The Flow Of Desire



Written by Dr. Lorin Roche
A Meditation On Desire From The Radiance Sutras, A New Translation Of The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra

The English word desire means: “To want something very strongly; to long for; to crave,” and it comes from the Latin phrase de sidere, “from the stars.” Sideris is a “heavenly body, star, constellation.” Desire is from the heavens, and to follow your desire is to follow your star.

We all have a dozen or more desire-stars to follow, our own constellation. These include: friendship, exercise, food, sex, play and power. Desires often come as a sequence – we want to eat good food, in a great place, while feeling love and laughing with our friends. It takes skill to line up a day so that even some of our desires can be fulfilled. When we apply ourselves to this skill, we are practicing a Yoga of desire, kamayoga, (kama = desire), and flowing through kamakrama (krama = ordered sequences).

Embracing desire is intense and challenging. The ultimate source of desire is the soul’s impulse to express itself in the world. That doesn’t go away. What do we do with ourselves when a particular desire is not being fulfilled? Where does the energy go? Misplaced energy can be the source of compulsions and addictions. When we feel we can’t express our energies, or we don’t know how to do so, we get into trouble. Overeating, for example, can come from a frustrated craving for love, acknowledgement, comfort or solace.

Yoga offers many practices for investigating, shaping, redirecting, and delighting in the flow of desire. In The Radiance Sutras, a translation of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, Shiva sings of one such technique.

Just as a desire leaps up,
And you perceive the flash,
The sparkle of the urge,
Quit from its play,
And maintain awareness
In that clear and shining place
From which all desire springs.




jhagitīcchām samutpannām avalokya
śamam nayet
yata eva samudbhūtā tatas tatraiva līyate

Inserting word boundaries, giving the letters a haircut to remove the diacriticals - (ś) - then looking at the individual terms in the superb Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English dictionary (created to help Christian missionaries convert the heathen Hindoos), we see:

jhagit – a sparkle, flash; ichcham – desire, wish, hankering, longing, craving, urge, will; samutpatati – rise, ascend, spring up; avalokana – observe, glance, view, see; shamam – equanimity, tranquility, to end; nayet – brings, carry; yata eva – verily, wherever; samudbhuta – arising, springing up; tata-tatraiva – there! (put your attention) there!; leyate – become absorbed.

“When a desire arises in you, let it flow. Sense the sparkle and flash as the desire springs up. Put your whole attention into that flashing energy. Seeing desire in this way brings tranquility and equanimity. As you absorb the energy of the desire, you glow with satisfaction.”

Give the desire space to live in your inner world before you go for it in the outer world. The technique here is to savor the energy of desire and use it as you would a mantra, a focus for meditation. Desires flow, like an electric current – let that flow of juice nurture and energize you. Imbibe the sparkle, dissolve, transcend with that desire and be fulfilled. “Relax, don’t do it, when you want to go to it.” (Thanks, Frankie Goes to Hollywood.)

When I relax into a desire and investigate it, a world of opportunities opens. In a heartbeat, I can change directions, take that energy and do something else. I can go ahead and go to it, with more power behind my action. I can wait for a better opportunity to live the desire, and I can also reshape it, turn the volume down or up so that it fits my life.

Desires pop up quickly and you can do this technique in the space of two breaths, perhaps ten seconds.

The next time you become aware of a desire, inquire, “What do I really want? What am I really craving when the picture in my head of what I want is a beer, a joint, sex, another slice of chocolate coconut cake or to go shopping?” By staying closer to the current of desire, you can steer your life force into healthier directions. This kama Yoga allows the body to be illuminated by the sparkle of desire, even those that are not manifest in the outer world yet.

Notice that this practice is not nirodha, defined as “confinement, locking up, imprisonment, restraint, check, control, suppression, destruction.” Yoga is often associated with nirodha, possibly because for the past several thousand years most of the historical or mythical yogis, the yogis who were prolific writers, were renouncers – their path was to renounce desire. They took vows of celibacy and poverty, and often wandered around the countryside naked, covered in the ashes of cow dung, stoned on hash.

The path of a householder yogi – with a job, friends, and a family – is very different from that of a renouncer. We have to continually keep track of our desires, work with them, put some into play and put others aside. No one, no matter how much they’ve got it together, can live all their desires everyday, so some cravings have to remain a sparkle on the screen of our inner vision. We are always praying, “God grant me the courage to live the desires I can, the serenity to let go of the desires I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.”



Dr. Lorin Roche has been involved in a love affair with the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra since 1968. He has a PhD from the University of California at Irvine, where his research focused on the language meditators generate to describe their inner experiences. The Radiance Sutras, a new version of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, is available from Lorin’s website: lorinroche.com. Lorin teaches from the Sutras on Tuesday nights in Santa Monica at Aanand Saagar: aanandsaager.com. Feel free to email comments and questions to lorin@lorinroche.com.The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra describes 112 Yogas of wonder and delight for touching the divine in the midst of daily life. The teaching is framed as a conversation between lovers, Shakti and Shiva, the Goddess Who Is the Creative Power of the Universe, and the God Who Is the Consciousness that Permeates Everywhere.Lorin is presenting at Bhakti Fest this September, at Joshua Tree. And feel free to come to Esalen for a weekend of yoga practices – called Wild Serenity - with Dr. Lorin Roche and his wild Dakini wife, Camille Maurine. Visit Esalen.org, or call (310) 570 - 2803.