Upadana, desire and belief

It’s been said that desire (wanting or not wanting) is the source of all frustration and suffering.  I’ve thought quite a bit about this and I believe it’s true.  From the most insignificant to the most horrible thing I can imagine, the disconnect between what “I want” and “what is” can be accurately described as the source of suffering.  If one closes that gap and discontinues wanting, extinguishing the desire, the frustration and suffering cease to exist.

There’s a cool Sanskrit word for desire. Upadana.  Interestingly enough, upadana is also a word for “fuel.” Back in ancient times upadana was apparently the word for firewood as well as the cause for suffering.

So, I guess you can say that desire is the firewood that keeps our suffering burning.

Beliefs are a form of desire. Beliefs are illusory ideas we use to offset or bolster against the realities of impermanence and interdependence. We want to think we’re solidly independent, but we’re not. Our existence relies on other people as well as all natural and living things.

By the same token, we want to think we’ll last forever.  We certainly behave like we will most of the time even though deep down we know we won’t.  We continue to pretend that things, people and institutions will last forever and act perplexed, indignant, angry or sad when they don’t.  All of these emotions and others emerge out of that same gap between our self-delusion and reality. The bigger the gap, the bigger the load of upadana.

Absolutely no physical thing in this world is permanent. That’s reality. And, our beliefs, regardless of their origin, if held on to long enough will eventually contradict that reality. Whereas, if we perceive things as they are and as they happen without partiality, our beliefs will disappear like wisps of smoke.

Indeed, desires and beliefs are no more than reflections of dissipating clouds in mirrors of perception. Ideas and feelings passing through our mind which we use to describe the behavior of our ego. They’re related in that they’re both delusions, pushing and tugging against “what is.”

But, all too often we attach to them and treat them as if they were solid, irrefutable facts, sadly acting upon them with unacceptable behaviors, ranging from eating too many cookies to invading countries.

Upadana. Fuel which can keep us warm on a cold night or burn us up alive, completely consuming us until there is nothing left.

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4 thoughts on “Upadana, desire and belief

    • Unlikely, as you and I understand progress. We’re collectively wired to equate ‘progress’ with ‘economic growth.’ But, society is also waking up to the undeniable truth that unfettered growth also equates to cancer. What most of us currently consider ‘progress’ simply isn’t sustainable.

      But, I do believe it’s sustainable past my time and probably will still be chugging along when my children’s children are my age. So, my thoughts about upadana, desire and belief are concerned about my interior life and the process of becoming a better husband, father and friend. I can’t do anything about the rise or fall of economic empire. But, I can do something about my behavior. I can choose to transmit compassion toward myself and those with whom I come in contact.

      Here’s the thing – if enough people do that it’s inevitable society will progress. Progress in terms of faster machines and bigger buildings and more economic wealth and even more arcane ways of measuring it? Probably not. But, progress in terms of reduction of human suffering and fulfillment of human potential? Certainly.

      So, that’s why I work on myself. In the short term it will make my life easier and reduce the suffering of those directly connected to me. If that spreads over time it will contribute to the society progress that really matters.

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