When I was introduced to the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, I was told in the second truth that suffering is caused by desire. Without much thought, I agreed with the notion. Later, with a bit more thought, I disagreed. Then with more research, I would find that it was more accurate to say that “thirst” which leads to craving was the real cause of suffering.
That seemed more accurate, but couldn’t one accept one’s thirst, which is another way of saying one’s lack? Is it accurate to say that lack is the cause of suffering?
Regardless, I’d gotten dizzy from the dharmic wheel of (mis)fortune. But one thing’s for sure: when one has no expectations, one does not suffer.
With regards to desire, there’s nothing one can do. We have desires because we have values. We have desires because we’re alive. It’s an intrinsic part of life. However, our understanding of desire is what needs to be addressed.
“What you seek is seeking you.” — Rumi
As I said, desire is natural, unavoidable and essential. One could try to abandon having desire, but desiring to get rid of desire is simply a desire, isn’t it? But when we have a desire, we then unconsciously set up an expectation. That is where the problem lies.
It is one thing to be attracted to someone or to start a project, but it is when we say to ourselves that we have to have this thing, that is when things start to go off the rails emotionally and physically.
When our emotions get in the way, we then be, say and do things that we wouldn’t be being, saying or doing if we were more flexible and had no “craving” for. The thirst that Buddhism talks about is a reflexively self-made one.
It’s not enough that we like this person. It’s not enough that we have this awesome idea that we want to perform or flesh out for others. This innocent desire gets tacked on with the thought that we must have this person and that our idea must be accepted. This addition is not intrinsic, but invented.
And yet, there’s a reason as to why one would think thoughts that would lead to craving. Why would someone have a thought that they must have a romantic relationship with a particular person but never have the thought that they must have a particular person as a friend? It is because of a prior thought and a prior expectation.
If someone received love growing up and very little trauma (or healed their childhood trauma), they might not look at someone to fulfil a need for love and then create expectations about a possible romance. One reason they might do it is because society shoves down our throat that we should be in romantic relationships. Nevertheless, this is an expectation.
“Be suspicious of what you want.” — Rumi
Sometimes we have desires that are not our own. They are what society tells you to want. Sometimes we have desires that mask a more primal and essential desire that was never met. We have to explore why we want the things we want because the truth may surprise us.
(As a side note, can we see why people have had problems deciphering what exactly the Buddha meant about suffering? Even desire itself can be convoluted. Initially I said it was inherent, but it’s also true that it may come from your environment or culture.)
When we lack a certain level of psychological sustenance, we try to find it but in a state of craving. This manifests itself in creating expectations. Reality is ignored and fantasy reigns as it lights up our brain as to what we think is possible. But when the letdown sinks in, we really feel like crap.
I have two solutions to suffering.
1. When we have a desire, we act on it but we do not create any expectations
While the desire may be something all our own or something we unconsciously accepted from our environment, we will want to act. Maybe it will be to approach or perform an act. Maybe it will be to admire the desire. Regardless, it is something we value and that is the end-all and be-all of desire. If you act on it or not is one’s decision.
2. If we cannot help but create an expectation, we need to look at why we have a compulsion to do so
There is something we crave and thirst for; something we didn’t get in our formative years. We may hate on the fact that we’re trapped in suffering. That’s okay. But I would suggest that we accept how we feel about it with the intention to let go of the resentment. That way we won’t be adding to our suffering.
Decide to be the you that is unafraid of telling the truth and doesn’t hide, then ask yourself why you want this thing. When you get your answer, you may need to do more questioning.
So while it can be tricky to pin down exactly the root cause of suffering, we can at least say it can be caused by desires that aren’t our own, a thirst and subsequent craving for needs that weren’t met as children and an expectation that we attach to pure and innocent desires that come from within.
I have no idea what Buddha meant, but I figure it was something along these lines.