Skip to main content


Desire is a word that is encountered frequently in the spiritual literature of many religions and teachings. In Helena P. BLAVATSKY'S The Voice of the Silence, we find the injunction, “Kill out desire; but if thou killest it take heed lest from the dead it should again arise. Kill love of life; but if thou slayest Tanha, let this not be for thirst for life eternal, but to replace the fleeting by the everlasting.”

According to many spiritual path teachers, particularly in Buddhism, it is not possible to have spiritual freedom while entertaining desire, no matter for what, since the desire will dictate both thought and action. The ideal condition is reached when that which is described in the Siva Sutra as nartaka-atma (lit. “a dancing self”) is attained, in other words, as I. K. TAIMNI puts it, “The self-realized person, knowing that life is a play, whilst uninvolved, plays the part.”

A further consideration regarding the role of desire on the spiritual path is the need to decide to act or not to act from an entirely dispassionate viewpoint; according to the esoteric teaching, action without attachment to its result is action which does not generate karma.

Blavatsky wrote, “Hence there is no contradiction whatever between the altruistic maxims of Theosophy and its injunction to kill out all desire for material things, to strive after spiritual perfection. For spiritual perfection and spiritual knowledge can only be reached on the spiritual plane; in other words, only in that state in which all sense of separateness, all selfishness, all feeling of personal interest and desire, has been merged in the wider consciousness of the unity of Mankind” (CW XI:105).

Annie BESANT, in A Study in Consciousness (1905, 1954), has an extended discussion of desire (pp. 250-284) and its relation to emotion generally (esp. pp. 285-296). Among other things, she suggests that Will, i.e., the spiritual energy of the Self (Atman), manifests as Desire in the astral plane, hence “Desire shows the energy, the concentration, the impelling characteristics of Will, but matter has wrenched away its control, its direction, from the Spirit, and has usurped dominion over it. Desire is Will discrowned, the captive, the slave of matter” although “[t]he innermost nature of both is the same” (op. cit., p. 251). She points out that once one sees this and understands it, one can utilize the energy for constructive rather than selfish and often destructive purposes, although even before that time desire does play an important role in the overall spiritual evolution of mankind.


© Copyright by the Theosophical Publishing House, Manila