Sunday, July 10, 2011

On Desire and Desirelessness

"Desire is a subject upon which . . . true views can only be arrived at by an almost complete reversal of the ordinary, unreflecting opinion.
-- Bertrand Russell --
A seemingly unquenchable desire is the baseline state of the ego. Physical desire thwarted by circumstance or other people breeds anger. Sexual desire unfulfilled breeds lust. Existential desire unexamined breeds further ignorance as to our human condition. And these three states - anger, lust and ignorance - are, of course, the 'Three Poisons' which the Buddha identified as the ties that keeps the unawakened being bound to the wheel of samsara (continual rebirths) in a state of dukkha, or suffering.

Who amongst us has not been convinced at one time or another that obtaining that new car, house, job, new lover etc., would fulfill us? And who, two, three or six months later, has not been just as seemingly unhappy and unfulfilled after obtaining our heart's desire? And who amongst us has not struggled with the existential struggle over the inevitability of our own death? All these struggles, blind alleys, and frustrations are a result of our unexamined desires.

If, as is possible, we "master" desire, writes William Irvine, "we will experience what . . . has been the goal of most of those who have thought carefully about desire - a feeling of tranquility . . . marked by a sense that we are lucky to be living whatever life we happen to be living - that despite our circumstances, no key ingredient of happiness is missing."

"With this sense," Irvine observes, " comes a diminished level of anxiety: we no longer need to obsess over new things - a new car, a bigger house, a firmer abdomen - that we mistakenly believe will bring lasting happiness if only we can obtain them. Most importantly, if we master desire, to the extent it is possible to do so, we will no longer despise the life we are forced to live and will no longer daydream about living the life someone else is living; instead we will embrace our own life and live it to the fullest."
[William B. Irvine,"On Desire: Why We Want What We Want,"pp. 6-7.]

To master desire, however, requires a radical acceptance of what is, an attitude of unconditional love without conditions or even objects, an attitude I have described elsewhere as an acceptive consciousness which is as different from our ordinary, egoic self-consciousness, as such self-consciousness is from ordinary, unreflective animal consciousness.

One of the best aspirations for such a state of total acceptance and unconditional love is from an anonymous writer who observed:
"(A)cceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place thing or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment."

"Nothing, absolutely noting," he notes, "happens in God's world by mistake. . . . (U)nless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes."
Paradoxically, to no want to gain, become or hold onto anything is itself a desire, if such is an aspiration for the future. If it is not an aspiration, but one's state of desireless being here and now, it is not. "We either makes ourselves happy or we make ourselves miserable," said Carlos Castenada's spiritual teacher, "the amount of effort is the same."

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