Through my many years of studying complicated texts on eastern philosophy, a theme arose regularly. This theme was desire – more specifically that desire was a main cause of suffering. It puzzled me. Surely the desire for Enlightenment, health etc was necessary to be merely interested in the spiritual path, right? I would then hear monks say that some desires were ok but others were not. This did not satisfy me. It left too much room for my dualistic ego to come in and judge and rationalize what was a “good” desire and what was a “bad” desire. Something was missing and it was not until years later that I understood what it was.
I realized that the problem was that we were using one word, one distinction with two distinct meanings. One desire was a good desire and one desire was a bad desire. Realization came when I began using two different words for each distinction. For me, desire described a healthy interest in something. I used the term “wanting” to describe the sticky, attached and painful need for something.
The difference between desire and wanting is this: I Love to dive. Diving is one of my most favorite things to do in life. However, if I do not dive for years I’m not sitting home aching and upset that I’m not diving. It does not cause me pain to not dive. This is desire. I have the desire to dive but without it I do not suffer. Next, let’s take everyone’s favorite, romantic relationships. For many people in western society romantic relationships are the Holy Grail. We plan and scheme on how to get one. Much of our attention is spent worrying and wondering when this amazing thing will happen for us. Without it, we can feel incomplete or even less than. Without it we suffer. It’s important to see that we do not simply desire a relationship – we want one. And, not having what we want causes great suffering where as not getting what we desire cause no suffering.
Realizing the difference between desire and wanting will itself release most of your suffering. The reason for this is that wanting disguises itself as many different things. Sometimes, what you think is Loving, Kind, Compassionate and Patient is really your ego wanting to get something. Luckily, there is an undeniable indication of when this is occurring. When you are wanting something and you do not get it you become angry – sometimes very angry.
You must see clearly that when you are angry you are angry because things are not a certain way. That anger is caused by your mind wanting things to be a certain way and not the way they are. When you bring the light of your consciousness to your wanting you can dissolve it. Once the wanting is gone the pain and suffering is gone. Let’s assume that you do not have snow shoes right now. Are you suffering? No. Why? Because you do not want snow shoes. Let’s assume you do not have a romantic relationship. Are you suffering? Yes. Why? Because you WANT one! And when you do not get what you want you become angry. The combination of anger and wanting create suffering in you. And, you will suffer until the want is gone.
Now here is the punchline. When you get what you want it will only satisfy you for a moment. Then, your mind will be looking for something else to want and you will be upset until you get that. The reason for this is there is no inherent peace or joy contained in the thing that you want. It always comes from you, from your state of mind. When you get what you want you experience a moment of peace, joy and happiness. That peace, joy and happiness does NOT come from getting the thing you want so much. That thing contains no peace and joy. The moment you get what you want the peace, joy and happiness you are experiencing is the absence of wanting. Yet, you falsely think that the thing thing you want is bringing you peace and joy. And, when wanting is gone suffering is gone. And this is why the great sages will always tell you to get rid of your wants.
Tom Notarianni Jr.