Desire vs Control

According to Buddhist doctrine desire is the root of suffering, and that desire can be tamed by following the 8 fold path of “right” behaviors:

  • Right understanding: Understanding that the Four Noble Truths are noble and true.
  • Right thought: Determining and resolving to practice Buddhist faith.
  • Right speech: Avoiding slander, gossip, lying, and all forms of untrue and abusive speech.
  • Right conduct: Adhering to the idea of nonviolence (ahimsa), as well as refraining from any form of stealing or sexual impropriety.
  • Right means of making a living: Not slaughtering animals or working at jobs that force you to violate others.
  • Right mental attitude or effort: Avoiding negative thoughts and emotions, such as anger and jealousy.
  • Right mindfulness: Having a clear sense of one’s mental state and bodily health and feelings
  • Right concentration: Using meditation to reach the highest level of enlightenment.

Contrasting that is the Stoic understanding of the limits of my control and the living of a virtuous life. This seems to me not only more clear and actionable, but also more aligned with living a life of engagement vs detachment. I control my thoughts, my actions, my reactions, my beliefs (what I consider true), and my values (behaviors I consider important) and my objectives (what I am working to accomplish in life). All else I can only influence at best, but the outcomes are out of my control.

My choice with Stoicism is not to try and tame my desires directly (don’t think about pink elephants!),  but rather to develop my rational mind, limiting my desires indirectly vs attempting to force them directly.  To attempt to force myself not to want something is the equivelant of wrestling with a pig (my monkey mind). At the end of the day I’m dirty and exhausted and the pig is happy. Better to realize that the limits of control I have in fulfilling my desires and not enter the pig sty in the first place.

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