Concepts of 'Desire' and 'Demand' - Vedanta goes beyond Economics


The purpose or goal of Life, prushartha, is fourfold viz. dharma, artha, kama and moksha. Among these four objectives kama or the manifestation and fulfillment of desires is the starting point of all activities in life.

Life is nothing but an expression of desires, latent or patent, seeking fulfillment, overcoming obstacles, conquering challenges and in the process achieving success or failure. Indeed, life oscillates between fulfillment and frustration like a pendulum, Fulfilled now, and frustrated then, life moves through desires getting satisfied or unsatisfied and disappointed. Nobody can ever claim to have completely satisfied all his desires and similarly none can assert that he has not fulfilled any desire whatsoever in one’s life.


Desire is called by different terms in Sanskrit—‘kama’, ‘iccha’, ‘eshana’ and so on. All of them have same meaning: craving and expectation. Desire or craving is a power which only those who have experienced know. Think of the power of desire! Desires generate energy and effort resulting in good or evil action. Desires make us go forward or backward. The instances of Sage Viswamitra and Menaka, Indra and Ahalya, Ravana and Sita or Kauravas and Pandavas are all typical examples of desires possessing the power of an atom bomb playing havoc in the course of their lives. Desires and life are synonymous.

Right at the time of our very birth the newborns give out a cry. That cry is the first visible expression of desire, probably, a protest for or a jubilation of being born. It may be an expression for satisfying hunger or yearning for physical security emerging out of the safety of the mother’s womb or it may be a desire to satisfy anything we can never know.

The Vedanta philosophy believes that man is born to work out his karma, which is the accumulated result of all his actions. All actions are born of desires or kama. Desires give birth to action and action creates karma and karma creates desires, again. The chain continues. The cycle keeps rolling. Life goes on. A question arises where did it all start? And why? What is man without desires? Man has pondered over these questions from Vedic times.

We will be surprised to know that the world or creation or the multiplicities around us all started with the concept of desire! Whose desire? It is the desire of the Creator, Brahman or Paramatman.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says

“In the beginning, before the creation of bodies, all this was just the Self, undifferentiated from the body of viraj. This Self was like a human being in shape. He is referred to as the first born virat, the first person to have a body endowed with the capacity of willing, acting and knowing. He naturally felt his existence and expressed himself thus “I am”. This being is now known as Purusha.

When he did not see anything else whatsoever except himself, this first self, in the shape of a man, became afraid. (Therefore people still are afraid when alone. This fear indicates the universal desire for self-preservation). The virat (the sum total of all gross bodies in the universe) the original being, Self, looks around and sees nothing else but himself. When he realizes his loneliness, he has two feelings, one of fear and the other of a desire for companionship. His fear is dispelled when he realizes that there is nothing else of which he has to be afraid of. His desire for companionship is satisfied by projecting another body of the size of man and woman united in close embrace. This body was then called husband and wife. From the union of these two the race of human beings is produced.

According to the mantra, Prajapati or Hiranygarbha or the Cosmic Person, the Purusha appeared to divide himself into two halves indicating that both are his elements. The two are not separate; they do not mean any duality. One half of the Cosmic person becomes man and the other woman each incomplete without the other like the two halves of a split pea. When the peanut is split into two halves each half becomes incomplete without the other. Both the halves are needed to make each other complete. So too are men and women in the world.”

Taittiriya Upanishad says that before creation, Brahman brooded over the matter and thought of manifesting Himself into many. So resolving, he created this universe consisting of sentient and insentient, and entered into them i.e. projected the universe out of his own power of maya which consists of objects with form and without form, some describable and others indescribable. The same Brahman, the same Truth, appeared as truth and untruth both, That is why wise persons say that whatever is visible, audible or object of comprehension, it is a form of Paramatman, the truth itself. Before manifesting, this universe of sentient and insentient was non-existent i.e. was in an unmanifest state. From that came the existent with names and forms. Brahman transformed Himself by Himself into the universe of sentient and insentient objects. Therefore He is known as sukrita, the self-created.

Aitareya Upanishad while discussing the Origin of the Universe and Man says that in the beginning all this verily was Atman (Absolute Self) only, one and without a second. There was nothing else that winked. He (Atman) willed Himself: "Let Me now create the worlds". That is when there was nothing other than Consciousness, also called Atman, This One and Absolute Consiousness willed to create a world of multiplicity and relativity. Creation is a consequence of that Will Power, ‘Tapas’ or the desire of Paramatman.Prasna Upanishad says Prajapati, having performed penance, created a pair - Rayi, matter and Prana, energy - thinking that they would together between themselves produce creatures in many forms.

Svetasvatara Upanishad uses a simile to explain the process of creation. Just as a ray of light, though colorless in itself, assumes different colors when it passes through a prism, the formless Brahman who is one without a second, who is undifferentiated - nirvisesha, for the reasons not known to the human mind, created diversity at all levels with the help of His own power. When the world meets its end, all these diversities merge back unto Him.

Paingala Upanishad mentions the famous process of quintuplication - panchikarana - or splitting and mixing up of subtle elements in various proportions to make them gross substances out of which Prajapati created many Brahmandas - macrocosms and many worlds appropriate to each of them - microcosms.

Brahma Sutras which interpret and organize the Upanishads, regard Brahman as the material as well as the efficient cause of the universe, its origin and support, himself uncreated and eternal.

In the Bhagavad Gita Sri Krishna tells

balam balavataamasmi kaamaraagavivarjitamdharmaaviruddho bhooteshu kaamo'smi bharatarshabha // 7.11 //


I am the balam, strength, ability, virility; balavatam, of the strong. That strength, again, is kama-raga-vivarjitam, devoid of passion and attachment. Kamah is passion, hankering for things not at hand. Ragah is attachment, fondness for things acquired. I am the strength that is devoid of them and is necessary merely for the maintenance of the body etc., but not that strength of the worldly which causes hankering and attachment. Further, bhutesu, among creatures; I am that kamah, desire - such desires as for eating, drinking, etc. which are for the mere maintenance of the body and so on; which is dharma aviruddhah, not contrary to righteousness, not opposed to scriptural injunctions; bharatarsabha, O scion of the Bharata dynasty (Arjuna).  

Having said about the ‘how’ of creation there is no answer to the eternal question why the Creator desired to create. Swami Vivekananda refers to this in his famous lecture given during the first World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893:

“How can the perfect become the quasi-perfect; how can the pure, the absolute, change even a microscopic particle of its nature? But the Hindu is sincere. He does not want to take shelter under sophistry. He is brave enough to face the question in a manly fashion; and his answer is: ‘I do not know. I do not know how the perfect being, the soul, came to think of itself as imperfect, as joined to and conditioned by matter.’ But the fact is a fact for all that. It is a fact in everybody’s consciousness that one thinks of oneself as the body. The Hindu does not attempt to explain why one thinks one is the body. The answer that it is the will of God is no explanation. This is nothing more than what the Hindu says, I do not know.”

That puts an end to all questions: we do not know why ‘He desired’!! But the fact is that life is desire-manifest, full of promises, fears, and the seed of all that happens in and around us. Let us see what the modern science of Economics says about desires.

Receive Site Updates