Explaining the Second Noble Truth, the Buddha said:
“And this, monks is the noble truth of the origination of dukkha: the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure.”
In the West, craving is so accepted and pervasive it seems to be a way of life. Although it can feel like swimming upstream, Buddhist practice offers a way to put craving into perspective and reduce its intensity.
One of my biggest cravings is around food. I look at every meal in terms of the taste pleasures it might offer. Before beginning Dharma practice, I didn’t realize how much suffering this was causing. For me, this happens two ways. First, I so dread the end of a delicious meal that I often forget that I’m actually eating. (Oh, the irony!) Second, to put off the inevitable end of the meal, I sometimes overeat to the point of discomfort.
Now that I am starting to glimpse this reality, I can notice and appreciate the present moment while eating: what it tastes like, who I’m with, who prepared the food, etc. I can anticipate that overeating won’t actually make me happy, and in fact can be painful. Luckily, since eating is something I need to do daily, I get a lot of chances to work with it. It is becoming an important part of my practice.
I seem to need a dominant Big Craving that may last weeks, months, or years. Right now it’s bicycles. I read bicycle magazines, pour over Craigslist bike ads, work on bikes in my garage, and occasionally even ride them. Sometimes thoughts of bicycles start the minute I wake up, pop up throughout the day, and may even come in dreams.
Designing or retrofitting streets for pedestrians and bicycles is part of my job. I think that’s the allure of Big Cravings — they are rooted in a practical need that balloons into obsession. Past Big Cravings have included my retirement investments, cars, and vacations — all things we pay attention to, but don’t need to obsess over. Watching my thoughts during meditation and understanding just a bit about the Second Noble Truth has helped me recognize when a basic necessity turns into craving,
When we recognize craving, what works for us is to label the obsessive thoughts, take a step back, and laugh at ourselves for falling victim once again. A good question to ask ourselves is when do we live from one obsession to another, and when do we just live?
by Guān Shang and Guān Rén 10/7/13