Living Zen and Desire

Question: “I’m so conflicted Quang. I’m living the zen lifestyle, as far as I could tell, and I know that having desire for things isn’t necessarily healthy for you. But at the same time I want a family, and kids you know? I want to have intercourse with my future wife, but not in the sense that we will just bang all the time. I crave the passion, and the love that comes with it. If you could offer some insight on this thought, I would greatly appreciate your wisdom.”

Since when does living a Zen life mean giving up family, friends, and sex? A Zen life is quite the opposite! People often fail to truly understand what Buddhism is really trying to teach. We might hear a lecture or read somewhere that desire is the cause of all our suffering. Which is true, but only for the wrong kind of desire. To be Buddhist we have to have desires. We have to have the desire to become a Buddha! The Buddha taught a simple way of living: if you’re hungry, eat; if you’re thirsty, drink; if you’re tired, go to sleep! That is the practice of a Buddhist. Now… What that means is doing things with mindfulness and moderation.

The Buddha never said you had to leave your family and your obligation behind and become a monk or nun to become enlightened. Sure that’s an easy route, but by no means is it necessary. In our modern society we have so many new things that keep us trapped in this cycle of desires, wants, and materialism. Whether it’s the new iPhone, a nicer car, a bigger house, a better job, more, more, more, want, want, want – that’s all we do. That’s bad desire. Good desire is wanting to help yourself so you can help the other people. Good desire is living a life according to the precepts and Eightfold Path. Good desire is wanting to become a Buddha.

People don’t become monks and nuns because they don’t want a husband or wife, kids, a job, pets, and a big house. No. They become monks and nuns because their desire, devotion, and dedication to liberate themselves is strong. You might not have a strong enough desire to become a monk, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t have a wife and kids. But, as a Buddhist, having a wife and kids also means knowing that life, their lives, like everything else, is impermanent. We must love our family like no other love. We can have all the sex with our partners as much as we want. The lesson? To not attach ourselves to these impermanent things.

It’s okay to want to spend the rest of our lives with our partner. It’s not okay to think they will never leave, age, get sick, and die. The same thing goes for everything else. Our car will eventually stop running. Our house will eventually age and crumble to the ground. A new iPhone will come out before your next sneeze. And like everything else that will age, fall apart, and cease to exist, so will we. Without that understanding, without meditating on that, we will always be stuck and lost.

We must do everything with moderation. Whether it’s eating, drinking, sex, working, etc. Moderation helps us let go and not attach to things too easily. By meditating on impermanence, or even death, we can come to a realization that life is beautiful in every moment and that having that desire to hang on to it forever is unnecessary and won’t accomplish anything, and can only cause more dissatisfaction.

“Learning something everyday is intelligence. Letting go of something everyday is wisdom.” –  Tsem Rinpoche.

Smile and be well!


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