A person had asked in a mailing list on how to overcome lust. Here is the reply I posted.
You should understand that just like the appendix in the abdomen is a vestigial organ in the body, the sexual urge is a vestigial emotion in the human psyche. It is a remnant of the biological evolutionary past. It is one of the unwanted animal instincts in the human being. Unlike hunger or thirst, it is not a biological necessity.
Just as how a person with high fever suffers from mental delirium and has a skewed perception, or how a person with alcohol in his blood sees things differently, the hormones related to reproduction create a delirium in the mind. This makes the people of the opposite gender look pleasant, their voice sound pleasing, etc. You should understand that this is merely a delirium created in the mind due to the chemical imbalance in the body. With the help of discrimination, this mistake in the perception has to be corrected.
In his book “Sarva Vedanta Siddhanta Sara Sangraha”, Sri Sankaracharya gives a beautiful analysis. (Text copied verbatim from the translation by Swami Tattwananda, published by Sri Ramakrishna Advaita Ashrama, Kalady.)
62. Let me tell you what that subtle path is by means of which all those who are virtuous might conquer desire. The simplest means of conquering desire is to give up the idea that a particular object is attractive, and not to think of it at all.
63. Even when one hears of a particular object or sees it, no one ever desires to possess it, unless first of all there arises the idea that it is a desirable object.
64. That mental concept that a particular object is attractive is the source of all desires. Where no such thought arises, there can be no desire. For if the seed should be destroyed, how can it sprout?
65. No one ever covets any object of enjoyment unless one thinks that it is desirable. Let him who is intent upon the conquest of desire first of all erase from his mind all ideas as to the desirability of any given object.
66. And let him who is intent upon the conquest of desire give up the feeling of pleasureableness which is associated with such objects for where there is the feeling of pleasurableness, lust cannot be conquered.
67. But where, as a result of right knowledge in relation to things and as a result of reflection, one becomes aware of the harm that results, there does not arise the idea that a given object is attractive. Where both these factors are present, the very idea of attractiveness withers away for lack of opportunity.
68. Thus when one knows that a precious stone is only a piece of stone, or feels a sense of fear towards it, one would not wish to possess it or feel it is worth having.
69. Therefore the conquest of desire becomes possible only when one becomes aware of the evil consequences that flow from the object of desire as a result of right knowledge.
Thus, it is proper analysis of the real worth of things and an analysis of the origin of the desire that will eventually help you to overcome it. You need to first convince yourself why you want to maintain Brahmacharya.
In Gita chapter 2 verse 62, Krishna brings out a very important psychological point. He says “Attachment to objects is born when one ponders over them.” Attachment (desire or aversion) to an object does not come suddenly. It comes by repeated thinking about it. If one understands this secret, then any attachment can be nipped at the bud. When the mind tends to think of an object repeatedly, we should become alert and change the thought. At the early stages it is easy to do so.
In Gita chapter 3 verses 42 and 43, Krishna gives a nice way to become free from the external and internal pressure of the senses. He says “They say the senses are noble. But nobler than the senses is the mind. The intellect is even nobler than the mind. What is nobler still than the intellect is the Lord residing within as the Self. Thus by knowing Him as nobler than the intellect, and restraining the inner senses through the Self, Oh mighty armed! destroy the enemy – the craving, so hard to reach.”
In Gita chapter 6 verses 24, 25 and 26, Krishna gives a complete programme to become free from even deep rooted desires. Here are the points he gives:
1. Give up repeated mental imagination about the object of desire. Desire becomes deep rooted by repeated thinking.
2. Control the external senses with the mind. Control whatever is controllable. Don’t voluntarily pursue the object of desire.
3. Withdraw the mind gradually with the help of resolute intellect. You cannot expect an immediate discontinuity of long developed habits.
4. Withdraw the mind from the object of desire by directing it towards some other interesting healthy thoughts.
Sri Ramakrishna says, “If you want to move away from the West, you have turn away from the West, face the East and walk towards the East.” The way to move the mind away from something is to keep it engaged in something else. Start learning music. Go to some classes like computers. Learn a new language. Read good books. Thus if you keep your mind engaged in healthy and fruitful activity, automatically your mind will lose interest in lower pursuits.
There is a natural inner psychological urge to create something in the world and leave a mark. If you don’t engage yourself in higher forms of creativity, the mind will be dragged to the biological form of creativity. Give your life a greater purpose. The mind which has a feeling of fulfillment of creating something of value will not be dragged to lower forms of creativity.
Ultimately, you should shift your identity from that of the body to that of the mind, and eventually beyond that also. Everything discussed above are essentially means to this shift of identity.
See also this blog entry: Maintaining purity of perception