I’ve been considerably exposed to the idea (mostly, but not exclusively Buddhist) that as wanting is the cause of all suffering, the goal of the spiritual life is to free the self from want. What this line of thought does not express so clearly is the logic underpinning it. To escape from wanting is to escape from living. It’s a process of transcending the realities of this life, on the assumption that something better than this life is available. Many religions are, in essence, about getting out of all this nasty, messy, hurty physicality and on to the good stuff.
As a Druid, my spiritual life is rooted in the earth. As a maybeist, I just don’t have the clarity of belief about afterlife to want to dedicate this one to reaching for what might or might not come next. If an approach isn’t relevant right now, it’s not going to work for me. (Other people with other beliefs and world views are welcome to do differently, this is not a judgement of anyone else’s perspective, just an expression of what works for me and what doesn’t.) As I don’t want to transcend this life, do I need to uphold the same approach to wanting that is held by religions that are about escaping from the physical? I think not. Avoiding want is only a spiritual virtue if it connects to the spiritual goal of transcendence. We’ve turned want into a suspect thing. ‘I want doesn’t get’ and all that.
Recently James blogged at Contemplative Inquiry about wanting, and I wanted to respond in some way… so here we are.
Not climbing imagined ladders
To pure, elated wants
That are other-named
Not flesh transcending
Nor pain ignoring
Not so live
Only raw truth
Desire to exist
No quiet escape
To unfeeling places
Present in want
Gifted in wanting.
January 17th, 2015 at 6:25 pm
Thank you for this. I’ve always felt much the same.
January 18th, 2015 at 6:01 pm
January 19th, 2015 at 10:33 am
On the one hand I understand what you mean and I agree: To suppress any want in order to ‘transcend’ this vale of tears/samsara etc. doesn’t seem to be…er…healthy?
But on the other hand there are situations in which wanting gets destructive: Wanting to see your friends is okay, wanting a new motorway being built to see them might be a tad excessive…
As you mentioned Buddhism: Buddhists have the concept of the ‘Three Poisons’ – greed, hate and delusion. Greed is wanting too much, hate is the other side of the coin and delusion the inability to distinguish between the two.
January 19th, 2015 at 11:17 am
There’s a (could be Plato?) line of thought that virtue lies between too points of excess… this might be a case in point. the wanting of the animal self can be a very good and natural thing, but when that’s allowed to run wholly unchecked, it can become truly nasty, just as when we try and wholly suppress it.
January 19th, 2015 at 8:58 pm
It’s Aristotle’s ‘Nicomachean Ethics’.
January 20th, 2015 at 8:04 am
thank you! I never manage to remember which of the Greeks said what…
January 26th, 2015 at 12:10 pm
The term ‘tanha’ is usually translated as ‘craving’ or ‘clinging’. It is not so much about not having or wanting material things so much as not causing suffering to yourself by trying to cling on to things/situations/people that are by their very nature, transient. It is more a case of enjoying them while they are there and then learning to gracefully let go when the time comes. Not easy, I grant you, but not entirely life-denying either. I struggled with Buddhism to begin with, for exactly the reasons you mention, but as time goes on and my understanding increases I have more and more time for it. I kind of think of myself as a Samnkhya Hindu/Buddhist/ Druid. (no, I don’t understand it either!) 🙂
One of the sayings of the Buddha I always liked is this. Wealth brings with it four blessings: The blessing of earning it honourably and well, the blessing of being debt free, the blessing of enjoying the pleasures wealth brings you, whilst not clinging to them as if they would last forever, and the blessing of being in a position to help others.
January 26th, 2015 at 12:56 pm
Thank you for this insight. I wonder to what degree my experience has been shaped unhelpfully by other people’s interpretations – there’s not been much first hand experience in my life. And of course things shifting between languages can shift nuance in really unhelpful ways.