Ah, those Buddhists! Crazy people with their asceticism! Always fighting against craving and wanting everyone to live austere boring lives, eh? You can hopefully tell that’s a stereotype, and like all of them, there’s a grain of truth here. But it’s not nearly as bad as you might think. Let’s read what the Dhammapada has to say on the topic of craving:
334. The craving of one given to heedless living grows like a creeper. Like the monkey seeking fruits in the forest, he leaps from life to life (tasting the fruit of his kamma).
335. Whoever is overcome by this wretched and sticky craving, his sorrows grow like grass after the rains.
336. But whoever overcomes this wretched craving, so difficult to overcome, from him sorrows fall away like water from a lotus leaf.
Anyone who’s ever had any addiction knows what this feels like. But it’s not just addictions, because on some level, all things are addictive. Are you enjoying that dessert? Why not have more of it? Oh, go on, even more! Maybe the next morning when you get up, you’re already looking forward to that dessert again.
The same happens on other levels. Your mind might crave things, pleasant feelings, nice states of mind, satisfaction, gratification. But then it also gets boredom, unpleasant feelings, unsatisfied, ungratified living. The trick is to see the former as the craving it is, but to be heedful, to be mindful of it. Letting it grow will only make it worse. You’ll crave more and more, your desires will take complete control of you, and it’s also those desires that make you feel bored and unsatisfied when they expose their flipside.
So by keeping to the center, not being pulled into craving, you will also be able to drop your sorrows, your boredom, your unsatisfaction.
337. This I say to you: Good luck to all assembled here! Dig up the root of craving, like one in search of the fragrant root of the birana grass. Let not Mara crush you again and again, as a flood crushes a reed.
338. Just as a tree, though cut down, sprouts up again if its roots remain uncut and firm, even so, until the craving that lies dormant is rooted out, suffering springs up again and again.
Once you start paying attention to your mind, you might notice this instinctively.
You won’t get rid of suffering and craving over night, it will pop out over and over again, and usually at the worst possible moments. When you’re feeling particularly down, you reach for that whiskey bottle. When there’s been a disappointment at work, you eat that third serving of cake. Or it can be more subtle, you just feel unhappy because you’re not filthy rich, and you start craving that and wallow in your own self-pity.
But if you work on recognizing these thoughts, you can better master them and they become rarer and weaker.
339. The misguided man in whom the thirty-six currents of craving strongly rush toward pleasurable objects, is swept away by the flood of his passionate thoughts.
340. Everywhere these currents flow, and the creeper (of craving) sprouts and grows. Seeing that the creeper has sprung up, cut off its root with wisdom.
341. Flowing in (from all objects) and watered by craving, feelings of pleasure arise in beings. Bent on pleasures and seeking enjoyment, these men fall prey to birth and decay.
They’re hinting at the cycle of Samsara. It’s craving like this, and ultimately craving for rebirth, that ties you to it.
342. Beset by craving, people run about like an entrapped hare. Held fast by mental fetters, they come to suffering again and again for a long time.
This is painfully obvious if you’re ever watched managers or politicians perform some knee-jerk reactions. Doing this or doing that, a huge rush of fearful, blind, uncontrolled activity, their minds firmly encaged.
343. Beset by craving, people run about like an entrapped hare. Therefore, one who yearns to be passion-free should destroy his own craving.
344. There is one who, turning away from desire (for household life) takes to the life of the forest (i.e., of a monk). But after being freed from the household, he runs back to it. Behold that man! Though freed, he runs back to that very bondage!
345-346. That is not a strong fetter, the wise say, which is made of iron, wood or hemp. But the infatuation and longing for jewels and ornaments, children and wives — that, they say, is a far stronger fetter, which pulls one downward and, though seemingly loose, is hard to remove. This, too, the wise cut off. Giving up sensual pleasure, and without any longing, they renounce the world.
And today we have a lot more things to crave for than in ancient India. Smartphones, cars, stock options, cocaine, career, you name it.
347. Those who are lust-infatuated fall back into the swirling current (of samsara) like a spider on its self-spun web. This, too, the wise cut off. Without any longing, they abandon all suffering and renounce the world.
348. Let go of the past, let go of the future, let go of the present, and cross over to the farther shore of existence. With mind wholly liberated, you shall come no more to birth and death.
349. For a person tormented by evil thoughts, who is passion-dominated and given to the pursuit of pleasure, his craving steadily grows. He makes the fetter strong, indeed.
This is why cutting off your craving is important. Not in some silly pursuit of asceticism. Buddha wasn’t an ascetic, he renounced asceticism just like he renounced riches. But in order to free yourself.
350. He who delights in subduing evil thoughts, who meditates on the impurities and is ever mindful — it is he who will make an end of craving and rend asunder Mara’s fetter.
351. He who has reached the goal, is fearless, free from craving, passionless, and has plucked out the thorns of existence — for him this is the last body.
Passionless doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your hobbies or a good glass of wine. It’s more like you are no longer controlled by your passions, you no longer respond to your impulses like a tamed tiger to the master’s whip.
352. He who is free from craving and attachment, is perfect in uncovering the true meaning of the Teaching, and knows the arrangement of the sacred texts in correct sequence — he, indeed, is the bearer of his final body. He is truly called the profoundly wise one, the great man.
353. A victor am I over all, all have I known. Yet unattached am I to all that is conquered and known. Abandoning all, I am freed through the destruction of craving. Having thus directly comprehended all by myself, whom shall I call my teacher?
354. The gift of Dhamma excels all gifts; the taste of the Dhamma excels all tastes; the delight in Dhamma excels all delights. The Craving-Freed vanquishes all suffering.
A nice advertisement for the dhamma. Why are you shooting up if the self-mastery and the destruction of illusions that the dhamma offers are so much sweeter than the purest heroin?
355. Riches ruin only the foolish, not those in quest of the Beyond. By craving for riches the witless man ruins himself as well as others.
356. Weeds are the bane of fields, lust is the bane of mankind. Therefore, what is offered to those free of lust yields abundant fruit.
357. Weeds are the bane of fields, hatred is the bane of mankind. Therefore, what is offered to those free of hatred yields abundant fruit.
358. Weeds are the bane of fields, delusion is the bane of mankind. Therefore, what is offered to those free of delusion yields abundant fruit.
359. Weeds are the bane of fields, desire is the bane of mankind. Therefore, what is offered to those free of desire yields abundant fruit.
There are pretty illustrations of this chapter in the Illustrated Dhammapada by BhuddaNet.
This is a series of articles I’m doing on one of the basic Buddhist texts, the Dhammapada. Read the rest of the articles in this series.