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Monday, May 26, 2014

Does Wanting Cause Spiritual Illness?

In Tolle's '"A New Earth", I was introduced to the concept of wanting as the cause of spiritual illness. The idea seemed rather simplistic to me at first yet as I reflect back on it- the truth seems undeniable.

Let me offer two extreme and true examples.

I had an acquaintance once, a friend who through real estate investments- turned a hundred thousand dollars into about 10 million. This included a successful real estate business that his wife owned and operated. In fact, that business dominated the local market. One day, I saw my friend at the bank. We struck up a casual conversation. Reflecting on how well he had done financially over the course of our lives, I asked him when he was going to retire. Just sell out and go live the good life. I asked him if 10 million was enough and he replied, "I don't know. There are other things I want."

I remember that conversation well. In my world, 10 million dollars was an absolute fortune.

I also knew a man worth two or three times that. I was talking to him about his personal jet- a plane which he had just sold. I was curious. He was explaining his jet dilemma. Once he had purchased his jet, he had to pay for pilots, fuel, insurance, and storage. He said he never flied often enough to justify those expenses. And he added, no matter how big and fast any of his planes had been- he always wanted a bigger and faster one.

The problem with wanting is simple. It dominates our thoughts. As a culture, we are forever wanting bigger houses, nicer cars, more money. We want youthful appearances. We are bombarded with advertising which takes advantage of this giant flaw of ours. All of this wanting and coveting eventually flowers into a sort of insatiable greed that is never satiated. In turn, unsatiated wanting causes frustration and unmet expectations. It is the insanity of our culture. We are never satisfied.
At our worst we are never grateful, and perhaps even deeply depressed- when we don't get what we want. Or worse- when we don't get what we think we deserve or are entitled to.

This lack of gratitude for the gifts we do have- is exchanged for smoldering resentments and perhaps even jealousy- as we constantly want we don't have and we see others getting what we desire.

Several years ago, I was able to identify and diagnose this spiritual illness in myself. Today, I am incredibly grateful for the things I have. A little house, a car, a motorcycle. I am grateful for so many things- including my relationships. I don't really need anything else. I am very content.

Happy people are grateful people. They recognize the gifts they have been given.

As I was researching the "four noble truths" of Buddhism- my first stop at wiki- offered this. This was the exact same process I had found and applied- I was completely unaware that Buddhism teaches the very same process. I have included it here.

Illness, diagnosis, and cure

In the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha is often compared to a great physician, and his teachings are compared to medicine. The teachings on the four noble truths in particular are related to a medical diagnosis, as follows:[q]
  1. The truth of dukkha: identifying the illness and the nature of the illness (the diagnosis)
  2. The truth of origin: identifying the causes of the illness (the etiology)
  3. The truth of cessation: identifying a cure for the illness (the prognosis)
  4. The truth of the path: recommending a treatment for the illness that can bring about a cure (the prescription)
This analogy is said to emphasize the compassion of the Buddha—that he was motivated by the desire to relieve the suffering of beings.[44][46] It also emphasizes that the Buddha was presented as physician, or healer of the spirit, rather than as a meta-physician or someone who spoke of supernatural powers.[r] For example, Pico Iyer states: "The Buddha generally presented himself as more physician than metaphysician: if an arrow is sticking out of your side, he famously said, don’t argue about where it came from or who made it; just pull it out. You make your way to happiness not by fretting about it or trafficking in New Age affirmations, but simply by finding the cause of your suffering, and then attending to it, as any doctor (of mind or body) might do."[web 12]
Contemporary Buddhist teacher Tamara Engel also emphasizes the Buddha's reluctance to comment on metaphysical matters:[web 10]
The brilliance of this medical model is that the Buddha offers a complete spiritual path that does not depend on metaphysical speculation or belief—no speculation or belief about God. No leap of faith is required. The illness the Buddha refers to is a particular kind of suffering, and there is nothing metaphysical about it. We all experience it. In fact, it is said that the Buddha would never enter into a metaphysical discussion. He stated, “I teach one thing and one thing only. Suffering and the end of suffering.”
There are many examples both in the original suttas and in traditional and contemporary commentaries that compare the Buddha to a physician.[s]

Does wanting ever cease or become satiated? Perhaps, but I think wanting can only end when it is recognized as the source of continual emotional suffering and frustration and replaced with gratitude for those gifts that we already possess.