A while ago, I read that Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and CEO of Facebook, listed an interest in “eliminating desire” on his personal facebook account. I found that interesting, and after some reading learned that eliminating desire is often a primary goal of Buddhism, with the rationale being that since desire causes suffering, where there is no desire, there will be no suffering. I thought it would be interesting to look at a few passages from the Bible to see how the teaching of Jesus and the first apostles relate to this idea, hence this post was begun.
The first passage that came to mind was James 4:1-5. My commentary is in blue:
“Where do wars and fightings among you come from? Don’t they come from your pleasures that war in your members?” (this literally says that wars and fightings come from the body’s desires for pleasure which fight for one’s attention and energy). You lust (long/crave), and don’t have (possess). You kill, covet, and can’t obtain (can’t reach your selfish goal). You fight and make war (act from fear, not love). You don’t have, because you don’t ask (don’t desire). You ask (desire), and don’t receive, because you ask (desire) with wrong motives, so that you may spend it for your pleasures.” (You aren’t granted what you desire, because you are in a covenant of Spirit, but your motive is to gratify the sensual cravings of the body). You adulterers and adulteresses (going outside your spiritual covenant with God), don’t you know that friendship (or fondness) with the world is enmity with God? (God and the world, or spirit and flesh, are incompatible). Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world (by default) makes himself an enemy of God. (God makes no one His enemy. The world was reconciled to Him in Christ’s death and resurrection. However, this reconciliation was accomplished by putting an end to, or “crucifying” Adam’s fallen race, also known as the flesh, which scripture says is now “dead” and “passing away.”1 When we pursue the things of Adam/the flesh which God has put away and ended, we are pursuing that which opposes the establishment of His kingdom in righteousness and peace and love, and so we become at enmity with Him by default.” Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously”? The Modern Literal Translation of this last verse reads: “Or do you think that the Scripture speaks in vain? Does the Spirit which dwells in us long to envy?” In other words, this last verse might be saying that scripture isn’t wrong in speaking of the love and peace of the Spirit and that it is not the spirit, but the flesh which envies and lusts for the things of the world.
That passage in James reminds me of what Paul wrote in Galatians 5:14-17 (KJV):
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour (“fight and make war”) one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit (give your attention and devotion to the promptings and desires of the selfless spirit, the higher nature within you), and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh (you won’t go outside of covenant with God and won’t break the law of love).” For the flesh lusteth (desires) against (opposite to) the Spirit, and the Spirit against (opposite to) the flesh: and these are contrary (opposite) the one to the other: so that ye cannot (are not able or do not end up fulfilling) do the things that ye (the new creation in Christ) would (desires to do). ”
Here’s another passage about desire, in Jesus’ own words: (Mark 4:18-19 WEB (R)): “Others are those who are sown among the thorns. These are those who have heard the word, and the cares of this age, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts (desires) of other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” Here, Jesus also says that desiring the temporal things of the world and following the cravings of the body stifles the growth of Spirit.
A third relevant passage of scripture is 2 Peter 1:4-5 (NKJV) which says:
“…that through (the promises of God) you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. -The corrupting lust being referred to is the cravings of the lower, fleshly nature. The way to avoid this corruption, Peter says, is by being “partakers of the divine nature,” which isn’t self-focused but Kingdom focused, dwelling in love and righteousness and peace and joy.
The more scripture I read, the clearer it became that the writers of scripture did not warn against desire itself, but the desires (perhaps better referred to as lusts or cravings) of our 5 bodily senses and the selfish/carnal/lower/sinful/fleshly nature. Here you can read more of their words, including warnings against “worldly lusts,” “fleshly lusts,” “various lusts and pleasures,” “desires of the flesh and mind,” “the lusts of men,” and more. These all refer to the selfish and fear-based desires which often lead men, including religious men, to be oppressive and callous rather than sacrificial and compassionate.
While I fully admit my research into Buddhism is limited, one shortcoming it seems to have is failing to make a clear distinction between flesh and spirit, or really to acknowledge spirit/God at all. The truth is, the Spirit clearly has desires, just as the flesh does, and this is a good thing, prompting action and making us human. For example, Jesus clearly desired to fulfill his Father’s will, saying: “I have desired, with a great desire, to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I may never eat from it anymore, until it should be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16). Paul also clearly desired many things which are in line with the Kingdom of God, saying things like: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God is for Israel, that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1) and “…I desire to have you wise in that which is good, but innocent in that which is evil” (Romans 16:19).
As I said earlier, scripture speaks of the flesh and it’s desires as being “dead,” because in God’s mind the flesh is put away, crucified, gone. If God, who is Life, has put you out of His mind and sight, then only death remains. That is why Paul could write: “…she who gives herself to pleasure is dead while she lives.” (1 Timothy 5:6 MLV). Whatever remains of the flesh, within us or elsewhere, is passing away and will ultimately be destroyed by the fire of God’s presence. While I am confident that no one is going to burn in a lake of fire for eternity, I am also confident that if we have clung to the flesh, refusing to take up our cross and lose OUR life, we must go through grief and regret and pain, as as what we are is burned away and the reality of our foolishness is manifested. We may not burn for eternity, but we may have a permanently lacking potential to experience glory.
“…each man’s work will be revealed. For the Day will declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself will test what sort of work each man’s work is. If any man’s work remains which he built on it, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, but as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15 WEB (R))
“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if you live after the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God. For you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”” (Romans 8:12-15 WEB (R))
Romans 8:6, Galatians 5:23, Romans 6:6, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 John 2:17, Revelation 21:1