Humans are bundles of desire. Desires motivate your actions which in turn shape the kind of person you become, or the type of organization you build.

Pillar3Manage Your Desires – The Third Principle of Purposeful Action: Four Levels of Desire, Choose Giving

What do desires have to do with action? Humans are bundles of desire. Your actions are motivated by desires. Desires come in many flavors and intensities, and they determine the value system by which you act and live. Your value system in turn governs your actions. So what you desire affects how you act, whether or not you realize it consciously. In other words, actions are driven or motivated by the desires of individuals.


In the metaphor of the Brook, The Third Principle is represented by the reflection of the navigator. Desires, represented by the thoughts of the navigators, are stirred by the currents in the waters and transmitted to your mind through your senses. Here the currents are shown through the reflections of the navigator and the boat.

As you can see, this sketch of the navigator covers only the first three Principles of Purposeful Action. The sketch of the Fourth Principle will add other navigators, emphasizing the need to relate with our environment and with other travelers.

Four Levels of Desire Drive Your Actions

For centuries, Western behavioral scientists, philosophers and psychologists have studied how needs, wants and desires influence behavior. Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of desires or needs that drive human behavior. He presented a list in the form of a pyramid, starting with basic physical needs for food and survival, and progressing to psychological needs of self-realization and self-actualizing.

More than six centuries ago, the Vedic sages of India provided a similar, yet much simpler, list — the four levels of desires that govern human behavior. The first two levels cover desires of taking, where the needs are directed towards satisfying self. Buddha taught that attachment to the objects of these desires was the cause of human suffering. The second two levels are comprised of desires that are directed towards serving others and the need to relate to something beyond self.

Four levels of desire determine our core values and inform all our actions. These are the desires of: lust; material trappings; service; and freedom. The first two make us Takers, while the third and fourth levels of desire make us Givers. We constantly oscillate between Giving and Taking, Receiving and being Taken. Nirvana frees us from the bonds of desires.

Two Desires of Taking:

  • Lust – desires that spring from lust and the need for survival and procreation, even at the expense of others.
  • Wealth – desires to accumulate material wealth and power and to be respected and loved by others.

These two (lower) levels of desire promote taking, leading to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. In organizations, these desires can lead to corruption and failure. These desires promote the Five Negative Core Values in individuals as well as organizations.

Desires of Giving:

  • Service – desires to serve, give to others and to love and care for others.
  • Freedom – desires to be detached from all desires and to be disassociated and free of the trappings of material existence.

These two (higher)  levels of desire foster giving, and pave the way for a fulfilled life and an ethical organization, with success and fulfillment for all stakeholders. These desires promote the Five Positive Core Values of the Second Principle of Purposeful Action. Leaders who are driven by the desires of giving are effective Servant Leaders.

Your growth towards success and fulfillment is determined by the desires that form your value system and drive  your actions. The key to leadership success and fulfillment of the leader’s vision is found in the levels of desires that motivate the leader.

Read Masters of the Game – to learn how you can apply the Four Levels of Desire to improve your life.

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