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Aloka
27 Aug 14, 08:25
I looked at Brad Warner's blog again today and found this:


Desire and Happiness

This week I came across a New York Times article called "Love People, Not Pleasure." It’s well worth reading. But the most important section is just three paragraphs long. Here it is:

"From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that we are wired to seek fame, wealth and sexual variety. These things make us more likely to pass on our DNA. Had your cave-man ancestors not acquired some version of these things (a fine reputation for being a great rock sharpener; multiple animal skins), they might not have found enough mating partners to create your lineage.

But here’s where the evolutionary cables have crossed: We assume that things we are attracted to will relieve our suffering and raise our happiness. My brain says, “Get famous.” It also says, “Unhappiness is lousy.” I conflate the two, getting, “Get famous and you’ll be less unhappy.”

But that is Mother Nature’s cruel hoax. She doesn’t really care either way whether you are unhappy — she just wants you to want to pass on your genetic material. If you conflate intergenerational survival with well-being, that’s your problem, not nature’s. And matters are hardly helped by nature’s useful idiots in society, who propagate a popular piece of life-ruining advice: “If it feels good, do it.” Unless you share the same existential goals as protozoa, this is often flat-out wrong."

This is as good an explanation of the Buddhist position on the matter of desire as I have ever come across.

Often people are confused because they’ve heard that the Buddhist Four Noble Truths are 1) All life is suffering, 2) Suffering is caused by desire, 3) Eliminate desire and you eliminate suffering, 4) Follow the Noble Eightfold Path to eliminate desire.

My teacher, Nishijima Roshi, was extremely critical of this understanding of the Four Noble Truths. He heard it when he was a youngster in Japan and it made no sense at all to him. You can’t eliminate desire! Without the basic desires for food, water and shelter, we’d die. Without the desire for sex, the human race would disappear. If Buddhism was about eliminating desire, he thought, then Buddhism was stupid.

Nishijima was not the first person to notice this. Lots of people have thought the same thing and many of those people, quite sensibly, rejected Buddhism altogether as being simply unrealistic. Which it would be, if that’s what it actually said.

It may be true that the cause of suffering is desire. However, the solution to this problem is not to eliminate desire, but to confront and understand desire for what it actually is.




Continued here:

http://hardcorezen.info/desire-and-happiness/2955


Any comments ?

:hands:

daverupa
27 Aug 14, 19:22
I use biological models in my understanding of certain issues as well. Sexual desire is the obvious one, but in considering the care and attention given to food in the Dhamma, what took shape for me was the idea that an aspect of Sila is sustaining a sustenance approach to living, as opposed to a 'thriving' one of securing excess resources, and so forth. Stark ascetic approaches to the body, however, are equally off-target because this cellular aggregate is itself an ideal occasion for Dhamma practice, so its sustenance to sufficiency can have a positive value aligned with the Dhamma.

There's no reason to head into a materialist view, however. Consciousness is still not clearly a simple epiphenomenon of biochemistry, so while it's useful to consider the body in terms of 'getting by' at the cellular level while avoiding an approach that considers it 'my' body, for 'my' entertainment, it's not useful to consider oneself & others as 'just' such cellular things.

So, the balance would be to ensure that while the body can be seen accurately in this way and treated with a calm detachment, there is an ethical layer as a result of feeling that must always be kept in mind.

But, the goal is indeed the elimination of desire. It isn't that physical impulse to sustenance is to be ignored, but that sort of talk just confuses the issue about what sort of desire is being discussed, etc. I agree that it's important to emphasize the idea of gentle sustained living being wholesome, but this isn't to be described as 'desire' anywhere.

I would prefer to approach the idea of desire as an emergent component of the experiential process, not a cellular activity.

Lazy Eye
27 Aug 14, 20:45
Part of the issue here, I think, is the impulse to set up Buddhism as a set of absolute truths. Desire bad, nirvana good. Notion of self bad. Not-self good. When Buddhism gets turned into a totalizing philosophy, all kinds of intellectual and practical difficulties arise. Because it's clear that the Buddhist teachings are not applicable to all questions. For example, not-self is not really applicable to the field of early childhood education. Small children need a sense of self; children who do not develop one are impaired. Elimination of tanha is not really applicable to the pursuit of romantic love, or to playing rock music, or to practicing gourmet cookery.

The problems disappear, however, if we don't view the dhamma as the answer to all possible philosophical and practical problems, but view it instead the way the Buddha presented it: as the way to the understanding and cessation of dukkha. If one isn't afflicted by dukkha, one needn't take the medicine. And nobody is required to take all the medicine and eliminate all tanha; that's a question of personal aspiration. The dhamma teaches, simply, that the kilesas (including tanha) create dukkha, and that abandoning the kilesas results in the cessation of dukkha. Let go a little, or let go a lot. How much dukkha one is willing to sustain is a matter of individual choice.

clw_uk
28 Aug 14, 00:16
Sexual desire is a good example of this.

Aloka
29 Aug 14, 06:26
Small children need a sense of self; children who do not develop one are impaired. Elimination of tanha is not really applicable to the pursuit of romantic love, or to playing rock music, or to practicing gourmet cookery.


Why isn't it ? Can you give more details in connection with the examples you've given, please?

Aloka
29 Aug 14, 11:47
...or to playing rock music, or to practicing gourmet cookery.


Just looking at those two examples, I don't see why one couldn't be free from craving/desire and still play rock music or be a chef in a restaurant.

I am reminded of the Vajrayana stories of the 84 siddhas which inspired me years ago :



These life stories of eighty-four Tantric masters who achieved the highest results of the Vajrayana have inspired generations of practitioners.

By relying on a qualified teacher, devoted men and women of different backgrounds: cobblers, princes, blacksmiths, and wood-gatherers, were able to take everyday experience as the path and reach enlightenment in a single lifetime.


http://www.amazon.com/Buddhas-Lions-Eighty-Four-Siddhas-Translation/dp/0913546615



Vinapa the musician's teacher told him " Give up distinguishing the sound of the vina from the hearing of it. Meditate so as to make the two - the experience of the sound and the idea of it - into one"

There was no need for him to give up being a musician in order to develop clear understanding. One can use one's occupation/lifestyle as the path.

:hands:

Lazy Eye
29 Aug 14, 13:03
Why isn't it ? Can you give more details in connection with the examples you've given, please?

Well, early childhood development for instance is a fairly well-known process. It involves bonding, attachment and the development of a self-concept (http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/ages-stages-how-children-develop-self-concept). I 'm not sure what would happen if this process were interrupted, but my guess is the results would not be happy. The child would suffer from serious psychological and emotional impairments, and in a worst-case scenario might become similar to a feral child (http://http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feral_child).

Does this mean the Buddha was wrong to teach about non-self and non-attachment? I don't think so. The transcendent teachings in the Dhamma are concerned with a particular problem -- dukkha. It is for those who want to understand the root causes of dukkha and be free of it. To try and direct such teachings to the task of raising an infant would be wrongheaded.

That isn't to say that Buddhism can't be beneficial to parents raising small children; one can teach kindness and good ethical behavior and so on.

Lazy Eye
29 Aug 14, 13:12
Just looking at those two examples, I don't see why one couldn't be free from craving/desire and still play rock music or be a chef in a restaurant.

I am reminded of the Vajrayana stories of the 84 siddhas which inspired me years ago :



Vinapa the musician's teacher told him " Give up distinguishing the sound of the vina from the hearing of it. Meditate so as to make the two - the experience of the sound and the idea of it - into one"

There was no need for him to give up being a musician in order to develop clear understanding. One can use one's occupation/lifestyle as the path.

:hands:

This is a very interesting subject for me personally and one I wonder about all the time. I am glad to hear your thoughts on it, Aloka.

My understanding is that from a Mahayana/Vajrayana point of view being a musician or a chef would be just fine if one was motivated by altruism rather than selfish indulgence. And there are stories about bodhisattvas who use music as the vehicle for reaching sentient beings, and so on.

I'm not sure what the Theravada take would be. My guess though is that at least some would say that playing music is just indulging in the pleasures of the senses (attractive sounds), and food should be regarded simply as medicine to sustain the body.

I suppose it may come down to how we define tanha (craving). Does this cover all engagement with sensory phenomena, or just addictive, unhealthy engagement that produces dukkha? Or. in fact, are these two questions the same -- that is, are sensory experiences afflictive by nature?

There is this passage from the Nibbedhika Sutta (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an06/an06.063.than.html), which someone pointed out to me in another discussion:

The passion for his resolves is a man's sensuality,
not the beautiful sensual pleasures
found in the world.
The passion for his resolves is a man's sensuality.

The beauties remain as they are in the world,
while the wise, in this regard,
subdue their desire.

Aloka
29 Aug 14, 13:46
My understanding is that from a Mahayana/Vajrayana point of view being a musician or a chef would be just fine if one was motivated by altruism rather than selfish indulgence. And there are stories about bodhisattvas who use music as the vehicle for reaching sentient beings, and so on.

I'm not sure what the Theravada take would be. My guess though is that at least some would say that playing music is just indulging in the pleasures of the senses (attractive sounds), and food should be regarded simply as medicine to sustain the body.


I think what you're getting confused about, is that in many of the suttas translations we have, the Buddha begins a teaching with "Monks........" and he isn't necessarily saying that lay practitioners should practice the same austerities as his ordained sangha.

Its also worthwhile remembering that there are monks and nuns in Mahayana/Vajrayana just as there are in Theravada and so some of the practices they do can be different to those of lay devotees.

I remember one of my Vajrayana teachers telling me that although it was easier to practice if one was ordained, it was still possible to make good progress on the path as a layperson doing a job etc.

So ideally, I think that with the development of mindfulness, clarity and awareness, (& the Brahma Viharas), wherever one is or whatever one is doing can be taken as the path.

Lazy Eye
29 Aug 14, 14:13
I remember one of my Vajrayana teachers telling me that although it was easier to practice if one was ordained, it was still possible to make good progress on the path as a layperson doing a job etc.

Sure. But good progress on the path to what?

As Dave said earlier,


The goal is indeed the elimination of desire.

Aloka
29 Aug 14, 14:21
Sure. But good progress on the path to what?



Progress towards freedom from greed, hatred & delusion.

Lazy Eye
29 Aug 14, 15:17
Aloka,

But aren't lobha (greed), dosa (hatred) and moha (delusion) subsets of desire (tanha)?

In which case, we still come back to Dave's statement:


The goal is indeed the elimination of desire.

...unless one going to argue that the goal is simply to get rid of those three particular kinds of tanha, and let some other tanha be as it is.

Or, possibly, one might argue that there are forms of desire that are not tanha, e.g. chanda. But I don't think the Buddha regarded sense pleasures as belonging to this category.

Aloka
29 Aug 14, 17:16
It wasn't my intention to contradict Dave's statement.

Lazy Eye
29 Aug 14, 19:19
Ok, so what I'm saying is that the goal which Dave mentions is appropriate for the specific endeavor of ending dukkha. It's not appropriate, or not as appropriate anyway, for various other human endeavors -- for example, it wouldn't be particularly useful in the arena of sports. (It might be useful to control and channel one's desire, but eliminating it would be sort of counterproductive to an athlete, I would imagine). The Dhamma has a specific purpose; it's not an overarching ideology that is meant to cover all human activities.

People sometimes raise objections to the Dhamma on the grounds that desire is necessary for this, or for that. For example, a child desires to be an astronaut when he/she grows up, and this desire carries the child into adulthood and eventually into a career at NASA. So how can desire be a bad thing?

The confusion -- I'm arguing -- lies in the assumption that such an endeavor is Dhammic in nature, that is, aimed at the cessation of dukkha. The fact that it is not Dhammic doesn't mean it is "bad" or that people shouldn't dream of becoming astronauts. It just means that the Buddha's liberative teachings are not directed at this task; their purpose is different.

Aloka
29 Aug 14, 19:54
These four essays on the subject of "The Buddhist Layman" might be helpful :

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/various/wheel294.html#detachment

Also sections 1 to 4 of Ven P.A.Payutto's "A constitution for living"

http://www.budsir.org/Contents.html

Lazy Eye
30 Aug 14, 15:00
Thank you, Aloka, for the useful reading.

I'm interested to know how to approach the question at the level of practice -- e.g. satipatthana. In satipatthana we are taught to distinguish between kusala (wholesome) and akusala (unwholesome) states. Since all forms of sensuality are categorized as akusala, and kusala entails renunciation, I am not sure how a worldly person can feasibly practice satipatthana.

Except maybe by deciding simply to work on certain states while leaving others for some other point down the road. A musician, for example, would be aware of his or her delight in sounds but would not be attempting to abandon it at this point.

Aloka
30 Aug 14, 16:20
I'm interested to know how to approach the question at the level of practice -- e.g. satipatthana. In satipatthana we are taught to distinguish between kusala (wholesome) and akusala (unwholesome) states. Since all forms of sensuality are categorized as akusala, and kusala entails renunciation, I am not sure how a worldly person can feasibly practice satipatthana.


OK - well its all been getting off topic here anyway, because this is the Zen forum.

Lazy Eye
30 Aug 14, 16:49
We may not be that far off track. Mindfulness practices are found in Zen as well. I don't know if Brad Warner emphasizes them or not, but there are other teachers who do. The "tending the ox" practice looks to be a simplified version of satipatthana, for example. (The "ox" being referred to here is the mind -- the practice entails being aware that it is straying and gently nudging it back.)

So the same questions come up in Zen, too.