Does Desire Still Exist After Enlightenment? Exploring the Relationship Between Desire and Attachment

So, I’ve been doing some reading on Buddhism and enlightenment, and I came across a question that really got me thinking: Does desire still exist after enlightenment?

desire and attachment, man standing on cliff edge, black and white
Enlightenment is often seen as a mystical state reserved for monks or gurus, but it’s not that complicated. It’s simply the realization that the “me” we identify with is an illusion.

At first, I thought that the answer was a straightforward “no.” After all, isn’t one of the main goals of enlightenment to free oneself from desire and attachment? But as I dug deeper, I realized that the answer isn’t quite so simple.

Here’s what I’ve learned: After enlightenment, there is still desire. Yup, you heard me right. But before you start feeling disappointed, hear me out.

There is a misconception that all desire is gone after enlightenment, but what ceases to arise is craving, longing, and thirsting. It’s the attachment to desire that causes suffering, not desire itself. In fact, desire can be a perfectly healthy and natural part of life.

The problem arises when we become attached to our desires and feel like we need them to be happy. This is where the translation of tanha as “desire” in English can be misleading. Tanha more specifically means craving, thirsting, longing, or needing. It’s the needing part that causes suffering.

Think about it this way: It’s possible to desire to win even after enlightenment. Having the desire to win does not mean you’re not enlightened. The desire to win fuels the trying to win, but there is no attachment to that desire after enlightenment. The needing to win, on the other hand, causes suffering.

I like to think of it as the difference between playing a game to have fun versus playing to win. The point of the game is to play and enjoy, not the winning or losing. After enlightenment, you can still have the desire to win, but it’s not the end-all-be-all. Winning is just a bonus.

But it’s not just about winning. After enlightenment, desire still exists, and it can be expressed in interests and hobbies. You might desire to learn a new skill or explore a new place. You might desire to help others or make the world a better place. These desires are not the same as craving or attachment.

So, does desire still exist after enlightenment? Yes, it does. But it’s a different kind of desire. It’s a desire that comes from a place of freedom and non-attachment. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

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