The Five Desires

Dharma talk given in Hong Kong, November 17–18, 2012 for the Twentieth Anniversary Ceremony of Su Bong Zen Monastery We were introduced as Zen Master Dae Bong is sitting on the right and Zen Master Wu Bong is sitting on the left. From up here it is true, but from where you are sitting, Zen Master Wu Bong is sitting on the right and Zen Master Dae Bong is sitting on the left! That is a very good example of what we face every day. Everybody is faced with this every moment of our life. From up here, I am on the right and he is on the left; but from down there, he is on the right and I am on the left. So the way we see things depends on our situation. If we are attached to our situation, we won't understand other peoples' situations. Which is correct? I am on the right and he is on the left? Or he is on the right and I am on the left? What do you think? [Applause.]

Clapping? Which one is that? This is not just a lecture; this is interactive. Our life is an interaction. Every day, all the time, you are in some situation—with your family, with the people you work with, with the citizens that you live with, with the shopkeepers that you deal with, the people you pass on the street. Everyone has a different perspective according to their situation. Which one is more correct? Even your mouth and your stomach often have a different opinion according to their situation.

Tonight is Saturday night. When I was growing up, on Saturday night you went out. I don't think I ever went to a talk about religious practice on Saturday night. So you people are very interesting. Either you have some big questions in your life or you have nothing to do. But on Saturday night most people are constantly having a fight between their stomach and their mouth. After some time of eating and drinking, the stomach says, OK, that was good. Stop! But for most people, their mouth has a very different opinion. Most people's mouths say, I am having a good time. Le's continue! Then there is a fight. If the stomach wins, then the mouth is unhappy. If the mouth wins, then later the stomach is unhappy. So if we live our life that way, there is always suffering.

When humans are born, we have two main concerns: eating and sleeping. And we are not thinking about them either; we just do it. Then when we are not satisfied, we scream. We have no thought of you and me. As we grow, the other desires appear. Buddha said very clearly that humans have five main desires: food, sleep, sex, money, fame. As we grow these five desires all become stronger.

One thing we should consider about fame: fame is not only that I want to be on television or in a magazine; fame means I want attention from others. So everybody has fame karma, even if we don't care about the television, magazines and so on. Still we want attention from others. Probably the last desire to really appear in our life is money. Nowadays that is the number-one desire in the world. Human society now has no direction. Doesn't matter what system we have, everybody wants money.

I was born in 1950, the same year as Zen Master Wu Bong, but in a different part of the world. At that time, many people in the United States had good situations. Europe and Asia both were still recovering from wars. So Asia and Europe were in difficult situations. Zen Master Wu Bong and I were talking the other day. He mentioned that in the 1950s in America, many families had a house, they had cars and anybody could have a job. And most parents assumed that their children will also have those things.

I remember going out on the street where I lived, just outside of Philadelphia. Looking down the street that I lived on, everybody had a house, and each house was different from the other. They weren't just copies of each other. Every family had one or two cars. I remember thinking that we have a very good situation; it is beautiful and comfortable, with no worries about jobs. But I know that inside the houses there were many kinds of suffering: relationship suffering, emotional suffering, mental suffering, self-doubt.

Then a big question appeared in my mind. Even though we have this social comfort, economic success and security, still there is plenty of suffering. Then suffering is not dependent on the situation. So what is the cause of suffering?

In my city there were many black people and many white people. In America, black people had been free since 1863, but even 100 years later, they were not equal. They didn't have the same opportunities. There was still lots of prejudice, limitations and hindrances. I also wondered why black people and white people couldn't make a healthy and good relationship. So even though there was a kind of freedom and social success for some, still there were many kinds of suffering.

If you went to a Christian church they said to believe in God and then afterward you go to heaven. That was a little confusing to me. People talked about heaven as if it were some place like Hawaii that you go to when you die, and it will be wonderful forever. But I remembered reading in the Bible that Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within. To me, that meant that heaven is inside. So how come nobody looks like they are in heaven now?

When I was eleven, I happened to go to an international summer camp in Japan. We got to play baseball and all the usual eleven-year-old things, and we went around the country as well. There were kids from ten different countries. We went to Kamakura. There is an outdoor Buddha there, maybe 20 to 30 meters high. I had never seen Buddha and I had never heard about Buddhism, but for some reason when I saw that statue I felt, He understands! He understands where suffering comes from and how to take away suffering. Not only did he look like he did it himself, but he knows how to teach me. After that, I didn't want to read about it in books, I wanted to meet a living teacher. It took about 15 years more before I met my teacher.

The first night I met Zen Master Seung Sahn in America, he had already been in the United States for about five years. He was giving a public talk at a Zen center that his students had started near Yale University. His teaching style was to have one of his students give a talk, and then he answered questions. That night someone asked him, What is sanity? What is insanity? I had studied and worked for almost 10 years in the field of psychology, and even though I quit, I was still very interested in what the Zen master was going to say. His English was so-so, and he turned to his student and said, This man, what say? What say? He didn't understand the English words sanity and insanity. His student said, This man asked, ‘What is crazy? What is not crazy?'

Then Zen Master Seung Sahn said, If you are very attached to something, you are very crazy. If you are a little attached to something, then you are a little crazy. If you are not attached to anything, tha's not crazy.

I thought, Tha's better than my 10 years of studying psychology! Then even if you are a big successful businessman, if you are very attached to something, tha's crazy. Even politicians, even religious persons, if they are very attached to something, tha's crazy. That was very clear, not dependent on our situation or our condition or anything, just dependent on our mind.

But he continued talking. He said, In this world, everybody is crazy because everybody is attached to I, but this I doesn't exist, it is only made by our thinking. If you don't want to attach to your thinking I, and you want to find your true nature, you must practice Zen. At that moment, I knew, Tha's my teacher!

So, first we have to recognize that we only really understand our own point of view. If we only function from our own point of view, our life will have many ups and downs, nonstop, forever, and we cannot truly help others. If we can understand the other person's point of view, tha's better.

But that is the real mind revolution, because the cause of suffering is this idea I have:   I. Unless we see through that, we will never get out of suffering. It doesn't matter whether you get a wonderful government, a successful situation or anything, the root of our suffering comes from the false idea of I. If you are not sure of that, conduct your own experiment: spend some time every day and investigate I. Ask yourself What am I? What am I? Am I this body? This mind? These emotions?

Someone already said I met Dae Soen Sa Nim when I was young. So that body was young and this body is older, but who met Dae Soen Sa Nim? And who is talking to you now? Look at your own body and ask, is that me? Is my consciousness me? Is my emotion me? What am I? You don't know! If you look into that, you will have a mind revolution. Then in any situation you can suddenly see things differently.

One time one of our Hong Kong students drove me from Lantau Island back to Causeway Bay. There was a big, long traffic jam. I cannot speak Cantonese and his English is simple. During the ride I asked him how many children he has. He said three. I said, How old are they?

Seventeen, 14 and 4. I was shocked—17? I thought he was 28, but he was really about 40. So I asked, How's your 17-year-old?

He said, Good.

How's your 14-year-old?

No good.

I asked, Is it a girl?


I said, How's the girl's relationship with her mother?

He said, bang-bang, pretending to hit his two fists together. Sometimes you don't need a lot of words to communicate. Then I asked, How's the girl's relationship with you?

Then he said, Before, bang-bang. Now, OK.

I asked him what happened, what changed. He said he had been doing meditation about two years, then one day the thought appeared in his mind, I don't like the relationship I have with my daughter, but I don't know how to change it. I don't know what to do about it. So he told me that time he stopped saying anything to the daughter, because every time he talked, soon it was bang-bang. He said then a very strange thing happened. His daughter suddenly understood his mind! She understood he doesn't want bang-bang with her, but he doesn't know what else to do. Their relationship just stayed at that point for a few months, with not so much talking. Then one day his daughter came home and started to tell him about her experience in school with her friends, with her teachers. Now every day she talks with him about her life and her problems.

So the real Mind Revolution comes from looking back at ourselves. Looking into I. Don't worry about finding anything. Just by looking into I, things change. You don't have to believe in Buddhism. It is not Buddhism; it is just a human being having a big question. Tha's all.

The five desires are important to satisfy, but if that is all your life is, you will never be happy. Look back at yourself. What am I? Don't know. That is the true treasure—so valuable. Then you can change your relationship with the five desires and even use them to help all beings. That is the real Mind Revolution. I think it is what Buddha was trying to teach us. Thank you.