Thursday, February 3, 2011

De-Sire Is Not a River in Egypt

There's a lot of talk about desire, wanting, and detachment in Buddhism that's often misunderstood.  Desire is considered the cause of suffering so a lot of people think we're supposed to get rid of it.

But what makes it so bad?  We're not ascetics so getting rid of it is a little extreme.

I've recently been finding a lot of interesting dualities, the kind that exist as opposite sides of the same coin.  Desire and denial are two that have popped up.  Desire is usually associated with wanting, you give in to it and end up wallowing in excess.  Give in to denial and you go the other way, living with nothing.

In the whole mix of mindfulness and living in the moment, denial and desire are very much related. 

When we desire something, it's usually because we're unhappy with the way things are.  We want something we don't have, or want something to be different in the past, present or future.  In this way, desire is a denial of what really is.  We deny the reality of the moment.

Getting rid of desire is like taking medicine to control the symptoms rather than the disease.  Sometimes a headache is just a headache, just as wanting that flashy phone or juicy cheeseburger is just a want.  But other times a headache is something more.

Families or loved ones are often considered one such "headache" by some.  They find distress in loving their families when being told to give up attachments and desires.

In this situation what is it that desire denies?  Our desire to care and protect those we love is a good thing, giving us reason to be balanced and productive in life.  Any denial involved in doing so is healthy, usually considered compassionate. 

Where desire causes problems is when they're not met.  All desires are are preconceived notions of what we want life to be.  Just like all preconceived ideas, they're usually not founded in reality.  Even if we get what we believe our desires to be fulfilled, they almost never match up with what expected and even if they do, the thrill dissipates over time.

This is the type of desire we're warned against.  It'll still happen, there's no way to get rid of it.  We're hardwired to want more because our bodies can never be permanently satisfied.

This is where attachment comes into play.  If we get hooked on the dissatisfaction with not having out desires met, we continue to deny reality.  This is the root of suffering.  Having desires is okay, it's not letting go of them when they don't measure up.

Taking families as an example, no one's family is perfect.  The one's that are happy with their families are the ones that accept this.  Letting go of that standard prevents dissatisfaction.

Standards are relative and mostly arbitrary so it's not the desires that cause the issues so much as our unwillingness to realize the nature of our standards and holding on to them.

Reality is as it is, our actions have brought us to where we are.  Denying reality puts us at odds with truth, making us unhappy.

Only through being aware of this gives us the perspective to correct our views and behaviors.

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