Originally posted April 17, 2012 by remingtoncooney |
Back in the days when I was living in Melbourne, I used to attend Kadampa Buddhism classes down on St. Kilda Boulevard. It was a once a week affair where we would listen to the resident monk speak on a topic based on the Kadampa scriptures. He would recite passages and then interpret them in layman’s terms so that we, the students, could best understand them.
Although I did not completely align to Kadampa Buddhism itself, I learnt some truly amazing things from Raptin and Dornyin, the two monks who led the weekly procession. One teaching I recall most vividly was on desire and the ego. Dornyin used the analogy of one being tempted by a large dessert (I believe it was a chocolate cake) to portray the workings of the ego mind. Upon seeing the chocolate cake we immediately think “I want to eat that.” We have that impulse desire, and so, we follow through. We begin eating the cake: first one slice, then two. All the while, the desire continues and we think, “I want more!” Before we know it, we’ve eaten 5 slices and we feel ill. Then we come out of our trance of desire and think, “I feel sick. I really shouldn’t have eaten all that. I never want chocolate cake again.”
The transition from really wanting something to never wanting it again is an interesting one. It was also at the core of what Dornyin was highlighting; that is, these are things we never really wanted to begin with; these are things we could have done without, and therefore, after having them, we come to the conclusion that we never want them again. The catch here is that the ego’s appetite can only be temporarily satiated. Because of this, we will soon find ourselves indulging in more cake, despite our claim that we never wanted it again.
Dornyin’s message was that one needs to learn to control the desire of the ego. He recommended taking a step back before acting on an impulse desire and asking yourself the question, “is this what I really want?” He was suggesting that if you have enough self-control to take that step back before eating another slice of chocolate cake, you would realize another slice would make you sick; therefore, you would refrain from eating it.
On an off-hand note, I find desserts are a little passé. At least I don’t have many friends who indulge, as many of them appear to be quite disciplined with their dessert desires. So, I feel this analogy is a little flawed. I believe an appropriate replacement for the chocolate cake would be alcohol. It is something my peers yield to more commonly and from what I have observed, I have not witnessed the same discipline of desire with alcohol. So, please review Dornyin’s analogy but replace all ‘chocolate cake’s’ with alcohol…
Great, now everyone can relate. Since we’re all on the same page (so to speak), I will proceed.
While Dornyin’s analogy was good, I believe it is also far too simplified. I’m sure he recognized this as well, but because he was introducing us to much more complex Buddhist teachings, I feel he intentionally simplified it so that we could come to terms with the basics of desire and ego. After all, he was an incredibly wise man who taught me countless new things and spurred me along my quest to learn about eastern spirituality.
Nevertheless, if we were to always be taking a step back and questioning whether we really want something, we would never be acting spontaneously. I often feel that acting on an impulse desire is one of the greatest things we can do. I myself find it very difficult to do so, but when I do, I am always amazed at what fresh events spontaneity brings into my life. If we were to always be taking a step back and questioning before we act, it would create a staggering effect, which would obstruct the ‘jedi-flow’ that results from working with the Tao.
In my opinion, there are two kinds of desires: the first being a desire of the ego, the second being a desire of the heart. Ego desires are the attachment desires. The “I need’s” and “I must have’s” and when we do finally get what the ego desires, we realize we don’t want it anymore. You can tell what an ego desire is because after you acquire it, you no longer feel very good. It is only the process of desire that made you feel good, because the rush abounds in the method of acquiring. Common examples of ego desires are money, lust, McDonalds at the end of a night of drinking…
As I mentioned, the second kind of desire is the heart desire. When I refer to ‘heart’ I’m referring to soul, or intuition which is the part of us that is connected with our higher selves. The heart desire is much softer. It does not say “I must have this or that,” it says, “could I please have that? I would really appreciate it.” When we feel and act on our heart’s desire we feel a great sense of certainty. Like what we are doing is truly what we want. We just know somewhere deep inside of us that we are doing something that is ‘right’ by ourselves. It is a beautiful, magical feeling of attunement and it is at the very essence of working with the Tao. The heart desire exists within Love energy. The greatest depiction of us experiencing true heart desire, is when we fall in love with someone – true, selfless love, where we feel the person is so beautiful that it doesn’t matter whether we are with them or not, we just desire to give them Love energy. It could be romantic love, family love, friendship love. I’m sure many would agree that this is the most powerful thing an individual can experience.
Coming back to impulsive desires, when acting impulsively from the heart, one never has to step back and question their decision because one will always be acting in accordance with their higher self. This is that feeling of ‘jedi-flow’ or ‘surfer’s-flow,’ where no act that you undertake is obstructed. Our higher selves are assimilated to the Tao, so by tapping into them and acting alongside them, we are constantly in free-form flow acting in Wu-wei. For this reason, the Taoist sages would never have to take Dornyin’s advice and step back before acting. They were working with the Tao and hence, their desires were always aligned with heart desires. That being said, Taoist sages, much like Buddhist Monks, spend years overcoming their ego desires through disciplined practices such as meditation, Qi-gong, and abstinence. So, in this sense, perhaps this is their way of taking a step back to discover what they really want, as opposed to what their ego’s want.
As the end of this post draws near I’ve come to realize one thing: the question – ‘what we want and what we really want’ – is one of the most difficult questions we can ask ourselves. By no means have I even come close to answering it within this post, and even then, I could never answer it for anyone else, only myself.
Rather, what I truly intended to do in this post was provide some food for thought. Within it, you can find my belief system, where I have defined the two base desires that I consider to exist within us. I myself follow both Buddhist and Taoist belief that ego desires are there to be overcome, and through disciplined practice we can do so. I, however, do not believe in eradicating the ego because the ego is still very much a part of our self. My feeling is that the ego is to be overcome through acceptance rather than rejection. Like a troubled child, the only way the ego can behave itself is by us choosing to love it unconditionally, so that it does not have a reason to fight us any longer.
All of the problems that exist within our world are a direct result of mankind acting on ego desire. If we all took a step back from the chocolate cake and listened to our heart’s desire, healing the world would be a very easy process indeed. I try to avoid making such grandiose, ideological statements, but in this case, I believe it’s complete and utter truth. If this ruffles your feathers (or anything else I’ve said in this post for that matter), please challenge me. It is through discussions on such things that the greatest outcomes are reached.
In the meantime, try and see if you can distinguish ego desires from heart desires. Observe what events in your life are analogous to the chocolate cake scenario. Observe events that make you feel selfless love. Which desires do you think you enjoy acting on, and which desires do you really enjoy acting on?