Monday, February 21, 9994

Desire


When we place importance on the world, i.e., when we view things of the world as being important in and of themselves rather than learning aids, this illusion creates desire for worldly things. (Desire in this context means more than just want. It means that not getting what we want will result in emotional pain.) We might view our reputation, or a dogma, or a physical object, or a career, or a relationship, as sacred. This error causes a painful emotion called fear. What is fear? The unpleasant notion that a desire will not be fulfilled. We realize that the worldly thing we consider so important is unstable because all worldly things are temporary, and so we know that it can be taken away at any time. Our reputation lasts only as long as other people believe it. A dogma lasts only as long as we believe it. An object lasts only until it is broken or lost. Our career lasts only as long as someone pays us for it. A relationship lasts only as long as both people want to be in it. We live in fear of losing or not getting these things. If we can only remember that nothing here is important beyond what it can teach us, there will be no desire and no fear because 1) we can never lose anything truly valuable, and 2) the loss of any learning aid merely frees us to find another learning aid. The only thing that lasts is the true self, and since that can never be lost, there is no fear of losing it. 

Another cause of desire is a sense of lack, which is caused by not knowing or accepting oneself. Desiring and pursuing anything is a substitute for finding oneself. It comes from the dissatisfaction of self-ignorance. Unaware of the true cause of our feeling of lack, we might look to external objects as anchors and believe that if we could only attain that job, that relationship partner, that house, that accomplishment, then the inner emptiness would disappear. But when we manage to attain our goal, are we then fulfilled for the rest of our life? Of course not. The existential emptiness is still there because nothing in this world can fill it, so desire returns and we then pursue something else in an endless cycle of want and striving. It’s just one damn thing after another: brief periods of relief followed by long stretches of worry, toil, and frustration.

Not only is desire caused by a feeling of lack, it causes it too. There is a constant feeling of grasping and desperation. We feel as though we cannot be happy until we get a particular thing. In fact, we choose to be unhappy until we get it. We spend hours, weeks, or even years in a state of dissatisfaction, then when we attain our goal we are satisfied for a while, and eventually desire returns, making us dissatisfied again. We spend more than 90% of our life in misery. 

When we desire something, we really desire a state of non-desire, because we believe that getting the desired object will put an end to that desire. So we don’t really desire the object – we simply want the bliss of pure being. The ego knows nothing of pure being, so it mistakenly believes that bliss comes from objects. No matter how many objects it might acquire, it never reaches a state of lasting bliss, yet it insists on chasing desired object after desired object. It stays on the fruitless path because it knows nothing of the true self, which is the only source of lasting bliss.

When we focus on one thing and go after it, we miss all the other stuff along the way. It is very limiting. It is a deliberate rejection of everything else that life has to offer.

Desire is one of the main causes of suffering. (This is one of the tenets of Buddhism.) We desire a lot of things: social acceptance, health, wealth, sex, possessions, entertainment. It feels good to get these desires met and bad when they are not met. We live our lives pursuing them, sometimes “winning” and sometimes “losing”, sometimes enjoying and sometimes suffering. Additionally, we sometimes do things we later regret in the pursuit of what we desire, so that we suffer even greater pain than if we had simply let the desire go unmet.


Desire takes us out of the present moment and makes us fail to appreciate what we have. We might be taking a walk on a beautiful sunny day, but if we are thinking that we'd rather be on a beach in Jamaica, or making love to a supermodel, then we miss the good stuff that is happening right now. We are missing life! 

Desire create a psychological hole that can be filled only by what is desired. If/when the object is attained, for the most part all it does is fill the hole, so there is no overall gain. But if there were no desire, that hole wouldn't be there in the first place, so even our mundane experiences would be positive.

Desire is not a necessary part of life – it is created by the ego. Therefore it is impossible to decrease desire as long as the false self is at the helm, because that is what generates desire in the first place. This is why most people’s attempts at shedding desire fail. The way to get rid of desire is to get rid of the source: ego. When ego diminishes, desire will diminish as an unintentional consequence. It’s like putting out a fire: spraying water at the flames won’t work; it is the pile of straw or wood underneath that must be doused.

This removes the question of whether we should decrease desire. Desire is not the issue; ego is. Desire, like conceit, arrogance, hatred and resentment, is merely a by-product of ego. None of these negative feelings will go away without shedding the ego, so it is absurd to try to get rid of them directly.


When we find ourselves, there is no longer a sense of lack, and the desire for externals vanishes. We feel blissful just being, regardless of what is happening around us.

Can we enjoy things if we don't desire them? Yes. The fact that we don’t desire doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy. The company of loved ones, delicious food, and a beautiful day are all just as enjoyable as ever. The only difference is that we don’t torture ourselves with desire until we get them, nor do we worry that we won’t. This can be difficult to understand while the ego is active. The ego believes that all pleasant things must be desired. The true self knows that certain things are pleasant, and makes efforts to get them, but it does so in a detached manner, free of worry and yearning. For example, let's say our roof leaks. We call a roofer, or we fix it ourselves. Thinking and worrying about getting the roof fixed (activities of the ego) do not stop the leak. We can arrange roof repair without stressful, negative thought and emotion.

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