“The Blessed Lord said: It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material modes of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring, sinful enemy of this world.” (Bhagavad-gita, 3.37)
kāma eṣa krodha eṣa
viddhy enam iha vairiṇam
FriendOne: What is your definition of kama?
FriendTwo: The Sanskrit term?
F1: Yeah. What else?
F2: You want the long explanation or something simple?
F1: I ask because sometimes I see it translated as “sense gratification.” It accompanies dharma, artha and moksha. These are religiosity, economic development and liberation.
F2: Right. Sometimes it gets translated to plain “desire.”
F1: Exactly. And then in the Bhagavad-gita, there is the famous verse where Krishna says that kama is the all-devouring enemy. He says that it later turns into wrath and impels one to sin.
F2: Yeah. That’s His answer to Arjuna’s question about what thing leads man to commit sin, as if being helpless to the matter.
F1: So in the verse containing Krishna’s reply, kama gets translated to mean “lust.” But aren’t lust and desire two different things? Why not use “sense gratification” instead?
F2: That’s a good question. How would you define lust?
F1: I guess I’d say it’s when you really want something. If you lust after pizza, it means that you desire it very strongly. Whereas if I want it to be sunny outside tomorrow, that is an ordinary desire.
F2: That’s pretty good. You can apply both to the word “kama” and not really run into a contradiction. You can say that ordinary desire is what everyone has to some degree. Kama as lust is when that ordinary desire becomes so strong that it leads a person to do things that they know are bad. Think of the addict who steals money in order to buy drugs.
F1: I see. That makes sense. But why not use two different terms, then? Why not something else for lust instead of kama?
F2: Because deep down both are the same. You could say that kama is a desire to exploit for personal enjoyment. This definition takes care of desire, sense gratification and lust.
F1: Hmm, that’s an interesting way to put it. But where does the exploitation come in? Let’s say that I really want to eat pizza. Even if I lust after it, what am I exploiting really?
F2: Okay, that’s a good question. There is exploitation there, but it’s not easy to see. It comes down to the basic definition of sin.
F1: Sin is doing something that is prohibited.
F2: Good. But why is it prohibited?
F1: I don’t know, because the sacred books say so? The Supreme Lord says that we shouldn’t do this and we shouldn’t do that. If you follow what He says, you are pious. If you go against Him, you are sinful.
F2: That’s a good understanding of it, but why would God make these rules? What is the purpose behind them? Is He just amusing Himself?
F1: I’m not sure I see your point.
F2: Let me give you the more complete answer. Sin is anything that takes you away from your original consciousness, i.e. love for God.
F1: Really? So that pretty much makes everything and everyone sinful.
F2: Bingo. Now if you follow the recommendations of scripture, you’re avoiding sin. This means that automatically you’re becoming closer to God, even if you don’t know it. Consciousness of Him is never dependent on rules, but in the beginning it’s hard for us to see that.
F1: Sort of like how I shouldn’t need to do homework each night and pass exams each week to learn, but having them helps to keep me in line.
F2: Exactly. If you didn’t have those things, you would likely spend time doing other things. The pressure aids in making you more knowledgeable in the end, though you don’t necessarily need that discipline to attain the goal.
F1: Does this mean that desire, sense gratification and lust are the same thing?
F2: In the sense that they keep you away from God consciousness, then “yes.” Getting back to the exploitation, as soon as you have kama you want to enjoy separately from God. It is a desire to exploit since you didn’t create the object that is desired.
F1: Because God created it.
F2: It’s His property, so it should be used in a way that will make Him happy. Lust is using His property in a way that will make only us happy, though just in the short term. The desire is so strong that it makes us do things that we even know to be wrong, like lie and steal.
F1: I see. Then it makes sense that kama is the all-devouring enemy. It is the root of sin, it seems.
F2: Yeah. If you don’t have kama, you’re less likely to do things that will keep you away from God consciousness.
F1: Now if I really want to become God conscious, is that desire lust? Say that I love eating Krishna prasadam and chanting the holy names - does it mean that I’m overly desirous?
F2: No; that is not sinful. That is using the objects of nature in a way to please Krishna, the Supreme Lord. That is spiritual desire, or bhakti. Bhakti is never sinful. By definition, anything outside of bhakti is sinful to some degree. Even the people who are trying to become pious, if they lack devotion to Krishna, they harbor some desire to enjoy independent of Him.
F1: Is there a way to tell if one’s desire is kama or bhakti?
F2: Consciousness is the real indicator, but that is subtle. Externally the easiest way is to see if there is rebirth. Kama is sinful because it keeps one away from Krishna, which happens through rebirth, which can be in various species. Bhakti stops rebirth; it keeps one always by Krishna’s side, wherever they may dwell. One catch is that in bhakti the person isn’t even concerned with rebirth. They don’t mind taking birth hundreds of times; as long as they get to stay in bhakti they are happy.
Difference in desire and lust,
One a want, the other a must.
But the underlying sentiment the same,
To exploit nature, unaware from where it came.
That kama devouring enemy all,
Unwittingly into sinful life fall.
Bhakti as your weapon use,
And desire for Krishna choose.