How to distinguish desire from love? Desiring to reach enlightenment is not falling into an ego trip? Buddhist teachings say: the emotion of desire is not bad in itself provided you remain in control of it. In theory, Theravada disciples watch it until it passes away, Mahayana practitioners see its empty nature, and Vajrayana practitioners transform it into wisdom. But in reality, in the face of love, death and the traps of the ego, everyone does what they can with the means at hand.
desire and love
Robert, a long-time Mahayana practitioner with Thich Nhat Hanh, has been living as a couple for several decades. “In the beginning, there was a lot of physical desire between us. True love came after many years, when we had to go through difficulties. Today, I feel much more love than physical desire for my wife. As a practitioner of meditation, when I feel anger rising within me or the need to criticize it, I remain silent and watch what is happening within me. Often I see that the problem is not with my spouse, but with myself. Part of love is loving kindness, learning to love another for who they are, with all that is wrong, and discovering that most of the time, what is wrong, it is in us, not coming from the other. Previously, I did not see it, I was in bad faith. When we experience this, it happens that we still have words, but it is increasingly rare. »
Jean-Christophe, practitioner of Vipassana meditation, gives his two visions of love: “There is unconditional love and more personal love, which implies a notion of belonging. The latter is the common love, that of passion, of addiction, of the desire to be with the other all the time. These are great sensations, but we become dependent, we are no longer free. »
What sexuality for Buddhists?
The Theravada and Vajrayana monks who took the vows of vinaya, the code of monastic discipline, which imply chastity, must therefore abstain from carnal pleasures. Note that in Tibetan Buddhism, not all lamas (spiritual teachers) are monks, and in Mahayana, monks and nuns are allowed to live as a couple.
“Physical desire is a powerful component of being human. This is one of the biggest generators of emotion…. There is much more at stake in this path of union than romantic-sentimental cooing. » Dzongsar Khyentse
Lay practitioners are advised to abandon negative actions that cause suffering. Among them is sexual misconduct. For His Holiness the Dalai Lama, it is "the misuse of sexuality, which mainly refers to adultery, a major cause of family problems" (see box To go further). What worries him above all are the problems that this type of situation causes in children when the family is divided. Her advice: “Couples who don't want to live together long enough to have a family should try not to have children. Other than that, as long as all parties agree and no one gets hurt, people can do whatever they want. »
In Tantric Buddhism or Vajrayana, sexuality is sometimes used by rare confirmed practitioners as a way of enlightenment. Sexual pleasure is no longer an end in itself, but a means of working with sensations to progress towards the release of attachments. “Physical desire is a powerful component of being human. It is one of the biggest generators of emotion… There is much more at stake in this path of union than romantic-sentimental cooings”, confides Dzongsar Khyentsé in The guru drinks bourbon?
Desire for death
Robert regularly visits monasteries founded by Thich Nhat Hanh in France. “Some people are not well at all. Monastics and teachers are available for them. We practice benevolent listening, silent accompaniment, without questioning them about their problems. We give them the freedom to enter our practice, to learn how to walk, to sit… It's the only thing we can do. During group meditation practices, there is also a moment of sharing on the teaching. We leave space for everyone to express themselves. It's not a support group or psychotherapy, it's a place of trust. We offer a family, friendship, listening, silence, while knowing that many will leave and end up being annihilated, we cannot prevent it. »
Yves Boudéro, who became the Buddhist monk Jigmé Thrinlé Gyatso in the path of Vajrayana, reminds us in this regard that “the desire for death often comes from guilt which itself leads to anger, even hatred towards oneself. It is better to look at and accept suffering as a result of the maturation of our negative acts of this life or past lives first, then implement the methods of the Buddhist path which allow the purification of negative karmas. »
Awakening Desire, Ego Desires
There are also positive desires, such as doing good or achieving enlightenment. But as soon as we try to be benevolent, the desire to satisfy our ego awaits us. How to share things?
For Robert, who has been teaching the Dharma for several years, “benevolence is just a practice, a direction. If we put a will in it, it is the ego that we feed. As a Dharma teacher, I realized that one is lifted up by practitioners. So the ego can get inflated quickly, that happened to me too. We give ourselves importance. There is a real risk of tipping over to the side of the ego. If I am fully aware of this, this is changing rapidly. Thanks to mindfulness, I know how not to get carried away. As we practice a lot in community, we are also confronted with each other: then this tendency of the ego is revealed, which allows us to correct it. Thich Nhat Hanh has an exceptional ability to never get caught up in anything, neither bad nor good. »
Jigmé Thrinlé Gyatso recalls the importance of “discernment which makes it possible to distinguish between selfish desire and altruistic desire. He comes by dint of practicing under the advice of an authentic master. At the beginning, this one shows us our wanderings. Then it's the outside world that pulls us back in the right direction. Then our inner experience. The practice must be devoid of personal intention. This is why, to dissolve any form of egocentric grasping, the Buddhist path begins with the learning of renunciation. This is based on the study and understanding of impermanence, and the suffering that arises from any attachment. Even attaining enlightenment is dedicated to the good of others. So you have to be very honest with yourself. »