“A living entity, by his constitutional position, cannot be void of all desires (the bhukti-kami, mukti-kami and siddhi-kami all desire something for personal satisfaction), but the nishkami devotees of the Lord desire everything for the satisfaction of the Lord. They are completely dependent on the orders of the Lord and are always ready to discharge their duty for the satisfaction of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.4.19 Purport)
If you get in trouble enough with the actions you take, you may start to realize that it is the desires themselves that are leading to the trouble. For instance, if you eat too much ice cream and feel physical discomfort later on, you may blame the ice cream, but it was your desire to eat it that led you into the activity that resulted in trouble. One reaction to this realization is to try to shun all desire, but even this is a kind of desire. In the purest state of consciousness desire is still present, but it serves a viable purpose. And since the purpose is pure, the resultant negative reactions are gone. A person with such desires is described as nishkama in the Vedas, which means desireless. Through the examples of devotees like Hanuman we get an idea of how that lack of desire manifests.
The Vedas, the oldest scriptures in the world, have different levels of detail to suit the inquisitiveness or lack thereof in the specific interested party. For instance, if you just want material rewards, you can perform sacrifices and worship specific personalities designated to manage over the areas in question. If you want straight devotion to a divine figure, wherein you surrender everything to them, you can worship them exclusively and not worry about anything else. If you are overly inquisitive, you will get a lifetime’s worth of philosophy that is so rich that every philosophy existing past, present and future is simultaneously explained.
To explain every philosophy is to know every desire. Desires of the living entity can be grouped into three categories. There are those who want sense enjoyment. The previous example of eating ice cream falls into this category. To eat, sleep, mate and defend to one’s satisfaction relates to sense pleasure, and so this type of desire is described as bhukti-kama. The inverse is mukti-kama, which is the desire for liberation. Sense pleasures are granted for as long as one desires them, and mukti means release, which culminates with the cessation of the cycle of birth and death. Siddhi-kama refers to the desire for mystic perfection, such as the ability to become very small, very large, very powerful, very light, etc. True yogis can do amazing things with the siddhis they acquire.
The devotees are a unique category, and they are described as nishkama, which means desireless. You cannot stop desire, not even for a moment. It’s like trying to stop the mind from working. Ever since you were born your mind has worked, even while you slept. Therefore it is impossible to stop desire, as the mind contemplates on something. In nishkama, your desires change. You work to satisfy the Supreme Lord, who is the original person. He is the Supreme Soul, while the individual is the smaller soul. The Supreme is conscious of all souls, whereas the individual only knows about their own experiences.
The nishkama devotees depend on the Lord for their happiness, and they are willing to act at a moment’s notice. We can take Shri Hanuman as an example. Who would want to leave their home, where their friends and family are, and travel to a far away land full of enemies? Who would want to risk their life for the interests of someone they barely know? Yet this is precisely what Hanuman did one time, and since his desire was rooted in pleasing the Supreme Lord Rama, Hanuman’s actions are appropriately described as nishkama.
This state is considered ideal because it leads to real pleasure. Bhukti, mukti, and siddhi fluctuate. One day we want something, the next day we swear off of it. With a siddhi there must be a practical use. If you have a large bank balance, it doesn’t mean anything unless you actually spend the money. In a similar manner, to have the ability to change your shape or fly through the sky with your soul only has significance when it serves a tangible purpose. If the purpose relates to bhukti or mukti, there is desire involved.
Hanuman has full possession of all siddhis, and sometimes he is in a state where there is sense enjoyment, such as in Kishkindha with his Vanara friends. Other times, like when he was in Lanka all alone, there is no sense enjoyment available. Hanuman is truly desireless because in either case he is serving the interests of the Supreme Lord. He is immune to the effects of both situations. He even once saw many beautiful women in an intimate setting. This vision appeared before him by accident, as he was looking for Rama’s missing wife Sita at the time. To find a lost woman one must look amidst other women.
“I certainly could not have searched for Vaidehi [Sita] anywhere else. When searching, one always looks for women in those places where other women are.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 11.42)
Normally, to look among such women is considered sense gratification, but Hanuman’s mind was not altered. Previous to that his monkey group contemplated suicide when they were stuck on the shore of an ocean without any future plans in the mission. At this time too Hanuman thought of Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. In this state of renunciation, which can be likened to the desire for mukti, Hanuman was still without personal desire.
To purify desire one must ascend to the devotional platform. This is best facilitated through the method of hearing. And what should we hear? The holy names, which are non-different from the person Hanuman serves. Chanting produces the required sound, so to regularly recite the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, means to hear God. And the desire to constantly hear falls in the category of nishkama, which brings transcendental pleasure.
As nishkami, devotees desire are without,
Opportunities to please Krishna they seek out.
Bhukti for sense enjoyment, release for mukti,
Yogis in meditation have kama for siddhi.
From desire you can never be free,
Desireless only when God’s pleasure you want to see.
Like Hanuman, who acts only for Rama’s interest,
In enjoyment or renunciation, on devotion he’s set.