13 QUESTION: How far is desirelessness a necessary step toward the path of perfection? I refer especially to the differences in the teachings between East and West.
ANSWER: Desirelessness is also often misunderstood, not only by Westerners, but also by Easterners. Needless to say, some desire must remain in the human heart. And it is again the same old story: the how is important, the exact shade of it; the answer is neither a Yes or a No. In other words, in one way, there must be desire; in another way, desire must gradually cease.
The desire must remain to reach God, to experience him, to serve him, and, by serving him, to serve our brothers and sisters. This wish must not only come from the intellect as a dutiful recognition of the right thing; this wish alone, or rather its fulfillment, will bring happiness. By spiritual growth, what one desires merely changes. However, desirelessness should set in as far as the ego is concerned.
Again, this kind of detachment cannot come by forcing oneself. It is the natural result of spiritual growth; you can attain this state of being only indirectly. Here too, it is important to be able to accept pain in a healthy way, as I have explained before. If you are so set against pain, if everything cringes in you at the thought of it, you very much desire not to have pain – and therefore you are not detached.
You have to train yourself that your pain, your vanity, and your comfort do not matter an iota more than that of the next fellow. When you feel increasingly that you do not matter to yourself any more than anyone else whom you may not even know personally, and do not consider yourself more important, then you are a step nearer to detachment – and thus to happiness.
As long as you are in the grip of your ego with its fears and anxieties, you cannot live in the present. You sometimes live in the past – and this is bad. And it is also true that you very often live in the future which, in its own way, is equally bad. This applies just as much to old people.
When you believe it important to think of tomorrow or the next hour, you do not live this very moment. What does that mean? It means that there is some desire connected with the future. Anxiety comes from the wrong type of desire. If you fear something, you desire that this thing should not happen.
So it is with most of you; you live almost all your life somehow in the future, and thus you let life slip by. You miss out on seeing and appreciating the most beautiful things right in front of your eyes. You do not see them because you are too busy with your desires. The Now is lost for many of you because of your desires. If this kind of detachment is not reached, you constantly miss the happiness of the Now.
I beg all of you, my friends, to whom the thought of desirelessness or detachment is still a little frightening, do not think about it. It will come as a byproduct, if and when you follow this Path of happiness.