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Four Levels of Desire

In English, the word ‘desire’ means to wish or long for something. However, the word does not convey how deep the wish is, or whether it is in our conscious, subconscious or unconscious minds. In Sanskrit, we have four different words for desire – ‘ichcha’, ‘kamna’, ‘vaasna’ and ‘trushna’.

Ichcha refers to the small desires that rise within us during the course of a day and those that we forget. Sometimes, they are stimulated by sensory input. While brushing our teeth in the morning, we may remember an advertisement for organic toothpaste we saw last night and get the desire to change our regular brand. Of course, once we leave the bathroom, we forget about it. Or we may go to a friend’s home and see his TV and desire a new TV for ourselves, which we forget the next day.

Kaamna is the desire for objects we see but don’t forget. We may see a lovely shirt in the mall. But once we come home, instead of forgetting it, we keep dreaming about it. There is an uncontrolled imagination of how handsome we would look in that shirt. The desire has gone deeper and there is a continuous leakage of energy in our dreaming.

With Vaasna, the desire has now gone much deeper. The word comes from ‘vas’ which means to stay or reside. The desire has now decided to stay and make our subconscious mind its home. Now the desire is not just a part of our daydreaming but penetrates all our thoughts and actions. Another meaning of ‘vaasna’ is what in Gujarati we call ‘vasi’ or stale, like stale food. The longer it stays in our subconscious, the more it gets stale and its rotten smell disturbs our life. A lot of perverted sexual imagination comes under this kind of desire.

Trushna refers to desire which now goes much deeper into our unconscious and takes on an animal intensity. Now we will do anything for its fulfillment, even if it means that we have to steal or get violent, or even kill. The desire is like an addiction for which we will be willing to break all limits.

The teacher teaches the disciple to observe his desires, even the very small ones. The student slowly learns to allow desires to enter the conscious mind and drop them immediately. This freedom from desire is really worth working for.