The Buddha spoke…
“Community, people are easily caught by four traps. The first is attachment to sensual desire. The second is attachment to narrow views. The third is doubt and suspicion. The forth is false view of self. The Way Of Enlightenment helps people overcome the four great traps.
“Community, the teaching on dependent co-arising will enable you to overcome every obstacle and trap. Contemplate the nature of interdependence in your daily life – in your body, feelings, mind, and objects of mind”
The next day in the main hall, Ananda repeated the Buddha’s Dharma talk. He named it Sutra of the Lion’s Roar.
From “Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha” By Thich Nhat Hanh, page 149.
The first trap – sensual desire – is spoken about often and most of the time the understanding is somewhat incomplete.
First off, sensual desire is not simply about sex. Sensual desire is any strong wish for or wants that is received by the senses. So a soft cloth, favorite music, nacho chips dipped in cheese, all of these appeal to us as sensual desires.
When I first started the path, I recall a friend saying they could never be a Buddhist because they did not want to give up desire. But let’s be clear – Buddhism, in my practice, does not require giving up things I desire. Some practices do suggest you avoid all desires to help cultivate a clear mind. Perhaps that is a path I’ll walk someday, seeking out a cave on a hillside without any concern if there is a good wifi signal.
But when considering the four traps, remember this one is “attachment to sensual desire”. It isn’t sensual desire that is the problem, but our craving to have it. When we smell the delightful dish you just ordered and can’t wait to eat it, or hearing the voice of a loved one and knowing you are going to share an embrace, this is not a problem. The problem arises when mindfulness is forgotten.
An example of this which certainly happens for me still is a want to eat more healthy. But when I see a piece of pie, my sensual desire arises. My ego wants to tell me stories about how wonderful it will taste, how I deserve it. I become convinced that I will be somehow better for indulging in this desire. A mindful response allows me time to remember that what my body actually craves is not pie. My tongue will tell me a different story, but as I reflect, I realize that I am not hungry. I have eaten a meal and the thought to ‘top it off’ with dessert is an illusion. Marriages that end due to cheating rarely have an intent to do harm; instead, it is the trap of sensual desire that causes our rational mind, our ethical heart, to become overwhelmed. And be it pie or harm causing sex, after we indulge, how often do we realize that it wasn’t worth it.’Never again’ we proclaim, ‘from now on I am going to stick to my diet’. And time goes by and another sensual desire arises.
Now, how you can not fall into this trap comes basically in two ways.
First, take the recovering drug addict. One thing that is taught is to avoid the people and places where you will put yourself in danger. Avoid the temptation altogether. New friends, new associations. Don’t go to places where your drug of choice is common. This might include bars, concert venues, or other places where your primary connection with the place was to get high. But if the addiction is junk food, smoking, or sex, these desires are harder to avoid. Junk food is so prevalent that having an apple or a candy bar is viewed as being a health nut. Smoking is frowned up inside many places now, but it is far from invisible. And the only way you’ll avoid sexuality in modern advertising is to avoid all media. So the path of avoidance for some means the life of a monastic – or we go back to that life in a cave mentioned earlier.
So along with some reasonable avoidance, our solution to avoid this trap is mindfulness. To be aware of desire arising, to see it, to know it is there and what it is. Yes, I desire that pie. But I pause before I order it. Am I hungry? Do I desire that pie, or do I desire the feeling I once had of how good a pie was? Will that pie really taste that good? Will my body suffer from my choice? When I decided to eat better, was that a good choice, and has anything changes? How many times have I said ‘I’ll start my diet tomorrow’, and if I remember saying it once, then why am I not on it today? Because that is the trap. That is the part that takes away our choice and instead desire rules us. We know we are ethical and well-intentioned people; making decisions that are counter to this to fulfill a desire is the trap we seek to avoid. Cultivating right mindfulness in our day to day life through meditation and reflection allows us the freedom to avoid this trap.