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Sensual desire is a hindrance and thus it should be avoided and preferably eliminated (though I'm highly skeptical whether something in the brain can really be "eliminated" regarding emotions - I doubt it.)

But we humans have all day long sensual desires. Let it be for food, bodily comfort, music (sound), art (sight), sex, etc. So should we remove all of them (ideally)?

Also what is meant by sense restraint? I cannot really fathom it. I doubt that it means to go out with closed eyes and ears, haha.

Does it simply mean to avoid certain triggers? (which would answer the first question simultaneously)

Thanks in advance

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Sense Restraint

On seeing a form with the eye, he doesn't grasp at any theme (nimitta) or details by which — if he were to dwell without restraint over the faculty of the eye — evil, unskillful qualities such as greed or distress might assail him. On hearing a sound with the ear... On smelling an aroma with the nose... On tasting a flavor with the tongue... On touching a tactile sensation with the body... On cognizing an idea with the intellect, he doesn't grasp at any theme or details by which — if he were to dwell without restraint over the faculty of the intellect — evil, unskillful qualities such as greed or distress might assail him. Endowed with this noble restraint over the sense faculties, he is inwardly sensitive to the pleasure of being blameless.

For example:

Avoid the sign (nimitta) of the beautiful connected with passion; by meditating on the foul.

Snp 2.11

What is important above is "themes & details". What this means is if you are man and a voluptuous woman is walking towards you, you, for example:

  1. Do not allow the mind to develop the idea of "beautiful" but instead bring to mind the undesirable qualities of a woman.

or:

  1. End the idea of "woman" and instead bring to mind it is only a sense object of five aggregates & six elements.

or:

  1. Generate metta-karuna (loving-kindness & compassion) by thinking the woman is not merely a sex-object but a human being wanting to be loved faithfully with commitment. The suttas say to view women as 'mothers', 'sisters' & 'daughters'.
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Sensual desire is like feeling thirst for something (Pali tanha, Sanskrit trishna).

If you feel cold and decide to put some clothes on, normally it has nothing to do with sensual desire. It's a normal act of regulating something.

If you develop thirst to possess some special clothes, that is developing sensual desire. When you see those clothes, your hands might start to tremble, your breathing might become heavy - because of that thirst.

It shows that sensual desire is developed by our own mental activity - with the attitude of unhealthy longing for something - and it generates vexations.

In that sense we can speak about guarding the sense doors:

  • observing what we perceive,
  • observing to stay natural, not developing unwholesome desires,
  • observing to dissolve unwholesome desires if they are already developed.

So that discipline relates not to hiding from original stimuli, but to how we react to them. For example, monks don't avoid seeing women, but they avoid looking at them with sexual passion. That's how they guard the sense doors: not allowing the thieves of vexations to steal our natural mind.

  • @Val, I described a case of heavy thirst to show the difference. The thirst may be strong or mild, the principle is the same. We could perceive and act naturally, not attaching, or we could develop "thirst" on top of it. That's the difference that creates suffering. - - - "What's awful if a monk has sexual desires?" - that's another question. Let's discuss it separately or use chat. – chang zhao Aug 17 '17 at 11:26
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Sensual desire means desire for pleasure. Acting out of desire for pleasure is wrong motivation. The right motivation is to act out of knowledge of how things work, with clear understanding of the results and the alternatives. That's very different than acting for pleasure, that's informed, functional action.

In the example with food, we eat to sustain the body and spirit. In the example with clothes, we put them on to protect from cold, insects, for social reasons etc. See the difference? We act with a purpose, not for pleasure.

So it's not about eliminating desires, it's about changing your modus operandi from impulse driven, to deliberate.

Regarding sensual restraint, the idea is to protect yourself from influences that stimulate impulses and obsessions (e.g. advertising, erotic, hate-provoking influences etc). This is done by being selective about what you attend to, what you allow to enter into your stream of consciousness.

Another problem with obsessive desires (whether sensual or otherwise), is the resulting mismatch between "is" and "should" which generates dukkha, the mind of suffering.

Depending on the goal, this suffering may be a worthwhile price to pay for the motivation to get there, you just have to understand that mental suffering comes as inevitable side-effect. But certainly sensual pleasure is almost never the right goal and is not worth the suffering.

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Your question can be answered by a detailed study of the Four Noble Truths.

A good overview can be found here and also here.

From the accesstoinsight.org website, you can also read this and this for details.

  • The first truth is that there is suffering.
  • The second truth is that suffering is caused by craving.
  • The third truth is that suffering can be ended by ending craving.
  • The fourth truth is that the path to end suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path.

The solution you proposed to end craving, is by extreme asceticism, which the Buddha found did not work. The other extreme end, which is extreme indulgence, also does not work.

So, he discovered the Middle Way of practice between extreme asceticism and extreme indulgence, known as the Noble Eightfold Path.

The main scriptural source for this, is the Discourse on the Setting of the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion.

Within the Noble Eightfold Path, there are 4 levels of training - lay follower of the teachings, the anagarika (sort of a pre-monk), the novice monk or nun, and the fully ordained monk or nun. Each of these 4 levels of training are increasing in degree of intensity but are still within the Middle Way and the Noble Eightfold Path. You can find some details in this answer.

The life of a fully ordained monk or nun is not considered to be one of extreme asceticism, because it does not deny them food, clothing, shelter and companionship.

Regarding guarding the sense doors, the answer comes from the Aparihani Sutta:

"And how does a monk guard the doors to his sense faculties? There is the case where a monk, on seeing a form with the eye, does not grasp at any theme or variations by which — if he were to dwell without restraint over the faculty of the eye — evil, unskillful qualities such as greed or distress might assail him. He practices with restraint. He guards the faculty of the eye. He achieves restraint with regard to the faculty of the eye.

"On hearing a sound with the ear...

"On smelling an aroma with the nose...

"On tasting a flavor with the tongue...

"On feeling a tactile sensation with the body...

"On cognizing an idea with the intellect, he does not grasp at any theme or variations by which — if he were to dwell without restraint over the faculty of the intellect — evil, unskillful qualities such as greed or distress might assail him. He practices with restraint. He guards the faculty of the intellect. He achieves restraint with regard to the faculty of the intellect. This is how a monk guards the doors to his sense faculties.

  • So then, since alot of monks do live kind if ascetic in that they are avoiding a lot of pleasures, their way is wrong then? (since it is an extreme) – Val Aug 15 '17 at 17:03
  • Please see my updated answer. – ruben2020 Aug 15 '17 at 17:10
  • The point in how to guard the senses isn't mentioned though? – Val Aug 15 '17 at 19:12
  • Updated answer with quote from Aparihani Sutta. – ruben2020 Aug 16 '17 at 1:28

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