3 Jul 2009

The object of our desire

Lust - not unlike greed and miserliness – is just another attachment that might prove meaningless in the end, writes Sharon Saw.

I was happily sipping my coffee at Dome, when she walked in. As usual, heads turned to watch her and as usual, I enjoyed watching the reaction of both men and women to the stunning, willowy girl who came to join me at my table. Annette always attracted attention wherever she was. She sat down, tossed her long, wavy hair back and threw her loud purple handbag onto the chair.

“I’m in trouble again,” she said, crossing her long, sun-kissed legs which I pretended not to look at.

Yes, Annette always gets herself into trouble. This time was no different. She was in lust with someone, but this time, the object of her desire was in a relationship with someone else. Not only that, Annette herself was in a relationship with someone, and though Annette had only been with her for barely five months, her girlfriend had just decided that she wanted a ‘commitment’. Messy.

Annette is a free spirit. She lives life to the fullest she possibly can, enjoying whatever pleasures her senses could provide and more. That was one of the things that made her extremely attractive and usually got her into trouble.

“What shall I do?” She implored.

What do you want to do, I asked.

She wanted her cake and eat it, as usual. I could identify with that. Not so long ago, before I realised what karma and what sexual misconduct meant, I was happily pursuing my unending quest for transient trysts. Hooked on the high of sexual conquests for the longest time, I could never see why I couldn’t continue. After all, it didn’t hurt anyone. Did it? To me, sex was like a meal. Sometimes it was good and sometimes not so good. Sometimes, it’s nice to be fine dining; other times it’s great to go for a hamburger, which you know is not so good for you but nonetheless fills the gap at the time. But always I could come home to eat.

With H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche’s Dharma teachings in my life now, things have changed. I used to think that having many partners was okay as long as I didn’t hurt anyone.  I had an ‘open’ relationship before where I was ‘free’ to sleep around. I thought that was utopia. But, like utopia, it was an illusion, and my partner got sick of it and we broke up. I hurt my long suffering partner and I hurt myself. It was one of the most traumatic periods of my life, but that’s another story.

His Eminence says that lust is just another attachment – like greed and miserliness. Whatever we want and focus on, whether a hobby, an object or a person, we can spend so much time and be utterly consumed in the pursuit of it. Yet it is so meaningless because, in the end, who does it benefit?

Annette said that she didn’t mind committing to her current girlfriend but she lusted after this new girl terribly. Why did her current girlfriend want a commitment now? Couldn’t they just continue with what they had – a great friendship – so Annette could do what she loved best - other women. Couldn’t she just have some time to get over this current obsession and then commit.

I told her frankly that this current obsession, once over, would repeat again with someone else. I know the exquisite headiness of a new lover, which makes the blue sky brighter and the grass greener. But it never lasts. And we can go on and on, forever looking to recapture that honeymoon, in a perpetual cycle.

Desire is desire, Rinpoche has said. We don’t have to change the desire but we CAN change the object of our desire. Instead of seeking transient physical pleasure, we can focus the same energy to help others and achieve lasting happiness.

We’re not Buddhas yet and we may still feel lust for others who are not our partners, but we don’t have to act on it. We can window shop but we don’t have to buy. If we truly know the consequences of our actions, we wouldn’t do half the things we would and we would do more of the things we should.

As I looked at Annette, wrapped in her angst, I could only advise her to look deep within and think about what she really wanted. If she wasn’t ready for a committed relationship, she shouldn’t. It’ll only end up hurting herself and her girlfriend. But if she knew this was the right thing to do, she should commit.

She nodded.

I asked her if she was free to meet up for drinks in the evening. She said she was trying to get into someone’s pants. With that, she smiled brightly, picked up her handbag and swept off, leaving another trail of drool in her wake.

Sharon Saw is a writer / editor at Kechara Media & Publications, which focuses on publishing the teachings of H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, a high incarnate Lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. A selection of Buddhist and non-Buddhist related books from Kechara Publications is now available on Fridae Shop. You can follow Sharon on Twitter. This column will appear every other Friday.