In this human world there are many pleasant experiences — pleasant
sense experiences, pleasant experiences in the mind, pleasant emotions,
pleasant meditative states. Desire is conditioned by contact
with these pleasant feelings, just as contact with the unpleasant
conditions aversion. We’re living in a world with so
many pleasant things — we’re quite privileged in this
way — and that’s the field out of which desire arises.
Before studying the hindrance of desire, reflect
on the pleasant things in your world. Reflect on
your experience of desire that accompanies these
pleasant experiences and things.
What is desire?
How does desire function?
We translate the Pali word tanha as desire or craving.
But because desire has several meanings in English,
we need to be clear about how we are using the word.
For example, there is desire to accomplish something. Such desire
may be motivated by compassion, love, or wisdom or by more
unwholesome factors like greed or selfishness. We may have
the desire for enlightenment. Desire can also mean the wish to
satisfy some very basic needs, such as the desire for
food and shelter. These desires do not necessarily involve
greed or craving.
Reflect on whether your desire for love,
wisdom, compassion is ever mixed with thirst, craving.
How about your desire for food, shelter, job — are
these tinged with clinging or craving?
When we talk of desire as a hindrance, we’re
speaking of the force of greed in the mind— the energy of
craving or grasping. The Buddha taught that desire and ignorance are
the root causes of what he called samsara,the cycle of birth and
death. Because of ignorance, we don’t see the
true nature of phenomena so desire arises; because of desire we
don’t see clearly, and so we do many actions out of
ignorance, each creating their own karmic fruits.
Tanha is sometimes translated as thirst.
Reflect on what it feels like when you’re thirsty.
Can you relate his feeling to other desires? Where
do you experience tanha arising?
Thirsting for something is a powerful force. Tanha
is that greed or thirst for some pleasant experience. Where
do we see this arising? We can see it clearly in the areas
of our strongest attachments. Look at where you’re
the most attached and you’ll see desire arising in different
We can see it arise with regard to our bodies, to the people
who are close to us, to the various pleasant sense experiences
in our lives.
The force of desire encompasses quite a range and we don’t
have to look very far. It’s very pervasive, operating on
many different levels
We see it in obsessive passion. If we observe the difference between
the love we may feel for our family or friends and the feeling
of desire we have for objects of passion we can experience how
different these states are.
Reflect on your important
relationships. Can you see both love and attachment,
love and desire, love and thirst? Reflect on how
each are working for you.
We see desire in our addictive cravings. When you’re
addicted to something, whether it’s a strong one (alchohol
or drugs) or a minor one ( the morning coffee) it’s
that force of desire, of greed, of thirst that is at work.
Reflect on how much of your
mental energy is consumed with wanting.
We see desire in our recurrent fantasies. On meditation
retreats people often spend some time sitting lost in fantasy.
It might be sexual fantasies, it might be fantasies of the next
vacation, the next meal. You just get into this nice, pleasant
reverie about something, the hour goes quickly, and then we think, “Oh,
that was a good sitting!” Mindfulness was lost, but it was
Sometimes we experience desire simply
as a passing whim of the mind. You’re going down the
street and the thought arises, “I’d like an ice cream.” While
the object of desire may be something quite harmless, it’s
that force of wanting that arises and takes over.
While an ice cream cone itself may seem unimportant, the energy
of wanting, of desire, is not superficial. It is rooted very
deeply in our consciousness.