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Monday, March 13, 2006

Pleasure, Enjoyments and Austerities are Good. Just Don't Grasp at Them.

Contrary to what some people might believe, there is nothing wrong with having pleasures and enjoyments. What is wrong is the confused way we grasp onto these pleasures, turning them from a source of happiness into a source of pain and dissatisfaction.

-Lama Thubten Yeshe, "Introduction to Tantra"

James's comment: I use to think that in order to achieve "enlightenment" I needed to live a cold, grey, boring Puritanical life. One devoid of pleasure but that only brought me suffering as I tried to deny the natural propensity for pleasures. Swinging me to the other extreme of total austerity. However, I am slowly learning that being human is also being able to enjoy the finer things in life in balance and mindfulness with austerities. The issue is not to attach to them and believe that they are my salvation. Drifting too far to one side of the Middle Path or the other only creates confusion and more suffering. I can't cling to a life of austirites but I also can not cling to a life or hedonism.

Attachment to either extreme leaves me stuck in a tree of attachments to these pleasures or denials with the sweeping power of the river of life's impermanence roaring on below me. In the beginning I cling to the tree because I feel that it will "save me" from suffering and maybe initially it helps.

However, the more I cling to the tree the higher the water rises and eventually it pulls me out of my tenuous grip from my precious, ignorant attachments. And I suffer as I desperately grasp for those fleating holograms as I mistaken them for solid, life-saving devices. The river of change always, eventually snaps my weak tree of attachments and I am plunged back into the rapidly moving river of impermance. But instead of just letting go of fear and floating with the current I desperately try to swim upstream looking for another tree (attachment) to cling to.

Instead of going with the flow and experiencing each tree of pleasure or austerity as it appears. Catching my breath and then slipping back into the stream of change, I swim upstream in hopes that I will find a bigger and taller tree which will be stronger and last longer and will protect me from the vast power of the changing current of life then the last one. In the end though I realize that the swimming upstream is only exhausting me and leaving me more panicked, more fearful and more miserable.

I must realize that it is o.k. to stop off at the island of a tree (pleasure, austerity) now and then in the changing, truthful power of impermance. However, the trick is to not stay too long in the tree to where I become delusional that the tree (pleasure, austerity) will last forever and somehow help me to avoid the pain and suffering for good. This in fact goes for clinging too much too the Dharma as well and taking my spiritual development too seriously in my opinion. "Spirtual materialism" as the late, great Choygam Trungpa use to call it.

Again, some pleasure and austerity is o.k. but it is much like a stick burning. It can help me see through the confusion and fear of the dark but if I hold onto it too long it will burn me, plundging me into severe pain and darkness.

-Peace to all beings-

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borderline savvy said...

I have been experiencing over the last few months an increasing number of reinforcements to stay at one "tree." There was a lot of pleasure to it, and I became strongly attached. Now, as life changes, I am having to let go. But I find I still cling to it and grasp after it even though I'm being washed downstream. And it is very painful. But a good reminder about attachment and the suffering it causes. It is so easy if we are not mindful to become attached to pleasurable things.

Dharmasattva said...

I absolutely love the metaphor of the tree and the river. I will have to keep this image in mind in my own practice.

Thank you for the reminder about impermanence and worldly attachments.


"James" said...


I too seem to stay longer in the trees then I should. Desire I feel is the biggest obstacle for us on the path. At least it is for me.


Yeah, I thought it was a good one too. :) You're welcome for the reminder. We are all in this together. :)

Johnny Newt said...

Brrrr, the water's bloody cold!! It's funny once I thought that Buddhism would be my raft.
i never realized all of those people being swept downstream were the masters i was seeking.

"James" said...


Yeah, I sometimes have a hard time ditching the raft when I look at the rocky, rapidly flowing current underneath it. It such moments of panic and fear, boy do I clutch to my raft!

Trev Diesel said...

"I use to think that in order to achieve "enlightenment" I needed to live a cold, grey, boring Puritanical life." did I. Thanks for the post, James.

"James" said...


Isn't impermanence nice? We have the opportunity to grow and change and learn new things to bring us closer to ulitimate and complete Oneness.

gbmorrison said...

I've thought for a long time that Nostradamus was a very shrewd man: I think he would say something like this: "Succeed in the Kingdom of Balance." (One of his prophecies seems to indicate that America "will succeed in the Kingdom of Balance.")

As a matter of fact, this simple but powerful concept has been very useful in my personal life....

A problem with western thought, I think, seems to be a lack of adherence to or even the mere acknowledgement of this concept (in the past this has been a problem in my personal life as well)....

"James" said...


Balance is one of the key's of Buddhism. The middle path. In fact, any spiritual path that is real and honest speaks of balance being the only way.

TDharma said...

brilliant post. well said, and oh, so true in my experience. i have found joy to be wholly transcendent.

"James" said...


Yes, yes exactly. True and pure joy does indeed transcend everything. It turns every little leaf and and ant into the most joyful and wonderful things. Just as awesome and important as the largest of planets, stars, black holes and suns.

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