Buddhist Reflection: Killing All Desire vs. Desiring Less

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“Flowers, though we may be attached to them, still fall while weeds, though we may hate them, still flourish” ~Dogen

I recently picked up this neat little book titled Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between by Brad Warner. For those of you haven’t heard of Brad Warner or read any his books you are missing out. As an author Warner delivers a deep thought-provoking analysis on Buddhist philosophy in a very “in your face” and witty way. Let me just throw out there that not only is Warner a Soto Zen priest but he was a regular writer for suicidegirls.com. That should give you a pretty good idea of who this Warner character is.

Anyway in the book Warner touches on the topic of desires and having attachments. According to Buddhism, desires (or attachments) are the root of all suffering and the only way to reach enlightenment is to cease all desires. Of course, this sounds a lot easier than it really is. Is it truly possible to go through life not desiring anything at all? I mean nothing. Not a new car. A spouse and children. A better job. I honestly don’t think it’s possible and neither does Warner.

What we call self and what we call nonself are one and the same. Our real attachments to everyone and everything we encounter run so deep and so strong that we couldn’t possibly break them, no matter how hard we tried. We are fundamentally attached to everything.

Warner then points out something very profound. He states that the real goal is not killing all desire but rather learning how to desire less. I think that he is right on the mark with that. This philosophy seems to be the most realistic approach to the hindrance of desires. As I’ve already established, it can’t be possible to go through your entire life not desiring anything. Cultivating such a level of detachment would make one robotic and somewhat of a sociopath. There’s no way to be in touch with things when you are so far removed. Almost as though you’re in denial that the desire exists, which, in my opinion, is much more dangerous than the desire itself.   However, when one learns how to desire less you are still recognizing what’s there, you just aren’t allowing yourself to be completely ruled by it, ultimately creating more peace within your life. Warner says

If you can recognize your attachments, that in itself is very good. Most people never do. It’s useful to see your attachments for what they are, just thoughts inside your head. The lighter your attachments are, the easier your life will be, because nothing stays one way forever…the real goal of Zen is to find a way of life that’s easy and undramatic.

The thing with Buddhism is that it does not define anything as right or wrong. Things just are. If something is skillful then you keep it. If it’s not, you toss it. It’s pretty much that simple. I think that desire is one of those things that has the potential to be useful. It’s what motivates us the most. For some, it pushes us to do great things and for others not so much. It can be tool to make necessary life changes or a hindrance that brings difficulty.  It’s all in how one manages it.

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