TREATISE ON ZANDTAO
Like emotions desire is very difficult to come to terms with. For many people feeling a desire for something means that it has to be satiated. Is this true? I would suggest not. Are desires always good for us? This is definitely not true. I can remember discussions with macrobiotic people who were having serious problems over their desire for cakes or other white sugar fixes. Clearly this desire is not good for them. There are people whose sexual desires take them into hedgy borderlands of crime and prostitution, perhaps the worst case being paedophiles whose desire for sex with children is evidently completely socially unacceptable. Then we have desire for drugs. I remember my own alcoholism. I would rationalise this desire for a beer as social drinking, something that I controlled as I held down a job. Whilst I could certainly have done the job better, the desire for drink overall did not prevent me from doing the job. Then there are the desires for recreational drugs and harder drugs, desires if practised which do break the law. Therefore desire is something that we need to be circumspect about.
The first mechanism that we are given to cope with desire is sila, moral integrity, and I would suggest that someone following the Path cannot be setting a good example if their practice brings them into conflict with the law although sila-based consideration is a higher law. From a personal point of view any substance that affects clarity of mind is not acceptable to me. I cannot speak about other drugs but I often considered that drinking made me happy. In retrospect that was a complete illusion, I deluded myself that I was happy when drinking; the addiction deluded me. Addiction to desires is the same, we delude ourselves that satiating all our desires will make us happy but in truth all that happens is that more desires arise to be satiated. Consider material possessions. Many people get stuck in the possession trap, must have a car, a better car, two cars, etc. Once desires are satiated the desiring mind then begins to look for more to desire. There is a point at which we have needs such as the need for food, and this changes as we desire food that is not healthy. For example, the human need is to eat healthy food, desires take us to foods which we enjoy the taste of, eg sugar-addictive foods. It is necessary to know our minds to know the difference between these natural needs and these destructive desires – in this case destroying our health.
So we have a dilemma deciding on which “desires” are needs and which arise in the desiring mind and don’t need satiating. How do we judge this? Firstly we are given a mental tool for this - meditation. Regular meditation develops in us a sense of when desires are inappropriate either during the meditation or actually when the desire arises - this sense of awareness of inappropriate desires as they happen is part of mindfulness. The other question we can ask concerning desires is this:- do our desires help us follow the Path? Continuing the comparison between needs and desires, the need for healthy food keeps our bodies healthy enabling us to follow the Path. If we follow our desires for addictive foods our bodies very soon develop disease. If you have a problem disciplining yourself to meditate it is much harder when you are ill so having an optimally-healthy body is a pre-requisite of the Path.
I mentioned already the importance of moral integrity with regards to desire, I particularly think this is important when we are young and first developing sexual desire. How can we control that desire? And the consequences? Ruination of lives, children born to teenagers or out of wedlock, unwanted babies who then feel parental resentment and by the time they are teenagers often start the cycle again. Imagine if our children could actually control themselves so that they only had children in wedlock, how much more stable would our society be - how fewer social problems society would have to deal with. And suppose as an adult you decide you can enter an adult relationship involving children that does not involve marriage, you are then old enough to understand some of the consequences. For dealing with our children as they grow up through the difficult teenage years, moral integrity is a most important capacity that parents need to put across. Sadly the loss of a moral imperative is something that grew through the 60s and 70s. Prior to this there was a greater moral sense in society but I consider this morality a kind of "imposed Victorianism", the society was not moral engaging in wars etc, but the imposed conduct had a greater moral sense than contemporary conduct. Unfortunately people of my generation rejected this "imposed Victorianism" emphasising the hypocrisy that lay behind it. In practice all we did was take off some of the shackles that prevented the worse elements of our society from increasing exploitation.
One specific example of this is credit, my parent's generation avoided credit. They accepted the need for a mortgage as few had capital to buy a house but mortgage repayments were budgeted, especially as that generation accepted the need for a stable job after being brought up in the devastation of war. However as the decades moved to a new millennium, the yardstick for credit has changed from the ability to repay within a sound budget to get whatever you can get and avoid consequences if possible. Once the hedge fund manipulations became publicly recognised our financial masters recognised they had an opportunity to squeeze these excessive credit practices whilst avoiding some public wrath. However these corporate leaders have become controlled by their greed, so not only do they live off government handouts but they also use that money to pay themselves bonuses. Such overt greed will eventually cause their downfall despite all the protections they have in place. It will take far more than a puppet government to control the peoples' backlash when it comes.
This rampant credit is not simply caused by the greed of our financial masters, it has also come on a personal level. We found that we were able to borrow rather than earn. As a student I looked at comfortable second-hand furniture as sufficient, yet before the recession students would just put themselves further into debt to have a flat decorated to their contemporary fashionable specs. This greed grew out of a generation whose desires have been pampered, as children they lacked the disciplined upbringing of children in the 50s. Discipline is also important in controlling desires but I don't just mean imposed discipline. As children grow up it is necessary for parents to impose discipline as children cannot control their own desires, but as responsible adults we need to develop our own sense of discipline. Discipline by repression does not create that responsible discipline, that can only come from the Path.
But this discipline is not conformity. Firstly we must remember that discipline has a corrective function. Through conditioning we accumulate our learning burden, and then as we turn the corner on the Path we start to heal and learn. At this stage discipline is very important, and imposed learned discipline can help. At that stage we are not likely to choose to be moral especially if we are western. A spiritual leader describing a moral Path can then of course be beneficial. Equally a spiritual leader describing a particular form of meditation and requiring a particular daily routine helps as well until we can determine our meditation for ourselves. And the same is also true for our food and exercise. The food we eat might not be healthy, we might not be taking daily exercise, and we might not be doing some form of energy work like Chilel. Because of our miseducation all of these need correcting and imposed discipline can then help, but these are all conformity. At this stage conformity is valid but we have to eventually recognise that this conformity provides a restrictive shape.
We need to learn who we are, and this cannot come with conformity – it comes from freedom. Once our conformed discipline begins to create harmony in our daily life, then we are in a condition to experience freedom. At this point our desires are sufficiently controlled that we can experience Being, be a part of Being, knowing that our previous lack of mindfulness, that might lead to uncontrolled desire and a situation in daily life that is not conducive to the Path, has been surpassed.Once we start the process of learning who we are – as opposed to conforming to someone else’s view of who we are, we make personal our Path. Once we know how to eat, we choose our most suitable food, once we are working with our energy we choose the most suitable way to work with that energy. And we choose our meditation so that our minds can develop to create our freedom. If we conform we do not choose, and without that intention the Path falls short.