The desire to raise the standard of life is a thirst that can never be quenched. It leads to endless pursuit of sensory pleasures, multiplication of wants, and a deeper and deeper involvement in worry. Riches are a deadly temptation. No whip can suppress the itch to gain money.

– Sri Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol 6 

Ceiling on desires

Short story:

Those who catch monkeys prepare a pot with a small opening and fill it with some sweets. The monkey, who desires the food, will put its hand inside that pot and take a big handful of the food. Thus, the monkey becomes unable to draw its hand out through the opening. Only on releasing the grip will the monkey be able to take its hands out. It is its desire for the food that has bound its hands. Because it took with its hand some food to fulfill its desire, it was bound there. This wide world is like that pot with a narrow top. Our desires are the sweet in the pot. The world being the pot, containing the desires, sweets, man put his hand in the pot. When he sheds his desires, he will be able to live in the world freely. To get freedom, the first thing to do is to sacrifice. In philosophical terms, this is called renunciation. We think that the world is keeping us bound but the world is lifeless. It is the desire that binds us.

– Sri Sathya Sai Baba (Chinna Katha – Short Story)


Excerpts from Baba’s Discourses:

Aim of the "Ceiling on Desires" program

Today we waste time on unnecessary and unwanted things, indulging in unnecessary talk and doing meaningless actions. In all these actions we are sacrificing the body to time. Instead we should try to make time our servant. It means spending our time in good thoughts and good deeds. Every second of your daily existence you must ask these questions "How am I utilizing time? Is it for a good or bad purpose?" Likewise, with regards to food you must ask: "Am I just eating what I need or more? Am I wasting food?" So also, with respect to money: "Am I using this money for my own selfish needs or for boosting my name and fame, or to satisfy my ego and vanity?" Once you start seeking answers to these questions, there is no greater sadhana. This is the aim of the "Ceiling on Desires" program. It was never the purpose of this program to collect money for the Sathya Sai Organizations. The object was to encourage you to share your money with others, to give you an opportunity to utilize your surplus resources for some good and noble purpose which will sanctify your life. Three types of strength are given to a person: physical strength, mental strength and the power of money. It has been said that all these should be offered as yajna (sacrifice). This sacrifice is not offered to God. God, who has given you the body and the mind, does not need them for himself. God is also the source of all wealth. What does He want with your wealth? Use it for sacred purposes. The Seva program is intended only to provide you with opportunities to make your lives sacred and worthwhile. It is to develop the spirit of sacrifice.

- Sri Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol 17

Members appear to be confused about the true meaning of this program of "Ceiling on Desires" decided on at the Tenth All India Conference of Sathya Sai Organizations. There are four components in the term "Ceiling on Desires." They are, respectively.

  1. curb on excessive talk
  2. curb on excessive desires and expenditure
  3. control of consumption of food
  4. check on waste of energy

Man needs some essential commodities for his sustenance, and he should not aspire for more. We can learn a lesson in this respect from Nature. Only if air is available in sufficient quantity will it be comfortable and good. If it is excessive and there is a gale you will feel uncomfortable. When you are thirsty; you can consume only a limited quantity of water. You cannot consume the entire water of the Ganga! We take only as much as is needed for the sustenance of the body. Doctors know that the body temperature is normally 98.4 (deg F). If this goes up to 99 they say fever has set in due to some disorder in the body. We inhale and exhale at a normal rate. If there is a slight increase or decrease in the rate it indicates disorder in the body. Changes in the pulse rate or blood pressure also indicate disorder. So, you find that if you cross the limits even to a little extent it is dangerous or harmful to the body. There is a limit for everything to function in a normal way. When your eyes happen to see a flash of lightning or a flash-light while taking photographs, they automatically close because they can't withstand such high illumination. Ear drums also cannot tolerate hearing beyond a certain volume and we close our ears or keep cotton inside the ears. From these we see that our life is a limited company!

 - Sri Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol 16

You have been told, off and on, about the program of “Ceiling on Desires”, which has four important components. The first one is: “Don’t waste food.” Why? Because food is God. Food is indispensable for human life since the body cannot survive without food. The second one is: “Don’t waste money.” The misuse of money is an evil. Today’s youth especially are wasting money in a number of ways. This will lead to bad habits, loss of peace of mind, and the ruining of your life itself. Our country is today facing grave economic problems, so indiscriminate spending of money for selfish purposes should strictly be eschewed in the interest of the society at large. The spirit of cooperation has to be promoted. National unity and integrity should be safeguarded. A balance has to be maintained between individual interests and national interests. Everything in life depends on maintaining the proper balance, whether it be walking, sitting, cycling, or driving a car. Today this balance has been lost because of excessive knowledge and its misuse. If knowledge is to be put to right use, it should be transformed into skill. However, instead of skill, young people are killing knowledge. You are wasting knowledge and energy in seeing, hearing, talking, thinking etc., in wrong manner and in excessive measure. Therefore, the third item in the “Ceiling on Desires”, says: “Don’t waste energy.” A small illustration in this connection. You have turned the radio to a particular station. Whether the volume is kept high or low, whether you listen or not, so many units of electrical energy will be wasted. Likewise, your body is a radio. You are constantly engaged in thinking as well as talking in a loud or low tone, talking to others or to yourself, talking while awake and even while asleep. Due to such continuous talking day and night, how much of energy is being wasted, thereby causing allergy in your lives. Every action involves the use of energy. If the energy in the body is properly utilized, then balance will be maintained and the body will be in good shape. The fourth dictum of the “Ceiling on Desires” is: “Don’t waste time.” Students, only when the body is strong, healthy, and happy can you enjoy the proper state of balance in life. Man’s life is wasted in brooding over the past and worrying about the future. What is the root cause of man’s sorrow and sickness? Not being content with what he has, and hankering after what he does not have, man forfeits peace of mind. There is no need to think about what is past or about what is in store in the future. Of what avail is it to think of the past, which is irrevocable, or to worry about the future, which is uncertain? 

- Summer Showers 1990 – Indian Culture and Spirituality


Keep Desires Within Limits

Education should be pursued, not merely for acquiring degrees, but for cultivating human values. All riches are ephemeral. Do not become slaves of wealth. Become subjects of good qualities. Wealth without character is worthless. Life becomes an ideal one when character constitutes one's wealth. The blossoming of one's character leads to radiance in life. When a child is born, he is innocent of all desires. As he grows older, desires multiply. These desires have to be kept within limits. Life is a long journey and the less luggage you carry, the greater the comfort. Reducing desires is the true mark of civilization. The government has imposed ceilings on land, on houses, and on many other things. But there is no ceiling on desires. Education should lead to restraint on desires. It should be realized that every organ in the body has a limit to what it can do. It is dangerous to use it beyond that limit. This applies to almost everything in life. Whenever the limit is exceeded, there is an adverse consequence. Excessive light will burn the retina. A deafening noise may damage the eardrum.

- Sri Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol 25


Desires Overshadow the Divinity of Man

Man, when born, is without any desire. At that time, he is in a pure and pristine state. He is steady and peaceful. All the strengths of man are at their highest intensity. In the eyes of every man, there are crores of light rays that enable him to see. On his tongue, there are lakhs of taste buds. There are a few lakhs of cells in his ears that help him in his hearing. The entire body of man is full of divine energy. It is said that the creation is entirely Brahma alone. Ancient man was so pure that when he touched any object, the object would get stuck to him! Such was the extent of Divine powers that pulsated through his body from head to toe. As desires gradually multiplied, these Divine powers in him started to decrease. You need not think so deeply to understand this concept. You can test this idea now itself. You have several desires. Let us say that you have ten such desires that are to be fulfilled. Out of the ten, eliminate three completely. You can easily feel the difference in the energy flowing through the body! Your memory too increases. The sages of yore could easily recount from memory incidents that had happened long ago and recite things learnt a long time ago. This was because they had minimal desires in them.

- Summer Course 2002 – Indian Culture and Spirituality


Oh Man! With good sense, control your desires. What you get is the result of your actions. With right means, regulate your mind. Embodiments of the Divine Spirit! Trishna has two meanings: Desire and Thirst. It is natural in daily life to have a desire for certain necessities and comforts. Among the necessities for daily living, three are most essential food for sustenance, garments to wear and shelter for dwelling. The desire for these is natural for man. Even in this there are two kinds of desires: One is natural. The other is excessive and misdirected desire. "I want a house" is a legitimate desire and one should seek it. But it is greedy to possess two or more houses. Today greed is more prevalent among men than desire for necessities. With the result that man is afflicted with grief and worry. He has become a stranger to contentment. He is steeped in discontent on account of insatiable desires. The other meaning of the word Trishna is thirst. Whenever one is thirsty one has to drink water. When will this thirst end? Thirst will not end as long as life lasts. Even at the moment of death people feel thirsty. How is the thirst (for material things) to be quenched? It is possible through the efflux of time to get rid of iron shackles when they get rusty, but it is not easy to get rid of Trishna (desire). Trishna is the cause of limitless desires. If desires are fulfilled, one's ahamkara (ego) gets inflated. If they are not realized hatred develops.

- Sri Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol 21


Questions for Reflection:

  1. What are some of the practical ways through which we limit our desires?
  2. As we progress on the spiritual path, how do the definitions of needs and wants change?
  3. What are some of the practical questions that we can ask ourselves before we equip ourselves with latest technology related gadgets?


Video links: 

Clip1 : Ceiling on desires - 22nd July 1991


Clip2 : One needs to have a check in his desires