Remove Desire from Spiritual Practices

By Desmond Yeoh SC

Enlightened Yoga and Buddhist Masters teach that we should not have any expectations from our spiritual practices. We should not expect anything. This is because these expectations stem from our desire and Enlightened Masters warn that Desire is the reason why we are trapped in the cycle of birth and death. Desire is the tool that Maya uses to draw us towards the material world and away from unity with the Divine. As we are drawn further and further away, our suffering increases.

It is unavoidable for all of us to have expectations of spiritual experiences. Our goal is to attain enlightenment and we want to have some sort of spiritual experiences to show that we are progressing. We hear about past Enlightened Masters who could do wondrous things and we think that we must be able to experience these things first before we can attain enlightenment. This form of thinking is erroneous. Advance meditators cautioned their students not to get attached to visions or meditative experiences lest they become obstacles to gaining wisdom and developing mindfulness.

So, when we chase after visions and psychic abilities, we become disappointed when we cannot attain them or when we have attained them, we are not able to replicate them. All these bring suffering and distract us from seeing the truth of things.

Venerable Sariputra who was the most revered disciple of Buddha did not have any supernatural powers but he was known as the Marshall of the Law because of his wisdom. The Buddha said that no disciple was greater than Sariputra. This clearly shows that the Buddha placed Wisdom above everything else.

My wife once told a friend that she meditates when doing ironing. The friend asked her how she blanks out her mind, and she responded that she just watches her thoughts while ironing. When we meditate, our intention is not even to chase after the bliss of Samadhi. It is not to blank out our mind. This misunderstanding is why many give up meditation.

We need to watch our thoughts so that we can understand the mental defilements which we engage it. Many times, these mental defilemenst pass unnoticed through our minds and we are not able to catch them. So these mental defilements continue to wreak havoc in our lives and bring more and more suffering.

Maya exist in our minds as mental defilements. On the other hand, wisdom also exist in our minds. Due to the habits built up from many past lifetimes and also the conditioning that society has ingrained in us, our mental defilements tend to dominate. Wisdom needs mindfulness to work.

Here is one example from my own observation. When I post these articles, I am able to see the number of views in the website. When the number of views was high, I felt happy, thinking that I benefited more people. Then I realised that this sort of thinking stems from desire and more specifically, it arises from pride. This sort of thinking is just not conducive to inner-peace. From this example, we can see that mental defilements can be very subtle and our mindfulness must be very developed to be able to see reality.

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Enlightened Masters saw that everything in this material world is tainted with suffering; they are like poisoned honey. For example, we can see that recreational drugs are clearly poisoned honey but what above virtuous things like Love? If we look deeply, we can see that even Love can bring suffering. What happens when something bad happens to our Loved Ones or when they do not live up to our expectations?

We need mindfulness and wisdom to see these truths and our spiritual practices help us to develop them. Nothing more is to be expected. However, we may sometimes see these Truths but choose to deny them because they are just too hard to bear as in the example on Love above. When we see our flaws, such as the tendency to be proud or be critical of others, we may try to justify or rationalise them instead of defeat them with wisdom. So, it is clear that Denial can also be a mental defilement.

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