Does Pleasure Hinder Happiness?

Discussion Facilitator: Bruce Cantwell. August 31, 2019.

The final frontier of mindfulness or insight meditation is dhammas, and for dhammas I like Bhante G's definition: "whatever our minds can remember, imagine, think, create, or produce by way of mental processes."[1]

If we aspire to fulfill human potential, overcome sorrow and complaint, end discontent, and attain the flourishing that arises from an exceptionally healthy mind, there are mental processes that can hinder that.

The hindrance that is often translated as desire, clinging, or craving, is actually kama-chanda, which means aspiration, intention, interest, desire to act on, eagerness or zeal for sensual pleasures: things that please the senses.

Again, how does one dwell observing whatever our minds can remember, imagine, think, create, or produce by way of mental processes?[2]

Here, one dwells observing mental processes as regards the five hindrances.

Here, whenever sense desire is present, understand properly that, "Sense desire is present." Whenever sense desire is absent, understand properly that, "Sense desire is absent." Understand properly, how sense desire that has not yet arisen, comes to arise. Understand properly, how sense desire that has now arisen, gets eradicated. Understand properly, how sense desire that has now been eradicated, will in future no longer arise.[3]

Understanding Properly That Sense Desire is Present

What are some of our go-to sense pleasures?

Sights

Sounds

Smells

Tastes

Touch

The craving state of mind is not a pleasant state of mind. If desire were pleasurable, we would be content with the state itself and under no obligation to satisfy it.[4]

Understand Properly That Sense Desire is Absent

Have you had the experience of paying off a business loan, home loan, student loan. What did that feel like?

Siddhartha Gautama offers this simile for the absence of desire. Suppose you took out a business loan and your business was successful enough for you to pay off the loan and have enough left over to maintain a family. On considering this, you would be glad and full of joy.[5]

A mind free of craving (sense pleasure) is the basis for delight, joy, tranquility, happiness, concentration, and insight.[6]

How Sense Desire that Has Not Yet Arisen, Comes to Arise

Every time you indulge a sensual desire, you reinforce your tendency to do so in the future, you lower the threshold of the trigger, thus reinforcing the tendency. It’s like drinking salty water. The more you drink, the more you’re thirsty.[7]

How Sense Desire That Has Now Arisen, Gets Eradicated

Analyze the craving. What is the craving? Note that it has no actual substance. You will find that it is not there. It is a mental construct. There may be a physical component but that’s in response to a mental state. You cannot stop a craving from occurring but you can avoid proliferation.

Recall the moment when your greatest sensual desire was realized and remember how long the happiness lasted.[8]

You can recall the downside or negative aspects of that which is desired. If you fantasize about food, picture it as feces. If you fantasize about sex, consider the insides of the human body. If you fantasize about a prestigious or high paying job, think of the additional hours and stress.

You can observe that the desire is not I, not mine, not self. It is another arising mind state.[9]

[1] Gunaratana, Henepola. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English, Wisdom Publications, 2013

[2] Gunaratana, Henepola. Op.cit.

[3] “MahāsatipaṭṭhānaSutta.” Mahasatipatthana Sutta - The Great Discourse on the Establishing of Awareness, www.tipitaka.org/stp-pali-eng-parallel.shtml#36 .

[4] Goldstein, Joseph. “Satipatthana Sutta - Part 15 - Mindfulness of Dhamma: Hindrances - Desire” Dharma Seed - Joseph Goldstein's Dharma Talks, Insight Meditation Society - Forest Refuge, 04 July 2005, dharmaseed.org/teacher/96/talk/294/ .

[5] Pali canon simile.

[6] Goldstein, Joseph. “Satipatthana Sutta - Part 15 - Mindfulness of Dhamma: Hindrances - Desire” Dharma Seed - Joseph Goldstein's Dharma Talks, Insight Meditation Society - Forest Refuge, 04 July 2005, dharmaseed.org/teacher/96/talk/294/ .

[7] “Mind and Life XXVII - Craving, Desire and Addiction: From Craving to Freedom and Flourishing: Buddhist Perspectives on Desire”, Matthieu Ricard, October 31, 2013

[8] “Attachment and its Antidotes”, Ven. Chonyi, Sravasti Abbey, October 24, 2013.

[9] “Turning Obstacles into Opportunities”, Bhante Buddharakkhita, Insight Meditation Society Retreat Center, People of Color Retreat, June 15, 2012

Bruce Cantwell