Kama—desire and spirituality.
By Yogi Baba Prem
CYI, C.ay, C.va
For humanity, few arguments have
withstood the test of time as well as the perceived conflict between
desire (Kama) and spirituality.
This conflict appears within most spiritual traditions and
has enkindled an endless debate as to the proper perspective and
role of desire and spirituality.
To the average student of
spirituality, they have been led to believe that desire is in
complete conflict with spirituality.
This is especially true of students of the western
hemisphere, but appears throughout the world.
An apparent paradox has evolved out of this.
The paradox is the commonly held belief that desire shows
lack of spirituality, while ironically the practice of spirituality
contains numerous prayers, mantras, and meditations aimed at
fulfilling desire. But do all spiritual traditions support an
autocratic stance toward spirituality and desire?
While it is true that most religious systems have at least
elements of this paradox, often the reason can be linked to a
misunderstanding of words and spiritual principle’s.
Within the Ayurvedic system, it is
recognized, for householders, that four main aims are taught:
Dharma in this case is a good vocation.
Artha is prosperity.
Moksha is liberation, and Kama is desire.
Frequently Kama (desire) is
interpreted to be only a reference to love, in particular sexual
love or sexual desire.
But this is only the strongest or more correctly, the most basic
form of kama. Kam is
While enjoyment is strongly associated with the emotional mind
(manas), it can also have a higher spiritual manifestation.
This would commonly be referred to as kama-apara and
kama-para or lower desire and higher desire.
In a sense, the Rg Veda is about the fulfillment of desires.
Obviously some of these are the lower interpretations
(kama-apara) of the Vedas; with people wanting cows, prosperity,
among other things.
Certainly the Atharva Veda has rituals for the desire of a husband,
wife, or other desire.
While these could be viewed by some as apara or lower, they
certainly play an important role as the soul witnesses the play of
karma. And these same
desires have a higher manifestation.
Such as cow representing physical or mental/spiritual
prosperity, they also represent mental and spiritual prosperity on a
Occasionally, these are also referred to as the inner and outer
forms. So the same
teaching can be applied to the higher and lower forms.
The Atharva Veda also deals with the desire for health and
these are desires that do need to be addressed and would be valued
by most people in society.
So obviously there is a more expansive view toward Kama or
desire in a broader meaning than the narrow meaning of just
sexuality. Was kama
ever intended to be limited to a base bodily function and mere
mindlessness of the senses?
Most likely not, as we find kama referenced in numerous
ancient texts such as the previously mentioned Rg and Atharva Vedas.
Kama appears within texts such as the Taittiriya Samhita from
the Krishna Yajur Veda, offering mantras when desires are not
fulfilled 2.3.3. These
particular mantras have nothing to do with sexuality or sexual
desire, but with other types of desire.
Within Sanskrit, a deeper meaning
of kama is revealed.
The primal root to Kama is “Ka” and the Taittiriya Samhita from the
Krishna Yajur Veda, states that Ka is Prajapati, the lord of
creation. Within Sanskrit, ‘ka’ can be a reference to the soul, sun,
Vishnu and much more.
So clearly it does not contain the negative attributes given in
later texts. It is within the “Bhagavad Gita” XVI, 11-12, that the
Kama is held in the lowest esteem.
It is in this section (XVI of the Gita) that kama is
associated with more demonic qualities or those of a lower nature.
Again this is focusing on kama from only a sexual/lust view.
This section of the “Gita” is obviously focusing on the lower
or kama-apara. In which
case, the teachings in the “Gita” have numerous valid points.
In this short exploration of kama,
we are starting to see the dual nature of kama revealed through the
concept of lower and higher desires.
We have explored the Vedic view and that of the Gita.
The next area to explore kama through is tantra.
Certainly within tantra, this could only be a reference to
sexual desire, as sexual tantra is what most people are familiar
with, especially in the west.
But sexual tantra is actually a small portion of the greater
field of knowledge within tantra.
Obviously it would follow the same concept of higher and
lower teachings toward desire.
Within the Tantric teachings, kama manifests as
a shakti known as kamala.
She is ultimately a manifestation of Kali, and it is this
form of Kali that is worshipped by many people around the world, as
she is strongly associated with beauty and prosperity in such forms
as Laxshmi. But she is
also the spirit of giving.
It is through giving that one begins to bring an end to just
the outer seeking of the senses; and one begins to manifest the
higher form of kama (para).
We begin to discover the higher desire for spiritual truth
and realization. In
this sense, many people go through a variety of experiences that
inspires a longing for truth.
Kamala is located in the heart chakra, which is the seat of
devotional worship. In
fact, this spiritual seat, within the heart chakra, is considered by
many as the most important spiritual doorway for the astral and
causal body; jnana yoga even values this spiritual doorway, as the
heart chakra and various points within this field was referenced
even by Ramana Maharishi.
Kamala and Kama in its higher form,
begins as recognition of the divine beauty within the world.
This appears on basic levels as an appreciation of art,
music, beauty, and slowly starts to manifest as an appreciation of
aromas, and other meditative tools such as incense, candle’s,
meditative music, and meditation itself.
Kama as Kamala can manifest as a powerful desire to meditate
and experience the power of the heart chakra.
Kama is presently known more as a
puranic version of the deity than the older Vedic and Tantric
energy is reflected in numerous Hindu teachings with the quote “God
wanted to be many.”
This references the original primal desire of consciousness.
Our return to our true source and essence begins with desire
(kama). This idea is
taught repeatedly with one of the oldest references being in the Rg
first arose in it…” X.129.
Kama is also mentioned in the Atharva Veda, and at times
associated with Agni within the Rg Veda.
According to the “Taittiriya Brahmana” he is born of Dharma
and the deity of Justice.
This is a very different view of kama verses the puranic god
of lust and sexual desire that is often portrayed.
But in reality, kama
on the lower levels is reflected in human sexuality, which is only a
veiled “urge to merge”.
Regrettably many people do not come to fully understand this “urge
to merge” and cannot move past the basic sexual urge.
In other words, they become lost in the sexual experience and
never realize the spiritual teaching behind the experience.
But for others, over time, this desire evolves into a higher
longing. This idea is
reflected in tantra and such things as art and music, a modern
notable example would be Steve Winwoods song, “Bring me a higher
As we begin to experience kama in a
new and different manifestation, we begin to experience the opening
and energization of the heart chakra.
This is an important stage for all spiritual students.
This brings a desire to commune with the deities, energies,
or essence of our soul.
It also indicates the awakening desire for truth.
Desire plays an important role in this development and desire
to commune in a different way.
Again this desire for divinity is a
critical step in spiritual growth and development.
As it inspires us to keep working, it helps us in addressing
our longing for divine communion, or more correctly, to awaken to
the divine communion that is occurring on a daily basis in our life.
A common pattern for a few students is twisting a desire.
Usually this manifests as a desire to just have an experience
or to see something.
Again this is a process that some must pass through.
Eventually the teachings remind us that once desire for
divinity has taken us almost to the goal, of divine realization, we
must sacrifice our desire for divine realization, in order to take
the final step into realization.
But for many, desire is condemned to an autocratic philosophy
before one has had the opportunity to reap the benefits from, or
cultivate, higher desire.
And after all isn’t this one of the goals of spirituality?
To provide a practical step by step process in moving from
one level of consciousness to another.
Kama in practical application
and daily life.
Kama is our desire, but not just
the limited sexual desire as is frequently taught.
Kama is our experience of divinity via the senses.
And ultimately, it is a vehicle for returning home to our
To begin to use kama in a
productive way in life, try some of the following:
- Make a list of desires, all of them,
evaluate which ones are still important, which ones have been
fulfilled and which need more time.
(The key is to be honest with yourself on this one).
- Evaluate different desires, see which ones
serve you and which ones cause pain and suffering.
- Allow the cultivation of bhakti (devotion)
with a deity that you are drawn to.
This could involve meditation on the deity or basic
mantras to the deity.
- Experience the manifestation of divinity
through the senses, using mantra, sacred images, candlelight,
incense, and spiritual music.
- Experience the manifestation of divinity
- Study and contemplation of sacred texts.
- Begin the practice of yoga and Ayurveda,
a daily meditation practice.
- Practice giving to others.
- Recognize that Kama as a deity or force is
a powerful presence in your life.
Examine ways to use this force in productive, positive
and balanced ways in your life.
- Realize that Kama as a goal in life is
ultimately for the manifestation of moksha or liberation.
- Create a list of higher values and start
to cultivate them using some of the above techniques.
- Create positive sensory input by using the
- Recognize that all sensory input is food.
Food for the mind and for the body.
Ingestion of proper food allows one to move more quickly
along the spiritual path just as nutritious food is better for
the physical body than ‘junk’ food.
Examine the mental foods being ingested and evaluate
which ones serve the best.
the bija mantra to Kama or Kamala, which is “Shrim”.
This should be learned from someone versed in Sanskrit.
To learn more about Vedic concepts, we
Ushas: The Divine Dawn by Yogi Baba Prem
From Earth to
Heaven: Secrets of Yoga, Goddess and Spirituality by Yogi Baba
Yogic Secrets of the Vedas
by Yogi Baba Prem
Yoga and the Sacred Fire By Dr. David
Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses by
Dr. David Frawley.