Lust is just simple word, but its connotation is far from simple. Most people tend to avoid the word due to its association with something bad or evil. Lust is like a pariah – shunned by all, since we refuse to admit to our own lusts. Since our childhood days we have learnt that lust is one of the deadly sins. It is rarely a topic of discussion except when we discuss the lust of others; then it is like the luscious forbidden fruit that we enjoy shamelessly.

We do this consciously most of the time. Blaming someone of lust gives us the opportunity for expressing righteous indignation. We tend to forget that we too suffer from the same tendencies deep down. But is lust really the black hole that we keep hidden within ourselves? Are we all prey to this propensity, whatever the extent? Or isn’t lust just another specificity of our species? Why do we constantly consider lust to be a sin? Does lust come from desire? But then, all desires are not sinful – the desire to be close to God, the desire to prove our own worth, the desire to see our children happy and successful… Then why do we want to and do regard lust as something sinful? It is also true that desire and greed are not qualities we venerate either. The desire for appropriating wealth of others, succeeding with trickery, cheating people by exploiting their weaknesses are considered to be bad. ‘Covetousness leads to sin, sin lead to death’ – says one of our old proverbs. So greed and desire are also regarded as sins. But we don’t hesitate to talk about our desires about different things, without any qualms, as about the objects of our desires. We easily undermine the importance of such types of greed or desire depending on the nature of what we covet. But we hardly ever own up to our lusts, as if that would label us as sinners to the society in general. We carefully maintain the difference between desire and lust – lust is a sin. Desire is not always a sin. This begs the question – why?

Everything we do for survival, all the different actions that are necessary for sustaining the human society originate from our survival instinct. In this respect there is little difference between animals and human beings. The only factor that distinguishes humans is that only humans experience greed or desire. And this may be considered as the driving force of man’s progress, the origin of human civilization. Some may think that human civilization was born out of love or out of a passionate quest to understand what so far was unknown. These are relevant arguments. We know that love is not unique to the humans – it exists among other animals too, though the quest for knowledge is indeed specifically human. But does not this quest originate from man’s desire as well? Animals don’t have desires – their sole concern is survival. They don’t need anything more. But from the earliest days of civilization, man wanted more than what was strictly necessary for survival – a sentiment resulting from lack of satisfaction. The mere satiation of basic needs like hunger and sex does not satisfy humans. This fundamental dissatisfaction – the need to have more than the basic necessities – this is what I would like to call greed or desire. This instinct, totally absent in animals, made man distinct. A new chapter started in human history – the birth of human civilization.

Desire or greed or covetousness is therefore fundamental to human nature. We can never move forward if we are satisfied by what is absolutely necessary. We often see that those who move forward more easily or faster than others are those who are basically dissatisfied with what they have. Their deep seated desire prompts them to want more, drives them forward. From train to plane, from radio to television, from telephone to cell phones – this has been the path we have trodden. Desire for more pushes us forward. Those who are not driven by greed eventually stop moving since there is no motivation. Those who think that the quest for knowledge is the main driving force behind human progress must keep in mind that this quest is ultimately driven by desire to have more. Man would not have sought to seek knowledge or understand the causes behind different phenomena if desire did not drive them. We can’t deny that desire is what drives us forward.

However, if society allows each individual to satisfy his own desires in a totally unregulated way it will result in total anarchy. No human society can ever allow that. So a different word and concept was invented – that of lust, which put a boundary to human desire. Beyond that boundary desire became lust. Lust is bad, lust is sin - was the message that was widely diffused, aimed at preserving the sanctity of family and society, across countries, throughout the ages. But do we as individuals, respect that boundary at all times? When do we step beyond? That is decided by the innate nature of all humans but depends also on the limits imposed by the environment. It is also shaped by his education and culture.

The image we project of ourselves in the society we live in is often different from our innate nature. In general, human beings can’t jeopardize this self-projected image to avoid shame, criticism, violating social or legal rules. We can only speculate about what the nature of the society would be if these constraints were not there. Because whether we admit it or not, none of us can swear that we are not prey to desire or lust. Now, wherein lies the fine line between desire and lust, given that they also depend on the time, the country, the society we live in? Normally we take sufficient precautions for hiding our desires and lusts from others. They become visible to the society only when we lose self control – for whatever reason. In general, we do not acknowledge the beast that sleeps in our innermost cores – the beast that sometimes gets the upper hand. The main anchor of human society is built upon our intrinsic difference with the animal world – the desire for things that we don’t basically need to survive; we may or may not agree, but I think that this is essentially true.

The desire for what is superfluous, that is not directly related to mere survival is innate in human nature, carefully hidden from the outer world by our social persona. It’s only when the desire crosses the limits of social acceptation and the boundary we talked about earlier, it qualifies as lust. So the difference between desire and lust is not really qualitative but rather quantitative. With puberty comes the sexual attraction for the opposite sex, just like in other animals. Humans seek to satisfy this urge within the institution of marriage. But what happens if our sexual urges are not satisfied and we start getting attracted to the members of the opposite sex outside the boundaries of marriage? We are the only ones to feel this kind of urge, which we hide expertly and consciously from others, preserving our social image within the perimeter of our families and society. But if ever that urge becomes too strong, when man can no longer contain himself and defies all social norms to enter into an adulterous relationship, it is immediately qualified as sexual lust. This is the only difference between desire and lust.

Desire or lust – whichever word we choose to use – basically reflects our instincts – those that make us different from animals – the hypothesis we started with. If we go a bit deeper, we see that our basic needs – that of food, clothes or shelter – does not amount to much. What is much more important are things that we don’t really need to survive – those are the objects of our desires. Desires brutally suppressed in order to preserve the social structure by labeling it as ‘lust’. But to what extent we actually manage to suppress lust at the individual and societal levels? Human lives are dominated by sexual lust and lust for money. The history of humanity derives largely from a combination of these two factors.

The sexual behavior of animals is guided by and limited to the need to procreate and does not involve anything else. That is the extent of their animal instincts. But the sexual instinct of humans is different; his wants are always guided by the desire for more. This is the true definition of lust. Men often lust after not only their wives but also their young sisters in laws – an attraction that is not the result of her intellectual or cerebral capacities but more for her sexual attraction. This lust, tightly controlled by social laws is forever present in man’s conscious or subconscious mind. It does come out from time to time depending on opportunities or circumstances. A man who says he is above this kind of lust then even if he is not a liar, he can’t be considered totally normal either – it is not normal for a man not to have sexual attraction for women. The same principle applies to women as well. But women are often prisoners of patriarchal societies and so their sexual urges have to be buried deep. This is how societies condition women from the day they are born.

The lust for wealth and money is the second type of lust that dominates our lives. This is a major driving force for not only individuals but also for countries and nations. The wars between different countries are the direct outcomes of this lust for wealth. In our own lives we run after money according to our own abilities. Most of us are not satisfied with what is required to live decently. We are forever trying to get more. But how many of us actually own up to this lust for wealth? Very few!

Seeking wealthy grooms for our daughters, asking for dowry for our sons – these are actually outcomes of this lust for wealth. Bringing up daughters with the tales of prince charming mould their psyche as well – even when they choose their partners. These are the backdrops of our daily lives that we rarely acknowledge. All of us, especially the educated, are primarily interested in projecting a suave and cultured persona to the others. Within that self projected image we continue to satisfy our basic instincts though to the outside world we remain good honest citizens.

Each one of us continues to satisfy our deep seated instincts depending on opportunity and circumstances. Those who don’t get these opportunities, those who are not bold enough to take actions to satisfy their own lusts spend their lives in envy and regret. And those who actually can attain their objects of lust without a single dent in their social images are applauded and feted for their success. Be it in a mere village council or in the highest political and social spheres. This is the crux of our civilization today. It is only the cowards and the fools rely on luck, buying lottery tickets or logging on to pornographic websites in secret.

Lust, which drives our daily lives, actually makes us prisoners of our basic instincts, at a very low level of consciousness. All great men from different religions, cultures and societies have always called humans to transcend this level. Their purpose was to rescue humans from this low level of existence. They understood that unless humans can get out of this circle of greed and lust, human society will never progress. They did not attempt threats or laws or norms to make humans better – they advised humans to get beyond the basic instincts. Starting from Buddha to Rabindranath Tagore or Sri Aurobindo – they all pointed to the path to be taken, the path that would help man to rise above his base instincts. Rise above our narrow selves to the realization of greater human destiny. Only then can human civilization become the glowing beacon.



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