The Five-Minute Buddhist Books

Recommended Host

How Can I Desire Enlightenment?


Isn’t trying to reach enlightenment a form of desire? Wouldn’t it therefore contradict the second Noble Truth, and trying to reach it bring suffering?


Just to to refresh everyone’s memories, the second Noble Truth says that, “suffering is caused by attachment to desire.” It is also sometimes expanded to include irrational desire or grasping.

The problem isn’t exactly desire, it’s the attachment to desires. I want a new car, but I’m not going to get one anytime soon, and I accept that; no problem. The problem comes in if I get attached to that desire and become jealous of others who have a new car. Or go out and steal the car or steal the money to buy a car. Or cheat on my taxes in order to be able to buy that car. Those are all obvious problems due to my desire for the new car. But there is more to it that this; actually all those problems are more related to breaking precepts than anything else, the real problem is internal.

Greed. Jealousy. Lust.

Overly strong desires alone can cause damage. They steal time from your own concentration. It’s a distraction, it’s a mental nagging that wears down on you. It’s basic human nature to want things you cannot have. Ask any rich person, and they’ll tell you they still have desires. Desire is a bottomless pit than can never be filled. It doesn’t have to be a desire for things either, since you can desire people, situations, and actions as well. The bottom line is that too strong of a desire crosses a line.

But we all have desires, every one of us. We desire to sleep at night, we desire to eat when we’re hungry, we desire new clothes when the old ones wear out, and so forth. There is nothing wrong with wanting things and desiring things. The problem begins when those desires become irrational or overpowering. We become attached to desires and we grasp at them irrationally.

If you want to become enlightened, that’s fine. Buddha wanted it too; that’s why he spent so many years working towards that goal. But if you become infatuated with the idea of becoming enlightened to the point where you start ruining your life, turning away friends, not eating, losing your job, etc., then you are too strongly attached to the idea.

try Mighty Leaf Tea:

9 comments to How Can I Desire Enlightenment?

  • Interesting topic. In a way I think this gets to the heart of the Buddhist path. You have to strive, there has to be some sense of striving for enlightenment or there is no practice, but if your practice is based on reaching for some mental projection of enlightenment the striving actually becomes a hindrance (was just re-reading Chogyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism which discusses all aspects of this so powerfully.)

  • Unfortunately, enlightenment comes with both a certain happiness and a type of sadness, so I feel as though the desire for enlightenment does create a paradox, somewhat.

    The happiness is what people hope for, inner peace, a larger picture of what is, and a manner for being.

    The sadness comes from (at least for me) my realization that we all are, were, and going to be perfect, wherever we are on our paths, and the exit of samsara is not necessarily ‘desirable’ for some.

    10,000,000 years in this wheel may be better than none.

    I do not imply that I am enlightened, as I feel it can only be temporary, at least if one wishes to remain in this realm.



    Just thoughts from another biped…

  • Suzanne

    I find the idea of “attachment” to be where the wisdom rests. And I also find the idea of desire fascinating itself. It has a seductive quality to it, psychologically, but I believe I know why I experience that here, and didn’t when I lived in Europe. I just finished watching the BBC series The Century of the Self, you can find it on google video. It tells the story of the construction of desire in our society.

  • But what is enlightenment?

  • Buddha left his family to attain enlightenment. Likewise, Jesus asked his disciples to come and follow him. In both traditions, there is this concept of full detachment, even to the ones you love. In modern times, could I leave my family for a long period of time, when that feels to me more like abandonment than enlightenment?

    Good thing they have short 10-day retreats these days! 🙂


  • Subjectivity9

    Who is it that has desire? Is it not the ego self?

    Therefore we a attached to this desire only through ‘wrongful identification’ [with the ego self].

    It is with close attention to this problem of ‘wrongful identification,’ that we come to the realization that we are in fact ‚ÄòPure Awareness,’ [are and always have been this ‘Pure Awareness’].

    This ‘Pure Awareness’ was our very ‚ÄòIdentity‚Äô before we were born, goes on throughout what we call life, and continues beyond what we have come to see as death. But these 3 distinctions [before birth/during life/ and death] take place only within time and space, which is merely a description, or a distinction, within finitude. Finitude is temporary.

    The mind act as a veil between us and this most subtle but eternal knowing of ‚ÄòSuchness,‚Äô‚ÄòIsness,‚Äôor “pure Awareness.’

    To know this with clarity is enlightenment.

  • babu

    At the end of the Krushetra war in the Mahabharata, Sri Krishna appears as a bramin and begs from Karna (who is about to die). Karna tells that he is about to die and what is there with him to give as alms. (For all the pavam, bad things he had done in this birth, he has suffered, and therefore nothing left is what he meant).

    Sri Krishna tells ‘No there is one thing left with you, that is your puniyam (good things he has done in this life) and he begs that to be given as alms.

    Karna does so and thus Sri Krishna helps him to reach nirvana (different flavours of the current discussion on ‘enlightenment’)

    i.e. one should leave all the opposites (good/bad, happines/sadness etc. here to reach englightenment including the desire for enlightment)

    my understanding is that we should ‘just live our lives’. take guidance from the path we like, like buddhism etc. and that’s it.

  • mirthquake80

    the “attachment” is the veil that keeps me from seeing the “here now”, and appreciating this moment – before my desire is realized – is the only moment. so long as i’m attached to the desire for something in the future, i am not at peace in the now.

  • JohnMcBride

    There appears to be a catch 22 attached to achieving enlightenment. We can only achieve it by getting rid of desire and attachment, but in order to achieve this we have to “desire” enlightenment and of course this desire will negate enlightenment. Perhaps the Taoist yin yang principal is able to explain things. We can achieve enlightenment, if the seed of desire is always there, but is always defeated by the power and emptiness of enlightenment.