Three types of desires

Desire is our greatest enemy. What happens when desire arises? How does it affect us? Sri Krishna presents three striking examples: fire covered by a screen of smoke; a mirror concealed by dust; and a foetus enveloped in the womb. Similarly, our knowledge is covered by the constant enemy in the form of irresistible and insatiable desires, lust, passion and cravings.

Three Contemplative Examples

Let us examine these three examples. Fire is not seen because it is covered by smoke. We have all experienced this. Here it is noteworthy to understand that fire is actually present with its quality of heat and light, but we are unable to see it. In the same way, a mirror has the capacity to reflect. It does not lose it even when it is covered with dust. But because of the dust we are not able to see any reflections. In the same way, the foetus is present in the womb, it exists, but it is not seen.

Sri Krishna points out that knowledge is covered by desire. The Knowledge, capable of removing ignorance, is indeed present, but is covered by the veil of desires.


What is the meaning of Knowledge in this context? Here, Knowledge denotes the ability to discriminate and understand. This faculty of discrimination is also called jnanam. With this faculty, we have gathered lot of knowledge right from childhood – information from our parents, from school, by reading books, from our own and other people’s experiences. All of it is stored as our total knowledge. What is right and wrong, good and bad, is also known – to some extent. Hence, jnanam refers to the faculty of understanding as well as the knowledge (worldly and scriptural) that we have gathered.

However, when you are in the suffocating clutches of desire, there is a ‘stay order’; you do not have access to that knowledge. Your ‘bank account’ of knowledge is frozen and you cannot operate it.

The three examples are given to highlight this point. Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda interpreted them as indicating the three types of coverings depending upon the types of desires – noble and (sattvic), restless (rajasic) or inertia (tamasic) – that shroud Knowledge.

Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic Desires

Certain desires are noble in nature. Just as a slight breeze is sufficient to remove the smoke and reveal the blazing fire, sattvik desires are very light in nature. In this case, knowledge is veiled temporarily and manifests with very little effort. Let us take the example of a very sentimental and emotional person who says, ‘I can’t bear to see people suffering; I want to do something to help them.’ Such a person cannot sit down and comprehend the highest knowledge because the mind is too emotional at that time. Once the desire is fulfilled by serving the community, he will easily understand.

Other desires are rajasic – if an ambitious person, who wishes to acquire possess and enjoy, is told about seeking the highest knowledge, he will not be interested at all. He will retort, “Keep quiet! There is no time for such pursuits now. I have too much to achieve, too much to become and many goals to reach.” Rajasic desires are like the dust that covers a mirror – more effort is needed to wipe it clean.

The third type is tamasic – like the foetus in the womb. A gentle breeze or concentrated rubbing is not sufficient to remove the impurities of the mind. Tamasic desires are very stubborn. In their case, both time and effort are necessary for the preparation of the mind to grasp the knowledge. A person may even have to undergo some suffering before understanding dawns.

Whether the desires are low, ambitious or even noble, they all veil, in different degrees, our knowledge and faculty of discrimination.

The Author is the Head of Chinmaya Mission Worldwide.