrations cast by the people who occupied that hotel started speaking to him in their own language People say walls have ears, but they have minds also, not merely ears. The wall is not a dead brick. Let not anyone think like that. It can speak to you. It can do what you want.

Saint Jnanadeva touched a broken wall and it started moving like a motorcar because consciousness, which was the essence of Saint Jnanadeva, was also the very existence and being of that wall. It was not a wall for him; it was he, himself. So, when he moved, the wall also moved. And, you have heard the story that Sri Krishna lifted the mountain. He has not lifted any mountain; he has lifted his own hand, because his subjectivity as Krishna was identical with the subjectivity of the mountain. An elephant can lift its heavy leg, while others cannot lift it, because the consciousness of the elephant is identical with the weight of the leg. It does not feel its weight. You cannot make it move, because you are considering it an object, but the elephant is a subject for itself. So is the case with these great cosmic persons like Avataras, Lord Krishna. He did not lift any mountain, he lifted himself only; so there is no wonder in it, as Jnanadeva moved the wall.

You cannot think like this because you have a disbelief: "How could this be? This tree is not me. Nothing is me, I am myself." This ‘myself’ is a dangerous description of oneself. There is no ‘myself’ in regard to you, because you have to concede that ‘myself’ to others also, equally. If everybody is a ‘myself’, then who is the ‘other’ in this world? To whom are you referring as an other person? Are you not an ‘other person’ to other people who are also subjects perceiving yourself? Can you not be a little bit considerate to accept this position?

You cannot treat others in a manner quite contrary to the way you are treating yourself. "Do to others as you would be done by." Do not have an attitude towards others which you do not wish to have towards your own self. How do you deal with yourself? That is the way with which everybody would like to be dealt. Do you know how you deal about yourself? It is very interesting. Do you know what you are? What are you thinking about yourself? Can you think about others – every little bit, the whole creation – in the same way as you are thinking about yourself?  You have entered the very foundation of Yoga, if this has entered your mind.

But – a great but comes – the emotions do not permit this kind of thing because here, in this Yogic way of thinking, it is not the mere mind that is operating on a conscious level. Psychologists say that there are levels of mental operation. The level on which we are now operating through the mind is known as the conscious mind, but there is a subconscious level. Though consciously you understand something correctly, the subconscious sometimes revolts and says, "This is not all right." Psychologists have gone very deep into the levels which are deeper than subconscious, like unconscious, etc.

You cannot know your own self because of there being so many layers of your personality in which you are involved, and now you are thinking that what you are able to visualise with the conscious mind is the only thing. The deeper you go into your own self, the deeper also, simultaneously, you go into the structure of everything else. When you touch the bottom of your personality, you have touched the bottom of everybody else. If you have touched the root of a particular wave in the ocean, you have touched the whole ocean, which is the root of all the waves. Do you understand that? The whole world is touched at one stroke, by going deep into yourself. So, it is said, "Know thyself and be free," – which is to say, you are freed from the opposition that you are facing from the world of objects when you go deep into your own self. "Know thyself" means to know the deepest essence or root of yourself, which is identical with the root and essence of everybody else, inanimate or animate, whatever it be. There is no marked distinction between animate and inanimate things. They are only gradations of development.

So, moral problems and intellectual doubts should not come in the way of this practice. There are scruples in our minds which are of an inborn nature, introduced into our personality by the cultural background into which we have been born, the language we are speaking, the country in which we are, the friends we keep, the books that we study. All these things influence us. We cannot impersonally think.

The human mind, so to say, is a congeries, a muddle of impressions created by various circumstantial facts, into which one is born. Right from childhood, you are more a hodgepodge of impressions created by circumstances outside than a steady-minded, hard, indivisible individual. Everything can disturb your mind. A wisp of wind can disturb you. If a leaf moves, you are disturbed. If somebody looks at you, you are disturbed. If somebody says something, you are disturbed. There is nothing that cannot disturb you. The whole thing is a disturbance, a chaos, a confusion. You do not know whether it is good to live in the world or not. Some people commit suicide because of the chaos created in their own mind. They do not know themselves, and therefore, they cannot know others, also. The whole thing is a confusion, a muddle, a mass of ignorance and darkness. This has to be removed gradually by sweeping yourself. The dustbin of the personality of an ordinary individual has to be swept very carefully by investigation, analysis, atma vichara, as they call it.

If you desire the fruits of this wonderful thing called Yoga, you cannot have other desires. If you entertain desires contrary to the desire that you are apparently having towards Yoga, you will be a hypocrite. A hypocrite is a person who has secretly enshrined in himself a desire for something, while openly demonstrating a desire for something else – a kind of conflict between the open behaviour and the subtle longings.

This will not work. Yoga is not a word that you are uttering. It is an operation of consciousness, and if you have eyes to see, the consciousness also has an eye to see. In fact, it is due to it only that you are able to see things. So, your subtle dissipating activities through the conscious mind will be known to the deepest level of yourself. The conflict in your personality will be known to the deepest level of your own being.

This is the reason why it is said whoever is able to take to Yoga in right earnest has to be guided by a competent person. Only a person who has trodden this path can tell you what the pitfalls are. If you take everything by yourself and imagine that you have got the strength to tread the path, you will not know what is ahead of you and will be moving blindfolded, as it were, not knowing what is in front. You have to be guarded against the operations of the subconscious and the unconscious levels, which lie in ambush and are ready to attack you in forms that you cannot even decipher.

You have heard in the scriptures that the gods place serious obstacles before the Yoga practitioner. The gods are inside only. I have told you the gods are actually operating superintending principles behind every sensory activity. So, the gods actually are not standing far away in the heavens, in the skies. They are principles behind the activity of our own deepest personality in various ways. So, the so-called obstacles in Yoga are nothing but the manifestations of potentials of your deepest layer of mind, which has not been paid sufficient attention.

Just as your conscious mind tells you what you want, the subconscious also says what you want. But, you bury that subconscious, do not want to listen to it, and engage yourself entirely with the operation of the conscious mind. There is a rumbling dissent and an annoyance manifest by the subconscious mind. That is why people who are very rich, very learned, also are unhappy people. They appear to be all right from the conscious level, but they have forgotten what is inside their subconscious mind. They are not good psychologists. The rich man is not a good psychologist, nor even the professor, because they are working on a conscious level. They do not know that they are themselves beneath what they are thinking themselves to be.

The potentials which are buried in the subconscious and unconscious levels, which look like a huge dark cloud as wide as the sky itself, will prevent you from going further. These desires are not mere ethereal and vague appearances. They can manifest themselves as actual objects. The gods and goddesses and obstacles, threats, etc., which you are supposed to be facing in Yoga practice are externalised forms of your own hidden desires. You have not cleansed your mind properly. The gods will not place any obstacle before you if your mind has been cleansed completely – not only of the available conscious desires of the mind, but even the potentials which are possible manifestations in the future.

How would you know what are the desires buried in the subconscious or unconscious levels? You will know that, if you adopt certain techniques. Now you are in the midst of many people. You are in the family, in society, in the office. The existence of other people conditions your mind, and you cannot independently think. Suppose, theoretically speaking, for one month you sever yourself completely from social contact. Go to an unknown place, far away somewhere in the height of a mountain in Gangotri or somewhere. Do not talk to any person, mind your business, and do not write letters, do not read books – nothing of the kind. Merely be there for one month. You will find out what your desires are.

The impressions caused by external circumstances in society, which press the subconscious and the unconscious deep into their bottom, will manifest themselves gradually when that pressure is lifted, because nobody is going to talk to you, nobody is going to condition your mind, and you have no harassment from anybody. You, yourself, are there. Then the submerged potentials of your longings will slowly come up. You will know what your longings are.

You will develop silly desires. People become kleptomaniacs. A little pencil you pick up and take away. You may be a well-to-do person; why do you want a pencil from somebody? Kleptomania is an itching of a part of your nervous system agitated by the subconscious and unconscious levels. Even a prince, the son of a king, may pick up one little pencil and walk away. This is kleptomania, as they call it, a kind of disease of the mind.

A thing that you are not at all needing, you will take and go away. Why do you want it? These desires which are looking very funny, obnoxious and silly will assume large proportion. You will like to eat more and more. All things will look very delicious. Dry bread will be tasty. Now, you don't like dry bread. You say there is no ghee and there is no milk, and all that. There, green leaves will become tasty. People eat green leaves because of the hunger of the appetite. The appetite is not only in the tongue. The whole being is filled with an appetite. The philosophers call it constitutional appetition. The whole constitution is in a state of appetite. It wants to take, to grab everything, but because of your confinement to the conscious mind only, this deep grabbing appetite, like a wolf or vulture jumping on things, is pressed down by social circumstances.

That is why you look very beautiful before people in society; the social conditions compel you to behave in a particular manner. But, when you are alone, there is no such compulsion; all the devils come. All the desires which you have not fulfilled in normal life will come up.

How do you know what the desires are, so that you may try to fulfil them? Great masters have analysed this situation very well. Psychologists have gone deep into this structure. You may say millions of desires are there. Actually, they are manifestations or ramifications of two or three basic instincts, into which we are born. The Upanishads and psychoanalysts also perhaps agree that you have two or three desires only, basically, if you boil down all the so-called desires that you are appearing to be having. You will not agree that the desires are only two or three: "No, I have got many desires; I would like to have many things." These ‘many things’ are nothing but leaves, branches, twigs and manifestations of a root instinct which manifests itself in one or two or three.

One of them is a desire to exist in this body. You would never like to cease to exist in this body. You yourself cannot have an answer to this question: What is it that you are going to acquire by living in this body continuously for eternity? What is it that you are wanting, finally? The existence aspect which manifests itself in the love of this body is one of the basic instincts but, simultaneously, you are aware that this kind of desire is meaningless. It is not possible for a person to exist in this body for an indefinite time. There is a desire to exist in this body for eternity, if possible: "Why should I die? Let me live for long." But the intellect tells you this is not possible: "Everybody dies and I also will go."

So, there is a conflict between two feelings in your mind: namely, that it is good to live for all time, and the feeling that this is not a practicable thing. So, you make a compromise between these two things: "Let me have some device which is of a compromising nature by which I will be satisfied that I hope to be continuing in my physical life, even if this body is going to perish." That desire manifests itself in the desire for progeny. The progeny is loved so intensely by the parents because the very blood of the parents is moving through the veins of the little child. It is your alter ego; it is you, yourself. "It is me," the mother says; the father says, "My son is me, only."

So, you are satisfied if the son continues to exist, even if your own physical body goes, because you are still continuing in the body of another. It is not another body; the son is you, only. People are not satisfied with only one son. They want the son of the son, also; otherwise, the mind is not satisfied. "I want to have a grandchild. I want to see them before I die." Grandchildren must be seen.

This is the very venomous activity of the very obnoxious desire, contrary to reality, to perpetuate oneself in the body; and if it is not possible because of the practicable conditions, you make yourself believe that you are continuing in the son, in the grandson, and so on.  So, there is this desire for progeny, the birth of a son, due to which people suffer so much; but many a time, there is a travesty of the desire. It does not actually manifest itself in the birth of a child. It creates only agony, suffering, and restlessness throughout life. You read in newspapers how people are caught by this instinct, and while the natural instinct is for one thing, actually they are doing something else. So another tragedy is there, over this first tragedy.

So, the basic instinct is to exist in the body for all times, which you are trying to bypass by a device that you adopt by having children, which you consider is enough for you, as good as your own existence.

The other desire is name and fame, and authority. You do not like to live like a pig, having so much progeny. Pigs also have got grandchildren. Would you like to live like that? So, you put another condition now: "It is not enough if I live like this through children. I want to be a sensible, intelligent, respectable person." Who respects the pig? We just boot it. You do not want to live like that: "No. I want to live long, but I want to be a respectable person. People should adore me, praise me, and I should have also power, authority over others, because if I have no authority of any kind, I will be just like anybody else, any Tom, Dick and Harry. Why should I be like anybody else? I am an important man."

The desire for importance, recognition, position, authority, power will not leave a person, even till the last breath. You would like to die as a major general, not like a beggar: "Why should I die like a beggar? I am a retired major general. I am passing away very happily." Don't you think you are a very fortunate person to have died as a big official, rather than as a poor fellow, and nobody has recognised your existence, also? So, the desire for name, fame, authority, and power also will not leave a person, apart from this desire to exist physically.

The third desire which the Upanishads maintain again and again is the desire to acquire more and more of things – to accumulate. Nothing in the world can satisfy you. If you are the owner of a village, you would like to have another village, also: "Let me have the other village, also; I will extend my empire. Why should I be satisfied with a little district? No, I want to have the other districts, also." This is the desire of kings – annexation. They annex their kingdom because finitude is resented, always.

You do not like finitude of any kind. You do not like the finitude of your personality, and would like to have infinite existence, but you don't like to have finite possessions, also: "I want more and more – the entire state, and the whole country. Why just the whole country? I would like to have other countries, also. I will invade other countries and make them my own. The whole Earth is mine; even if the whole Earth is mine, I am not satisfied because there is sky. I will go to the stars, to the moon, to Mars. I will possess them, also. No, I will go beyond the sky."

This desire is due to the basic desire for infinitude, which wrongly manifests itself in space and time as the love for possessing more and more things. There is a horizontally manifesting desire to widen one's dimension in this manner, like a king or an emperor. The king is an ordinary individual, like any one of you. He has not got two heads and ten eyes. He is just like you, but he thinks he is a very big man because he identifies his finite consciousness with other things which he thinks belong to him.

So, the belonging or the possession of a particular object is considered to be an extension of the dimension of consciousness, while it is a deceit that is played by space and time. The space and time complex will not permit anything to become yours. Nobody can possess anything in this world. Everybody dies like a beggar. That everybody knows, but we don't listen to all these things; we want everything. We go on expanding our kingdom, like Mahmud of Ghazni went on accumulating, they say. All the gold of the country he took away, and when he was about to pass away, the mountain of gold was in front of him. He was looking at it. Historians say like this. The last breath was coming, and he saw the whole mountain of gold. He went on looking at it, and died. This is desire.

So, desire for name, fame, authority, power; desire for extending your possessions and becoming the lord of the whole Earth; and desire for existence in this body, which if it is not possible, to have progeny – there is no other desire in this world. You will find, if you boil down all your requirements, all these desires are only three. The instincts are only this much, vitteshana, putreshana and lokeshana, as the Upanishad calls it, which I have put in the English language for you.

It is now time. I have not touched Yoga; I have only cleared the debris so that you may have no misconceptions in your mind. Do not imagine that Yoga is a very easy thing. You have to sacrifice your lower instincts and the petty desires, in order that you may be blessed by this great wondrous thing which you are aspiring for.