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Friday, March 13, 2009

Question for the Year Revisited

Previously on "How does one change what one wants?" In a sense, Buddhism is the opposite of Hinduism on the desires front. Hinduism says satisfy the desires you have now, and eventually you'll desire higher things. Then satisfy those. Eventually you'll desire liberation from the finite. Buddhism on the other hand says that all life is suffering, and desire is the source of suffering. Stop desiring and you will not suffer. Reaching the state where all your desires are quiet seems very similar to desiring liberation from the finite though. To a westerner, this is particularly true.

Buddhism also addresses something that has been a bit of a distraction in this discussion, which is the distinction between helpful and unhelpful or selfish desires. Huston Smith says Buddhism tells us "[t]he way to the overcoming of self-seeking," and that way is the Eightfold Path. I know there are some Buddhist, although perhaps nonpracticing, who read this blog, and of coruse I welcome any corrections. But this is the Eightfold Path: One must have right views, right intent, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

When I opened this topic, I was hoping to stop harming my body through abusing food. I said to myself, the problem is that I desire something about overeating. I wish I could find a way to stop wanting to overeat.

Maybe Buddhism says that I am starting in the middle. Certainly my obesity is a product of self-seeking, but the course of action is not to focus just on how to eat less, or even on how to desire food less. The course first requires me to right my beliefs. Perhaps the root of desire is a self-centered perspective. Perhaps my flaw is much greater that trying to fill my needs through eating, but with trying to fill my needs at all.

But let's take it down a notch. Maybe the first step is for me to view food rightly. Food is fuel for our bodies. It can be a source of pleasure, but it has a primary purpose. The second step was to be intent on using food wisely. Then, perhaps I take note of how often I talk about food as a reward or source of pleasure and then try to avoid doing that. Likewise, I take note of when I eat when not hungry and then eventually stop doing that.

I wonder if there are lessons beyond that. The remaining four steps seem to transcend altering conduct.

Buddhism's remaining requirements strike me as important though. We do have to do something that is good. It is not okay to have your life's pursuit be something wicked; and we spend so much time at our vocation. Right effort refers to keeping after it. Not giving in. What could be more important.

Then, all of a sudden we get to right mindfulness. It's like the path is full of these vicious struggles, trudging through a marsh when you suddenly come out into an open field. "All we are is the result of what we have thought. All things can be mastered by mindfullness." Then take that awareness and hone it.

Buddhism impresses me.

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