In verse 36 of the third chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, the great warrior Arjuna, asks his charioteer and mentor, Krishna, a question: By whom is one propelled to do misguided acts even when not wanting to do so? Where does this force come from that impels one to do such actions?
Krishna, an incarnation of God Vishnu, answers: What propels a person to do such actions is desire and anger, born of the guna rajas.
In his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Rama explains that rajas, which is one of the three basic constituents of all matter, “leads the human being to be active and to do actions motivated by certain desires. Rajas has the quality of projecting itself onto the external world and thus creates a mirage, delusion, confusion, and conflicts. One’s projections become the charms, attractions, and temptations. Those tempting forms are actually part and parcel of oneself, but those alluring qualities have been projected outward by rajas, and one foolishly chases after those mirages taking them to be real.” (Pp. 161).
So, we chase the mirages. But, as you know, one who is thirsty cannot drink from a mirage. So, we endlessly chase our desires, obtaining no lasting fulfillment from any of them, and remain thirsty.
I’ve noticed this in my own life. Many times, I’ve looked forward to obtaining some item or having some experience. But when the experience comes or I obtain the item, there is but a momentary taste of pleasure, and then it’s gone. Rather than being satisfied, I remain thirsty, and worse, frustrated. Have you had that experience?
This is why, Swami Rama says, “The wise man understands that desire, which creates misery for him, is produced by rajas. Therefore he practices to attain sattvic virtues and thus achieve a state of tranquility, which is the nature of sattva. Ordinary people are infatuated with sensual desire, kama. Kama is the prime desire that gives birth to anger, greed, attachment, jealousy, and pride. Wherever desire dwells, one suffers from these other evils as well. The sage knows this and thus always remains vigilant, for desire is such a powerful motivation that it is even capable of blinding the reason of good sadhakas.” (PP. 162)
Notice that Swami Rama doesn’t suggest suppressing desires or trying to be desireless. Rather, because desires are born from rajas, so long as one’s personality is dominated by rajas, desires will proliferate. So, to reduce pain causing desires, Swami Rama advises cultivating sattva. The goal is to transform one’s personality from one that is rajas dominant to one that is sattva dominant. Now, this is not something that happens in a day or a week or year or even decade. But progress can be made, slowly. This is a project worth undertaking.