2022-05-23-Binding and Unbinding (1 of 5) Unwholesome Desire and Wholesome Desire
3:13PM May 23, 2022
Hello everyone and greetings on this beginning of the week.
This week I would like to pair up teachings about five things that tie us down – five things which bind us – with five things that untie us, which unbind us. Often this tradition of ours tends to have a lot of lists for things such as the attachments, the defilements, and what brings us suffering. To clearly link these to thier opposite, that which moves in the other direction, will clarify some of what this Buddhist practice is about.
The first of these five will be rāga, dosa and moha. I cannot remember the Pāli for the fourth, conceit, and dity, views. These are translated in English – the first one, rāga is greed. There is another word that is a better fit for greed. The word rāga is also translated into English as lust or passion. Then there is dosa or aversion, hostility, and moha as delusion. Conceit, and dity is speculative views or being caught up in stories and opinions.
The opposite of those is a variety of things. Ardency, and determination is a kind of healthy desire. Restraint and avoiding is a healthy kind of aversion. Instead of delusion, there is insight and understanding. Instead of conceit, there is a powerful form of confidence. We might almost say, self-confidence. Then instead of speculative views, being caught up in opinions, there is a real understanding.
The first one, rāga, is pairied with ardency, determination, perseverance, engagement, a desire to practice. Here we point out that there is often an assumption that Buddhism is critical of desires, that all desires are somehow wrong. The problem with life is that we have desires and the ending of desires is the whole point of all this.
What we are ending is unhealthy desires – desires which keep us limited, in bondage, caught up in ourselves. We are awakening within us desires for freedom, desires which are healthy, healing and beneficial. It is not just simply awakening healthy desires, but also letting them become strong. There is a real sense of ardency, of ardor, of dedication, of getting oriented and organizing. This is important and really doing it. Some of us put life and our life energy behind this. This is what we are doing – no question about it.
This difference between desires that bind us and desires which untie us, or free us is such an important distinction. It plays itself out in all five of these topics that we are going to talk about this week. It is a distinction we want to learn to be wise about. We want to recognize the distinction between that which brings strain, stress, despair, contraction, and a limited and narrow feeling, versus that which helps us to feel expansive, open, happy and free.
The narrowing and contracting does reinforce conceit. The tightening up, the inward focus of suffering brings a birth of a very tight kind of self-preoccupation. Whereas the expansive movement of the path, of the practice, of the possibility of freedom tends to free us from excessive self-preoccupation, from this tightening around self. To be with that gives room for there to emerge all kinds of wonderful qualities of heart, inner qualities of love – compassion, love of freedom, love of truth, and a love of peace. All kinds of things come that are freeing of self, freeing of self-preoccupation.
For today, we have rāga. Rāga is often translated as lust, sometimes as passion. There is kāma rāga, which is the lust or passion for the senses. There is the lust for dity, dity rāga, the lust or passion for views and stories. It is a strong, intense form of compulsive desire. I think of it as a driveness, desires which have us by the nose. We have almost no choice but to follow it, to be pushed around by it or give into it. It is very, very compelling.
Compulsive passion – sometimes in modern English, the word passion is a very positive quality. When it is used to translate Buddhist texts, it is a really strong, compulsive force, where there is no freedom from it. A compulsivity that involves suffering, which is the original Latin meaning for the word passion. The passion of Christ was the suffering of Christ.
Rāga is one of the fundamental sources for suffering, for bondage. It is one of the three poisons that are listed. Rāga is something which is poisonous. You might protest a little bit, but you have to appreciate that the definition of rāga is that it is a poison. It is something which hurts. It has barbs and thorns in it that are often not seen.
The promise of compulsive desires is different. The promise is a promise of pleasure. It comes along with imaginations of pleasure – how wonderful it will be and how much good it is going to do us. We are tricked sometimes by the imagination, and by future possibilities. We are not really present for the cost of these compulsive desires in the present moment.
It becomes clearer and clearer this kind of study, this kind of exploration, when we meditate. To argue about desires without meditating is not going to be very productive. As we begin meditating, getting quieter, stiller, and more mindful, we start seeing the cost of what happens in our minds. Somethings seemed fine in daily life because we are not really that sensitive as we go about daily life. We see in meditation, it is actually quite limiting. It is not only limiting, but it undermines ourselves and brings a kind of stress and tension. That is very different from the calm, quiet meditation where the mind is open, relaxed and present.
Meditation is a wonderful laboratory to see the shortcomings of compulsion, shortcomings of passionate cravings and clingings. We see the passion for power, the passion for money, the lust for money, the lust for power. Exactly the English words we want to use to translate rāga is not so clear.
Rāga is not something that goes away quickly. It is something which slowly, over time, fades away. One of the meanings of rāga is a dye. The movement of the practice is virāga, which is a fading of the dye. There is a fading of lust, of this driveness. How does it fade away? Well, partly by the opposite, there has to be a strong desire.
The desire for freedom can be as strong or stronger than any compulsive desire we have provided that there is not compulsion in that. There is not tension or strain in that desire. The Buddha emphasized a lot of words for having a strong desire for practice – ardency, ardor. Sometimes it is translated into English as striving – a word which really is resisted by Western English dharma teachers, even myself. I hesitate to use the word striving because English speakers will often feel tension from that, like straining. If they are striving, it is almost synonymous with strain.
The determination, the perseverance of yes, a big YES. That is why I like the word yes. It has an uplifting and opening quality – to practice with a YES, this is what I am doing. I am practicing on the path of freedom, practicing YES to be present here.
We are allowed in Buddhist practice to have a strong dedication, strong devotion to the path of freedom. This might mean that we give it a big priority in our life. We may clear the table, clear our lives of lots of things which distract from that. Some of them might be worthwhile in their own right, but we have a really important thing to do – this path of freedom. To feel that desire, to feel that awaken, and to heed it, to listen to it, "Yes, this is what I am going to do." Certainly, it would be nice to make that, "Yes" a counter to the ways in which desires limit us, constrict us, undermine us, drain us, or bring us immeasurable suffering of all kinds.
To have another path, and to feel the possibility of saying, "Yes" to it in a strong, determined way – this we are allowed to do in Buddhism. This is a message some people do not hear. They hear the opposite. It is almost like you just accept and be present in some gentle, soft way, but do not try a lot. But trying with this healthy desire is one of the great pleasures of life.
The pleasure of practice with enthusiasm is the kind of enthusiasm that helps the mind quiet and become peaceful. The laboratory of meditation is one of the great places to discover how there can be strong, healthy desire in a way that helps bring greater peace, calm, and settledness. Calm, peace and strong ardor go hand in hand.
So, thank you for this. I hope this has given you something to consider and for you to spend some time in the next day to see if you can find the physical, emotional, mental distinction, sensations – and experience a difference between a compulsive desire and freeing desire. If you can see that difference, maybe you can set your freeing desire free to support you and your life.