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Lesson for mindfulness - part 13: Desire for pleasurable sense-experience

Lesson for mindfulness - part 13:

Desire for pleasurable sense-experience

Siri Sudassanarama
sadaham senasuna
Ven. Dr. Mirisse Dhammika thero

Sensory desire is certainly not abnormal, but if it is very strong, it may dominate one’s whole life. A lot of dissatisfaction arises in people because what they have at the moment is not good enough for them and they seek the fulfillment and excitement of a “better” sight, a “better” sound, a “new” taste or some other novel stimuli. They are continually seeking and struggling to satisfy new desires. But consider this fact: some people grow up in a wealthy and privileged environment, and thus have many opportunities to fulfill their desire. Yet, they still do not feel fulfilled. They are continually trying to satisfy more and more desires, because they do not appreciate what they already have in the present moment. They are dissatisfied with life and their minds are restless. Thus what should become clear to us through a critical reflection like this is that dissatisfaction is the nature of sensory desires. But we continue to think: “if only a I get and have that, I will be happier, I will be fulfilled.” But this is a delusion: we lack a clear understanding of the functioning of our minds.

It is the job of the conceptual mind to project onto consciousness what is not here and now. When this conceptual mind is put to the service of egoistic desires, we suffer from the dissatisfaction of not having this or that. Weissman and Weissman note:

It also so conditions the mind toward seeing happiness dwelling in some future moment that it becomes impossible for them to be awake and experience the present. Often dissatisfaction and emptiness could the moment, and the mind is continually longing for the illusory future.

So, to the extent that we live in our thoughts for the future, to that extent we neglect to live in the present. We continually postpone realizing happiness in the present moment. Now, does this mean that we should not plan and think about the future? Certainly it does not. It is important to think about the future: we need to plan for the future, as the future is up to us. But what we need to give up is substituting living the present moment with the thoughts about the future. We may think about the future but we should live in the present moment. What this means is that, first of all, we will not experience so much unfulfillment as when we are not fully engaged with the present and make the most of its potential. We will be too “busy” appreciating the present to want something more or different. But even then, if we do see that we can do something to improve our situation for the better, for oneself and for others, then we will put out conceptual mind to work and think about different possibilities and how to achieve them. This way, thinking about the future is carefully limited within the “economy” of living in the present. This will prevent the endless proliferation of desires and perpetual dissatisfaction that comes with them. Harvey notes that “this is compared to being in debt, for one feels to ‘owe’ the desired objects attention, and so is pulled towards them; they have a hold on one”. It is important to notice here, too, that students have to think about and plan their future, but should live in the present moment, and they may plan about their future relative to the present action.