“The finger that points at the moon is NOT the moon.”-Excerpted from Zen Buddhism
Desire is the search for happiness that lies in the heart of every human being but is also the cause for all suffering.
The double bind: The drive to liberate oneself from desire is itself also a desire, making it an impossible task. Or is it impossible?
Here are five tenets on breaking free of desires:
1. Recognize that happiness is the only thing being sought after
Firstly, it must be emphasized with great importance that the search for happiness is not happiness itself, just as the sign that points towards the moon is NOT the moon itself. The difference is that one is a symbol that represents the actual thing and the other the actual thing, which leads into the second point perfectly.
2. Recognize that happiness is the only thing being sought after
Secondly, the person must be able to identify what it is that they truly seek through all of their desires. As outlined in the previous post, the highest desire is happiness itself, and the desired objects themselves being recognized for their role only as external manifestations, nothing more. If you were to know that buying an exotic car would entail endless maintenance, constant vigilance to prevent damage/theft, and a hefty loan repayment, would you still do it?
Ironically, people suffering from depression who are pushed to the brink of suicide have the clear perspective on the matter, because all they desire in the depths of their own suffering is liberation from it. They are clear because they hold no illusions about what they want, but the method of going about their own liberation is far from an elegant one.
3. Desire implies lack. Lack is not congruent with fulfillment.
Any strong desire for an external manifestation implies its absence in the person who asks for it. This is not to be confused with want, as wanting comes from a place of fulfillment that is unconcerned with the outcome. Want and desire may appear the same on the outside, the former implies a state of happiness where the outcome of what is being asked for is irrelevant, while the latter implies lack that must be resolved by the appearance of an external manifestation. The difference is illustrated by the following
Want: “I’m already happy and fulfilled, sure why not?”
Desire: “I’m not happy right now and I need this thing so that I can be allowed to feel happy. Until then I will be justified to feel not happy and will continue to behave that way until I get what I want.”
To those unfamiliar with the Law of Attraction*, know that the former is great fun while the latter is a recipe for disaster.
4. The Law of Perpetual Transmutation of Energy
Put simply: change is constant. This has two implications.
Desires are ultimately thought forms that appear in the mind. Consequently, they are subject to change and will eventually come to pass. A desire for money and fame may be strong in the mind right now, but take a 20 minute nap/walk and see if it still holds true.
Secondly, it also means that the objects of desire are also subject to the law of change. Because everything is impermanent, it means that all achievements will eventually fade away in the future, just as any (insert object here) will inevitably become anachronistic. Unfortunately, it also happens to be why men make jokes about marriage being bondage. No matter the significance of the desired object, it will be always subject to the effects of entropy.
5. You are not your thoughts
This is easily the most important one of the five. Thoughts come and go, and yet you are always present as the observer of your thoughts. To identify yourself with a thought is to impose a limitation on yourself, and the same applies to any desire. If one were to drop all identification, the world would not cease to turn, but yet you are free. The prison was never the circumstances you were in, or the desires that you find yourself bound to, but the significance that was attributed to them by your mind.
The higher implication that this tenet has is that it ties in directly to the aforementioned Law of Perpetual Transmutation of Energy. Because all thoughts come and go in your mind, it means that desire is not part of your true nature since it is subject to change. Know this and be free.
Let us tie the five tenets together.
While the desire to be free of desires seems to be a step in the right direction, no effort to remove it can possibly make it happen, no matter how concentrated it may be. The first four tenets state that happiness is the highest thing that can be sought, but the seeking of it through external manifestations that are subject to entropy will inevitably result in dissatisfaction. The fifth tenet states that the all desire and thought only have their respective significance because you chose to give them.
However, the fifth also has a much greater significance because it states that you are not your thoughts, which implicitly means that you are not your desires. While desires may appear and fade away in your mind, your true nature as the observer of your thoughts means that all thoughts are like the clouds in the sky, whilst you are the observer which sees it all. More importantly, it means that your true nature is inherently fulfilled and at peace simply because desire is not an integral part of it.
As a consequence, it means that freedom from desire is not through effort, but by quite literally doing nothing and watching it pass. Whenever the strong desire to do something rises up, be sure to ask yourself why you wish to engage in it. While you give yourself space and observe the changes in your mind, and ask yourself the following: “Why am I doing this in search of happiness when the fulfillment that I seek is already within me?”
The true miracle happens when the initial high/urge has passed and you get a clearer perspective on the matter. It may suddenly occur to you that many of your pursuits were meaningless all along, or your mind may come up with countless reasons to justify your engagement with that desire, and it is normal you may even react in horror at the recognition of what you were doing to yourself all along. Know that as the observer of your mind, that all these things will come to pass.
More importantly, as long as you remember that what you seek is happiness and fulfillment itself** and nothing else, you will never be lead astray. As you engage more and more in this sober seeing, gradually you will abide in your true nature and discover peace, happiness, and fulfillment even in the smaller things.
You will know that you have beaten the double-bind when peace, happiness, and fulfillment is your natural state.
“How will I know when I have made it?”
“When you no longer need to ask the question.”-Eckhart Tolle
*In the LOA (Law of Attraction) circles, the terminology used is slightly different, where desires are wants (in context of this article), and needs are well, needy.
**In Christian/Mohamedan religions, God is the traditional name for the peace/happiness/fulfillment that is being sought. That is also the reason why they urge their followers to ultimately seek God and nothing else. A Course in Miracles expresses the correlation beautifully and is a great resource to study. Alternatively, the Neo-Advaita scene is also a great resource for contemplation on the matter, and I highly recommend Rupert Spira because of his great insight as a teacher.