I published a poem on December 2, 2012 titled, “Desire.” You can see it here. It was one of the first poems I wrote when I started this blog. The idea of desire has always intrigued me. The word “desire” encompasses many things. What is desire? I suppose the simplest explanation is that desire is wanting something. When you’re hungry, you desire food. When you’re thirsty, you desire water. When you’re lonely, you desire companionship. Simple enough. And it must be said, that all people have desires. Buddhism purports that having desires is the cause of all suffering, and to rid yourself of all desire will bring you to a state of enlightenment or Nirvana. Many religions say if you follow them, you will be brought into a higher state of being where you surpass desires and achieve salvation. The entire consumerist culture is based on fulfilling your desires buy purchasing products, or following plans. We try diets because we want to lose weight. We invest our money because we want to have more. We try dating and marriage because we want companionship or love or sex. We want what we do not have. And what happens when we achieve those desires? Are we satisfied? Or do we simply want more?
Buddhism says, having unfulfilled desires causes suffering. It also says that fulfilling desires causes suffering because nothing is permanent. You get the new car you’ve always wanted and you’re happy. It’s clean and smells wonderful inside. Everyone tells you how beautiful it is. It starts on the coldest Winter days and handles well on the road. Four years later, it’s dirty all the time, there are scratches in the paint, parts are breaking down, etc. Nothing is permanent. Now, that car is no longer fulfilling your desires. Now, you want a new one. So Buddhism says if you rid yourself of desire by following the Four Nobel Truths and living the eight-fold path you can reach a state of enlightenment where you surpass desire. But isn’t desiring to rid yourself of desire just another desire? Aren’t we still seeking to fulfill a desire by trying to rid ourselves of it?
It’s a conundrum, to be sure. Unchecked desires have led to a lot of misery in the world. Countries invade other countries because they want what the other country has. People have affairs because they are unfulfilled in their current relationships. People steal and cheat and lie to get what they want. Some people work themselves into a poor state of health because they want more money. Anxiety, depression and other mental health issues can be brought on by desiring things we don’t have and trying too hard to get them. The desire for power and wealth at any cost usually puts those costs on the innocent. The achievement of desires has caused our current climate crisis. It has caused some in our government and country to put their hopes and dreams into a man who is not equipped to lead. The current Brexit situation in the U.K. or the Palestine/Israel situation or the many indictments from the Mueller investigation are perfect examples of desires getting out of hand. What then, is the answer?
I think most people realize that they can never rid themselves of desire. At the very least we desire the necessities of life. Food, water, etc. And I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with wanting a new car. I’m sure some may argue that automobile manufacturing causes lots of pollution so wanting a new car contributes to climate problems. And they’d be right. But the biggest reason I’m able to write on this computer and complain about unchecked desires is because of people having desires. Otherwise we’d still be living in caves, which might not be a bad thing from a certain point of view. However, we don’t live in caves and therefore we have to start where we are. I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that we need to keep checking on our desires to see that they don’t get out of hand. We need to seriously try not to hurt others by the fulfillment of our desires. And try not to hurt ourselves either. It takes a bit of introspection to really, honestly look at our own lives. Picking apart the things that we think, do, or say to see if we are being a responsible person. And why not? Why hurt others if we don’t have to? Just to have what we want? I hate to fall back on the so called, “Golden Rule,” but treating others well because it’s the way I want to be treated is not a bad way to keep my desires from harming others. What do you think?