Desire and Evil
(Posted on July 19, 2013 by David McMillin)
[NOTE: While serving as mentor for an online version of “A Search For God” study group and working on the “Desire” lesson, a class member expressed a concern about the exercise on Buddha and Desire. Here is my reply. – David McMillin]
Thanks for sharing your observations and especially your thoughts about Buddha’s views on desire and evil. I think the gist of what that quote from Buddha is meant to convey is that the evil we see around us in the world (and within ourselves) comes from selfishness – selfish desires in one form or other. Perhaps it is similar to this observation from the Cayce readings:
How to determine that which is good and that which is evil?
In the application does the seeker find that which answers to that IT has set as ITS ideal, that IT may worship, that IT may become one with in its consciousness, in its sphere.
What separated spirit from its first cause, or [what] causes good and evil?
Desire! DESIRE! (5752-3)
Note that this excerpt seems to referring to that primal stage of the soul experience when spirit separated from its First Cause. We will be coming back to this in Cayce creation story a bit later. But this is referring to a rebellion in spirit before the creation of the physical universe.
With regard to desire and evil, a similar notion can be found in the ASFG book text for this lesson (under the heading of Mental Desires): “Our physical desires that remain carnal in purpose may become powers for evil when strengthened by a mind that is evil in its intent.” Now this points more to a connection of desire and evil after involution into physical matter. I think this is pretty similar to some of the ideas expressed by Buddha. Desire that is warped by selfishness is the source of evil. Whether it be “carnal” physical desire or more of the mental intent, it is selfishness that distorts desire and makes it something that is not good.
In Buddhism, selflessness is the solution, just as you have noted in the need to “conquer self” as discussed in the Christian tradition and Cayce readings. In Buddhism there is an emphasis on “letting go” of the clinging, craving, and attachment associated with carnal desires and self-centered mental attitudes and selfish thinking. The Eightfold path is a practical means for channeling desire into constructive living, much as the Cayce readings encouraged the “spiritualization” of desire through ideals based on a spiritual premise.
Your recognition of the positive potential of spiritualized desire (“Divine desire”) is really the essence of this lesson. Of course, the challenge is in the application – living the spiritual ideal by bringing our mental attitudes and physical activities into alignment with that ideal. Then desire becomes the source of good, rather than evil.
Part of the problem when considering good and evil is the tendency for dualistic thinking. Buddha had the same problem and tried to solve it with a dualistic solution. He was raised as a rich, self-indulgent prince – extreme hedonism, extreme carnal desire, so to speak. When he was confronted with sickness, suffering, and death he went to the opposite extreme – asceticism. He chose extreme denial of all desire. But that didn’t solve his problem either. Eventually he arrived at the “middle way” – recognition that desire has its place on the spiritual path. When I give talks on keeping a balance, I like to tell the story of Buddha and the middle way (or as the Cayce readings advise, “moderation in all things”) which I compare to the story of Goldilocks and the three bears – an entirely different wisdom tradition.
Another part of the problem in grasping Buddha’s teachings is the meaning of words spoken 2600 years ago in a very different language and social setting. Many modern scholars interpret Buddha’s meaning of the word desire (in its negative, “evil” sense) as clinging, craving, or attachment growing out of a self-centered perspective. Hence the solution is selflessness. But as some Buddhist teachers have pointed out, the point is not to eliminate desire, since the desire for enlightenment is itself a desire. Rather, the goal is redirect and channel desire for good – that is the Eightfold path – a cognitive/behavioral approach that is remarkably close to the spiritual/mental/physical model of the ideals exercise in the Cayce readings.
If I understand your question/concern, it basically comes down to this: How can desire be the source of evil and yet be a spiritual attribute (as the Cayce readings insist)? How can God have desire, if desire is the source of evil? How can Jesus promise to fulfill desires that are attuned to God, if desire itself is somehow inherently bad?
The best answer I have seen comes from the Cayce creation story, wherein God desired companionship and expression and created souls for that purpose. There was desire and it was good – desire was solely spiritual. And then something happened – something perhaps not so good – this is actually a very deep topic. There was rebellion in spirit as some souls chose the path of selfishness – taking the legitimate sense of self bestowed by the Creator upon each individual soul as will and exaggerating it to an extreme level of separation that was not intended, not part of the plan. Essentially, this is the meaning of Jesus’ parables of the prodigal son and little lamb that went astray. In the beginning, as souls, we were given the keys to the kingdom, so to speak, and chose selfishness instead. Hence this selfish desire became the source of evil, as was noted in the Cayce quote above.
So “Divine desire” is perfect and has a spiritual source. It comes down to a matter of choice (will) on our part. Do we to attune desire (spiritualize desire through an ideal), or stay stuck in darkness (if you wish to conceptualize it as a duality).
Buddha was pragmatic. He wasn’t so much interested in hypothesizing about how it all came about. Rather, he just recognized the problem (selfish desire) and created a method for addressing it. Since Buddha’s method has become so well known for its recognition of selfish desire as the core problem of the human condition, it may be worthwhile to take a look at it from the Cayce perspective. Although the readings don’t discuss Buddha often or in great detail, what is given is actually insightful and complimentary.
At any rate, I hope this rather lengthy explanation is helpful. But if I haven’t addressed your chief question/concern, or if it still seems confusing, please feel free to ask again. My guess is that there are others in the group who have similar questions/concerns, so I wanted to use this Opportunity to touch upon some basic points of this lesson. I’m also guessing that there may be some in the group with some practical knowledge of Buddhism who may wish share based on their experiences. Blessings, Dave