"Thus the origin of suffering, as a noble truth, is this: It is the craving that produces renewal of being, accompanied by enjoyment and lust—in other words, craving for sensual desires, craving for being, craving for non-being."

The Second of Buddha’s Four Noble Truths

"We like to pretend it is hard to follow our heart’s dreams. The truth is, it is difficult to avoid walking through the many doors that will open. Turn aside your dream and it will come back to you again. Get willing to follow it again and a second mysterious door will swing open."

Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way

How does the wise person consider desire? On the one hand, religious teachers encourage us to extinguish selfish desire in order to attain higher levels of spiritual development. On the other hand, successful and creative people consistently suggest that we follow our passion.

It is our desire, our thirst for things and experiences, that leads to suffering. We want something, but we don’t have it, so we suffer. We get something we want, but we lose it, so we suffer. We have a pleasant experience, but it does not last, and we suffer.

Sages may tell us that if we give up craving things and experiences we can overcome suffering. But does that mean we must be poor and inactive to be happy? There is that school of thought. Certain ascetics live very simple lives with the minimum of possessions and few goals, other than communion with the Ultimate. Perhaps they find themselves closer to peace than others. What of the rest of us who live in the world? Is there no hope? What if we feel a desire to contribute to the world, create art, have happy relationships? How can one do these things without passion? It would seem that one cannot. We do not achieve excellence without the desire for excellence. We cannot attain high levels of accomplishment without drive, which is another word for desire.

Perhaps we should examine our desires to see which of them leads to suffering and which leads to joy. It appears that the good life is one in which selfish desires are minimized and healthy passions are given their power. Selfish desires reinforce the illusion that we are alone in the world—that we are separate from the rest of creation and not dependent on it. They support the perception that if you have what I want, then I must take it from you. Further, if I have something you want, then I must keep it to protect or enhance myself. Selfish desires lead us away from compassion and community. This craving cuts us off and draws our energy inward. It engenders fear of not having enough or anxiety that we will lose what we have. In the realm of ideas, it fosters the position that I am right and you are wrong. The egoistic desire to be right endangers the search for truth when we attach to concepts and doctrines in order to protect our correctness.

The healthy passion, on the other hand, may arise in a strong ego, but takes us beyond the bounds of ego. These are the desires that seem to arise out of our unique talents. They express whom we are without cutting us off from others. On the contrary, when we express our healthy passions we feel connected to the world in a special way.

Joseph Campbell told his students "Follow your bliss." He meant that the thing that captures your heart, that gives you true joy, will lead you to where you ought to be. When we follow the wisdom of our heart’s desire we are likely to find fulfillment. Following your bliss or following your passion may take tremendous energy and determination. It may lead to failure and disappointment. We may also find that doing that thing that we seem to be here for leads to happy accidents, chance meetings, and doors opening at just the right moment.


Examine your desires.

Think about your habits. Which of your habits involve craving? Food, sex, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, work, games, exercise can all be addictive. How much do these cravings control your life? What do you give up by maintaining the habit? Do you choose to make a change?

We all like to have fun. Some people think that fun is the key to happiness. It is not. If it is not, then what do you suppose is?

Desires motivate us to act. Think about which of your desires gets you moving. Are these desires that lead to self gratification or healthy desires that draw you to something bigger than your limited ego perspective?

Think about the phrase, "Follow your bliss." How does it relate to the phrase, "Do the right thing?"

The Four Noble Truths

"Suffering, as a noble truth, is this: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow and . . . pain . . . and despair are suffering, association with the loathed is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering—in short suffering is the five [groups] of clinging objects."

"Thus the origin of suffering, as a noble truth, is this: It is the craving that produces renewal of being, accompanied by enjoyment and lust—in other words, craving for sensual desires, craving for being, craving for non-being."

"Cessation of suffering, as a noble truth is this :It is remainderless fading and ceasing, . . . letting go and rejecting, of that same craving."

"The way leading to the cessation of suffering, as a noble truth is this: It is simply the eightfold noble path [of] right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration."

Reference: Novak, Philip. The World’s Wisdom. San Francisco: HarperSandFrancisco, 1994. 

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