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 disting-
uish 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 encour-
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 situat-
ions 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 des-
ire, 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
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
Confucianism. Analects 2.2
Realizing that pleasure and pain are personal affairs, one should subju-
gate 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 establ-
ished 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, compl-
exion 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
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,
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 tortise, 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 prev-
ious 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 pleas-
ures, 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
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 troub-
les, 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 loathsome-
ness 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,
Hinduism. Akkamahadevi, Vachana 15 and 33
Continence is to regard the wife of another as one's own sister or daugh-
ter, 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 un-
Taoism. Treatise on Response and Retribution,
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.