My last post pointed out how the less we chase desire, the more peaceful we feel. This is fairly standard teaching within both Buddhist and Hindu traditions. However, one commentator suggests that the piece could only have been written by someone who enjoys health and financial security.
Although my wellbeing is better than it used to be, when I started working to escape desire my life was complicated by severe mental and physical problems. Even now, after much meditative and contemplative practice, I struggle with serious chronic pain. My finances are satisfactory at present, but look uncertain over the longterm. After all, my career as a surgeon ended twelve years ago.
But the details are beside the point. Desire is an equal affliction for rich and poor, healthy and ill. The rich obsess about their possessions and investments. The poor hunger for the basics. The healthy hope they don’t get sick. The ill want to get better. It doesn’t matter your status, desire will find its way into your heart unless you work to keep it out.
People react negatively to attacks on desire. On my personal blog I wrote an entire essay pointing out that recognizing the toxicity of yearning results from utilitarian analysis, not from value judgment. Desire inevitably leads to suffering. Once we get snared by the web of want, disappointment lies in wait for all of us, no matter how easy or hard our circumstances. Yearning is not inherently evil, and everyone is free to either live by the dictates of urges or fight against them. However, those who mindlessly pursue desire invite unhappiness into their lives.
It surprises me to hear someone imply that only a fortunate person could abandon desire. India, the country with the most practitioners on this path, is rife with destitution. The Yogis live humbly surrounded by epic poverty. Doesn’t this prove that the poor are more likely than the affluent to escape desire’s snares?
One could interpret the Gospel admonition that a rich man will have a difficult time entering the Kingdom in heaven in various ways. But one possibility is that the wealthy often have it too easy to undertake the arduous road to awakening.
Those of us who pursue realization most often do so because the alternative is abject misery. We find ourselves obsessional, fearful, and paralyzed with regret. Life becomes so painful that transformational change becomes our only hope. So we grow. We recognize that wanting life to be “better” only causes sorrow and frustration. We learn that accepting circumstances is the surest path to sanity. We reject desire not because it’s easy, but because the agony of releasing our yearnings is slightly less than the torment of holding them tight.
The mature path is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage and an unflinching determination to acknowledge and transcend our own worst characteristics.
I feel sympathy for those who believe their problems must be solved before they can make progress on a path of radical growth. Not long ago I felt the same way myself. The truth is exactly opposite. Our problems will plague us until we abandon our desires, including our hunger for a better life.