In my last post Root of suffering according to the Buddha, it was declared by the Blessed One that desire was the root of suffering. However, there is one exception and that is when desire is used to understand the dhamma. In one of the discourses from the Pali Canon, where the Buddha speaks about the steps towards the realization of truth he states:
“Desire is most helpful for application of the will, Bharadvaja. If one does not arouse desire, one will not apply one’s will; but because one arouses desire, one applies one’s will. That is why desire is most helpful for application of the will.”
(from MN 95; Canki sutta, II 168-77)
One might infer that desire is a double-edged sword; maybe one edge is the desire that causes suffering and the other edge a desire that can be applied for good. Is this possible? You may have a desire to help others, be of service, learn the dhamma, or a desire to end suffering for sentient beings. I actually prefer the word craving, as to extinguish all desires especially those that are focused on positive outcomes would seem nearly impossible. Craving while a synonym for desire seems to have a more sinister connotation at least in my mind. Think about it in these terms:
- A heroin addict craves a fix
- An alcoholic craves a drink
- I am craving ice cream
Craving seems a bit stronger when associated with some form of addiction. Maybe we can just accept that all desires will not result in suffering, but there is always the danger that what we thought of as a healthy desire may someday result in suffering. I just wanted to clarify that the Buddha did have different interpretations of the word desire. Sometimes it is just better to consider that the suffering we experience has its roots in desire and craving, but is often caused or manifested in attachment.
As we know from the Buddha’s teaching the cessation of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path. In this series of blog posts, I would like to explore each of the factors of the Eightfold Path as they apply to ending suffering and how they address attachment. In this blog post, we will start with Right Understanding sometimes referred to as Right View.
I’m going to use a definition from the Tricyle.org website (reference at the end of this post), which I feel is a good description of what Right Understanding (Samma ditthi) is:
“Right understanding is the understanding of things as they are, and it is the four noble truths that explain things as they really are. Right understanding therefore is ultimately reduced to the understanding of the four noble truths. This understanding is the highest wisdom which sees the Ultimate Reality. According to Buddhism there are two sorts of understanding. What we generally call “understanding” is knowledge, an accumulated memory, an intellectual grasping of a subject according to certain given data. This is called “knowing accordingly” (anubodha). It is not very deep. Real deep understanding or “penetration” (pativedha) is seeing a thing in its true nature, without name and label. This penetration is possible only when the mind is free from all impurities and is fully developed through meditation.”
Right understanding helps us see the cause of suffering allowing us to understand how our craving and clinging are actually harming us. Without “right understanding” we would be just tossed about in life, blindly reacting to everything, and being completely oblivious to what is causing our suffering. If you are doing this yourself then “right understanding” is the prescription, but I suspect you are not or you probably would not be reading this blog post.
Once you start to really understand what is causing your suffering you can begin to either avoid the attachment or at least lessen the impact of it. As sad as the loss of a loved one that might include a child, spouse, or parent can be “right understanding” will at least arm you with an understanding of impermanence, which might lessen the attachment you feel. This is always difficult to comprehend as you might think the dhamma is turning you into some cold nonfeeling person who is completely free of attachment. This will not happen to you and when you are faced with the mortality of your loved ones, you will be compassionate and loving to those that are suffering from the loss.
True “right understanding” helps you to see things as they really are, which will take some of the tragedy out of life. I will give you a brief example of where a lack of right understanding led to a lifelong scaring of a person. My father in law worked for a well-known drug company starting with them very early in life. He was very loyal to the company, but when he was about 50 years old the company terminated him and a number of other employees. Fortunately for him, he received a generous pension something that is almost unheard of today. Instead of seeing this as just another bump in the road or something that happens when you work for a corporation he took it as a personal attack. He is in this ’80s now, and he has never forgiven the company, and in fact, he never went back to work. Those of us that do not possess “right understanding” will encounter one round of suffering after another, blaming themselves, or someone else for the pain they feel during their lives.
Cultivate some measure of “right understanding” and your sense of attachment will diminish over time and then you will suffer less. In my next blog post, I will delve into how “right thought” can be an asset in your quest to end suffering for yourself and others.
Note: I wrote this post using Grammarly, which really helps. Give it a try, it works with WordPress and Google Docs.
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