In my previous post, I wrote about the parallelism of insights – the metaphor of raft in Buddhism and what Malcolm Gladwell describes as the inverse U curve relationship. The experience that some rule, theorem, belief is beneficial or productive to you up to a certain point. After that point actually it’s counter-productive and hurts the purpose it’s meant to serve.
There is another parallel insight in Buddhism that is quite difficult to understand if you are coming from Western world, but still fits the inverse U logic well in the long term.
Buddha talks about Trishna, or thirst, or desire being the root of all suffering. From a Western world viewpoint, this seems hard to imagine. After all, isn’t life good when desires are fullfilled? Isn’t pursuit of happiness one of the main purposes of life? How could desire be the root of suffering, when it’s the very basis of enjoyment?
But this exactly follows the U curve logic. Desires are very good and enriching life up to a certain point. As long as most of them are being fulfilled, life is good. But once fulfilled, they are bound to proliferate. It almost never happens that once the desire is fulfilled, the person sits content and never desires that object again.
So end of the day, you desire more. The quotient of what have vs. what you want is either the same or is decreasing, because you end up wanting more.
Sooner or later you find yourself in the inverse part of U. Your desires increase, but your ability to fulfill them goes down. This is what causes suffering according to Buddha.
So should we not desire?
The answer as given by Mahayana philosophy is desires are there, you shouldn’t try to squash them. Instead just observe them. Let them arise and recede, like a tide. Don’t run to immediately fulfill them. Thus you stop them from proliferating. And you stop getting attached to them. Thus you break their hold on you.
There lies real freedom.