Sunday, August 10, 2008

Kabbalah on Desires

By: Bnei Baruch

The wisdom of Kabbalah tells us that every action a person makes is only to further a personal desire. While there are many different types of desires, they are all an effort to obtain pleasure. Actions taken to avoid suffering are really just the inverse aspect of seeking pleasure.

Once a desire surfaces, our intellect starts figuring out how to fulfill it. Next, we decide whether the anticipated pleasure is worth the work required to get it. If the answer is "yes," then we act. If not, then we do nothing. Most of the time, we are completely unaware of this process. There are exceptions, though.

Imagine that you are lying in bed early on a Saturday morning. You wake up feeling slightly hungry. Your bed is nice and warm, the floor is cold, and you’re not ready to face the demands of the day. You go back to sleep. A couple of hours later, you wake up again to the smell of fresh coffee. You are now ravenous. The pleasure promised by coffee and breakfast is now great enough to cause you to jump out of bed.

Kabbalah tells us that we perform this type of calculation literally thousands of times every day. In fact, we do not move a muscle without first having a desire and performing a calculation based on that desire. Even an action as simple as scratching our nose is first motivated by a desire to stop the itch. If the itch is just a little tickle and we are absorbed in other work, we might ignore it for a while, but eventually the anticipated pleasure from stopping that tickle will win out. We scratch the itch without even thinking about it.

So our actions are all initiated by desires, but what about our thoughts? There is an erroneous belief that a person’s mind can rise above his desires, but in fact, the mind is totally driven and limited by our desires. Why do we think about something? Because we first have a desire for it!

I have a desire to eat, so my mind starts thinking about what to eat, how to get it, who I last had dinner with, the best restaurants in town, and all sorts of other things that are directly or indirectly associated with the desire for food. I go through a similar process if I have a desire for knowledge, or for respect from my peers. Each thought can be traced back to a desire that started the chain of thoughts.

But surely we have all used our minds to override a desire, haven’t we? In reality, no. Let’s take a very powerful desire – the desire for chocolate! The anticipated pleasure from the chocolate is great, but we use our "will power" to override that desire. But where did that will power originate? From a desire to be healthy, or to lose weight, or to appear strong by demonstrating our ability to resist the chocolate. So we only replaced one desire with a different, stronger desire. If the second desire had not been stronger, we would have devoured the chocolate! Once again, the desire rules.

According to the wisdom of Kabbalah, we are all born with "uncorrected" desires, meaning that our motivation is to receive pleasure for ourselves. This is obvious in many cases, but it can also be extremely subtle. People often claim that acts of charity or extreme sacrifice are examples of altruism. It is hard to admit, but if we are brutally honest, we get something out of the deal every single time. It might be as simple as a sense of satisfaction for supporting a just cause. Acting in accordance with moral or ethical tenets also provides a sense of pleasure. The ability to be "right" is another sneaky payback, even if it is associated with negative consequences ("See – I knew she would fail and I would have to pick up the pieces!") As any psychologist can attest, human motivations can be very complex. But in every case, the person achieves some real or perceived benefit from every action.

A quick look at the headlines shows us the results of humankind operating based on uncorrected desires. But if we have no control over our desires, and those desires dictate all of our thoughts and actions, then what choice do we have?

Kabbalah tells us that we need to transform our desires so that our basic motivation is for others. Then our desires are said to be "corrected." The closest we have to an example of corrected desires is a mother’s love in so far as she is motivated by the good of her child. When her child feels good, she feels good. Even if she is starving, any food she has will go to the child. This is a natural property of motherhood, but our challenge is to be similarly motivated by the good of our fellow man.

Kabbalah provides us with the methodology to correct our desires. To the extent that we can accomplish this transformation, so our minds and actions will also change. By changing our actions, we can change the world.

Bnei Baruch is the largest group of Kabbalists in Israel, sharing the wisdom of Kabbalah with the entire world. Study materials in over 25 languages are based on authentic Kabbalah texts that were passed down from generation to generation.

No comments: