I have been thinking on the notion of desiring to have no desire. The idea of striving to not grasp, therefore grasping onto the idea in the first place and rendering it a contradiction and inevitably a failure(?). Is this simply the Great Paradox of Buddhism? Of life? Is it better to act through impartial/passive acceptance of things, and does this come from longterm, present and active striving to 'abolish' desire, or from gradual, passive acceptance of the self to be translated into a lack of desire? Or do the two intermingle?

Also, do these different courses of action depend on the specific sect of Buddhism?

This may be way too simple, or way too complicated.

I'm sorry if I'm not translating my thoughts too well.


3 Answers 3


This question was also asked 2500 years ago:

Brahmana Sutta: To Unnabha the Brahman http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn51/sn51.015.than.html

"Master Ananda, what is the aim of this holy life lived under Gotama the contemplative?"

"Brahman, the holy life is lived under the Blessed One with the aim of abandoning desire."

"Is there a path, is there a practice, for the abandoning of that desire?"

"Yes, there is a path, there is a practice, for the abandoning of that desire."

"What is the path, the practice, for the abandoning of that desire?"

"Brahman, there is the case where a monk develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on desire & the fabrications of exertion. He develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on persistence... concentration founded on intent... concentration founded on discrimination & the fabrications of exertion. This, Brahman, is the path, this is the practice for the abandoning of that desire."

"If that's so, Master Ananda, then it's an endless path, and not one with an end, for it's impossible that one could abandon desire by means of desire."

"In that case, brahman, let me question you on this matter. Answer as you see fit. What do you think: Didn't you first have desire, thinking, 'I'll go to the park,' and then when you reached the park, wasn't that particular desire allayed?"

"Yes, sir."

"Didn't you first have persistence, thinking, 'I'll go to the park,' and then when you reached the park, wasn't that particular persistence allayed?"

"Yes, sir."

"Didn't you first have the intent, thinking, 'I'll go to the park,' and then when you reached the park, wasn't that particular intent allayed?"

"Yes, sir."

"Didn't you first have [an act of] discrimination, thinking, 'I'll go to the park,' and then when you reached the park, wasn't that particular act of discrimination allayed?"

"Yes, sir."

"So it is with an arahant whose mental effluents are ended, who has reached fulfillment, done the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, totally destroyed the fetter of becoming, and who is released through right gnosis. Whatever desire he first had for the attainment of arahantship, on attaining arahantship that particular desire is allayed. Whatever persistence he first had for the attainment of arahantship, on attaining arahantship that particular persistence is allayed. Whatever intent he first had for the attainment of arahantship, on attaining arahantship that particular intent is allayed. Whatever discrimination he first had for the attainment of arahantship, on attaining arahantship that particular discrimination is allayed. So what do you think, brahman? Is this an endless path, or one with an end?"

"You're right, Master Ananda. This is a path with an end, and not an endless one. Magnificent, Master Ananda! Magnificent! Just as if he were to place upright what was overturned, to reveal what was hidden, to show the way to one who was lost, or to carry a lamp into the dark so that those with eyes could see forms, in the same way has Master Ananda — through many lines of reasoning — made the Dhamma clear. I go to Master Gotama for refuge, to the Dhamma, and to the Sangha of monks. May Master Ananda remember me as a lay follower who has gone for refuge, from this day forward, for life."


Wow, the modern man is really in danger of getting lost in his own abstractions! :) There is no "desire of no desire" in Buddhism, it is something people's logical minds make up out of mathematical relationships between things they hear about. There is no "desiring to have no desire". There is no "striving to abolish desire" either.

Here is my understanding:

What there is, is desire to be free of pain, desire to not be driven by troubles - the desire of peace. Consequently, there is striving for peace. There is nothing contradictory in striving for peace. You need to identify the obstacles to peace and remove them. Accepting the obstacles to peace will not lead to peace.

In Buddhism, the obstacles to peace are, starting from the coarse ones: actions like stealing, violence, lying and verbal abuse, sexually-motivated trouble, and getting intoxicated.

It is pretty clear that these cause trouble, right?

Next, we get to understand that the cause of trouble is not just our behavior, it is our mind, our attitude. So we speak about the Three Root Poisons: attraction, repulsion, and confusion. Or obsession, aversion, and delusion. Or lust, hate, and ignorance. Many partial synonyms, same idea. Our minds are colored by various mixtures of these three "kleshas" - as a result we see things in wrong light - and - get in trouble.

Next, we understand that the above really boils down to getting stuck on stuff, what's known as attachment. This is a very broad category. Getting stuck is when reality moves on, but your mind is still in the old place. Or when, reality does not move, but your mind wants to get to some imaginary point. From this mismatch between "is" and "should" comes "dukkha" the feeling of wrongness, colloquially known as suffering. This is the First and Second Noble Truths, dukkha and origination of dukkha.

All things exist in dependence on some necessary and sufficient conditions. When the necessary conditions are no longer in effect, the things can no longer exist. This gives us leverage over things, including leverage over dukkha. By dropping the attachment we remove the basis of dukkha -- the mismatch, and dukkha disappears. This is the Third Noble Truth - cessation of dukkha.

However, because all circumstances depend on some conditions, and those conditions depend on other conditions - all circumstances are inevitably subject to cessation, whether we want it or not. So our idea of permanent peace is a big fiction. Permanent peace would need to not depend on any conditions in order to be permanent. Which is impossible. Hence, permanent peace is false. Things are impermanent. This is first Mark of Existence, "anicca".

Also, because things depend on conditions and always in flux, having "me" be always happy or always free would require a permanent "me" - otherwise the freedom will end with the end of the "me". Because "me" depends on causes-n-conditions, it is conditional just like everything else. There is no solid core that is "me", it is only a temporary arrangement. This is second Mark of Existence, "anatta".

All things are like this, only temporary arrangements. But for simplicity our mind builds a semi-static model of reality, in which it fabricates the notion of "objects", as if things existed statically. Because this is the way mind works, the stable objects it sees are only virtual constructs, conceptual overlays, on top of the soup that is always in flux. Because the things in flux always change, the mind always falls behind updating its models. So the mind model of reality is always mismatching the actual reality, at least to some degree. As we saw above, it is exactly this mismatch from which comes the dukkha or suffering. Therefore the mind that builds models of reality is always subject to suffering. This is third Mark of Existance, "dukkha".

When we understand the above, we understand to which degree we can have control over our experience, and how to minimize dukkha by dropping attachment to legacy or unrealistic models, and keeping our models in sync with reality as much as possible.

On the other hand, the mind generates joy when its model does match reality. In modern psychology this is known as the reward mechanism. When we know this we can hack the mechanism. We can generate joy by following these steps: 1) getting rid of course action that gets us in trouble (violence etc.), 2) then by getting rid of the three "klesha"s of attraction, aversion, and confusion (the coarse mismatch) - and their derivatives; and then 3) by contemplating the Noble Truths and three Marks of Existence and appreciating how lucky we are to have achieved such insight into the nature of phenomena and control over our experiences. This self-generated joy can give us some nice refuge to dwell in. This is First Jhana.

The Jhanas then naturally progress from more coarse and artificially generated happiness, to more subtle and natural happiness, then to calmness and surety. These are Second, Third, and Fourth Jhanas.

And then you realize that to be stuck in calmness is rather constricting - and allow yourself to get disenchanted and lose any form altogether. You are no longer defined by any strategy. You are done. But by having gone through all the previous stages you ensure you are not caught up in the coarser issues either.

At this stage the question of reality is no longer relevant. Reality is an interpretation we make. We choose the interpretation as needed to face the situation at hand.

So, as you see, desire of no desire is a very naive simplification. In practice it is not desire that we are working with, it is attachment, in its various forms, and the process goes through many stages from coarser to subtler until it gets thin enough to short circuit. This process is the Fourth Noble Truth, the path.

You can't skip the obstacles by dropping the path, the peace is not achieved by accepting the war.

Something like this.

  • Wow Grate idea. "coarser to subtler until it gets thin enough to short circuit".
    – Shrawaka
    Commented Oct 2, 2015 at 1:19
  • Why do you point out that it's dupe and post an answer? Let's close this and the others...
    – draks ...
    Commented Oct 2, 2015 at 9:23
  • Why do I point out a dupe and post an answer? Because I want to be helpful. We have lots of dupes already, but if people keep asking I assume they still have questions.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Oct 2, 2015 at 11:56

Identifying that you are doing something wrong and doing it right is called wisdom. Not desire.

For example, coming to the realization that drinking is not the answer to your problems and stopping it is wisdom. It's stopping of wrongdoing. Craving in itself is wrongdoing. Not craving is stopping of that wrongdoing.

sabba papassa akaranam - do no evil!

It is not craving that makes a being progress towards Nibbana. It is the understanding of the four noble truths.

You don't crave to stop doing something wrong. You just don't do it :)

  • Sankha, could you expand on that? The essence of the original question was the apparent contradiction inherent in having attachment to not having attachment. For example, what if someone does desire to stop doing wrong and start doing right. Sure, that may be wisdom, but it is also desire. In other words, what happens if someone desires -- is attached to -- wisdom. Your answer doesn't really tackle that at all.
    – tkp
    Commented Oct 2, 2015 at 4:19
  • Added some more details. Commented Oct 2, 2015 at 5:43

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