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We can have any number of desires, but they must not be in conflict with dharma — the propensity to self-support and self-sustain, writes B MAHADEVAN
Words like ‘desire’ and ‘strength’ are often misinterpreted . Strength is all about our ability to overpower, be aggressive and get the resources and endowments that we need to achieve things in this ‘very life’. Desire has to be unlimited as that is the only way to propel our way up, be active and beget riches, albeit using right means.
In the Gita 7:11, Krishna says that he is the source of balam, strength, behind those who are considered to be balavatam, strong. However, he quickly clarifies who is considered to be strong. It is someone who is vivarjitah, devoid of kama, desire, and sense of raga, a deep attachment towards worldly things or entities. Ironically, this definition of strength has nothing to do with physical things but is an issue pertaining to the mental state of an individual.
Krishna further states that he exists in all forms of desires among the living beings that are not dharmaviruddhah, in conflict with the basic tenets of dharma. Through a peculiar definition of strength and people considered to be strong, Krishna has provided a specific qualification of desire in the shloka. He has attributed these to the notion of divinity.
Why is a person devoid of desire and deep attachment considered strong? It is our day-to-day experience that a person who is unable to overcome these aspects in life, develops a weakness, no matter how strong he is physically. For example, if a person is not able to overcome his desire for food then that, indeed, becomes a major source of weakness for that person. He can be easily overpowered and his power of discrimination can be momentarily blunted using this temptation. One can say similar things with respect to one’s weakness towards the opposite sex, alcohol or even money. To become a strong person, one does not have to go to the gym everyday or jog daily for 30 minutes. While these may provide an outward appearance of strength to someone, the person can potentially be weak inside.
On the other hand, if we are able to address mental weaknesses and temptations and are able to outgrow these naturally, then we may have a strong personality or an inner self. Such a person may be stable, bubbling with confidence and may have clarity of thought and purpose in life.
By pointing to this aspect as a mark of divinity, Krishna reminds us of two issues. How do we develop this state of mental make-up? The thought that we must develop such strength, our serious efforts to achieve this and the relentless pursuit leading us to this goal, are all possible only with God’s grace. This is why it is a mark of divinity for a person.
The other aspect is the magical transformation that an individual, who has outgrown the mundane aspects of low-level desires and temptations, will undergo. Such a person will not be affected by the plus and minus of life as he would have developed a high degree of mental equipoise. Perhaps this is a sign of divinity, which Krishna is reminding us through this shloka.
The other perspective emanating out of this shloka is that we need not take a single broad-brush and paint all desire as bad. In fact, some forms of desire can, indeed, be divine. What about a person’s desire to educate children in the slums nearby, thereby, raise their standard of living? Or how about the idea that ‘I will eradicate needless blindness and restore the precious gift of sight in people’ as the social entrepreneur and founder of Arvind Eye Hospitals, G Venkataswamy, proclaimed when he founded the hospital? According to Krishna, in both these desires, we can see divinity. In both these examples, what is totally missing is ‘What is in it for me?’ or ‘How much money can I make quickly?’ If we start with an overwhelming desire to become rich, famous or powerful, then the propensity for us to succeed and sustain for a long time is less.
Krishna points out that anything that is sustainable in the long run will not be in conflict with dharma. This is simply because the very definition of dharma is that which has the propensity to support and sustain. We can have any number of desires, but they all must pass the acid test of being non-conflicting with dharma. In all such situations, we will be in the thick of our activities, but we will radiate divinity.
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