Suppose you can get what you want...

Recently a group of us went out to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. The food was excellent as usual and we had a great time drinking tea, eating, talking and laughing together. As the meal was winding down, the bill arrived along with my favorite course, the fortune cookies! Fortune cookies are a wonderful way to end the meal with a little sweet taste and a fun message that we all read to each other and decide whether it is prophetic, lame or just plain funny. As we were going around the table opening and sharing our "fortunes" there were the usual predictions and admonitions for creating good karma etc, but my fortune was a little different from the rest. It said simply,

"Suppose you can get what you want?"

Typically fortunes are predictions of good luck or sayings about how being a good person will lead to happiness. However, the little slip of paper with red letters hidden inside of my cookie posed a very provocative question. Suppose you can get what you want, then what? How much time and energy do we spend thinking about what we want and how to get it?manipulating people and situations to get the desired result. We often feel our lives are lacking and this feeling causes us to want things. We want to be well-liked and respected, we want to be loved and cared for, we want fun and excitement and passion. Just as often, wanting arises as aversion. That's the "I don't want" aspect of wanting. It seems that everywhere we look there is "I want," sometimes even masquerading as "I need."

Perhaps as Zen students who understand the Buddha's teaching we examine our minds and conclude that we would be happier if we weren't controlled by our desires. We practice hard wanting to overcome our desire. Aha! Another thing to want? wanting not to want. A very slippery slope indeed!

"Suppose you can get what you want?" Zen Master Seung Sahn says that when we want something there are two possible outcomes, and both result in suffering. The first is that we don't get what we want and suffer immediately with disappointment. The second thing that can happen is that we get what we want. This can lead to temporary happiness but as this happiness fades we begin to crave the good feeling again and are right back in the cycle of wanting and suffering. Sounds familiar, huh? As the old wise saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for?" In the Sakkapana Sutra, The Ruler of all the Gods, Sakka, asks the Buddha, "By what fetters Sir, are beings bound, whereby although they wish to live in peace, without hating or harming others, yet they live with hate, harming one another, hostile and not at all at peace."

The Buddha replied, "It is the bonds of jealousy and greed that bind beings so that, although they wish to live without hate? still they live with hate, harming one another, hostile and not at peace."

"But sir, what gives rise to jealousy and greed, what is their origin?"

"Jealousy and greed, arise from likes and dislikes. This is their origin."

"But Sir, What gives rise to likes and dislikes?"

"They arise, Ruler of the Gods, from desire. Owing to the presence of desire they arise and owing to the absence of desire they do not arise."

"But sir, what gives rise to desire?"

"Desire, Ruler of the Gods, arises from thinking."

Ouch!! That Buddha sure can be a wet blanket! As usual points he right to the heart of our problem: I-My-Me thinking. Zen means, I don't want anything. But be careful! If we practice because we want to not want anything, or even if we don't want to not want anything, then without fail as sure as the fortune cookie arrives with the bill, we will continue to go around and around on the samsaric wheel of wanting and getting.

So what can we do?

In the Diamond Sutra it says, "When thinking arises in the mind, don't attach to it." As we practice, we perceive clearly whatever thinking appears in our minds, relax our grip on it and let it go, returning to this moment, just as it is. In this way we see clearly for ourselves the nature of all things. This means if you want something, don't attach to it. If you get something, don't hold on to it. Moment to moment have just enough mind. When we have enough mind we are no longer controlled by our likes and dislikes, then every fortune is a good fortune.