Wonderfully helpful piece by Tara Brach below. But a question lingers for me: doesn’t the dharma teach us that “our natural inclination as living beings to have wants and needs” is borne out of delusions about the self, and that feeling and living out this insight is the highest goal?
Based on what I know, my guess is that the radical acceptance—in essence, forgiving ourselves for being human—has to happen first, or at least concurrently. Otherwise, it means we don’t have enough love in our heart to carry on this entire project at all, and love is the most important thing. I believe it’s more important (though very slightly) than relating wisely to our desires.
I guess this is the seed of the Theravada vs. Mahayana split…!
[T]he Buddha never intended to make desire itself the problem. When he said craving causes suffering, he was referring not to our natural inclination as living beings to have wants and needs, but to our habit of clinging to experience that must, by nature, pass away, and that relating wisely to the powerful and pervasive energy of desire is a pathway into unconditional loving.
While often uncomfortable, desire is not bad — it is natural. The pull of desire is part of our survival equipment. It keeps us eating, having sex, going to work, doing what we do to thrive. Desire also motivates us to read books, listen to talks and explore spiritual practices that help us realize and inhabit loving awareness. The same life energy that leads to suffering also provides the fuel for profound awakening. Desire becomes a problem only when it takes over our sense of who we are.
In teaching the Middle Way, the Buddha guided us to relate to desire without getting possessed by it and without resisting it. He was talking about every level of desire — for food, sex, love, freedom. He was talking about all degrees of wanting, from small preferences to the most compelling cravings. We are mindful of desire when we experience it with an embodied awareness, recognizing the sensations and thoughts of wanting as arising and passing phenomena. While this isn’t easy, as we cultivate the clear seeing and compassion of Radical Acceptance, we discover we can open fully to this natural force, and remain free in its midst.
The illusion of separateness is the toughest to overcome. We constantly need to practice feeling and living counter to this. We must see the truth that you, I and all matter always already were and are part of each other, such that there is no need to grasp for ownership. Grasping wouldn’t just be silly; it would bring a lifetime of unnecessary pain.
“When you do something, you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.”