On Desire

Wednesday April 16, 2008


I’ve just had a review of William B. Irvine’s book published on the Metapsychology Online website. There’s a link to the review here.

As you will see from reading the review, I enjoyed Irvine’s book, although not without some reservations. In particular, what the book lacked for me was an assessment of the positive role of desire in human life.

There’s a popular understanding of Buddhism that it is a matter of extinguishing desire. I’m not sure that this is either possible or desirable (and, of course, it raises the famous “paradox of desire” in Buddhism, which is to say, the question of how one can desire to extinguish desire – see here and here). Anyway, the textual story on this is much more nuanced, and for those interested, it might be well worth reading David Webster’s book on the subject. I’ve not read the book myself, from what I’ve been able to glean from Google Books, it gives a nuanced and thoughtful perspective on the place of desire in Pali Buddhism.

Meanwhile, have a look at the review on the Metapsychology website.

Image: Arturo Delfin

# · Jim Eubanks

Excellent point about “desire” as a human characteristic that does indeed have positive elements. It is no doubt an element of desire that leads one to the Buddhist path in the first place. Though its role in our lives might mature and become tempered, there is nothing about desire that is inherently wrong. We desire the welfare of ourselves and others, and rightfully so.

# · Peter

Schweitzer might have said that desire in its totality is the will-to-live. In a generic sense Schweitzer would also have said the “fundamental ethic” is reverence for life. So in a somewhat perverse but logical way reverence for life is reverence for desire. However the moment desire acts against whole life in oneself or others it becomes in the old venacular “sinful”. Concerning desire we all need some kind of watchfulness and acesis. The highest desire is the will-to-love.

# · thomas

the ‘desire to extinguish desire’, is in my view, not worth worrying about. because: one can also view it as a type of diligence – something which we must employ in our effort to progress. Desiring can be seen as a kind of suffering; stating ‘you do not have that now’, but since all things are a possibility, at some level you DO have that now. So, through extinction, we can attain everlasting peace.

Desire is indeed ‘will to live’. If you are alive, do not worry about extinguishing all desire, as you need food, goals, etc in order to qualify as human. I believe that anyone who grasps the primary clear light, or even secondary clear light at the moment of death, will enter into desirelessness and nirvana automatically.

# · Tobby Smith

Buddhism is kind of great way of thinking. This book is great. I purchased it already.

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