Question: When is it wrong to desire – how does one know? To desire a scarf in the cold, a meal when hungry, a place to rest when tired – what is wrong with these?
Answer: It is when the desire is not subject to control that it is an obstacle. When it is cold, there is a desire for a scarf; but if there is no scarf, the yogin must be able to dismiss the desire, not let it keep nagging at him. Again, the desire for food becomes gluttony when it is not subject to control, and keeps recurring at other times than meal times.
Tapas (voluntarily austerity) includes deliberately setting up situations where there is a natural desire and then controlling it – not by gritting the teeth and cursing, but by turning the mind away. Someone who practises this is not easily disconcerted by minor imperfections in surroundings when there is an important task.
A musician who knew well the legendary Russian bass Chaliapin remarked that there were half-a-dozen or more who had voices as good as Chaliapin’s. But with them the time comes when they feel a little sick, and then they either give a bad performance, or cancel the concert. “But I have seen him ill in his dressing-room, so that I wondered how he would even get up to the stage, let alone sing. But he got up, and then belted out those songs with tremendous force and feeling. After the encores, he came down to the dressing-room, and collapsed.”
The ordinary mind tends to be swamped by clamouring desires, often illusory, which are not necessarily very strong but are very noisy. It is through tapas that we discover that we are free of them.
© Trevor Leggett