On Desire as the Root of suffering


I don’t remember much from world religions class in high school, but I do remember that a central idea in Buddhism is: Desire is the root of suffering.

I’ve been thinking about this concept as of late, and am trying to put it into practice.  No, I’m not Buddhist.  But I think there is something to it.  How often do we go around  wanting things and torturing ourselves because we don’t have them, can’t have them?

Whether it’s the trophy husband/wife, dream job/fellowship/scholarship, financial life, social life etc. I think a lot of people fall into this pit.  Did I?

hmmm not sure, but I’m trying to rearrange my priorities.  Maybe I will have a better attitude about life if I can try to think about things within this prism.  As a believer, His grace/provenance and guidance should be enough.

Maybe I hate my host family because I desired too much, maybe I tire myself out with the unnecessary pressure I put on myself for things that are beyond my control to a large extent.  Maybe I regret my educational pursuits, because there is something in human nature that always makes us see that the grass is greener on the other side, that makes us question our choices in 20/20 hindsight. And don’t even get me started on social/romantic choices.

All of that is a thing of the past.  Desire is the root of suffering is my new mantra… although I wonder, could the opposite be true?  Could suffering be the root of desire?   Could you need to feel the burn in life in order to push yourself harder, to be faster, stronger, wiser?

Today I put up a facebook status, that was basically my realization of two important facts.  1. For every year since 2004, I have spent at least 1 month abroad.  2. Each of these experiences  in turn, made me appreciative of the fact that no matter what, America is the place I call home.  Some of these trips at least, involved real, raw suffering. They made me desire to be back in the place that I perhaps otherwise would have taken for granted… even though it too is/was filled with it’s own sets of obstacles…sigh. That’s life folks. Can’t live with her, can’t live without her, (does that even make sense?)

At any rate, I will see what I will discover in the next few weeks and months,  from here on out, I’m trying to desire as little as possible.  He who expects nothing is never disappointed.  I don’t know if Buddha said that… but something to keep in mind.

I’m not going to turn into some ascetic or anything, but I’ve been needing a fresh page for a long time… I don’t know if this is it… but here goes nothing.  Which is what I desire.


6 thoughts on “On Desire as the Root of suffering

  1. Yes, sometimes we focus on what we think we ‘lack’ instead of being grateful for what we don’t lack. When I recognize the signs that I’m starting to focus on ‘lack’, I turn it around and start naming what I have to be grateful for. Just a thought. Enjoyed the post.

  2. Well, I don’t know. Wanting certain things in life, even certain vacuous things, isn’t always bad. What matters most to me is (1) what you do with those things to edify others (if applicable) and (2) not compromising your sense of dignity and humanity to obtain that stuff. All the same, good post!

    • You’re absolutely right… there are desires that are more linked to our desire to help others, make the world a better place etc. What I have a problem with is linking ideas like happiness, measures of success to ones ability to fulfill these desires, not matter how meaningful and the opposite of vacuous they are… needless to say haven’t figured out all the kinks of my new mantra.

  3. I feel like there’s not life without desire of some sort. I can see how desire can be the root of suffering, but do we not also desire to not suffer in trying to rid ourselves of desire, thus setting ourselves up for suffering as suffering is, in fact, inevitable on a certain level? It’s hard for us not to desire for at least the status quo, and we all know that it can be upset at any given time.

    But I feel where you’re coming from… Not having too many high expectations, but making sure that not having expectations doesn’t leave us settling for less than what we deserve. Right? It’s a not-easy balance.

    God should be enough, but God did create us to hunger and thirst for things. Are we not realizing our nature, or are we supposed to transcend that nature? God is merciful and our fast ends at sunset and lasts only one month.

    Because sometimes, suffering isn’t about desire. It’s about lack of something we just need.

    I feel like we are programmed to desire, and in it can be beauty and in it can be suffering, but not always. These days, I’m more on a mindfulness track. Sometimes, things in life hurt, and appropriately so, so I let them hurt and don’t beat myself up for hurting.

    • “Not having too many high expectations, but making sure that not having expectations doesn’t leave us settling for less than what we deserve. Right? It’s a not-easy balance.”

      No it’s not an easy balance, I’m at the point where I am questioning what I think I deserve. I mean why do I deserve anything? why am I better than this or that, or than him or her? What is it about me that makes me entitled to anything? …. Like I replied in Andre’s comment, I haven’t figured the kinks of this yet.

      “Because sometimes, suffering isn’t about desire. It’s about lack of something we just need.” You said it so succintly, this is something that I think about as well. But how do I know I need it? that’s it, my head already hurts with the first question… to be continued.

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