My 19 year old son asks me:
“OK, I have a philosophy Buddhism question – so desire is a
bad thing right? Hungry ghost? I think one thing I’ve been working on is
understanding my desires and taming them so they don’t control me…. But my
question is, isn’t desire what makes you do things? Like what do you do in life if you don’t have desires? Do you just get complete mastery of
desire then go live in a monastery?
I feel like everything I do has been based on at least some part, on
unhealthy desires, so now I don’t know what to do.”
These questions are the essential question in a buddhist
life and perhaps in all life.
How do we live?
And how do we live with underlying Buddhist principles. It goes back to the 4 Noble Truths.
In life there is both joy and suffering. Who has ever seen anyone who doesn’t
suffer? And most people come to
spiritual life because they are indeed suffering and perhaps suffering a lot. How do we handle suffering in our life?
Didn’t Buddha actually say that He came to relieve our suffering? Suffering is sometimes translated as
dissatisfaction (which I actually prefer) or dukkha, the hardships that are
inherent in a life in the form world and a life of a human being. Sometimes this life of suffering is
called Samsara. The form life of
the cycle of round and round we go, over and over our problems, over and over,
can we fix this? Over and over, is
death an annihilation of “me, me, me?”
Then, Buddha went on to describe, what causes
our suffering. There have been
many translations: desire, craving,
clinging or attachment. We each,
based on our sense of an isolated, individual unit of “me” against the world or
environment, develops a whole system of self-centered desires to satisfy our
self. Usually these desires have
to do with clinging to what we like, pushing away what we don’t like, and being
indifferent or misunderstanding everything else. These are the three poisons of greed (attachment), Anger or
hatred or Aversion, and Ignorance, indifference, confusion. We can be ignorant of the basic truths
That everything is constantly changing and there
is no solid, permanent thing
That because of everything changing, there is
actually no solid, permanent self – no isolated unit of self – no centralized
self. And the self is interdependent with everything else.
That dukkha (suffering) can be transformed into
Nirvana (freedom) in each moment depending upon how we practice with or receive
the moment. That dukkha and
Nirvana actually become the same thing. They are One in each and every moment
and we can bring this to our awareness and our practice.
There is another way to understand desire
or attachment and how that causes our suffering. We know that there are ups and downs in life. This is obvious, but what can we do about
them? We have in Buddhism what we
call the 8 worldly Winds. They are
Pleasure and Pain
Gain and loss
Success and failure
Praise and blame
Our suffering is produced when we
attach to the so-called “positive” side, which is Pleasure, Gain, Success and
Praise and we push away or fight or try to get rid of the so-called “negative”
side, which is Pain, Loss, Failure, Blame. Then we are fighting with our life all the time. Even if we try to hold on to our
pleasure, one of these days, that pleasure is going to “change” to ordinary
life or we are going to lose our pleasure. Or if we avoid our sorrow or push down our failures, or
suppress our negative feelings, they are Not Going To Go Away and they will pop
up in us side-ways or even appear in really bad ways.
This is a slightly more
sophisticated way of understanding your question, “Isn’t desire a bad
thing?” It’s not exactly our human
desires for our life that produce are suffering, it’s the way we hold on to
them or fight for them, or harm other people to get our desires met, that is
the problem. How do we react if we
don’t get that job we wanted, or can’t have children when we want them, or
someone we love dies, etc. These
unavoidable parts of human life need to be met with Love, compassion and
equanimity. That is a
practice. We need to receive all
parts of our life whether we like them or not. This makes us more alive and truly a human being.
So, again, it’s not that we have to
eradicate our human life or get away from life or our goals. True understanding is not escaping
life. As you said, Master all our desires and go to a
monastery. No! In the midst of all our desires:
anger and ignorance arise endlessly, I vow to end them all.
In the midst of all our desires, we
practice receiving life, just as it is, working with our reactions and
unwholesome behaviors, trying to figure out through wisdom, what to do with our
one precious human life. How can
we be somewhat peaceful and satisfied with our life, and be of service to others
and the world? This is the great
question that is answered differently for everyone.
This is called Bodhicitta – the
arising of the Way-seeking mind.
What is my Way? And when
you are 19 that is the all-encompassing question. What should I do? Where do I fit in? How can I rally my
gifts into some kind of service to all beings or some kind of usefulness with
Buddha said that this can be done! That we can find a cessation to:
fighting with our life, and our desire, and trying to satisfy ourselves
alone. We can have a calm,
balanced, integrated life. Thich
Nhat Hanh translates the third noble truth positively, Realizing well-being.
The way Buddha said to do this, was to follow
the eight fold path. Here is his
teaching on “how to” do a life.
Finding wisdom. Understanding impermanence and interdependence. And from
this understanding, you can begin to perceive what is helpful and what is
harmful. We practice and follow
what we think is helpful. Under
wisdom are two limbs of the Path:
understanding or view
intention, aspiration or desire
Contemplating what is healthy and unhealthy in
your own life and having the strong desire, the strong bodhicitta, to try and
act or conform to what you think is healthy. And, laughingly or ironically, our understanding also
changes of what is healthy as we go through the process of living.
Finding concentration, or steadfastness, or
stability in the moment
This is learning to place your mind. This is a kind of mastery as you mentioned. The ability to put your mind where you
want your mind to be. To lead your
mind rather than your mind leading you.
It is an ability to be non-distracted.
This is cultivated through concentration in
meditation or one-pointedness.
This is the ability to take our stability we
find in meditation into the everyday movement of our life.
As we go through the day, we are awake enough or
aware enough, to notice the moments of choice between healthy or
unhealthy. We are aware enough to
be settled in each activity we do.
I have just been studying doing each activity
wholeheartedly and completely and then, letting go of the results of our
activity. We do each thing
completely and we have “no gaining idea” of how this is going to bring the
so-called “I” more pleasure.
We have control of our reactions enough to have
ethical behavior. Our actions in
life match our wisdom. Yeah,
really really important.
i. Right Speech
Following the ethical guidelines of conduct, the
We find a way to make money that doesn’t harm
ourselves or others.
That we become content or settled within our
We find away to give back to the world, even if
it’s a very humble way.
Right effort I put into its own category, in the
center of the whole thing and underlying everything. Right effort is about
“trying”. We are neither too loose
or soft with our effort, nor too tight or rigid. We are always trying to practice better but we are also okay
with things as they are. We don’t
give up on ourselves and we don’t give up on society. We accept things as they are and we try to do better.
Suzuki Roshi says: We are perfect the way we are and we need a
little improvement. :)
Labels: 3 seals, 8 fold path, 8 worldly winds, Bodhicitta, clinging, craving, desire, dukkha, Four Noble Truths