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Dispassion – Freedom From Desire
Dispassion – Freedom From Desire is a Dhamma article on the Buddha’s teaching that conditioned states of mind have definite and direct causes. This is often referred as the law of conditionality or the law of “if this occurs then that results”:
“And what is the noble method that is rightly seen and understood by discernment? From the arising of this comes the arising of that. When this isn’t, that isn’t. From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that. “This is the noble method that is rightly seen and rightly ferreted out by discernment.” (Anguttara Nikaya 10.92)
When a mind is aflame with passion suffering ensues.
Stillness is the present moment experience of a mind settled in equanimity. Stillness is a condition of mind developed through understanding the Four Noble Truths. Equanimity is a state of mind free of reaction, without movement caused by passion. All things in the phenomenal world have causes arising in the phenomenal world. (See Dependent Origination linked below.)
When the mind is settled in dispassionate mindfulness the agitation of clinging and desire abandoned.
It is the nature of conditioned mind to grasp. When thoughts become agitated by passion, grasping arises. Grasping (and the ensuing clinging) is the cause of stress and suffering known as dukkha. Dukkha arises from all forms of grasping: desire, craving, greed, and aversion. All arise from ignorance or a lack of wisdom. Ultimately, all created things arise from desire, or passion, and all created things are put aside through dispassion. Dispassion arising from wisdom is the condition of an awakened mind. When passion ceases, cessation of suffering arises.
Passion arises from attaching a thought to a feeling creating emotion. Passion is the action or movement, physical, mental, or combined, arising from emotion: An experience provides pleasure or fulfillment in some manner and instead of simply and dispassionately experiencing the feeling, we decide that we want more of the pleasure-providing experience. Passion also arises from an experience that is perceived as unpleasant or unfulfilling and we decide that we do not want have the experience again.
Every discriminating judgment of an experience, whether the judgment is “positive” or “negative” creates more desire or more aversion, more passion. This repetitive and discursive response to passion is the cause of conditioned thinking.
Dispassion is not negative passion. Dispassion is the expression of wisdom arising from present-moment mindfulness of the true nature of reality. Dispassion is not a mind state that can be generated through passion. Dispassion naturally arises through a practice of putting aside that which gives rise to passion.
“Among whatever qualities there may be, fabricated or un-fabricated, the quality of dispassion – the subduing of intoxication, the elimination of thirst, the uprooting of attachment, the interruption of discursive thinking, the destruction of craving, (develops) dispassion, cessation, the realization of unbinding (Nirvana) – this is considered supreme. Those who have confidence in the quality of dispassion have confidence in what is supreme; and for those with confidence in the supreme, supreme is the result.” (Ituvattaka Sutta v90)
Dispassion is not detachment. Dispassion is deep mindful engagement. Dispassion is not arrogant and ireverant aloofness. Dispassion is mindful and complete acceptance. Dispassion is not avoidance. Dispassion is mindfulness of whatever is occurring as events occur free of discriminating thoughts. Dispassion is not based in ignorance. Dispassion is mindful expression of true wisdom.
Dispassion does not generate inaction. Dispassion arising from wisdom leads to skillful and effective action. Dispassion is not grim stoicism. Dispassion generates skillful and compassionate acts informed by wisdom. Dispassion does not give rise to isolation. Dispassion arises from the wisdom and understanding of the interconnectedness of all things.
Dispassion gives rise to true understanding of Anatta and a life without the effects of providing for an ego-centered self. (See link below for an explanation of Anicca,Dukkha and Anatta) Dispassionately through wisdom gained from the Eightfold Path we cease making choices that satisfy the cravings of the impermanent ego-self. Initially this will often give rise to more passion. When the ego-self is denied that which it has always received, constant sense-fulfillment, the mental reaction can be quite passionate. Our minds will often thrash about, complaining through distraction, doubt, fear, confusion and sometimes even physical discomfort.
The Buddha likened establishing a meditation and spiritual practice to taming a wild elephant. In order for a young elephant to be useful, it must be able to focus and be aware of its true nature. To tame a young elephant, a strong rope would be tied around the elephant’s neck and to a strong post or tree. The elephant would immediately begin thrashing around, flapping it’s ears, stomping the ground, and making loud grunts and bellows, very unhappy to not be able to wander around aimlessly engaging in any distraction that arose, feeding its passions. The more resistant the young elephant became, the stronger the rope held. Eventually the elephant would put aside its desire for continual distraction and sensual fulfillment and it would settle down. At a certain point the elephant will let go of its need to be anything other than what it is.
As we establish our own meditation practice, our minds are often passionately thrashing about, resistant to settling down. Thoughts insist on wandering aimlessly with strong desire to continue distraction by following one thought with another, continually describing their own self-created reality. Initially our minds have a great aversion to give up constant craving for physical and mental fulfillment. As we continue and deepen our meditation practice, our thoughts settle down.
In this metaphor, our mind is the young elephant, the rope is mindfulness or awareness of our breath, and the strong post or tree is our breath. As we use mindful awareness of our breath to disengage from our thoughts and settle our awareness on the present moment, putting aside passion, we become liberated and free. By utilizing the simple method of breath-awareness meditation we are able to tame our own wild minds. Once settled in stillness wisdom arises and dispassion is present.
By practicing all of the factors of the Eightfold Path we begin to minimize the effects satisfying and protecting the passions of the ego-self and begin to experience our true and dispassionate nature.
Returning to our metaphor, once the elephant has learned to remain mindful of the post, the rope is loosened and the elephant is finally free. Once we learn mindful awareness of our breath and integrate all of the factors of the Eightfold Path, passion subsides and true freedom arises.
The practice of awakening through the understanding of the Four Noble Truths by mindfully integrating the Eightfold Path unfolds in the phenomenal world as peaceful mindfulness of life as life occurs. Dispassion arising from wisdom brings ever deeper awareness of the calm and spacious nature of mind. Dispassion gives rise to the innate ability to bring virtue, concentration and wisdom into every situation, into every experience, without the distracting thought that our experience be any different than what is occurring.
Dispassion is a calm and abiding ego-less presence. Dispassion is the peace and freedom arising from un-conditioned mind.
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My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Acharya Buddharakkhita, Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.
Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.
I have made edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.
Becoming-Buddha.com and Dhamma articles and recordings by John Haspel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.