Freedom from the desire for an answer is essential to the understanding of a problem.
In the the Fall Issue of PARABOLA, writer and Jungian analyst, James Hollis writes: “…the etymology of the word “desire” derives from the Latin desiderare,” “to long for,” derived from de sidere, “of the stars.” Is this the true place of desire? How often can we take in the immensity and the mystery of the world around us?
Ordinarily I find myself stuck in an ongoing and relentless narrative that my mind uses to continually protect who I think I am or aught to be, in other words, the “I, Me, and Mine” storytelling. For the most part, because of all this noise going on, I am not available to that scale of things. Sure, I can think about it, but how do I actually feel that I am part of that grand mystery?
Interestingly, Hollis goes on to say: “Thus, disorders of desire arise from our loss of the stars, namely, some sidereal point from which our course may be derived.” We lose track of ourselves here and now. How do we cultivate healthy desires? Can the mind forfeit its incessant chatter or can we have a question, much like a Zen koan, that is so intriguing that the usual narrative simply loses its attraction. In those rare moments, the mind becomes silent and there is a connection to a quality of stillness that is far removed from any concepts or ideas that I may have, either of myself or even about spiritual practice. Perhaps desire can serve us to have an experience of something beyond ourselves.
So returning to the question, what is the proper place of desire, I think there is another hint in the Focus section of the current issue from Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
— Luke Storms
This piece appeared in the PARABOLA Newsletter: “Longing For the Stars,” October 8, 2010. Photograph by Hans Kaden, “Path of Light,” 1943.
Thank you to parkstepp who posted this a few weeks ago from the Parabola newsletter.
Nara period, 8th century
Toshodaiji, Nara (via: wikimedia commons)
In reading the current issue of PARABOLA, there are several examples of individuals who have been able to navigate their lives through the stormy seas of desire and temptation.
Another example that comes to mind is the fascinating story of Jianzhen or Ganjin (688–763), a Chinese monk who helped to propagate Buddhism in Japan. In autumn 742, an emissary invited Jianzhen to travel to Japan to give lectures on Buddhism. Despite protests from his disciples, Jianzhen made preparations for his first voyage. The crossing failed and in the following years, he would attempt to cross to Japan six times.
In the summer of 748, Jianzhen made his fifth attempt to reach Japan. Leaving from Yangzhou, he made it to the Zhoushan Archipelago off the coast of modern Zhejiang province. But the ship was blown off course taking the lives of 36 members of Jianzhen’s crew including Eiei, one of the Japanese monks who had accompanied him. Shortly thereafter, more than 200 others in the crew abandoned him out of fear and frustration. Jianzhen was then forced to make his way back home to Yangzhou by land, lecturing at a number of monasteries on the way. It took him three years to eventually return home to Yangzhou, and by this time he was blind from an infection he had contracted in his journey. Nevertheless, he was still determined to make it to Japan.
Undeterred, Jianzhen made the sixth attempt five years later at the age of 66, after a horrific 40 day journey at sea, he arrived in Japan on December 20th, 753. Jianzhen died a year later on May 6th, 763.
This story fits with Mathew J. Stills’ description of desire as action in our Fall 2010 Issue: “Desire, to be true, must be efficacious. It must have the power to take hold of someone and move him or her.” How does one harness this power of desire so that it is transformed into a determination or a wish as the story of Jianzhen clearly describes? Maybe this story is true or maybe it has been blown up to mythological proportions, but nonetheless it is a story that shows us the true place of desire.
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Décio Rodrigues Villares (1851-1931), Natureza-morta (Still Life)
To learn to be without desire
you must desire that.
Better to do as you please:
Floating clouds, and water idly running —
Where’s their source?
In all the vastness of the sea and sky,
you’ll never find it.
“Mad Words” by Yuan Mei, trans. by J.P. Seaton
Thank you to Bitter Grace Notes for the poem and the stunning artwork as well. I’ve been hanging onto this for a while.