Desires beyond our needs are ghosts

Desires beyond our needs are ghosts

This, then, is the first point in the Yoga theory: that you cannot explain this world satisfactorily nor control one’s conduct satisfactorily without meditation on and a partial realisation of the cosmic purpose, and the cosmic Self, the cosmic soul. Now, we can say, “Well how then is one going to live? What is life for?”  Shankara divides carefully. There are needs and there are what you might call wants. You notice in Russell’s philosophy, he bitterly confuses the two, but in the Indian philosophy, of which Shankara is not the only representative, they’re sharply distinguished. The need is something like supporting the physical body. That would be food, security, shelter and the second category is to have the property which enables you to fulfil a role in life – so much. Now, those are needs – people must have physical support and the mental support and security. They must have enough to fulfil their role in life. Those are needs. Beyond that is what are called wants:  iccha, clutching desire; and the Gita and Shankara treat them as ghosts!  You say, “What”? It says that these are mostly unreal things.

Now, if we examine our world, we can get this as an example. When one’s a kid and one’s brother’s there, mother gives us two cakes and she takes generally pretty good care to see they’re the same.  But his always looks bigger and sometimes, if you’re rather competitive brothers perhaps, you look and see his is longer and mine is shorter. Mine is a bit fatter but his is not small and you say “Swap?” Then he looks assured and he thinks yours is a fat one so, ‘yes alright’, you swap.  And when you have swapped you think, ‘Well, I don’t know’. This is a childish example but this is the reality; I’m doing a job and I get a wage for it that I’m satisfied with then I hear somebody down the way is doing the same job and getting more; then immediately I’m dissatisfied. My position is the same. This is something unreal. It’s a ghost. It’s very powerful.

I have a vivid experience of this. I was offered a chance in Japan to do quite a big translation and they wanted it done very much.  It so happened that you had to have a combination of two slightly unusual areas of knowledge, so they wanted me to do it. As it happened I didn’t want [to do] the thing; which puts you in a strong position because you say, “No”.  Then they up it, now and again. I still said, “No”, and they doubled it.  Then, of course, you consider what you could do with the money. Well, it wasn’t so bad and I did learn while I was doing it.  And every time I worked on it I thought, at the beginning, that the money was good.  But then you forget all about that and just get on with it. I was paid by the thousand words. It went on for a long time and I made a lot. Then I heard about a German who was, not doing the same job but he was, doing this sort of thing and he was being very well paid and I found out how much it was. I didn’t make a special effort but it came out. He was getting nearly as much as I was. I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t know about this!’ and then it didn’t seem so good somehow. ‘Why, am I being exploited?’ No, not really, but one’s dissatisfied. Then I heard something else which changed the whole situation again. Translations from Japanese expand, in English they expand by ten percent, in German they expand by about thirty per cent spent. Now, he was being paid by the Japanese original so he had to do quite a lot of translation in order to get that for the thousand words but I was being paid for the thousand words in English so I was earning much more than he was.  Then, immediately I thought, ‘Well, well, well, he’s very happy in his own way’. These are ghosts, they’re ghosts – but they affect our lives and they can be these trivial things.  You can see now in some of the fighting that’s taking place – people are fighting ghosts in Yugoslavia, they’re fighting the ghosts of something that took place in the 1940s.

The teacher says with ghosts it’s much more difficult to fight ghosts than something real. He says if you have a scare in your house – there’s a burglar or there’s a scorpion –  you can call in the neighbours and, between you, you go over the house minutely. There is no burglar here or there is no scorpion here and then you’ve done it and you can sleep in peace but if it’s a ghost, the house is haunted by a ghost you go over the house: nothing here, nothing here at all, then you go to bed and you hear the ghost moving, furniture creaking, but you hear him moving. You can’t get rid of the ghost so easily.

They [the Yoga and Zen teachers] say that most of our desires beyond our needs are ghosts. In fact, they are things that other people have, that I would like to have simply because he’s got it; or I’ve got something but I’m not satisfied with it because you’ve got it too – so I want it that you should not have it. So, they say we are spending our energy in ghosts and that we should have our needs and then try to go beyond this world of ghosts. Until this happens, he [the teacher] says, we shall not have peace.  One of the strong methods is to analyse the ghosts and see that they are unreal; and one of the ways that we can do this is by seeing how childish they are.  But they can be very strong and people have committed murder, sometimes, for one of these ghosts.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: Yoga, Zen and Peace

Part 2: Ethics and the Cosmic Self

Part 3: Desires beyond our needs are ghosts

Part 4: Gifts, sacrifice and austerity

Part 5: Becoming free

Part 6: The job of the King

Part 7: Seeking for realisation in Yoga and Zen

Part 8: The way of praying the cosmic current

Part 9: Melting Ice

Part 10: No distinction


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