I have a few questions about desire:
What is the ultimate desire? Is liberation from ignorance the ultimate desire?
Ted: Yes. And, in fact, the scriptures say that mumukshutva, a burning desire for liberation, is one of the necessary qualifications for one wishing to engage in an effective practice of self-inquiry that will bear the fruit of self-knowledge that is tantamount to moksha, ultimate inner freedom or liberation from dependence on objects for peace and happiness. Mumukshutva is even considered to be perhaps the most important qualification. Because our conditioned ignorance is so deeply ingrained and because the non-dual vision of Vedanta is so counter-intuitive with regard to our experience as apparent individuals within the context of the seemingly dualistic context of the manifest universe, only one who has such a burning desire to be free will be able to withstand the myriad counter arguments that will arise in one’s own mind as well as the continual barrage of self-debasing messages that one will face from every aspect of society—family, friends, school, government, religion, medicine, and the media.
Ernesto: What is the difference between desire and passion?
Ted: In one sense, these two concepts are virtually synonymous. For the purposes of analysis, however, we might say that a passion is a desire that has intensified to the point where it is almost if not entirely irresistible. In other words, a desire is essentially an attraction to some object that may or may not impel the person to pursue that object, whereas a passion is a want that is so strong it compels the person to act in accordance with it. In Vedantic terms, we might equate desires with raga-dveshas, which are likes and dislikes that certainly influence one’s actions to a greater or lesser extent but are not necessarily irresistible, and passions with binding vasanas, which are likes and dislikes that have been so strongly reinforced through repeated indulgence that they have escalated to attachments and aversions that compel one act at their behest.
Because binding vasanas for objects disturb the mind with desires and extrovert one’s attention toward objects and, thus, distract one’s attention from the self and prevent one’s ability to engage in sustained self-inquiry, it is imperative that they be neutralized if one is going to have any chance of assimilating self-knowledge and consequently gaining moksha.
This is why sadhana, or spiritual practice, is imperative to the process of self-inquiry. Even though no limited action performed by a limited entity can produce an unlimited result, which is by definition what liberation is, yogas and other spiritual disciplines, such as karma yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti (i.e., devotional worship), dhyana (i.e., meditation), and triguna vibhaga yoga (i.e., management of the three fundamental energies that comprise one’s mind-body-sense complex), are the means by which the mind is sufficiently purified of its distorting desires to render it a mirror capable of accurately reflecting the subtle “light” of limitless awareness that is one’s true nature.
In this regard, it is important to note that not all vasanas are deleterious in their effect. Only those vasanas that interfere with one’s ability to inquire need to be neutralized. Those vasanas, such as the burning desire for liberation and the various spiritual disciplines mentioned, that support inquiry and help cultivate a sattvic or pure, quiet, contemplative mind that is capable of doing effective self-inquiry are best taken advantage of until such time as, having served their purpose, they naturally dissolve in the “light” of self-knowledge.