Desire, Buddhism, and CM’s Volume 4

Dear Reader,

While my plan is to get back to talking about Charlotte Mason’s fourth book, Ourselves, after I have gotten through books five and six, something in a recent adult Sunday school class at our church made me think of it. We are discussing other major world religions. This week we have begun to tackle Buddhism. The pastor said that Buddhists see human desire as the root of all suffering in the world and therefore their goal is to become free of all desire.

Now there is a grain on truth in this; Adam and Eve’s sinful desires did lead to humanity’s fall and to all subsequent suffering. But is the answer to try to avoid all desire? Charlotte’s answer (and mine) would be no. In Ourselves Charlotte compares each of us to a little kingdom in which there are lords and servants who have their rightful places and roles to play. The characters include hunger, thirst, sexual desire and also things like justice and love and kindness. And they are all good. But they all also can be misused or abused. They can be taken to extremes and become sinful. As with most things in life, there is a balancing act to keep each of them in check and not allow them to spiral out of control one way or the other.

This is easy to see for some of the more tangible desires like hunger. Hunger is good. It leads us to eat and to give our bodies the nutrition they need. But if we eat too much, we become obese and unhealthy. If, on the other hand, we suppress hunger and go too far in limiting our eating, we can also become unhealthy and most likely obsessed with food. We can also eat the right amount but become so obsessed with eating the right things, however we determine what is right, whether it be only organic vegan foods or only high quality gourmet foods, that we become unpleasant to be around.

But the answer is not to do away with this desire. That is almost too easy of a solution. Instead, we must manage it. We must find the right balance and walk the line between asceticism and gluttony. Buddhism is right to a certain extent; we do err when we allow our desires to reign over us. But the solution is not to do away with them. Rather, we must learn to control and reign over them, which is only something we can do through the power of Christ. One final thought is that most of these desires (perhaps all) are good. They are given us for our benefit and enjoyment. While we are not to become slaves to our bodies, God does want us to enjoy His creation. It is okay to enjoy our food, for example. These good desires wer around before the fall. It is only since that they have become corrupted and have become a source of sin; but they are not in themselves inherently bad.


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