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I recently came across the common “sometimes, it seems like a Buddhist goal would be to cease desire…
June 28th, 2012
I recently came across the common "sometimes, it seems like a Buddhist goal would be to cease desire in order to alleviate suffering and gain true happiness, but that seems like it would be going back down the evolutionary route and throwing out much of what brings us joy, too. (…) I don't think [Buddhism] is quite as passive as I sometimes think."
I also recently came across the classic "philosophy vs. religion" dichotomy.
So let me present what the  #Buddhism  I promote is about:

The "poker-face Sōtō  #Zen  monk meditating, perfectly still, in front of the bare wall" image, that suggests the ideal of Buddhism is a cold stone, is a misunderstanding… People too easily forget that the starting tenet of Buddhism is: "all beings want happiness" (and not: "all beings want to be stone-hearted").

#Nirvana  is the end of hatred, passionate lust and ignorance. You might just say ignorance only, because hatred and passion are born from a misguided perception of how permanently horrible/grandiose our life would be "if only we could avoid/have X or Y now." Nirvāṇa is the "goal" of #buddhist  practice (the goal is in mastering a way of life, but then one keeps living on and using this way of life; this is not a 'destination').

Buddhism 'liberates' people by getting them to learn how to stop perpetuating 'mental constructs,' i.e. by preventing people from freezing the 'happiness value' of objects, experiences and yourself… 'Not freezing the happiness value of something' is utterly different from being a stone feeling nothing! An Enlightened person still 'feels' (incl. pleasurable experiences and others), still 'acts,' still 'engages' with reality: the key difference with others is in not letting the action be an automatic reaction, pre-programmed, based on some assessment of the present moment by projecting "lessons" from a frozen, subjective, past experience (which was indeed not identical to the present situation).
Buddhism is often associated with "be present" or "be in the now;" the message is "don't let the memories, tendencies, habits, fears, etc. –all based on the past– decide for you (i.e. don't let these blind you from what's different this time)." Liberation in Buddhism is from your past and your perpetuation of your past. If one interprets the message as "forget happiness" then it should only be in the sense of stopping "seeking happiness according to a prejudiced concept of what this should/might be": "don't think of what happiness is, be happy as it comes!"

Buddhism doesn't ask you to stop having feelings (of pleasure or displeasure), it only leads you not to react automatically to such feelings, it leads you not to automatically switch from "that's nice" to "I want more" to "I want to own," or from "I want" to "I need."  Buddhism leads you to fully experience the "that's nice!"
In that sense, it is very modern and much needed in a society that can quickly go from "this ice-cream tastes nice" to "I need a ice-cream-maker at my place." Only to realise later that the pleasure of the initial ice-cream also depended on the sunshine, the nice breeze, the friends one was with, etc., and that the ice-cream-maker-at-home did not bring the happiness that was projected onto it initially ;-) Buddhism teaches you to perceive and enjoy all aspects of the experience (in the moment, not once it's gone and missing): not just the ice cream but the friends too!