Friday, Mar 05

Understanding Desires Pivotal Role: Part IV of the Repentance Series

September 07, 2011

The Musical of Sutra adaptation: The Twelve Great Vows of Medicine Buddha. The movement of the character (white shirt) is constrained by greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt. (Photo by Yen Lin-chao; date: 05/26/2003; location: Taipei)


Deeply concerned about the state of our world today—a world facing the crises of climate change, environmental degradation, instability and unrest, and eroding of moral values—Dharma Master Cheng Yen has appealed to her followers to engage in the practice of repentance. Though the collective problems of today's world seem beyond the control of ordinary individuals, the Master tells us that each of us in fact contribute to the problem in many different ways; that is why we need to return to our own heart and mind, and deeply reflect. (The repentance practice is introduced here.) 

I often say that life is like a play and this play revolves around one theme—want and desire. 

Our desires are like a bottomless pit. We are always seeking, never satisfied. This plays out in all aspects of our life. When eating, we not only eat to sustain our bodies and appease our hunger; we want to eat good-tasting food. For our home, it is not enough to have a modest home that shelters us from the elements; we desire comfortable surroundings, the bigger and more luxurious the better. This is the nature of desire.

All our life, we work hard to fulfill our desires. We seek happiness, but for the majority of us, we think happiness comes with having more—more wealth, more success, more power, more fame, and so on. We never feel that what we have is enough. 

One dream fulfilled spawns another. Instead of being content with an ordinary, simple life, our vanity causes us to want more grandeur, glory, or power. Our ambitions become endless; the sky is the limit. The truth is, more is not necessarily better and it can have adverse effects. In our endless pursuit of our desires, we actually create much suffering for ourselves.

But, what do we really come into the world for? What is life really about? Only by turning toward the Dharma can we begin to understand life's true value and purpose. Then, we can be content. We can get perspective and see things in their positive light. A sense of gratitude will fill our hearts.

If we don't turn toward the Dharma, however, we will continue to chase after our desires. We will toil away our entire lives in this pursuit, missing life's true purpose. In the course of this, we create a lot of negative karma. As we pursue our desires, we do many wrong things. Moreover, with the arising of greed, other unwholesome mental states will arise—anger, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt. 

Having created negative karma, we will reap its consequences. Negative karma will bring about negative retribution and suffering. The way to escape misfortune and suffering is understand the law of karma, peacefully accept the retribution for our wrong actions, repent these wrongs, and from henceforth, strive not to create any further negative karma. 

Prior to learning the Dharma, we were led around by our desires, creating negative karma and reaping its retribution. But when we understand the law of karma and life's true purpose, we will know to make use of our lives in the most meaningful way—taking hold of our life to contribute to the greater good.

From Dharma Master Cheng Yen's Talks
Compiled into English by the Jing Si Abode English Editorial Team