THICH HUYEN VI
FEW DESIRES AND COMPLETE KNOWLEDGE
“FEW DESIRES AND COMPLETE KNOWLEDGE”
People in the world rival and run in all directions for finding the things they desire. Not only the men who are poor, but also the men who are very rich, are after money.
A greedy man knows no satisfaction. There is a proverb which says, “The deep ocean is easy to fill up, but a greedy pocket is difficult to fill in”. Indeed, greed is bottomless, how can one full it?
In order to get over our greed, Lord Buddha advised us to be ‘content with few desires’. In the Ching-T’se, Ven. Wei-Shan the great Master said, “A man who is wise can be happy even while sleeping on the ground, but a man who is not wise cannot be happy even if he gets the heaven to stay in”. (1)
The phrase ‘Few desires’ means that desires must not be too many. Complete knowledge means understanding the nature of the material things we have. The phrase ‘Few desires’ means desires which we have not yet fulfilled but which we try to fulfill. For instance, we want to build a simple house for living. We want good communication so that we do not have to spend a lot of time. We would like to buy a car, according to our capacity. “Complete knowledge” is to enable us to meet any circumstances so that we are contented with what we have. When we have food, cloth and residence, we know we have enough. We do not need to require more.
II. THING PEOPLE DESIRE
People always are motivated by the following five greed’s:
a) Desire for wealth and riches.
b) Desire for beauty or loveliness.
c) Desire for name and fame.
d) Desire for food and drink, and
e) Desire for a sound sleep.
Those who desire for wealth and riches are not content with what they have. They want more and more. The more they have, the more they desire.
Those who have a desire for beauty or loveliness go here and there in search of beauty for the whole life. They can die even for loveliness. Every time they see beauty they try to get it by any means. But there are many kinds of beauties. One kind of beauty does not satisfy them. So they go in for another and so on, till they spoil their personalities.
Men invariably have a desire for name and fame. So throughout the year they follow powerful men, in order that they can earn a name. They move from this person to that person, and want to get social standing. They work hard to keep their vain glory.
People hanker after good food and drink. So throughout their life they go from one place to another for dainty dishes. They want to attend every party so that they can drink good wine and tea for satisfying their desires. Their world is restricted to the dishes and the wine companies.
Those who strongly desire to have a sound sleep like to alternate between sleeping and eating. After eating they think to go take rest, then sleep again and so on. In short, when they have a desire for these things mentioned above they become greedy and become slaves to their desire. These five kinds of desires constitute the driving power. What are five desires? They are sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.
What constitutes the desire connected with sight?
When the eye organ comes in contact with different forms of things then desire comes into being. There are two kinds of beauty. A man or a woman is beautiful and a gem, an ivory is also beautiful, but the former are beautiful by virtue of the good actions (kusaka karma) done in their previous existences. This does not apply to the latter.
What is the meaning of desire connected with sound? Some people are passionately fond of good sound and sweet music. Due to their strong desire for such sounds and songs they sometimes become blind and thus lose themselves.
What is the meaning of desire connected with smell? When the nose organ comes in contact with odors, the mind becomes desirous of perfume, paint, and lipstick, etc… Such smells completely overpower men and they give themselves up completely to them.
What is the definition of desire connected with taste? Whenever the tongue organ comes in contact with tasty things, such as aromatic food, sweet sour, salty food and meat, fish, grilled meat, pork hash wrapped in banana leaf, and exquisite meals, etc…then they are completely overpowered by such dishes.
As we know, people have to get enough food for doing work daily. So they think that eating and drinking are very necessary. If the meal is not sufficient, the body would become feeble. But we must treat meals as medicines for keeping us fit. If we have a strong desire for exquisite meals then we live to eat. Our aim should be to eat to live. The lives of persons who live to eat are not honorable. Lord Buddha said, “Because living beings eat things which grow on the earth they cannot raise high. Their bodies are not light, but heavy, because too much of earth is in them”.
What is desire connected with touch? We are prone to enjoy the soft sensations of touch. That is why we like to wear embroidered silken goods and not rough linen. But where do these things lead us to? We are not nearer the truth.
III. EXCESS OF DESIRE LEADS ONE TO RUIN
Too much desire agitates men. They lose all independence and are in its bondage. Guided by desires, they commit fault and do cruel actions. Moreover, it is due to limit-less desire that they do not recognize themselves. When their desires are not satisfied they lay the blame on others. They fight with them, thus they get into trouble. The excess of desire makes them blind and they cannot distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. Due to its excess they often commit sins. If the persons who do not have enough capacity and morality want to become rich and powerful they have to adopt evil ways, dark and barbarous methods for serving their ends. The husband constrains himself, adopts wrong methods and loses his life in order to fulfill his wife’s desire only.
In brief, the above mentioned five desires harm people too much. It is due to them that people become anxious and fly into a rage. It is due to five desires that all kinds of fighting, killing, etc… take place.
Excess of desire does not only cause damage to one’s self now, but also in the future. It (desire) will make people enter into three evil paths, either they will go to hell or become hungry ghosts or animals. They will become ferociously hungry both materially and spiritually. That is the terrible fats of the persons having excess of desire. They reap what they have sown and it is so because they have never minimized their desires or tried getting knowledge.
IV. HOW TO MINIMIZE DESIRES
A greedy pocket is difficult to fill. Lord Buddha said, “The more the desire, the more the suffering”. Even when the desires are satisfied they are only satisfied temporarily. As burning fire requires more firewood, so desires spring up more and more. A Vietnamese proverb has it, “After obtaining the elephant, one demands to have fairy”. Those who have desires never feel satisfied. If they do not think of earning money more and more they will think of other things and hope for others. There is no time to be happy so they do not know peace and contentment.
In order to curtail the excess of desires, Buddhism and Confucianism teach us how to practice so that one can have only “few desires’. They teach us to annihilate them. They do not look up to the riches. That is ‘Complete knowledge’.
In the Sutra of Bequeathed Teaching, Lord Buddha says, “Oh Bhikkus, if you would like to be free from suffering you have to have “Complete knowledge can lie everywhere in all circumstances. Men having complete knowledge may be poor, but such men are the only real rich men. People desire too much so that they are inveigled into five desires”.
A person having all the wealth of the world in his hands and a poor man not desiring at all are rich in their own way. We should observe the words that Lord Buddha said. Then only can we have complete knowledge and we can make our life happy. Happiness is a mental attitude. No amount of wealth can make us wealthy if we do not cultivate such a mental attitude. If we restrain ourselves from desires and passions then we can become wealthy men, although we may be very poor and unhappy materially.
V. ADVANTAGES OF HAVING FEW DESIRES AND COMPLETE KNOWLEDGE
Desires land us in trouble, but having ‘few desires and complete knowledge’ lead us to happiness. This is true. Thanks to ‘few desires’ that demons of desire induce us, because of ‘complete knowledge’. When men are not slaves to material things then their consciousness has freedom and emancipation. At that time they can be called ‘real men’ with complete knowledge. It is a matter of shame to men to be slaves to desires because they are an intelligent part of the universe. When they annihilate desires then they can think that happiness and peace would come to them surely, although everyday they might eat only rice of inferior quality, vegetable soup, and all the year-round they wear ordinary clothes. Happiness and tranquility will come to them. Since a long time the founders of religions, wise men, and philosophers have every praise for peace, and scorn for material prosperity. They never think about reputation and wealth. They never want to be in affluence and live in ease, but they want tranquility of mind.
Furthermore, thanks to ‘few desires and complete knowledge’ that families and society become peaceful. The members do not dispute. They are never after name and fame. As a matter of fact, words fail to describe the benefits of ‘few desires and complete knowledge’.
VI. SOME IDEAS ABOUT THE TITLE OF A FEW DESIRES AND COMPLETE KNOWLEDGE
One may ask that if people would like to make progress. They have to struggle in life. But Buddhism teaches us to practice ‘few desires and complete knowledge’. Does such teaching make us backward?
The answer is in the negative. The purpose of Lord Buddha’s teaching ‘few desires and complete knowledge’ is to save man from failing and removing cruel and limitless desires of man. He is living in the realms of sensuous desire. Lord Buddha never tried to prevent people from following the formula of make profit and let others make profit. This is useful both to the nation and to the people. He recognized the great misfortunes be falling the greedy ones and so he gave the remedy. He asked us to have ‘few desires and complete knowledge’. It is this which can remove the root of disease. This spiritual medicine will weaken desires, uproot all passions and annihilate crimes. When all desires are exterminated then there will remain compassion only. Whenever people are not led by desires. When they have stopped pursuing of material happiness, when they do not cause suffering to others, and when they search for happiness, then peace comes immediately to them.
Thus, this formula of having ‘few desires and complete knowledge’ at first stops desires, then destroys them and changes the mind of the people. This, therefore, helps living beings to make spiritual progress.
Moreover, today human beings are witnessing with their own eyes the danger of the disequilibrium between material progress and spiritual progress. Such disequilibrium may cause all human beings to come to ruin. It is wise, therefore, to equally develop both the material and spiritual aspects. If they really want to, there is no other method better to practice than ‘few desires and complete knowledge’. If human beings look down upon the material aspect and also reduce their desires, then they may evolve spiritually.
In the world today the progress of science is far more than spiritual development and development of morality. People are after material development and they have complete forgotten to make any progress in the realm of the spirit. Of course, whenever the material progress is high, then the spiritual morality has to be less because of the limitless desires of the people. The dark clouds of war are everywhere today because of the desires of men which are bottomless.
Thus, the prescription of ‘few desires and complete knowledge’ is a wonderful medicine for the serious illness of the world nowadays. There is none to refute it.
Those Buddhists or Non-Buddhists who want to get true happiness must practice ‘few desires and complete knowledge’. It is sure that men who do not require too much are not rich, but they are not unhappy either because they do not have much trouble. Furthermore, when they think that they have enough and so they are satisfied easily.
In order to escape disasters which might befall a family or a nation, it is highly desirable that a man should do this duty. They should minimize their desires and only then they can enjoy Peace and Serenity. If they want it they cannot be indifferent to the prescription, ‘few desires and complete knowledge’.
1. In the Wei-Shan-Ching T’se book.