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Our Desires

  1. Feb 23, 2006 #1
    I have been learning about Buddhism for a while now, and I am at a complete loss when it comes to our desires. The four noble truths say that desire can be eliminated, which is the core of the path toward enlightment. But without desire, how can anything get done. How can our desire to learn, meditate, continue on with the practice, be accomplished without desire. We are here at these forums because of desire, the foods we decide to eat are based on desire, what we fill our days with comes from desire, basically, any decision we are faced with must be resolved based on an internal desire for the final outcome. How can desire be eliminated without us becoming a motionless mime?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 23, 2006 #2
    Well think of it like this. Its not so much the desire that needs to be abolished. but more so controlled. and have the action of attaining that desired thing abolished. One thing you learn from the anti-capitalism propaganda is that even if you get your desire. that thing gets boring and you go out and strive for the next new thing.

    abolish the strive for the ever-so new next thing. and keep and be happy with that one.

    though i definately dont remember reading about abolishing desire entirely. The things that are to be abolished were negative feelings: sorrow, suffering, affliction, pain, anxiety, dissatisfaction, or discomfort.
  4. Feb 24, 2006 #3


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    Hi. I admire much of Buddhism's epistemology although I don't consider myself a Buddhist. Many aspects of its morality are appealing, although I do find it takes the adherent too far from the practical world if followed too closely and to its limit.

    I believe the principle of reducing desires is one of reducing 'irrational'
    desires of grasping and attachments, ones that disturb one's equilibrium or knock you from the so-called Middle Path. Keep in mind that's what the Middle Path is essentially about. Buddha and those who recorded his message or interpreted it at least, believed that keeping to the 'middle' meant to not deny yourself the basic necessities of life while at the same time not grasping at things, ideas or people for that matter. Buddha apparently did not believe in ascetic denial. This to him was irrational and a form of grasping in itself, a form of reification of the ideal of 'self-denial.' For instance, hatred is the reverse or mirror image of positive attachment and is dependent upon a negative fixation on something or someone, seeing that thing or person as having some 'inherently' evil or harmful quality. And Buddhism claims that there are 'no' inherent or permanent qualities or predicates and thus no reason to become either attached in the positive sense or in the negative sense since hatred tends to involve an attachment in the sense of being fixated on the object of one's hatred.

    One should live according to the mean, to 'not' become attached to your illusory sense of 'self,' at least according to Buddhist psychology, however neither to reject one 'self' (self ,not as an absolute here but as a conventional idea we have of our own existence). One should thus have the basic desires enough to keep to that Middle Path, poised between
    self-grasping and self-denial. If one leads an extreme ascetic lifestyle, then one is straying from the Middle Path. Extreme ascetism comes across from a practical perspective as akin to self-hatred and hatred or 'reified rejection' is wrongful thinking in the Buddhist view. There's no 'reason' to reject oneself, to deny yourself in a harmful way or to hate others for that matter. Buddhism's concept of 'emptiness' is the realization that there are indeed no permanent, essential qualities to grasp at in the first place.

    People however get hung up on the notion of emptiness and often confuse it with 'nothingness.' Think of it more as an 'open' quality to the things and events in the world around us. Things, beings and events are 'open' to constant change. They 'arise and diminish' with no single, essential causal influence on their arising (similar to Hume here). Or perhaps one can also imagine a flowing river, constantly changing. Reification is like a dam in the river, creating a pressure-exerting lake behind it. Nagarjuna's concept of the 'emptiness-of-emptiness' is a reminder that emptiness as a pivotal concept, is not a 'thing' in itself, not something to be grasped at either but simply denotes the non-permanent, non-essentialist nature of the universe as we know it in its 'conventional' form, that is, as it is presented to us through our senses and understanding. Thus we shouldn't get attached to concepts either and that includes the central concept of emptiness itself.

    Like I stated above, I find Buddhism takes one too far from the practical world. It does lend itself naturally to the monastic life and indeed I consider it an unfortunate accident of Buddhist history that after Buddha's death (at least according to what has come down to us through the records) it was established and heavily influenced by a monastic community. One could argue however that Buddhism's message might not have been preserved had it not been for the monastics. A moot point I suppose.

    If you want a good website/forum for Buddhist discussion, try:
    http://www.e-sangha.com .

    Cheers, mrj
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2006
  5. Feb 25, 2006 #4


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    Do you have any block of Buddhist text or a link or something? I'd like to see exactly what it says relatively verbatim about desire, because this is quite an interesting question. There was neurology research about brain damage patients I looked at a year ago, pretty recent studies, that suggested pretty damn strongly that humans are completely incapable of making any decisions unless they can attach an emotional weight to each of the respective options. It looks like Hume was right about the is/ought gap, at least as it pertains to the human will (not necessarily as it pertains to ethics, although I still personally think he's correct there, too) and the dismissal of practical reason.

    I'm going to have to find that study. I have it around here at the apartment somewhere, and I'd like to give you guys something to actually look at rather than just my assurance that this exists and you should come to this conclusion because of it. Either way, models of human action these days tend to center around belief and desire, which would prima facie conflict with any doctrine that teaches desire is to be completely abolished. Then again, my metaphysics professor from a few years back that taught all of these behavioral models was a self-professed Buddhist. Either he's conflicted himself (or just inconsistent) or there's another way to interpret the Buddha's teaching.

    So again, if there's any way you could post the text that lead you to this quandry, I'd appreciate it. And I'll try to find that study.
  6. Feb 25, 2006 #5


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    Isn't this a religious thread? Or is Buddhism not a religion?
  7. Feb 25, 2006 #6


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    I'm not sure, SelfAdjoint.
    This seems to deal more with the philosophical aspects of Buddhism, in particular the role that desire should play in our lives.
    In that respect, I think it is interesting to raise the issue of whether the Buddhistic project of eliminating desires (or at least reduce their importance) is attainable or even just something d****able..(I had to put that one in..)
  8. Feb 25, 2006 #7
    Pursuing for enlightenment itself is a DESIRE.
    Without desire, we are not human!
    The key point is to Control your desire, not to become a slave of unnecessary desires.
  9. Mar 1, 2006 #8
    Thank you all for your replies.

    I suppose my initial question was fundamentally flawed. I am basing this discussion on the four noble truths of Buddhism, one of the core teachings of the religion. You can find many different, more lenghtly explanations of the Four Noble Truths by searching the web, but in general they are:

    1. Suffering exists
    2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
    3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
    4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path

    loseyourname, I am glad you brought up the study about how "humans are completely incapable of making any decisions unless they can attach an emotional weight to each of the respective options." This is mainly what I am getting at. Our desires will never cease, otherwise nothing will ever get done. mrj brought up eliminating irrational desires, and following the middle path (not ascetic nor self-indulgent). This still involves being attached to the outcome of your actions, or desires. The goal of the third noble truth is to eliminate attachment to desire. So ultimately we are back to the initial question I had, just revised a little.

    So, desires can never be eliminated, they will always be there, but if we are not to be attached to any particular desire, outcome, or action, how are we to act on anything. Buddhism says to act dispassionately, to not care about the outcome of any event. This is all good and great if you know what you are doing, just do it, don't care about what you did eariler, or what will happen in the future, just do what needs to be done now. However, when confronted with a decision, your actions depend on your weighing of the hypothetical outcomes, and your attachment or aversion to those outcomes which arises from a desire for them to occur or not occur. To not be attached to your desire for a favorable outcome, I think, is irresponsible. When looked at in light of the four noble truths, though, this attachment to a favorable outcome IS the direct cause of our suffering. It is a paradox, your damned if you do and you are damned if you don't.
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