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Facing and Handling Desires in Daily Life

On Sunday, February 1, 2009, Dr. Rebecca Li, professor of Sociology, gave a talk at CMC on the topic of "Facing and Handling Desires in Daily Life".

Dr. Li's talk is based on writings by Master Sheng Yen on the movement for "Protecting the Spiritual Environment". This approach does not mean repressing, ignoring, or eliminating desire, but using wisdom to handle desire, seeing clearly, and distinguishing between need and desire within Chan practice. The following are some guidelines for dealing with desire:

· What do we really need?
· See clearly that desire or greed comes from craving.
· What is appropriate to desire and pursue?
· What should we pursue because it is our responsibility to do so?
· What should we not pursue because causes and conditions are not present?

As a prerequisite, when talking about desire, we should not automatically think it is negative. If we do so, this assumption will prevent us from seeing clearly and creates a blockage in our minds. Rather, handling desire is an exercise in the practice of non-duality.

We have very few needs, but our wants are many. This is the human condition. It is very distressing for people to not have what they need, like enough food or decent shelter. People cannot be productive and contribute to society without having their basic needs met.

It is right to want to fulfill our basic needs. Denial of our basic needs is not the Buddhist path. The Buddhist path is the practice of the middle way—avoiding asceticism and self-indulgence. In daily life, we are usually swinging between denial and indulgence.

Dr. Li used food to explore the extremes of self-deprivation and self-indulgence, and suggested that we may substitute this example with anything that we may desire, including sex, clothes, power, homes, or cars.

Before actually eating, we often find ourselves asking, "What do I feel like eating?" treating food as an object of desire. If we think about the true purpose of eating, we will realize it is for refueling the body with nutrients. Dr. Li gave examples of four different attitudes about food—that of the ignorance, asceticism, indulgence, and attachment to ideas of self.

To conclude the talk, Dr. Li gave the following advice on handling desire:

· Be clear that we have desire
· Know if the causes and conditions allow us to follow our desire
· Adjust our desire according to causes and conditions

Reference: "The Fivefold Spiritual Renaissance Campaign"

(by Chang Jie)

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