World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Subdue Desires And Passions

All religions agree that the seeker after Ultimate Reality must restrain his desires and subdue the passions of the flesh. But lest the religions be viewed as advocating one uniform position, we should distinguish between the view of Buddhism, Taoism, and Jainism, where any desire, including the desire to be righteous or the desire to annihilate desire, is a fetter to be overcome in the path to holiness, and the position of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Confucianism where Selfish Desire, Lust, and Greed, pp. 415-22, are to be subdued while good desires may be encouraged.

At the end of this chapter is the motif, found in the texts of many scriptures, that the thought is akin to the deed, for 'everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' Therefore, extreme care should be taken to avoid tempting situations which would inflame the mind with passion. For even if a person has a strong will to restrain his actions, once the mind is inflamed with desire, how can his soul be tranquil and composed?

For related passages on the theme of self-conquest and the metaphor of the horse, bridle, and reins--in which the desires of the senses must be reined in by the mind, or better, be trained to obey the mind with only a light tap of the reins--see Self-Control, pp. 731-34.

Through the abandonment of desire the Deathless is realized.

Buddhism. Samyutta Nikaya xlvii.37

Manifest plainness, Embrace simplicity, Reduce selfishness, Have few desires.

Taoism. Tao Te Ching 19

Confucius said, "If out of the three hundred Songs I had to take one phrase to cover all my teachings, I would say, 'Let there be no evil in your thoughts.'"

Confucianism. Analects 2.2

Realizing that pleasure and pain are personal affairs, one should subjugate his mind and senses.

Jainism. Acarangasutra 2.78

Beloved, I beseech you... to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul.

Christianity. 1 Peter 2.11

Is he who relies on a clear proof from his Lord like those for whom the evil that they do seems pleasing while they follow their own lusts?

Islam. Qur'an 47.14

That man is disciplined and happy who can prevail over the turmoil That springs from desire and anger, here on earth, before he leaves his body.

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 5.23

A man should always incite the good impulse in his soul to fight against the evil impulse. If he subdues it, well and good; if not, let him study Torah.... If [by that] he subdues it, well and good; if not, let him pray upon his bed.

Judaism. Talmud, Berakot 5a

Whoever quenches the fire of desire through the holy Word, Spontaneously is his illusion of duality banished. Such is he in whose heart the Name dwells, by the Master's guidance.

Sikhism. Adi Granth, Gauri Ashtpadi, M.1, p. 222

To whatever extent the five senses, the four taints of emotions, and the four instinctive appetites are suppressed by a person who is well established in the path of righteousness, to such extent the doorway for the entrance of evil is closed for that person.

Jainism. Acarangasutra 4.15

Put to death what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you lived in them. But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth.

Christianity. Colossians 3.5-8

From endearment springs grief, from endearment springs fear; for him who is wholly free from endearment there is no grief, much less fear.

From affection springs grief, from affection springs fear; for him who is wholly free from affection there is no grief, much less fear.

From attachment springs grief, from attachment springs fear; for him who is wholly free from attachment there is no grief, much less fear.

From lust springs grief, from lust springs fear; for him who is wholly free from lust there is no grief, much less fear.

From craving springs grief, from craving springs fear; for him who is wholly free from craving there is no grief, much less fear.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 212-16

We live in accordance with our deep, driving desire. It is this desire at the time of death that determines what our next life is to be. We will come back to earth to work out the satisfaction of that desire.

But not for those who are free from desire; they are free because all their desires have found fulfillment in the Self. They do not die like the others; but realizing Brahman, they merge in Brahman. So it is said:

When all the desires that surge in the heart Are renounced, the mortal becomes immortal.

When all the knots that strangle the heart Are loosened, the mortal becomes immortal, Here in this very life.

Hinduism. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.6-7

The craving of a person addicted to careless living grows like a creeper. He jumps from life to life like a fruit-loving monkey in the forest. Whomsoever in this world this base clinging thirst overcomes, his sorrows flourish like well-watered birana grass. Whoso in the world overcomes this base unruly craving, from him sorrows fall away like water drops from a lotus leaf. This I say to you: Dig up the root of craving like one in quest of the birana's sweet root. Let not Mara crush you again and again as a flood crushes a reed.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 334-37

What is meant by saying that cultivation of the personal life depends on the rectification of the mind is that when one is affected by wrath to any extent, his mind will not be correct. When one is affected by fear to any extent, his mind will not be correct. When he is affected by fondness to any extent, his mind will not be correct. When he is affected by worries and anxieties, his mind will not be correct. When the mind is not present, we look but do not see, listen but do not hear, and eat but do not know the taste of food. This is what is meant by saying that the cultivation of the personal life depends on the rectification of the mind.

Confucianism. Great Learning 7

Wipe out the delusions of the will, undo the snares of the heart, rid yourself of the entanglements to virtue; open up the roadblocks in the Way. Eminence and wealth, recognition and authority, fame and profit-- these six are the delusions of the will. Appearances and carriage, complexion and features, temperament and attitude--these six are the snares of the heart. Loathing and desire, joy and anger, grief and happiness--these six are the entanglements of virtue. Rejecting and accepting, taking and giving, knowledge and ability--these six are the roadblocks of the Way. When these four sixes no longer seethe within the breast, then you will achieve uprightness; being upright, you will be still; being still, you will be enlightened; being enlightened, you will be empty; and being empty, you will do nothing, and yet there will be nothing that is not done.

Taoism. Chuang Tzu 23

Bhagavad Gita 5.23: Cf. Bhagavad Gita 3.41, p. 417; 6.23-26, pp. 843f.; 16.21-13, p. 417; Maitri Upanishad 6.34.7, p. 722; Mahabharata, Santi Parva 177, p. 199. Acarangasutra 2.78: Cf. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 9.34-36, p. 732. Berakot 5a: Cf. Kiddushin 30b, p. 390; Qur'an 29.45, p. 826. 1 Peter 2.11: Cf. Proverbs 16.32, p. 732; 2 Timothy 2.21-22, p. 729; Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 10.1, p. 733. Qur'an 47.14: Cf. Qur'an 4.25, p. 260. Dhammapada 212-16: Cf. Dhammapada 338-47, p. 418; Itivuttaka 47, p. 934. Dhammapada 334-37: Cf. Dhammapada 338-47, p. 418; Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life 4.28-35, p. 392. Great Learning 7: Cf. James 4.1-3, p. 416; Chuang Tzu 11, p. 421. Chuang Tzu 23: Cf. Tao Te Ching 56, p. 840.

Confucius said, "There are three things against which a gentleman is on his guard. In his youth, before his blood and vital humors have settled down, he is on his guard against lust. Having reached his prime, when the blood and vital humors have finally hardened, he is on his guard against strife. Having reached old age, when the blood and vital humors are already decaying, he is on his guard against avarice."

Confucianism. Analects 16.7

Thus I have heard. At one time when the Lord was staying in the Jeta Grove, the venerable Kassapa the Boy was staying in Blind Men's Grove. One night, a certain being, having illuminated the grove, spoke thus to Kassapa the Boy, "Monk, this anthill smokes by night and blazes up by day. A wise brahmin says, 'Clever one, bring a spade and dig into it.' He digs into it and finds a bolt and tells the brahmin, who says, 'Take out the bolt, and dig on.' The clever one digs into it again and finds in turn a frog, a pitchfork, a basket, a tortoise, a butcher knife, and a piece of meat, and each time the brahmin instructs him to take it out. He digs into it again and finds a cobra, and the brahmin says, 'Let the cobra be, do not touch the cobra, do reverence to the cobra.'"

Then Kassapa the Boy approached the Lord and described the parable to him, asking for its interpretation. The Lord replied, "The anthill is a symbol for the body made of the four elements, originated from mother and father, nourished on gruel... Whatever one thinks upon and ponders upon during the night concerning the day's affairs, this is smoking by night. Whatever affairs one sets going by day, having reflected the previous night, this is blazing up by day. The wise brahmin is the Tathagata, and the clever one is a monk who is a learner. The spade symbolizes intuitive wisdom, and digging means putting out effort.

"Among the things which the man digs up and takes out, the bolt symbolizes ignorance, the frog is the turbulence of wrath, the pitchfork is perplexity, and the basket is the five hindrances--the holding on to desire for sense pleasures, hatred, laziness, restlessness, delusion. The tortoise is the five Aggregates, the butcher knife is five sense pleasures, and the piece of meat is the resulting desire that causes one to covet satisfaction. These are all to be taken out and thrown away.

"The cobra means the person whose cankers are destroyed. If one digs into himself with the spade of wisdom, he will finally come to his cobra. It is worthy of reverence."

Buddhism. Majjhima Nikaya i.142-45, Parable of the Anthill

The greatest problem of any man is woman.

African Traditional Religions. Igala Proverb (Nigeria)

Confucius said, "I have never seen anyone whose desire to build up his moral power was as strong as sexual desire."

Confucianism. Analects 9.17 and 15.12

The Buddha said, "Of all longings and desires, there is none stronger than sex. Sex as a desire has no equal. Rely on the Oneness. No one under heaven is able to become a follower of the Way if he accepts dualism [the attraction of opposites]."

Buddhism. Sutra of Forty-two Sections 25

Majjhima Nikaya i.142-45: The five 'Aggregates' are the skandhas; the 'five sense pleasures,' are the pleasures of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Cf. Mahaparinirvana Sutra 8.12, p. 147; Matthew 5.29-30, p. 663; Samyutta Nikaya iii.68, p. 640.

Igala Proverb: This means that a wife or lover leads to unforeseen troubles, hence the desire for sex should be disciplined.

Sutra of Forty-two Sections: This may be a criticism of Tantric Buddhism, with its "secret yoga" of sexual union as the way to enlightenment. For an example of a dualistic Tantric conception of enlightenment, see Hevajra Tantra 8.26-29, p. 118.

Those who abstain from sex, Except with those joined to them in the marriage bond... [But those whose desires exceed those limits are transgressors]... These will be the heirs Who will inherit paradise.

Islam. Qur'an 23.5-11

He who delights in subduing evil thoughts, who meditates on the loathsomeness of the body, who is ever mindful--it is he who will make an end of craving. He will sever Mara's bond.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 350

The mouth is a vessel filled with foul Saliva and filth between the teeth, The nose with fluids, snot, and mucus, The eyes with their own filth and tears.

The body is a vessel filled With excrement, urine, lungs, and liver; He whose vision is obscured and does not see A woman thus, lusts for her body.

This filthy city of a body, With protruding holes for the elements Is called by stupid beings An object of pleasure.

Why should you lust desirously for this While recognizing it as a filthy form Produced by a seed whose essence is filth, A mixture of blood and semen?

He who lies on the filthy mass Covered by skin moistened with Those fluids, merely lies On top of a woman's bladder.

Nagarjuna, Precious Garland 149-57

Dhammapada 350: On 'meditating on the loathsomeness of the body,' see the following passages; also Sutta Nipata 205-06, p. 914, and the story of Subha, Therigatha 366-99, pp. 934-35. For the setting up of 'mindfulness,' see Majjhima Nikaya i.55-63, Satipatthanasutta, pp. 845ff. Precious Garland 149-57: Vv. 149-50, 154, 156-57. Gautama Buddha himself came to such a realization about the body's loathsomeness one evening when his father tempted him with courtesans in an effort to keep him from leaving home and beginning his spiritual quest. This is an excerpt from a meditation about bodies in general, and is not intended to denigrate women. Cf. Sutta Nipata 205-06, p. 914; Therigatha 366-99, pp. 934-35.

Get back, I hate you! Don't hold my sari, you fool! A she-buffalo is worried of its life, And the butcher, of its killing! The pious think of virtues, And the wicked, of vices; I am worried of my soul, And you, of lust....

Fie on this body! Why do you damn yourself In love of it--this pot of excrement, The vessel of urine, the frame of bones, This stench of purulence! Think of Lord Shiva, You fool!

Hinduism. Akkamahadevi, Vachana 15 and 33

Continence is to regard the wife of another as one's own sister or daughter, and to realize that the bodies of women are full of impurity and that charm can only delude the mind.

Jainism. Kartikeya, Anupreksa 337-39

Treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, all in purity.

Christianity. 1 Timothy 5.1-2

The Buddha said, "Be careful not to look at women and do not talk with them. If you must speak with them, be properly mindful and think, 'I am a shramana living in a turbid world. I should be like the lotus flower and not be defiled by the mud.' Regard old women the way you regard your mother. Regard those who are older than you the way you regard your elder sisters; regard those who are younger than you as your younger sisters, and regard children as your own. Bring forth thoughts to rescue them, and put an end to bad thoughts."

Buddhism. Sutra of Forty-two Sections 29

You have heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery." But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Christianity. Matthew 5.27-28

He who excites himself by lustful thoughts will not be allowed to enter the division of the Holy One.

Judaism. Talmud, Nidda 13b

The adultery of the eye is the lustful look, and the adultery of the tongue is the licentious speech, and the heart desires and yearns, which the parts may or may not put into effect.

Islam. Hadith of Muslim

It is true that you commit no actual crimes; but when you meet a beautiful woman in another's home and cannot banish her from your thoughts, you have committed adultery with her in your heart. Consider a moment! Would you have sufficient control over yourself to imitate the sage Lu Nan-tze if you were placed in a similar position? When he once found himself obliged to pass the night in a house whose only other occupant was a woman, he lighted a lamp and read aloud until morning to avoid exposing her to unjust suspicions.

Taoism. Treatise on Response and Retribution, Appended Tales

Akkamahadevi, Vachana 33: Akkamahadevi (12th century) was a Virashaiva woman saint. Once, when a certain king tried to molest her, she suddenly threw away all her clothes and stepped out into the streets nude. This act of purity so stunned the king that he repented of his foolish lust. Akkamahadevi wandered about as a naked ascetic, clad only in her long hair, enduring the taunts of the men and teaching an example of purity and devotion to God Shiva. See the previous notes. Anupreksa 337-39: Cf. Skanda Purana 5.2.11, p. 949. Nidda 13b: cf. Aboda Zara 20ab, p. 474.


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