Buddhists facing desire

- through Fabrice Groult

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Or how to live desire without being its slave.

The Dalai Lama often reminds us that sentient beings desire to find happiness and avoid suffering. But the perception of happiness is relative. As Khyentse Norbu points out in his book Is not a Buddhist who wants, “for some humans, being happy means managing to survive; for others, it's owning 700 pairs of shoes. We all have the experience of an unfulfilled desire, which then becomes synonymous with dissatisfaction, even deeper suffering. Buddhist teachings consider craving-attachment as one of the three main poisons of our existence, along with anger-aversion and ignorance (the latter referring to our habitual tendency to deny reality).

In any case, it is not desire as such that generates suffering. "No one will dispute that it is natural to desire and that desire plays a driving role in our lives", recalls Matthieu Ricard in Plea for happiness, where a whole chapter is devoted to desire. Where the shoe pinches is when the desire becomes so pressing that it turns into “mental poison” and “uncontrollable attachment”. “When one is obsessed with a thing or a being, the possession or enjoyment of these becomes in our eyes an absolute necessity. But greed is a source of torment. Moreover, this “possession” can only be precarious, momentary and constantly questioned”, underlines the French Buddhist monk.

On to the suffering!

This outlines the process at the origin of suffering. First, I see, hear, taste, smell, touch or conceive something in my mind. From this first contact with my senses is born a sensation. If it is pleasant, I want it to continue. Oh yes, again (wine, sex, travel…)! The situation gets worse when I let myself be carried away by these desires. Then begins the attachment. A good part of my actions are now aimed at achieving my ends. “As a result, we rush with greed. We forget to see what surrounds us, we no longer see the other. We can lack attention to what surrounds us, and be ready for anything”, deciphers Jean-Pierre Faure, from the tradition of Zen Soto.

Then comes the moment when my desire, inevitably, is no longer satisfied (I had a liver attack, my spouse left, I have no more money…). It is dissatisfaction. Worse, if you are really addicted (drugs, alcohol, etc.), what suffering! Without knowing it, we have fallen into the pattern described by the Buddha 2500 years ago: the four truths of the nobles. The first: the truth of suffering – notice that the same logic also works for an unpleasant sensation, such as physical or mental pain, the desire then being to escape it.

“When one is obsessed with a thing or a being, the possession or enjoyment of these becomes in our eyes an absolute necessity. But greed is a source of torment. » Matthew Ricard

Buddhists use several methods to stop or transform this process. Because the objective of the Buddha was not to see us suffer, but to help us discover the causes of our suffering (2nd truth of the nobles), the cessation of this suffering (3rd truth) and finally the path that leads to this cessation (4th truth). This path, also called the Eightfold Path, includes "a part of ethical behavior, a part of training the mind to master it and a part of wisdom", recalls Ajahn Pannavaddho of the tradition of the monks of the forest (Theravada ). Minimum ethical behavior includes the five moral precepts, which, when applied, lead us to give up certain desires: "Refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false or abusive words, and consuming products that cloud the mind such as alcohol or drugs”. But theory is not enough. So that the desires finally leave us space, we calm the mind through meditation: it is the training of the spirit. When this is well mastered, we develop wisdom through analytical meditation. “You turn inward and observe things very closely, starting with your own body: where does it come from? Where is he going ? Is he what I call "me"? We have to find our own answers,” continues Ajahn Pannavaddho. “By meditating in this way, I can sometimes free myself from the idea that I am identified with this body, this character, this profession, etc. I rediscover that the "me" has no intrinsic existence. Emotions, including desire, are losing their grip on me. But if I stop meditating for a while, the illusion comes back,” testifies Caroline, who meditates regularly.

In the Vajrayana, "desire is the throne of enlightenment"

It was by practicing Vipassana (Theravada) meditation intensively that Jean-Christophe broke away from old habits. “Smoking drugs, drinking alcohol, having multiple desires for sex, gambling, madness: like most people, we test, we try to do ourselves good. But when one meditates for periods of ten to twenty days, one renounces action, pleasures. We do not feed the body with sensations. The more I observed my habits, the more I recognized them. Thanks to that, when they come alive in everyday life, I recognize them too. And at some point, certain habits stop. This is the great law of nature taught by the Buddha: impermanence. »

In Zen (Mahayana), it is not about giving up, but about realizing the emptiness of all desire. The forms of the mind are endless, and desire is one of them. “We can't kill him, we have to understand him for what he is and leave him in his rightful place. It's about embracing reality. It is not a question of running away from any form, but of inhabiting the forms, of understanding their essence and of seeing that at the bottom of each form, there is non-form. And this non-form is the return of this religious experience of unity, which is plenitude, contentment”, describes Jean-Pierre Faure.

In Vajrayana, the vehicle of transformation, desire can become a path to enlightenment. “I understood that in fact we were made of these three poisons (desire, anger and ignorance), that our whole life is based on these three energies and that I cannot get rid of them. Gradually, I became familiar with them through meditation, through life with others, by being for couples, etc. And at a certain point in my practice, I discovered that my primordial consciousness, my mind of clarity, could manifest itself through emotions,” says Etienne, a Vajrayana practitioner. “In the Tantric Vehicle one applies skillful means to transmute desire into the wisdom of discernment. In the Sutra of Inconceivable Freedom of Vimalakirti, it is said that “desire is the throne of enlightenment. "Disturbing emotions are seen as forces which, well used and oriented, can make it possible to practice even more effectively for enlightenment", underlines Jigmé Thrinlé Gyatso, lama of the Drukpa Kargyü lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Long live desire, provided you are its master, not its slave.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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