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Is Desire The Root of All Suffering?

June 5, 2017

One of the core ideas of Buddhism is that desire is a primary cause of our suffering. When I first learned this I quickly filed it away under, “Things that sound cool but don’t actually mean anything.” That was a mistake. Looking back, that statement it one of the most life-altering sentences a person can hear: but only if they truly understand what it means.

Desire is an emotional experience that vocalized, sounds something like, “I’ll be happy when x is different.” X can be anything, it could be your crappy relationship, your mediocre job, or your chronic pain.

You can desire to eliminate a source of pain in your life or to add a new source of pleasure. Both cause suffering. All desires imply that your life is missing a piece of the happiness puzzle. Whether it is less pain, more pleasure; the problem is wanting change of any kind.

This idea rubs people from western cultures the wrong way. It used to aggravate me, “If I don’t desire anything, how am I supposed to improve my life? If I didn’t desire anything, why wouldn’t I just stop working and become homeless?”

Desire and Intention


There’s a subtle different between desire and intention. Desire is emotional, intention is not. The tricky concept to understand here is that you can intend for something to change without attaching your emotional well-being to a successful outcome.

“Why would I want something if I don’t think it’ll make me feel better?”

You don’t ‘want’ it, you have decided to pursue it because it’s a change that aligns with your values. When you have a goal, achieving the goal is winning, and failing to achieve the goal is losing. Values are very different from goals. You don’t achieve values, you head in a valued direction. You don’t win or lose a value, you pursue it indefinitely.

At this point you might be thinking, “Fuck off, I have a goal of leaving this page, let’s see if I pass or fail.” I get it. But this kind of material should piss you off, it’s implying that everything you structure your life around is wrong. It’s implying that most of your conscious thoughts are actually causing you suffering. Of course, you don’t want to hear that.

If you’re conscious decisions aren’t causing your suffering, what is? Is it the objective situation? Is pain objectively bad? Is the fame you want objectively good? Do you think anyone has achieved long-lasting happiness through the relentless pursuit of their desires?

Find me an example. What I see are celebrities who are just as broken as cashiers and people with great life-situations who have turned their first-world problems into stressful nightmares.

Desire means to want something to be different. If you watched the thoughts in your head you’d fine that most of them are desirous thoughts. The person you want to sleep with, the stress you want to get rid of, the promotion you want to get. How many of your thoughts are focused on what is already good in your life? Almost none.

Maybe the thought that your life can be made better through change is a delusion that we invest most of our lives in reinforcing. It’s not easy to be open to this possibility. I don’t expect you to accept that this idea is accurate. Just ask yourself, what if?

Think of this, has any desire you fulfilled ever made you happy? How long did that car make you feel content? How long did that girlfriend make you feel completely at peace?

Maybe the Western strategy doesn’t work because it can’t work. There’s always more, but there’s never enough.

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Post Information
Title Is Desire The Root of All Suffering?
Author Avery
Date June 5, 2017 7:28 PM UTC (5 years ago)
Blog Red Pill Theory
Archive Link https://theredarchive.com/blog/Red-Pill-Theory/is-desire-the-root-of-all-suffering.22750
Original Link https://redpilltheory.com/2017/06/05/desire-root-suffering/
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