Is our desire part of us?

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Is our desire part of us?

Postby Lysander » Wed Mar 02, 2011 4:11 pm

Hello there, I am new to Buddhism. I hope i can find a satisfactory answer for the question i have here.

Is the prescription for dealing with suffering, i.e. the renunciation of all worldly desires flawed? The desiring part of us -- call it eros, taṇhā, the id, the amygdala, or whatever you will -- is ultimately still a part of us. We are embodied beings, with physical cravings and wants. We can't disown our desires, because they are us.
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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby PeterB » Wed Mar 02, 2011 4:27 pm

If they were us Lysander then they would be the same last year and in ten years time....but they change dont they ? There might be some semblance of continuity,,,but it all changes doesnt it ? And it is never satisfied...as soon as we reach that which we desire...we want it again or something else entirely.
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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby Lysander » Wed Mar 02, 2011 4:31 pm

What about physical desire, such as the need for sleep, food, sex? Do they originate from the mind or the body? How can we separate our self from such needs?
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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby PeterB » Wed Mar 02, 2011 4:45 pm

We are complex psycho-physical beings. We can gain some insight into the way that desires arise by quietening our minds and focussing on an object ( often the breath ) which gives us some gap between the impulse or stimulus arriving, either from our environment or from our thoughts, and our responding to that impulse...this gives a greater range of possible responses . From none, to reckless abandon... :smile: The latter is not often recommended in Buddhism......
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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby daverupa » Wed Mar 02, 2011 9:44 pm

Lysander wrote:What about physical desire, such as the need for sleep, food, sex? Do they originate from the mind or the body? How can we separate our self from such needs?


What sort of self are you separating from those physical needs? What are its characteristics?

Is the answer comprised of those necessities of maintaining this physical form - food, clothing, shelter, and medicine? This is all form. There are four other aggregates where a self is also looked for, and they equally fail to satisfy, but I'd like to see what sort of idea of 'self' you're thinking about.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby Wizard in the Forest » Wed Mar 02, 2011 11:17 pm

To answer the OP, no.
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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby meindzai » Thu Mar 03, 2011 12:07 am

Lysander wrote:Hello there, I am new to Buddhism. I hope i can find a satisfactory answer for the question i have here.

Is the prescription for dealing with suffering, i.e. the renunciation of all worldly desires flawed? The desiring part of us -- call it eros, taṇhā, the id, the amygdala, or whatever you will -- is ultimately still a part of us. We are embodied beings, with physical cravings and wants. We can't disown our desires, because they are us.


Buddhism teaches us that the body has the characteristic "anatta" or "not-self." So no, according to Buddhism there is nothing that can be described as "part of us" or "us." In fact there isn't anything, anywhere, that can have a "self," thus nothing that can be "us."

What about physical desire, such as the need for sleep, food, sex? Do they originate from the mind or the body?


The Buddha's position was that all phenomena have their origin in the mind, or "mind precedes all mental states." See the Dhammapada, a very famous Buddhist text from the Pali Cannon It begins as follows:

Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

How can we separate our self from such needs?


There is really no separation to be made, because of anatta (mentioned above) but to rephrase your question as "how can desire be overcome?" then the answer would be the eightfold path.

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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby Wizard in the Forest » Thu Mar 03, 2011 12:10 am

:goodpost:
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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Mar 03, 2011 2:09 am

There is nothing wrong with desire, desire is normal, it's when desire turns to craving and attachment that it's a problem.

If you desire sleep then sleep, nothing wrong with that, but if you crave sleep when it's inappropriate or unnecessary then there is a problem that should be investigated.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby ground » Thu Mar 03, 2011 2:49 am

Lysander wrote:... The desiring part of us -- call it eros, taṇhā, the id, the amygdala, or whatever you will -- is ultimately still a part of us. We are embodied beings, with physical cravings and wants. We can't disown our desires, because they are us.


"Us" is a mere idea deriving from the mere idea "I" in that there is projecting the mere idea "I" on appearances that lend themselves to identification based on habits.
Remove the mere idea "us" and all that remains is a dependent arising and fading away of what is called "desire" ... sometimes directed to that appearance sometimes to another ... depending on a lack of mindfulness.

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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby Lysander » Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:19 am

Thank you for all the responses, they have been insightful. But it is still difficult to imagine that one day we will be able to still completely our body's desires and needs. How do you go about that?
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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby PeterB » Thu Mar 03, 2011 9:26 am

I am not sure that Buddhism sets out to still all desire as a primary goal ( unlike some forms of Hinduism for example ). That is seen as a by- product of wisdom, of understanding, of Insight.

We undertake certain meditative practice which weaken our identification with the object of desire by focussing instead on things less transient..which gives a degree of peace and tranquility of mind which become self reinforcing.
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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby meindzai » Thu Mar 03, 2011 1:01 pm

Lysander wrote:Thank you for all the responses, they have been insightful. But it is still difficult to imagine that one day we will be able to still completely our body's desires and needs. How do you go about that?


Well like Peter said, Buddhism doesn't set out to simply squash out all forms of desire at once. It comes about through insight. There is nothing inherently wrong with the desire to go to the bathroom. In fact it's highly recommended.

As I mentioned before, you "go about it" via the eightfold path.

The process of abandoning desire through insight might be described as follows. (this is my own words). Human beings (and all beings) suffer. They do not want to suffer. Most do not know the origin of suffering (The first noble truth) so they continue to suffer. If you truly recognize the cause of suffering, then that habitual desire will cease.

When I say "truly recognize" I mean truly, with insight. Not just "it's really gross to bite my nails, so I should stop." I mean when you really, really see that a particular desire is leading to suffering your mind will no longer grasp.

As practice goes, rather than worry about desires like eating and sleeping we tend to focus on ones that cause the largest amount of suffering. Speech and action are big ones, and this is the 4th and 5th part of the eightfold path. That's a lifetime or [insert large number] of practice right there for most of us. Monks (and some laypeople) will practice all out celibacy as well.

Only at the most refined level will all desire cease. It doesn't mean one isn't eating and sleeping anymore, since clearly that is required to live. But it's not craving (tanha) that drives it anymore. One motivation might be said to be compassion, since by sustaining their own body they can teach the dhamma to others. I think there are other motivations but I won't pretend to understand what they might be, as such a person is operating from a completely different framework.

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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby Jason » Thu Mar 03, 2011 4:55 pm

Lysander wrote:Hello there, I am new to Buddhism. I hope i can find a satisfactory answer for the question i have here.

Is the prescription for dealing with suffering, i.e. the renunciation of all worldly desires flawed? The desiring part of us -- call it eros, taṇhā, the id, the amygdala, or whatever you will -- is ultimately still a part of us. We are embodied beings, with physical cravings and wants. We can't disown our desires, because they are us.


That's an excellent question. Science, like Buddhism, doesn't posit a 'self' or soul for their to be things part of; nevertheless, they both recognize the existence of complex and interdependent processes that compose what we collectively call a 'human being.' From a scientific point of view, there are certain pieces of genetically conditioned hardware that seem to correspond to certain psycho-physical activities, and the question is, can something like the noble eightfold path change and/or eliminate those activities.

In this case, I think science would have to at least accept the possibility due to the fact that certain repeated activities and ways of thinking have been shown to literally alter the brain, thereby demonstrating its plasticity; although, I think it'd have to be equally as skeptical since it hasn't been shown to completely eliminate or overcome certain key biological functions. I've been pondering similar questions for a while myself, and I'm still not sure as to the answers, but I do think they're questions worth asking. So while I can't offer you a definitive answer, I can at least share my thoughts on desire from a Buddhist perspective.

In my understanding, desire and craving are ultimately seen as two different but closely related aspects of our psychology: desires (chanda) is a neutral term, and one generally has to have the desire to achieve a goal in order to achieve it, even nibbana (SN 51.15); whereas the Pali word for craving, tahna (literally 'thirst'), is something that's directly tied to suffering.

The second noble truth states that the origination of suffering is "the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming" (SN 56.11). As Thanissaro Bhikkhu explains in Wings to Awakening:

    Craving for sensuality, here, means the desire for sensual objects. Craving for becoming means the desire for the formation of states or realms of being that are not currently happening, while craving for non-becoming means the desire for the destruction or halting of any that are. "Passion and delight," here, is apparently a synonym for the "desire and passion" for the five aggregates that constitutes clinging/sustenance [III/H/ii].

Desire, on the other hand, can be skillful (kusala) and unskillful (akusala). The desire for happiness, especially long-term welfare and happiness, is actually an important part of the Buddhist path. Moreover, desire is listed as one of the four bases of power (iddhipada), which themselves are included in the seven sets of qualities that lead to the end of suffering (MN 103). The four qualities listed in the bases of power are desire, persistence, intent and discrimination. In Wings to Awakening, Thanissaro Bhikkhu points to this passage:

    There is the case where a monk develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on desire & the fabrications of exertion, thinking, 'This desire of mine will be neither overly sluggish nor overly active, neither inwardly restricted nor outwardly scattered.' (Similarly with concentration founded on persistence, intent, and discrimination.)

He goes on to explain that, "This passage shows that the problem lies not in the desire, effort, intent or discrimination, but in the fact that these qualities can be unskillfully applied or improperly tuned to their task." If we take a look at the exchange between Ananda and the brahmin Unnabha in SN 51.15, for example, we can see that the attainment of the goal is indeed achieved through desire, even though paradoxically, the goal is said to be the abandoning of desire. That's because at the end of the path desire, as well as the other three bases of power, subside on their own. As Ananda explains at the end of SN 51.15:

    He earlier had the desire for the attainment of arahantship, and when he atained arahantship, the corresponding desire subsided. He earlier had aroused energy for the attainment of arahantship, and when he attained arahantship, the corresponding energy subsided. He earlier had made up his mind to attain arahantship, and when he attained arahantship, the corresponding resolution subsided. He earlier had made an investigation for the attainment of arahantship, and when he attained arahantship, the corresponding investigation subsided. (Bodhi)

However, since the second noble truth states that suffering is caused by any kind of craving that leads to becoming, how can the end of suffering be attained if it seems the desire to end it is itself a possible cause of suffering? The answer does present somewhat of a paradox; and to make sense of it, I suggest checking out Thanissaro Bhikkhu's book The Paradox of Becoming for a detailed look at what the Buddha means when talking about becoming (bhava) and how he resolves this apparent paradox. In this, I think it's possible that desire (as well as craving) can be overcome.
Last edited by Jason on Thu Mar 03, 2011 5:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby Nibbida » Thu Mar 03, 2011 5:08 pm

In line with the anatta stuff above, the desire can be viewed as a passing event, rather than a defining part of a lasting, separate self.
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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby Lysander » Thu Mar 03, 2011 7:48 pm

Thank you Jason, you understood what i was trying to get at since i am pretty bad at expressing my thoughts. :embarassed:

It is just that in trying to understand the concept of nirvana, of consciousness without a physical body is difficult for me to accept intellectually.
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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby Jason » Thu Mar 03, 2011 8:30 pm

Lysander wrote:Thank you Jason, you understood what i was trying to get at since i am pretty bad at expressing my thoughts. :embarassed:


For what it's worth, I think you expressed yourself just fine. It's just difficult to answer questions such as this using conventional language without it being misinterpreted, that's all.

It is just that in trying to understand the concept of nirvana, of consciousness without a physical body is difficult for me to accept intellectually.


Well, in the Suttas, nibbana is defined as the end of suffering, the extinction of craving (AN 10.60), the extinguishing of greed, hatred and delusion (SN 38.1). Beyond that, it's open to interpretation (e.g., you can find some of my crazy, speculative thoughts about it here).
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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby rowyourboat » Mon Mar 07, 2011 6:54 pm

I think we often confuse 'desire' with 'intention'. If the body tells us it needs, food water etc- this does not mean that the ability to respond to that is a ..craving, for want of a better word. I find the word 'desire' confusing because it supposes we are attracted to something- that we are not free from that attraction. I would stick with the word tanha which simply means craving, then you have cetana, which means intention to do something- this can be with or without craving/tanha.

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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby dhammapal » Tue Mar 08, 2011 1:47 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Here are some of the arguments these (inner) voices may propose, along with a few effective responses:
<snip>
Trying to change your desires is an attack on your very self. This argument works only if you give your sense of self — which is really just a grab bag of desires — more solidity than it deserves. You can turn the argument on its head by noting that since your "self" is a perpetually changing line-up of strategies for happiness, you might as well try changing it in a direction more likely to achieve true happiness.
From: Pushing the Limits: Desire & Imagination in the Buddhist Path by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: Is our desire part of us?

Postby rowyourboat » Tue Mar 08, 2011 3:26 pm

Hi dhammapal,

Nice quote- I think Thanissaro is talking about stubbornness (ahankara?), another defilement we need to be aware of and remove. Also a positive quality 'the ability to take advice'/ease of instructing (suvaca) comes to mind.

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