As Krishna tells us in the Gita, lust leads to anger – and things get worse from there.
By Vraja Vihari Dasa
“Lust is the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst.” – Frederick Buechner, American poet, writer, and theologian

On June 1, 2001, the crown prince of Nepal, Dipendra, stumbled into the royal dining hall in a drunken state. In a frenzy, he gunned down nine members of the noble family, including the king and queen and his siblings. He then shot himself in the head. In the wake of this horrific tragedy many theories floated. The most accepted version amongst the traumatized citizens points out the prince’s fallout with his parents. They refused to let him marry the woman he loved. Since the woman the prince desired wasn’t from the aristocracy, they disallowed the union, and in a fit of madness Dipendra shot them dead.

This incident demonstrates the damaging power of unfulfilled desire. The Vedic scriptures term extreme hankering as lust, an intense craving for something or someone, often in the context of unbridled sexual desire. It’s an example of heightened longing, and in common parlance is distinguished from passion. Passion can encourage humans to achieve healthy goals; lust, on the other hand, is destructive.

Lust Leads to Anger

Lust is subtle and can be masked by one’s gracious dealings. And since most of us are not mind readers, it can be hidden behind the facade of civil niceties. Still, the conflagration of lust in a person whose heart is an infernal hell can easily be exposed by anger.

Lust leads to rage in two ways. First, one who strongly covets an object and doesn’t acquire it gets frustrated and as a result wrathful. Second, one whose desire is fulfilled realizes soon that the result is not as satisfying as expected. Disillusioned, one can then succumb to an angry emotional outburst.

The Influence of the Three Modes

When lust overwhelms us we give up everything to satisfy it. Ravana gave up all his brothers, sons, relatives, and best friends in his vain attempt to get Sita. His lust blinded him and forced him to lose all his near and dear ones.

Lust is born of the mode of passion, rajas, and it leads to the mode of ignorance, tamas. When lust attacks vigilant sadhakas engaged in the practice of bhakti-yoga, they counter the rajas-to-tamas tendency by raising themselves from rajas to sattva, the mode of goodness. Just as a souring agent converts milk into curds and whey, an atmosphere of rajas gives birth to lust. Recognizing the influence of the external conditions and the internal surroundings, sadhakas are ever alert, and at slight provocation upgrade their consciousness to sattva and check its downslide to tamas.

The Mahabharata’s and Bhagavad-gita’s Wisdom on Lust

In the Bhagavad-gita (2.62–63) Lord Krishna offers an incisive and penetrating analysis of lust: “While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises. From anger, complete delusion arises, and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost, and when intelligence is lost one falls down again into the material pool.” This explains Dipendra’s inner trauma – lust and the lower modes dragged the hapless prince to the maniacal slaughter of his own family.

In the Mahabharata, Udyoga-parva, Vidura describes to Dhritarashtra the plight of a king chased by a tigress. The king runs in fear and falls into a well. But he gets stuck on the branch of a tree within the well, and a huge crocodile below, with its jaws wide open, stares at him, waiting for him to fall to his death. Meanwhile, a deadly snake hanging on the wall of the well slithers closer, while two rats slowly but surely eat away the branch. In desperation the king hopes to get out of the well, only to find the tigress outside waiting with her three cubs. Sure death stares at him from all sides. Then a swarm of bees sting him repeatedly, for his fall has disturbed a beehive. Once in a while, however, a drop of honey from the broken beehive falls on his outstretched tongue, and that is a source of great pleasure. He eagerly waits for the next drop to fall into his parched throat and prefers to forget the painful misery plaguing him and the inevitable disaster awaiting him.

The story is narrated to graphically drive home the plight of a conditioned soul in this world. We are chased by the tigress of lust accompanied by her three cubs of anger, greed, and illusion. The well is compared to the dark, suffering material world, while the crocodile represents death. The serpent is time, and the two rats are the day and night eating away our life. As the bee-stings of various miseries harass us daily, a little sex pleasure keeps us going, the insignificant pleasure making us oblivious of our painful sufferings and our ever-approaching death. For the little honey of sex pleasure, one is willing to pay a huge price of uninterrupted miseries. A foolish person thinks it’s after all a good deal; the pleasure of sex is worth all the agony and suffering of the material world. This is called illusion, and therefore the material world is considered a very special prison where the inmates are securely imprisoned without the need for walls. The unseen chains holding us in this prison of the material world are our insatiable lusty desires.

The Purpose of Human Life

Human life is meant for inquiring about and seriously practicing spiritual life. Amongst all the species, human beings alone can use their intelligence to go back home, back to Godhead. They can understand that there is no real pleasure in the material world. If, however, as humans we don’t use our intelligence for this purpose, then our intelligence is said to be covered by lust.

A well-known story in the oral tradition of India describes an incident where Vyasadeva, while dictating instructions to a disciple, also a renowned sage, chanted the verse “Lust is so deadly that even the most learned men are agitated.” The disciple considered himself intelligent and wondered how his spiritual master could chant such a verse. He took liberty in editing it and rewrote it as “Lust is deadly, and only the most intelligent are unaffected.” While making these changes, the disciple thought he had saved his spiritual master from future embarrassment because the most intelligent people could not be bewildered by lust; it’s after all only the foolish who are victimized by this force.

Meanwhile, Vyasadeva, by his divine powers, understood his student’s faulty thinking.

Soon after, one day when the disciple was alone in his hut, it rained heavily. Suddenly there was a desperate knock on the door, and he saw a beautiful young woman dressed scantily and drenched fully, seeking his shelter. He invited her in and provided her with the warmth of the hut. Seeing her gorgeous form, the disciple of Vyasadeva was overwhelmed by desires and couldn’t take his eyes off her. He went closer and appealed to her to fulfill his carnal desires. She said that being a chaste woman, she couldn’t enjoy with him unless they were married. He insisted that they marry right there and then so that he could immediately enjoy her. She insisted that his residence wasn’t the proper place and they should be married only in a nearby temple.

The sage urged they immediately leave for the temple, but the woman placed a condition. She would accompany him only if he crawled there with her seated on his back. Blinded by the desire to possess her, the sage agreed. He knelt low like a horse, and she sat on his back. Hurriedly, he worked his way through the water with the woman on his back, even as heavy rains lashed his body. He struggled and trudged on his knees, hurrying desperately. All of a sudden he heard the woman chant the same verse he had edited a few days before: “Lust is deadly, and only the most intelligent are unaffected.”

Stunned, he looked up, and lo and behold the woman turned into Vyasadeva. The spiritual master smiled and revealed that he had put on this disguise to teach him a lesson. He then asked his student if he had been right in editing the verse. Humbled and embarrassed, the disciple confessed that lust is indeed an overwhelming force, and even the most powerful can fall under its sway. The incident was a sobering reminder of this truth.

The Forest Fire of Lust

The story underscores the necessity to be careful in our social dealings and also to become serious in our spiritual practices.

A bhakti-yoga sadhaka is also aware that the external rituals of bhakti don’t guarantee one immunity from Cupid’s arrows. The Fifth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam compares life in this world to that of a man who enters a forest to get honey from the beehives, risking attacks from snakes, jackals, and other wild animals. Finally, he also gets stung by the bees. Similarly, in this forest of the material world, to experience sexual pleasure one undergoes repeated suffering and pain from various sources.

Smaller animals like deer and rabbits get scorched in a forest fire. But the elephant escapes by diving into a lake. His large body helps him stay afloat, while the fire doesn’t enter the water. The scriptures liken the forest fire to the fire of lust. The elephantlike devotees avoid it by diving into the cooling river of the holy names of Krishna. Although ravaging desires can incinerate anyone, devotees find succor in Krishna conscious practices.

From Suffering to Shelter

Many people fear giving up lust because they worry about how one could become happy without sense gratification. Therefore we need to seek the association of advanced devotees who have given up lusty pursuits and are still happy in this world. Their happiness springs from rendering pure devotional service to Krishna, also known as Hrishikesha, the master and controller of our senses.

The ultimate solution is to call out to Krishna helplessly. We have to beg Him for mercy and shelter because lust can be controlled only by the transcendental Cupid, Krishna, the God of love. Our main protection is our humble, prayerful attitude towards Krishna.

The great devotee Kulashekhara prays,

andhasya me hrita-viveka-maha-dhanasya
chauraih prabho balibhir indriya-namadheyaih
mohandha-kupa-kuhare vinipatitasya
devesha dehi kripanasya karavalambam

“O Lord, the powerful thieves of my senses have blinded me by stealing my most precious possession, my discrimination, and they have thrown me deep into the pitch-dark well of delusion. Please, O Lord of lords, extend Your hand and save this wretched soul.” Kulashekhara acknowledges that only by the Lord’s intervention can we be saved from this deadly enemy.

The taste for sex pleasure is very strong; it is after all a perverted reflection of the highest spiritual pleasure, called the adi rasa, “the original taste.” Only when we experience satisfaction in Krishna consciousness can we give up the pursuit of our mundane inclinations towards sense gratification. For this we need the causeless mercy of Krishna; only by His grace can we be released from the clutches of sex and enter into the bhakti rasa, the happiness of devotional service.

The Power of a Krishna-centered Community

Nomadic gypsies called Bhattatharis lured Sri Chaitanya’s servant Kala Krishnadasa to their cult with women and wealth as their bait. The episode, recounted in the Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita, happened about five hundred years ago when Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu traveled in South India.

What makes this incident astounding is that Kala Krishnadasa was not only simple, cultured, and clean in his habits; he was also personally serving Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is none other than Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. While describing the incident, Srila Prabhupada writes a sobering purport (Madhya 10.65): “Unless one is very conscientious, the influence of maya can drag one away, even though he be the personal assistant of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. And what to speak of others? . . . This is factual evidence showing that it is possible at any time to fall down from the Lord’s association. One need only misuse his little independence. Once fallen and separated from the Supreme Personality of Godhead’s association, one becomes a candidate for suffering in the material world.”

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu confronted the gang and saved Kala Krishnadasa. However, on His return to Jagannath Puri, the Lord told His associates that He was rejecting His servant because of his wayward behavior. Kala Krishnadasa sincerely repented, and the devotees fervently appealed to the Lord to pardon the young man for his misadventure. Yet the Lord was unmoved.

Finally, four intimate associates of the Lord – Nityananda, Jagadananda, Mukunda, and Damodara – held a meeting and devised a plan to help assuage Kala Krishnadasa’s aggrieved heart. They realized that a large number of devotees of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who resided in Nabadwip, Bengal, would have learned that after four years the Lord had finally returned from South India to Jagannath Puri. They would be anxious to know about the various incidents in the Lord’s journey and the lessons He had taught through His pastimes. The devotees in Puri reasoned that if Kala Krishnadasa were to visit the devotees in Bengal, they’d get enlivened. They presented their plan to the Lord, who didn’t object to it.

Kala Krishnadasa was then entrusted with a special service. He carried lots of Jagannatha prasadam to the associates of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Bengal. When they heard from him about the intimate pastimes of the Lord, they were blissful. Everyone gathered at the house of Advaita Acharya, the senior member of the devotee community in Nabadwip. And to honor the Lord’s return, they held a five-day festival of hearing and chanting the Lord’s names and pastimes.

This incident reveals the great blessing a community provides to a struggling spiritual practitioner. Since Kala Krishnadasa took shelter of genuine devotees, he was protected. Besides, he also found a tangible opportunity for service and made a meaningful contribution – he brought devotees together for a festival of the Lord’s glorification.

Srila Prabhupada comments in this section of Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita: “Even though a person is rejected by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the devotees of the Lord do not reject him; therefore the Lord’s devotees are more merciful than the Lord Himself. . . . The Lord Himself may sometimes be very hard, but the devotees are always kind.” (Madhya 10.67, Purport)

As we struggle in this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, Kali-yuga, we are tempted by many distractions that threaten to take us away from our loving relationship with Krishna. Still, there is hope. If we stay connected to compassionate devotees, who are true well-wishers of all living entities, we can navigate through the troubles that lust, greed, anger, and other unhealthy habits hurl us into. Kala Krishnadasa’s example drives home this point emphatically.