All phenomena, the Buddha once said, are rooted in desire.
Everything we think, say, or do — every experience — comes from desire. Even we come from desire. We were reborn into this life because of our desire to be. Consciously or not, our desires keep redefining our sense of who we are. The only thing not rooted in desire is nirvana, for it’s the end of all phenomena and lies even beyond the Buddha’s use of the word “all.”
But. . .
The path that takes one to nirvana is rooted in desire — in skillful desires. The path to liberation pushes the limits of skillful desires to see how far they can go.
The notion of a skillful desire may sound strange, but a mature mind intuitively pursues the desires it sees as skillful and drops those it perceives as not. Basic in everyone is the desire for happiness. Every other desire is a strategy for attaining that happiness. Because these secondary desires are strategies, they follow a pattern. They spring from a feeling of lack and limitation; they employ your powers of perception to identify the cause of the limitation; and they use your powers of creative imagination to conceive a solution.
Desires often pull in opposite directions. Your desire for success, for instance, can get in the way of your desire for peace. In fact, conflict among desires is what alerts us to how painful desire can be. It’s also what has taught each desire how to speak, to persuade, to argue or bully its way into power. Wisdom is to learn how to strategize, too, to strengthen skillful desires so that less skillful desires are seen for what they are and fall to the side. This is how a mature and healthy mind works: conducting a dialogue not so much between reason and desire as between responsible desires and irresponsible ones.
The Buddha saw and spoke of the value in recognizing this and added that we should have no reason to lower our expectations of what we are trying to attain.. He imagined the ultimate happiness — one so free from limit and lack that it would leave no need for further desire — and then treasured his desire for that happiness as his highest priority. Bringing all his other desires into dialogue with it, he explored various strategies until finding one that actually attained that unlimited goal. This strategy became his most basic teaching: the four noble truths.
The Buddha encouraged these queries by describing the awakened person as so undefined and unlimited that he or she couldn’t be located in the present life or be described after this life as existing, not existing, neither, or both. This may sound like an abstract and unreachable goal, but the Buddha demonstrated its human face in the example of his person. Having pushed past the limits of cause and effect, he was still able to function admirably within them, in this life, happy in even the most difficult circumstances, compassionately teaching people of every sort. And there’s his testimony that not only monks and nuns, but also lay people — even children — had developed their skillful desires to the point where they gained a taste of awakening as well.
So imagine that. And listen to any desire that would take you in that direction, for that’s your path to true happiness.
Peace and Love, Jim
Image Courtesy of J3