Saturday, January 9, 2010

Desire - from the stars!

"I'm the fever, when I'm beside her. Desire"

I have been thinking this week about desire and how it often gets a bad rap in religion and magic. In Buddhism of course the second noble truth states that suffering stems from desire and ignorance. Thus in Sutric Buddhism you have a lot of work cutting off the root of suffering by renouncing desires of the flesh like sex and intoxication. In higher teachings like Tantra and Dzogchen, desire is revealed not to be the culprit, but attachment to your desires. If you can free the mind from grasping at this or that, it is perfectly reasonable to enjoy everything that arises as the play of awareness. You can desire your mate, or a posession, so long as you do not grasp at its permenance and allow that desire to interrupt your natural awareness.

In Thelemic circles, the idea of desire is often lumped in with "wants" and "whims" as opposed to "Will". The idea being that your true will is the only thing that you should be concerned with, and that all the wants that you may have are less important than following your true will. Some people seem to think that finding their true will is like finding a letter that tells them exactly what to do for the rest of their life in great detail. Go to school, become a doctor, marry Frank, have three kids, etc. True Will is not like that at all.

True will is any action that arises out of true awareness. It has more to do with a state of clarity and harmony than a laundry list of things that you are to do. If you can reach those states of pure awareness, than just about any action you take is an exercise of your true will, and carries with it the weight of the universe.

Of course a lot of people involved in religion and magic have some strange ideas about the material world. They haven't given up all their possessions to become monks, nuns, or wandering homeless sages, yet they still want to keep their spiritual life separate from their day to day reality. Refusing to see their struggle to buy a bigger house, take the family on a nice vacation, make a good retirement for themselves as something that is worthy of magic or a cause for inspiration. Some even go so far as to call any magic or spiritual effort in such matters as evil.

The word desire itself comes from de sidere or "from the stars". A good desire carries with it a lot of weight in the mind. When you want something, you should take a few minute to examine that want. Dont ask yourself if you need it., ask yourself if you desire it.

You are not a monk. Magic can be used for much more than just what we need. Check your mind to see if this want is arising as a reaction to a commercial you just saw or perhaps a temporary fit of anger or jealousy. If not, than decide definitely upon your desire. Magicians that only do things based upon the advice of spirits, or gods are not great magicians at all. You yourself are part of the mind of god - even when you are not in a full state of enlightenment it is your birthright to be the captain of your own ship. To simply decide on a course of action and carry it out, Your magic need have no more divine weight behind it than your own desire. When you fully comprehend the truth of it, you will realize what a mighty weight that is!


Qabalier said...

This attitude towards desire and the ego has always being a bugbear for me.
Your post is great, as usual, but there's something I'm not sure I'm getting.

On the one hand you say you should examine your wants, and one would
think that a lifelong desire is less likely to be a passing whim or an artificial
"need"... but on the other hand that could be seen as an attachment to its
permanence, to a fixated self-image or conditioning (ie 'ego'), so it should
be more of an spontaneous thing. I guess that trying to 'reason' if something
is or isn't your desire is precisely the thing to avoid, but there's that notion that
not only your 'True Will' is your 'Destiny' (speaking about 'the Stars') but that,
as someone put it, "I don't really exist", so "If I like it, then it's self-deception"*

*perhaps what I fear is finding "desires" within myself that feel "alien", so I'm left
wondering which one -eg me, or my unconscious?- is false, an outside influence

Anonymous said...

Some desires are self-destructive. Some are destructive to others. Some are playing out scripts we inherited from our families. Personally, I think it's important to drill down and see whether we really want something, or whether we actually want something else we're not conscious of or not willing to admit to ourselves. A lot of desires are substitutes for what we really want but think we can't have.

By the way, I LOVE your book so far. Thank you for writing it!

Jason Miller, said...

This is a GREAT question and one that I am probably going to turn into a blog post of its own.

The answer to the question lies in a common misconception about the ego and the enlightened self.

Buddhism, which is the source of most talk about ego and lack of self in the spiritual world at large, states that there are two truths: relative and ultimate. It does not say that one is true and the other is not, or that one is truer than the other. Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.

When you become realized at the level of a Buddha or Christ you do NOT destroy your ego. You trasncend your ego. You still possess your ego and use it as a tool. The difference is that you are not trapped in the ego anymore. Your ego is plugged into the infinite.

So to put it into the most crass terms possible, your desire to nail some hot young ass does indeed arise from the ego. So does everything else that anyone does, including prattle on about the evils of the ego.

The question is whether that ego rules your mind or serves it.

As for alien desires, if you can tell me exactly where you end and the alien begins I would be interested to hear your ideas. Most desires are going to be sparked by encountering something that is outside what we traditionally call the self, after all if it wasnt for the commercial, you wouldnt even know about the awesome thingymajig. The question is whether you really want it or are just mechanistically reacting to the external stimuli. As for The question of whether the desire is good or bad, it depends upon how attached you are to it. If you desire it and work towards getting it than great. If you are devastated if you cant have it or when it is gone, THAN you have a problem.

Gabriele said...

Buddhism is very much about detachment and renunciation, about lessening attachment/desire and aversion/hatred. It is not about indulging or following your desires.

Wanting itself is seen as the problem. The human predicament is that we are always running away from something or running after something. 'True will' is also about this basic human condition of running away from or running after something. Can we be truly free as long as we are reitering this habit of running away from or running after something?

The following is a quotation from the XIV Dalai Lama,Opening of the Wisdom Eye: "The person who wants to practice the way of tantric instructions should first be endowed with detachment and renunciation which is the common basis for all ways of practice in Buddhadharma. Such a person should also be endowed with the bodhicitta. Well-prepared in him/herself, s/he goes then to a teacher who possesses all the marks of competence and humbly requests him/her for consecration and initiation into the circle of his disciples practising the Vajrayana. Having received the consecration s/he should observe well all the precepts for it is only upon the basis of virtuous conduct (sila) that one can advance along the path."

It seems there is no way round practicing virtue. All the Tibetan buddhist masters I have met have stressed the need for giving up unwholesome attitudes and habits. The advice is to walk a graded path rather than jumping in at the wrong end (dzogchen/vajrayana) without the right foundation (hinayana, bodhicitta).

The feeling that certain desires feel alien to oneself is a good sign. It is called shame. The Dalai Lama says that shame is a good thing although not all people will agree with this. Shame is very helpful in discerning which (negative) actions have to be given up and which (positive) actions have to be adopted. Dicrimination between wholesome and unwholesome actions is a central part of buddhist practice, therefore also a central part of vajrayana/tantra.

Jason Miller, said...

Good points Gabriele,

First, I want to state that I am not a Lama nor am I teaching Buddhism. That is not my intent. I am teaching a system of sorcery that has been influenced by Buddhism.

That said, I will just point out a couple things.

The first is that Tibetan teachers need to link Tantric teachings to the Sutric approach in public for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with public relations. To quote Glenn Mullin, a statement that he made when teaching about the kalachakra at the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in Philadelphia: "Everything that the Dalai Lama has said to me privately on Tantra contradicts what he has said publicly".

The idea that wanting itself is the problem is pure Sutrayana. The idea of running after something or running away from something relates to the compulsion and mechanistic way that we do it, not the object itself. If you have not chosen to become a monk or nun, than you are living in a world where you cannot simply renounce wants, and have to deal with the compulsion in a different way.

As for the idea of jumping in at the wrong end of the pool, I will simply state that different teachers have different attitudes towards this. Namkhai Norbu, Lopon Tenzin Namdak, and many other teachers look at Dzogchen as a vehicle unto itself, having its own base path and fruit. Your teachers have taught you differently, and you should follow the instructions of the Guru that you have chosen,

As for discriminating between wholesome and unwholesome actions, I couldn't agree more. Nothing in what I said indicated that you should just do whatever you like. I am simply saying that if you have kids, and would like a bigger house, that doesn't make it even to desire it, even if you could manage with the house you currently have. I did not say that if you desire to kill you boss or cheat on your wife, that was just fine...

Qabalier said...

Thank you both for your comments.

Jason, did you mean "that doesn't make it evil to desire it"?*

And speaking of evil, emotions and wholesome desires, when the supposed "amorality" of transcendence -beyond opposites etc- is brought up I always think about the Bornless One being described as "He who hates that evil should be wrought in the world".
I think you've said before that buddhism accepts wrathful action, but it would probably have to stem from compassion (as in "Deus caritas est") - Could "hate" there be just a way of speaking?

I realize this "thread" could go on and on -as I've said, for me this is a central question- so I guess I should leave it at that. I'm looking forward to your next post.

* By the way, I can't help thinking about your rule about manipulation: "It doesn't make you evil... it just makes you a jerk." XD

Gabriele said...

Referring to Jason’s last post.

We don’t know what exactly the Dalai Lama said to Glenn Mullin during the interview but could it be that the Dalai Lama used skillful means in the same way Buddha Shakyamuni used skillful means when he told someone who murdered his mother that it was okay to kill one’s mother? Initially Buddha Shakyamuni agreed with the murderer and so the murderer continued to listen to the Buddha’s teachings which he would have otherwise not done. Later on after the murderer‘s mind became more supple he understood that it was of course not okay to kill his mother.

With regards to using tantra with a motivation other than what the buddhist masters teach us it is said that tantra may lead to the desired result (e.g. performing magic) but it will neither lead to liberation nor to buddhahood.

Let us look at what the Dalai Lama says with regards to tantra:

The practice of tantra can be undertaken when a person has a firm foundation in the essential features of the path to enlightenment as explained in the sutra system, that is, the teachings of the Buddhist sutras explained previously. This means that you should have an attitude that wishes to abandon completely the causes of suffering, a correct view of emptiness as taught in the second turning of the wheel, and some realization of bodhicitta – the altruistic aspiration, based on love and compassion, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings. Your understanding of these, together with your practice of the six perfections, enable you to lay a proper foundation of the path common to sutra and tantra. Only then can you properly undertake a successful pratice of tantra.
(Dalai Lama The World of Tibetan Buddhism, 3rd part: The Vajrayana buddhism of Tibet)

Of course it is a good thing to look after your family. However, one needs to know when enough is enough. The purchase of a bigger house could entail certain disadvantages. For example you could have less time and energy for your children because you need to work harder to pay the cost of the house. The mother may not be able to cope well with the children all on her own. It’s a common mistake fathers make to focus more on finances and career issues ignoring that it would perhaps be more worthwhile to spend more time and energy in the actual rearing of the children. Or else you committ unwholesome actions to be able to pay for the house (wrong livelihood) which will bring certain problems in the future. A larger house could also mean more trees being chopped down or more environmental damage being done. Or it could mean that you have no material goods left to help other people in need, e.g. the victims of the earthquake in Haiti who have got no housing at all. Altogether it is not a mistake to be content with what you have got.

As far as I understand it using desire as the path (in tantra) is referring to desire/attraction with regards to the opposite sex and not to material things. At least I have never come across a Vajarayana teaching that mentions desire to material things as the path.

For someone who has no attachment to material things it is sort of okay to accept wealth. When material possessions come naturally to such a person it is considered okay. There is no need for such a person to renounce material goods. A monk who possesses nothing apart from his three robes but has attachment to these three robes is however not practicing in the right way - even though he has taken on the outward appearance of a renunciate.

With regards to vows (vinaya, bodhisattva or tantric) one who is serious about the buddhist path has an attitude of desiring more vows rather them finding them too much of a strain. ‚If only I could take more vows since they help me in advancing on the spiritual path.‘ There are plenty of vows that lay people can take in the presence of a suitable spiritual guide, such as one or more of the five basic precepts (not killing, not stealing, not lying, no sexual misconduct, taking no intoxicants).

Duff said...

Neither expressing nor repressing desire is the way taught by the Buddha.

In my experience, words like yours that decry asceticism generally come from those who embrace and are thus driven by their desires. This can be a useful stage towards becoming whole, but I'd recommend one look even deeper.

Gabriele said...

The following beautiful quote is from Trinley Norbu Rinpoche(it's from a telling foreword to Sky Dancer, a highly misleading book by yet another Western tantrika/Dzogchenpa):
Precious tantric teaching that has the quality of wisdom is naturally, unintentionally concealed -- it lies beyond the ordinary impure and concrete concepts of mind. Tantric teaching is also hidden intentionally to prevent misusue, the misuse that occurs if these precious treasures are used for selfish gain and fame, neglecting appropriate dedication to sentient beings. This creates obstacles to enlightenment. For one man to exploit the teachings is like one person using the electric current intended to light an entire city to light his own small bulb -- the one bulb is destroyed and perhaps others on the circuit are damaged.