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Verse 2: Attachment to sense pleasures

Verse 2: Attachment to sense pleasures

Part of a series of talks on Gems of Wisdom, a poem by the Seventh Dalai Lama.

  • The root of our problems in cyclic existence is craving for sense pleasure
  • Attachment to objects of the senses leads to suffering
  • Precepts protect us from some of this craving

Gems of Wisdom: Verse 2 (download)

To continue on with Gems of Wisdom, Verse 2 says, “What is the powerful glue that binds us to the unpleasant environs of worldliness?”

That’s the question. What do you think the answer is? He says, “Sensory fixations which cling with attachment to the enticing things of this world.”

What is the powerful glue that binds us to the unpleasant environs of worldliness?
Sensory fixations which cling with attachment to the enticing things of this world.

Desire, attachment, craving, clinging…. That’s it. And particularly for us, sensory fixations. Which means that we are just completely addicted to objects of the senses.

Our mind always focused outward

I was talking about this the last few days. Our mind is just always going outward: What are those people doing? What are those people saying? What’s the new widget we can get? You know, what’s the old thing that we want to get rid of? What’s the new style? What are the politicians doing? Besides nothing. What are the CEOs doing? What’s everything going on? You know, the mind continually outward.

Objects of attachment and desire

Then with desire: What can make me happy? And you know, not even realizing how addicted we are to objects of desire. From morning until night our senses want stimulation. And that’s why when people start to do retreat they kind of go into withdrawal. It really is like sensory withdrawal. And why people find gazillions of things to do in the middle of retreat. Because they need the sensory stimulation. Sitting and looking at one’s mind, meditating, is not enough sensory stimulation for the addicted mind. So dream up all sorts of things we have to do in retreat, and then all of our projects, and then all of our memories about past sense pleasure, and we review them and then we review them again, then we think of their disadvantages, but they come up again… You know? We play movies in our minds in meditation and outside of meditation, you know? Just completely focused outward.

How technology feeds our craving

Now it’s even worse than usual because— It used to just be normal focused outward to sense things and people. Now it’s not only that but it’s to the phone. And you cannot carry on a conversation with people out there without them checking their phone. Either their phone rings, or it buzzes, or it doesn’t ring and doesn’t buzz but they still have to look at it to see why not because they’re used to looking at it every minute or two. So you know, just really captivated by external sense objects.

The cycle of craving and aversion

With that kind of mind and then the desire that it provokes, and then the frustration when we can’t get what we want, and the anger when we can’t get what we want… Then life just goes on in that way, creating a ton of negative karma and being continually distracted. And it happens here, too. Distracted by: “Well let’s see if I can dream up more projects to do, or more emails to write, or maybe I should do this or that…” So that’s what keeps us bound like glue to cyclic existence for us beings in the desire realm.

Why we take precepts

That’s one of the reasons why we take the Pratimoksha precepts, in particular the monastic precepts. Because it cuts down our contact with objects of desire. And even when we contact objects of desire it cuts down with how we can interact with them. So there’s a lot of things that we don’t go near because our mind is too out of control when it’s with them. And then there’s things that we can’t avoid going near that we have desire for, like food or a bed or whatever, but where we have precepts regarding, you know, we can’t go around asking for this food and that food. And we can’t go around saying: “I want this kind of bed, I want that kind of bed, I want this, that, the other thing.” That’s part of our monastic precepts so even if we encounter objects of desire we can’t act on it.

How we handle the precepts

Even though we have a precept not to handle money, in the Abbey we do handle money, but we can only use it for Dharma related things. We can’t use it to buy ourselves anything. Or to buy anything for our room. And so, if you happen to be in town running an errand for the Abbey and you see some beautiful thing that, “Gee, that would be really nice and they won’t know I got it…” No, we have a precept that we don’t spend money on those things. So it really helps us to at least not act out the attachment. We may go home and sit and think: “Gee I wonder how I can get somebody to give me that?” But at least we ourselves can’t go out and get it. And if we’re really conscientious about our precepts we’ll realize that we do have a precept about wrong livelihood and flattering people and giving them a small gift to get a bigger gift, and hinting. And all those things are counter to keeping correct livelihood. So our Pratimoksha really, really helps us restrain and learn to relate to the desire differently. And to realize that in the moment, you know, if you can’t get what you want it feels like you’re burning. And then after a half an hour it’s gone. Sometimes even ten minutes. It’s just, you know… You can’t get it, you put it down. And then, right after you’ve put it down you realize it was no big deal anyway, why were you burning before to get it? Because it’s really not so important, you can live without it.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.