The desirer of desire

by December 26, 2016


“Ultimately it’s the desire, not the desired, that we love.” – Friedrich Nietzsche


This statement seems counter-intuitive: alcoholics desire a drink, not the desire to drink.

Yet if a drink was all that they desired, taking it would satisfy them. But whatever satisfaction they feel is short-lived. Soon, the desire re-appears and goads them into drinking again and again and yet again.

We all have our specific forms of attachment, be they alcoholism or shopaholism or something else. In every such attachment, a track is formed in our consciousness between us and the desire for that object. And our thoughts and feelings move rapidly and frequently along that track, impelling us towards indulgence. Each such movement in our consciousness broadens and deepens the track till just being on it feels familiar and comfortable. Thereafter, whenever we feel burdened and seek relief, our thoughts immediately go down that track because it feels like home. Thus, we end up with the desire for the desire.

Indeed, alcoholics often tell their therapists that they don’t drink to get high – that was their initial purpose; now, they drink just to feel normal. Because desiring the desire feels normal, giving up addiction seems so difficult. Even if addicts somehow give up their addiction, they soon fall for something else because they need some avenue for relief – they need some track in their consciousness that feels like home.

So, Nietzsche was right in saying that we desire the desire. But he was wrong in using the word ultimately for describing our desire for desire. That’s our ultimate fate only as long as we are operating within a materialistic framework, as was Nietzsche. What is ultimate in the material realm is not ultimate in the spiritual realm.

Gita wisdom explains that we are at our core spiritual beings who are naturally pleasure-seeking. We are meant to find the highest pleasure at the spiritual level of reality. But when we are unaware of life’s spiritual side, our longing for pleasure gets misdirected towards various worldly things, eventually leading to attachments and addictions.

Ultimately, the human heart longs for God. He is revealed in the bhakti tradition to be the all-attractive supreme person, Krishna. Bhakti-yoga fulfills this longing efficaciously by giving us time-tested practices for connecting with him. These practices create tracks in our consciousness that lead to him. When we discipline ourselves to do these practices regularly, they provide us the comfort of the ultimate home – they invoke Krishna’s purifying, sublimating, fulfilling presence in our heart.

Interestingly, the theme of desiring desire is mentioned thousands of years before Nietzsche in the Bhagavad-gita (02.70). It uses the compound word kama-kami, the desirer of desire, to underscore our capacity to choose how we respond to what happens within our consciousness. When a desire comes into our consciousness, be it from our circumstances or our conditionings, we have the choice to desire that desire or to resist and reject it. If we refuse to become a desirer of desire, we take away its power to agitate us, thereby attaining peace.

Later, the same Gita (05.29) elaborates that we attain peace on coming to know Krishna as our greatest well-wisher. Knowing him thus naturally leads to our desiring an intimate relationship of love with him.

Thus, enduring peace comes not just by refusing to become a desirer of desire but also by choosing to become a desirer of the supremely desirable object: our eternal Lord.

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  • Amol
    January 1, 2017 at 8:35 am

    The article is wonderful. I really liked the quote you used, how well you acknowledged its merit, how well you gave a twist and finally landed me on Bhagavad Gita : it’s amazing to know that the Gita spoke of this millennia ago.

    I was riveted to my seat. Thank you very much for the brilliant article.

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