The funny thing is, that sounds beautiful. But for some reason (maybe cause I work at a psychiatrist office) I see the lack of desire more akin to the symptoms of depression. Which is not so beautiful. (What made me think of it was how JK Rowling describes her use of dementors as a symbol of her depression or the inability to desire)
ps This American Life ftw
Buddhism is interesting. So is the concept that desire (and ignorance) is at the root of suffering. I don’t subscribe to Buddhism’s tenets either but the account on the program This American Life’s episode Testosterone made some aspects of this line of thinking more clear to me.
This American Life producer Alex Blumberg explains that he wanted to do this show because of his conflicted relationship with his own testosterone. He tells host Ira Glass that the reasons go back to a girl in his eighth-grade homeroom and the 1970s seminal feminist novel The Women’s Room. We also hear from a man who stopped producing testosterone due to a medical treatment and found that his entire personality was altered. (9 minutes)
Act One. Life At Zero.
The interview with a man who lost his testosterone continues. He explains that life without testosterone is life without desire—desire for everything: food, conversation, even TV. And he says life without desire is unexpectedly pleasant. The man first wrote about his experiences, anonymously, in GQ Magazine. (7 minutes)
I know that sounds weird. What does Testosterone have to do with Buddhism? Testosterone is the hormone of desire and one
the second man interviewed on this episode no longer had testosterone.
He describes seeing everything in life as “beautiful” as a default. He says it was a different sort of beautiful than he had previously known because there was no emotional value to it. Everything just became the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. He describes it as how he imagined ‘God saw the world.’
When I heard that I thought about the principles of eliminating desire completely and asceticism as a technology for doing so…I understand that point more now. I still can’t fathom attempting to live life without desire.
If only it was this simple to understand. But I can say this, personally, I don’t believe in eliminating desire but rather balance and moderation. Desire doesn’t always lead to suffering, nor does wanting something mean unhappiness. Every characteristic you are dealt with can be used in a good or bad light - use it accordingly (i.e anger can be used in a good or bad way, no need to eliminate it, moderate it instead).
I haven’t said anything profound at all. Maybe I just haven’t met anyone who has eliminated desire or one who is almost there….
sigh… this is all bastardization of Buddhist teachings, people speaking without knowing what they are speaking of to begin with. Buddhist teachings do not actually advocate elimination of anything. The Buddha taught being aware of one’s thoughts and feelings, not repressing them, not eliminating them. when one has anger, one recognizes that one has it, doesn’t judge it as good or bad, but simply as being there and determines a healthy way to move forward with it. the same with desire, it is not that all desire is inherently “bad” or causes suffering, but that allowing our desires to rule us causes suffering (to ourselves and others) and that one element of “suffering” is (see my previous posts from Pema) actually “dissatisfaction”, which i think is an especially accurate translation when it comes to desire. there are different paths for dealing with desire within Buddhism, as it is not just one simplistic teaching but there are multitudinous ways it can be practiced. for some, temporary elimination of desires might be a practice, as it teaches humility, appreciation, lack of attachment, and frees them from dissatisfaction, but it is not a moral anti-desire crusade. Like Islam, Buddhism is about balance and recognition of our whole selves, but attempting to bring out more of the positive and not allowing our baser nature to overtake us.
and Lord, i probably don’t have it all right either and may not have explained it very well, so i hope Zuky jumps in with something to say about this.
Thanks, Aaminah, I like what you’ve said. There are a lot of dime-store pop notions about monolithic Buddhism which many people like to expound upon with little understanding, so I’m very accustomed to that. I’ll simply state, for all practical purposes, there’s no such thing as eliminating desire. Desire is embedded in the spark of life which animates the universe. Desire is a plant stretching toward the sun. Why would you eliminate that? And how? In human beings, the burning desire for freedom and ecstasy and consciousness is what fuels Buddhist practice. In my school of Buddhist practice, desire is our good friend; we harness all our energies, sexual desire, social ideals, creative passions, even anger and violence; nothing is repressed, we work with all the winds that blow through our psyches and bodies, without judgment.
However, in Buddhist practice we reprogram our psychic operating system, we consciously rework our neural pathways, so that our mental state and our lives are not ruled by egoic attachment to fleeting desires and aversions. This isn’t a philosophy, it’s something you do and the more you do it the better you get at it. In the system of codification I learned from my mentors, there are five primary approaches or paths to this work, which can be practiced independently or in combination; they are the paths of (1) loving, (2) selfless giving, (3) cognitive discernment, (4) energetic mysticism, and (5) asceticism. There are countless variations and recombinations of these approaches to reformatting the psyche so that we do not depend on egoic attachment to fleeting desires and aversions for our happiness. And that’s all I’m putting on the table today. :)
“[D]esire is our good friend; we harness all our energies, sexual desire, social ideals, creative passions, even anger and violence; nothing is repressed, we work with all the winds that blow through our psyches and bodies, without judgment.”
“[W]e reprogram our psychic operating system, we consciously rework our neural pathways, so that our mental state and our lives are not ruled by egoic attachment to fleeting desires and aversions. This isn’t a philosophy, it’s something you do and the more you do it the better you get at it.”