Buddhism & Desire

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Buddhism & Desire

Postby shinchan » Wed Nov 03, 2010 9:09 am

What do you think Buddha meant by desire?

Was he speaking of all desires or simply compulsive, evil, and self-destructive desire such as addiction, the desire for vengeance, and the compulsion to engage in weird, kinky sex orgies.

Personally, I tend to believe he was speaking of the latter since that is what makes sense to me. But be that as it may, I can't recount any Buddhist scripture in which Shakyamuni clarifies this teaching and says that he only means 'evil' or self-destructive compulsions.

Epicurus was another philosopher who delved into the nature of desire quite thoroughly. Though he is considered a hedonist, this is not really accurate. For Epicurus, the state of being free of pain was considered the highest level of attainment. Since pursuing and indulging in pleasures often resulted in future pain he actually discouraged his disciples from hedonism and told them to curb their desires. Epicurus divided desires into 3 categories:

1. Natural & Necessary. These are things which relieve pain.This includes necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, and possibly sex (though Epicurus recommended celibacy to those who were capable of it).

2. Natural but not Necessary. These things don't serve to relieve pain, but they can add to the pleasure of life, such as expensive foods, hot baths, and other luxuries.

3. Neither Natural nor Necessary. These are the desires that can really get you in trouble. The craving for power, wealth, and fame. Epicurus considered these desires to be evil and that they must be rooted out and destroyed if one is ever to be free of pain.

Now obviously Buddha could not have been referring to category 1 when he said that desire was the root of suffering. Shakyamuni stated many times that he was not in favor of asceticism; which is what denying category 1 desires would mean in practice.

Likewise, it's clear that category 3 desires were definitely considered to be harmful by Shakyamuni since by indulging in them we will almost inevitably harm others and ourselves (ever heard of the lottery curse?).

What interests me is category 2. I have to admit that these are the types of desires that I indulge in the most. I love good food (though not expensive), sweet, sugary drinks, and my highly evolved aesthetic sense pretty much compels me to spend whatever is necessary to make myself look good.

What your opinion? Do you have any?
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Re: Buddhism & Desire

Postby Sherab » Wed Nov 03, 2010 10:40 am

One of the four seals: all contaminated phenomena is suffering (dukkha)

Therefore, as long as desire is contaminated by the grasping at a self, it is suffering.
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Re: Buddhism & Desire

Postby Astus » Wed Nov 03, 2010 11:38 am

What you talk about as desire is put under "kama-trsna/tanha", ie. sensual desire. There's a study discovering desire in the Pali Canon: The Philosophy of Desire in the Buddhist Pali Canon by David Webster. You might want to take a look at it. There's also a short summary of this topic: Three Kinds of Desire.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Buddhism & Desire

Postby shinchan » Wed Nov 03, 2010 11:59 am

Astus, the link you provided was very informative but it raised some questions which I wish you would clarify if you have time (I know your time must be valuable; so you don't have to answer if it would take too long).

So even the desire to be rid of desire (a form of vibhava tanha) was still considered a desire by Shakyamuni? But if this desire is renounced completely, then am I not back to where I started? Even more alarmingly, I think this might lead to an infinite series of 'meta-desires': the desire to be rid of the desire to be rid of the desire to be rid of.... ad infininitum. That can't be what he meant.

Or is it that I must let go of vibhava tanha, along with bhava tanha and kama tanha? In other words, no desire for sensual pleasure, wealth, or prestige but also no desire to be rid of these desires or to be rid of any other condition (which would be redundant anyways, given the elimination of the previous two)?

It is difficult for me to understand how you be free of bhava and kama tanha without holding onto vibhava tanha -at least the specific case of of vibhava tanha which drives you to be free of bhava and kama tanha.
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Re: Buddhism & Desire

Postby Astus » Wed Nov 03, 2010 2:18 pm

Shinchan,

Your question was raised long before by a certain brahmana:

"If that's so, Master Ananda, then it's an endless path, and not one with an end, for it's impossible that one could abandon desire by means of desire."

Read the whole story: SN 51.15
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Buddhism & Desire

Postby Individual » Wed Nov 03, 2010 3:18 pm

Desire is the suffering that is independent of pain, the hunger & thirst that is independent of physical hunger & thirst, pain of not having what one wants or being in the presence of what one opposes; like being hooked on heroin or cigarettes, an addict, but our drug is three-fold: sensory pleasures, objects of form, and states of mind. In this realm, our main focus is the addiction to sensual pleasures.
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Re: Buddhism & Desire

Postby Individual » Wed Nov 03, 2010 3:20 pm

Astus wrote:Shinchan,

Your question was raised long before by a certain brahmana:

"If that's so, Master Ananda, then it's an endless path, and not one with an end, for it's impossible that one could abandon desire by means of desire."

Read the whole story: SN 51.15

I vaguely remember a similar sutta which stated the opposite?

You can't extinguish tanha with tanha, but tanha is not the same thing as cetana. Cetana can be wholesome and wholesome cetana can extinguish tanha.
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Re: Buddhism & Desire

Postby shinchan » Thu Nov 04, 2010 3:40 am

Ah, so vibhava tanha is actually necessary to eradicate the other two, after which is passes away of it's own accord. Hearing it like that makes it seem so obvious, I wonder how I could question it. I suppose the last link left me with the false impression that vibhava tanha was also something to be overcome but perhaps I was simply thinking of it in the wrong context.

Directed correctly, vibhava tanha leads to the end of desire but wrongly directed it could manifest as a desire to die or be unconscious, or perhaps even the desire to kill others --which Shakyamuni would clearly be against. Vibhava tanha seems to be the counterpoint tobhava tanha. The desire to become versus the desire to unbecome.

Thank you Astus.
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Re: Buddhism & Desire

Postby 5heaps » Thu Nov 04, 2010 2:15 pm

shinchan wrote:Ah, so vibhava tanha is actually necessary to eradicate the other two, after which is passes away of it's own accord. Hearing it like that makes it seem so obvious, I wonder how I could question it. I suppose the last link left me with the false impression that vibhava tanha was also something to be overcome but perhaps I was simply thinking of it in the wrong context.
it is something to overcome. the Buddha is saying that you can in fact use desire to overcome it, "Whatever desire he first had for the attainment of arahantship, on attaining arahantship that particular desire is allayed."

we can get into a complicated discussion about mental factors, mind, imputation etc or we can simply differentiate between ignorant liking (desire) / ignorant disliking (aversion) and constructive liking / constructive disliking. the ignorant versions are fabricated out of ignorance (appearance of self to person and things). the constructive versions arent fabricated since they resemble/abide with the nature of mind -- emptiness. so Buddhas and arhats still have motivations and desires (ie. lets help everyone), but since these things dont resemble any samsaric counterpart we basically cant call them desire and aversion.
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Re: Buddhism & Desire

Postby shinchan » Fri Nov 05, 2010 12:12 pm

so Buddhas and arhats still have motivations and desires (ie. lets help everyone), but since these things dont resemble any samsaric counterpart we basically cant call them desire and aversion.


Yes, this is what I have always suspected must be the case since to liberate and help all sentient beings --part of the bodhisattva vow-- sounds like a desire to me.

Apropos to this, has anyone ever come across this alternative version of the 2nd Noble Truth? It states:

Suffering is caused by the Three Poisons of greed, hatred and delusion.

To me, this seems far more precise and to the point than the more widespread version which attributes suffering to 'desire'. I found this alternative 2nd Noble Truth in a book on Shin Buddhism by Kenneth Tanaka by the title of Ocean: An Introduction to Jodo-Shinshu Buddhism in America. This is the only book I have ever seen it in and since then I have wondered about it's source. Did Kenneth Tanaka come up with it on his own or does it have a more traditional origin?
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Re: Buddhism & Desire

Postby Individual » Fri Nov 05, 2010 3:07 pm

5heaps wrote:so Buddhas and arhats still have motivations and desires (ie. lets help everyone)

Actually, I don't think they do, because they don't think like that, like we do. But yes, what you said is OK. You could say that. It's not wrong or anything. :)
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Re: Buddhism & Desire

Postby 5heaps » Fri Nov 05, 2010 5:18 pm

shinchan wrote:This is the only book I have ever seen it in and since then I have wondered about it's source. Did Kenneth Tanaka come up with it on his own or does it have a more traditional origin?
his position is the historical position. for example at the center of wheel of life paintings there are 3 animals which represent ignorant liking (desire), ignorant disliking (aversion), and ignorance. ignorance is symbolized by a pig and the other 2 animals are supposed to be coming out of the mouth of the pig
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Re: Buddhism & Desire

Postby LastLegend » Mon Apr 04, 2011 8:42 am

Desires are any forms of attachments that we are attached to. For example, attachment to knowledge of Buddhism. As long as there is one string of attachment holding us back, we will not be able to detach from cycle of death and rebirth or the 6 realms of death and rebirth. So in saying this, we should get an idea of our goal in practicing Buddhism. Why? Simply Mind cannot be empty when it is attached to even one thing.
NAMO AMITABHA
NAM MO A DI DA PHAT (VIETNAMESE)
NAMO AMITUOFO (CHINESE)
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Re: Buddhism & Desire

Postby cooran » Mon Apr 04, 2011 9:25 am

Hello all,

Whether desire is wholesome or unwholesome is an important consideration.

The Buddha taught of both wholesome and unwholesome forms of desire.

Here is the Pali and references to where and how each form of desire is used in the Pali Suttas:

Chanda: intention, desire, will.
1. As an ethically neutral psychological term, in the sense of 'intention', it is one of those general mental properties cetasika Tab. II taught in the Abhidhamma, the moral quality of which is determined by the character of the intention cetanā associated therewith. The Com. explains it as 'a wish to do' kattu-kamyatā-chanda If intensified, it acts also as a 'predominance condition' see: paccaya 3.
2. As an evil quality it has the meaning of 'desire', and is frequently coupled with terms for 'sensuality', 'greed', etc., for instance:kāma-cchanda, sense-desire', one of the 5 hindrances see: nīvarana chanda-rāga 'lustful desire' see: kāma It is one of the 4 wrong paths see: agati.
3. As a good quality it is a righteous will or alertness dhamma-chanda and occurs, e.g. in the formula of the 4 right efforts see: padhāna The Bhikkhu rouses his will chandam janeti...; If intensified, it is one of the 4 roads to power see: iddhipāda
http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Bud ... dic3_c.htm

Tanhā: lit. 'thirst': 'craving', is the chief root of suffering, and of the ever-continuing cycle of rebirths.;What, o Bhikkhus, is the origin of suffering? It is that craving which gives rise to ever-fresh rebirth and, bound up with pleasure and lust, now here, now there, finds ever fresh delight. It is the sensual craving kāma-tanhā the craving for existence bhava-tanhā the craving for non-existence vibhava-tanhā D. 22. T. is the 8th link in the formula of the dependent origination paticcasamuppāda. Cf. sacca.

Corresponding to the 6 sense-objects, there are 6 kinds of craving craving for visible objects, for sounds, odours, tastes, bodily contacts, mental contacts rūpa-, sadda-, gandha-, rasa-, photthabba-, dhamma-tanhā M. 9; D. 15

Corresponding to the 3-fold existence, there are 3 kinds: craving for sensual existence kāma-tanhā for fine-material existence rūpa-tanhā for immaterial existence arūpa-tanhā D. 33

There are 18 'thought-channels of craving' tanhā-vicarita induced internally, and 18 induced externally; and as occurring in past, present and future, they total 108; see A. IV, 199; Vibh., Ch. 17 Khuddakavatthu-Vibhanga.

According to the dependent origination, craving is conditioned by feeling; on this see D. 22 section on the 2nd Truth.

Of craving for existence bhava-tanhā it is said A. X, 62:;No first beginning of the craving for existence can be perceived, o Bhikkhus, before which it was not and after which it came to be. But it can he perceived that craving for existence has its specific condition. I say, o Bhikkhus, that also craving for existence has its condition that feeds it sāharam and is not without it. And what is it? 'Ignorance', one has to reply.; - Craving for existence and ignorance are called;the outstanding causes that lead to happy and unhappy destinies courses of existence; see: Vis.M XVII, 36-42.
The most frequent synonyms of tanhā are rāga and lobha see: mūla .
http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Bud ... dic3_t.htm

with metta,
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