Wants Vs. Needs


We need water to survive, we want it to be readily available, we are attached to its benefits. Who is this ‘we’ that thinks so much about water? 


I remember once when a student asked our Buddhist teacher, a former monk, something along the lines of this:

‘In Buddhism, we are taught that attachments are to be avoided, that they reinforce the illusion of the ego, and fed our desire-minds. I have an infant, a baby. I am deeply attached to my baby and I can’t see how this is a bad thing. I can see how attachment, in general, is to be avoided, so I am confused.’

To be honest, I forgot exactly how the teacher responded, as the question resonated within my mind. Like a bell being struck, the question kept bouncing around in my head.

Years later I read some teachings of Seung Sahn who wrote about form and function. What is a humans natural function? This teaching sticks with me daily.

A human mother’s natural function is to care for her baby. To achieve this, a deep attachment forms between her and her baby. That is natural. That is Zen. That is nothing secret, nothing special, but the most special thing there is.

Related to this, one may ask about the relationship between need and love. Thinking about the mother-baby relationship, the mother loves the baby and the baby needs the mother. Now, the mother may say she needs the baby, and while this may be true for her heart’s joy, one may say it is not technically true. How cruel am I? lol…. and the baby may certainly love the mother, but it doesn’t need to. (Wow, I am really cruel!). But what about other relationships? Those of friends, of siblings? of lovers?

We may build our lives with deep and supportive relationships… our mate may be the other parent of our children, so we feel a deep need for this person. Sometimes this makes people feel trapped, sometimes it makes people feel liberated. Sometimes it makes people feel both at the same time!

Humans need people, thats how we are. This is how we evolved. It is ‘natural function’. In modern times, a strong value is placed on being independent. Being dependent…is seen as a weakness, not a strength. And, sure, being able to be strongly independent has its merits, and there is real value in that, but, our natural function, how we perform best, how we live free, is by giving up some of that independence. We are, after all, social animals. We need each other. That is not merely ok, that is great! Now, expanding this further into Buddhist philosophy, all things need all other things to exist. Nothing is an island. All things and people are our teammates, even if we loathe them, lol.

So, how can one reconcile this ‘needing’ with not letting it be ‘attachment’? Is that even the goal?

I come back to: what is our natural function? As a mother, a father, as a mate or a sibling… as a friend, as a teacher, as a student… We are many things, but always human.

Of course, when we feel we need someone, something, we must be very careful about what this means. Often people may say they need something, but it really is just a want, a desire. But even that is OK… so long as we do not become attached to our desires. Easy right? HAHA.

So, what am I trying to say?

Trying to distinguish between what is a want versus what is a need is, well, dangerous… The act of thinking there is a decision to be made reinforces our ego-mind: It all comes down to Self. It is the Self that either needs or wants. When we let go our our attachment to our ego-mind, wants and needs disappear and our true natural function blossoms. We may discover we always were living our natural way, we just got in its way by trying to define it through our lens of Self.

Wanting something? Needing Something? Even attached to something or someone: They can all be OK, so long as our our Ego-mind is let go.

So, you may say I am basically saying do not be attached to your attachments! HAHA. Perhaps I am. Perhaps.



A different night to the story below, but the song remains the same. Love.

A different night to the story below, but the song remains the same. Love.

Being kind to ourselves is sometimes the hardest thing to do. We constantly judge ourselves and perhaps magnify what we feel are our shortcomings. We never therefore are the person we think we should be. Who should we be if not who we already are?

Now, I feel I should be an understanding father, for example. And sometimes,  when I am feeling ill, for example, I will not be so understanding as a father. The other night, when reading bedtime stories to my 4-year-old son, he said he was thirsty. I was tired, in pain and wanted him to fall asleep already. I was impatient and the thought of having to walk down the stairs to get a glass of water made me imagine the burden on my hurting legs. I was fed-up. He also said his feet were cold and wanted socks on. I admit, I brushed his requests off and told him no, and to go to sleep. I was almost angry. Then I looked at his face.  He is 4. He was sad. He was cold and thirsty and I was being, well, frankly a jerk. To my own son. I swallowed my ego-mind, looked at him in the eyes and told him I was sorry, and I will get him water and kissed his head. His sad face melted a bit. After I got his water and he was drinking it, I got him some socks and put them on his feet for him. We laid down and he held me tight., now with a smile. I read him a story from his favorite night-time book and he quickly fell asleep.

I would have cried if I wasn’t still feeling angry.. though my anger was now at myself. I accepted my shortcoming and moved on…. But getting back to my opening … I think I should be a better father, and this keeps me trying,trying trying to always be the best father…but it also means I never accept myself for who I am right now. Sure, I never want to be complacent and think I am the world’s best papa, but I also know living in the future of some version of myself is not helpful.

So, there is a balance. Accepting who I am right now, but not giving up on becoming more… to unfold the Buddha already inherent inside me.

Reading a bedtime story can be the best Buddhist practice. Learning about compassion is there. Learning about Ego is there. Learning of acceptance and non-attachment is there. Learning about love is there.

Ignorance is Bliss!

How much DDT contamination exists in this tree? What does that knowledge do to us?

How much DDT contamination exists in this tree? What does that knowledge do to us?

“Ignorance is bliss” is a common phrase in Western culture.

“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention” is a phrase I once saw on a bumper sticker. I could google its origin, but .. meh. Lol. (I will remain ignorant about it! haha)

Now, I think the two phrases are linked….

Stating that ignorance is bliss implies that being knowledgeable is painful.

Stating you are not paying attention if you are not outraged implies that, well, being knowledgeable is, well, painful or outrageous.

When I studied for my Bachelor’s degree, and to a lesser extent for my Master’s, I really resonated with the outrage statement. When a person pays careful attention to what humans do, to each other, to the earth, to animals….there is lots of joy, yes, but also lots of horror, lots of outrage.  That outrage is hard to let go of. When I was more ignorant of the horrors of the world, it was a more blissful place, in my little bubble, lol.

Now, I think it is obvious that ignorance isn’t the answer, lol. (It makes me think of Sam Malone from the TV show Cheers when he gave advice to Woody: ‘Ignore the problem. It will go away’)

So what do we do? It is easy to fall into a pit of hopelessness, despair and apathy.

Well, one thing is to never discount the joys, the triumphs, that occur in the world. The miracles, the sacrifices, the love… It is easy to overlook that when horrors are occurring. That is natural. If a person helps bring an animal back to life versus when a person kills an animal out of ‘fun’, it is natural to focus on the disturbing, the horror… the problem. We should focus on the problems. But the problems can become overwhelming. So we need to ensure we focus enough on the good, the positive, the love in the world.

What next?

Well, a Buddhist vows to save all beings from suffering.  How can we do that?! We must take good care of ourselves, save our own selves, then bring that freedom into the world.

It is said that when the Buddha realized his Enlightened nature, the whole world became Enlightened. Now, since the Buddha’s time, there have been great horrors…surely not all beings are enlightened, are they?!

Yes and no. We are all already Buddhas, and enlightenment is never separate from us. Where could it go?! Lol.

Ignorance is not bliss and paying attention is not outrageous. Let us meditate on that. By that, I simply mean, let’s just think about that.

Dinosaur desire-mind!

I want to eat you!

I want to eat you!

Desire mind- When we desire something, we can be said to have ‘desire-mind’. In Buddhism, this is a dangerous mind, as it will not help to end our suffering, and in fact, it only leads to promoting our suffering.

Now, what is ‘desire’? We may really crave mint chocolate-chip ice cream, hold a real desire to eat some! Now, this desiring can be fairly easy to be seen as potentially a losing venture. When we are dreaming of the ice cream, we destroy the present moment, we are thinking of a future which may or may not occur. We also reinforce our attachment to ice cream. In Buddhism, attachment leads to suffering, so being so attached to deliciously awesome ice cream is not the Way.

Now, what if we are dehydrated, stuck without water for days and days…. Our minds may be somewhat single-minded in obtaining water… desiring water, attached to getting water…. Now, is that a bad thing? lol. No way!

It can be seen how the evolution of our ‘desire-mind’ was a great tool in survival. The Universe knows what it is doing! lol. So, having desires is natural, and, when we do not attach ourselves to our desires, we can be free of their potential suffering. Now, even our attached mind focused on only getting water… That is fine, so long as we do not attach ourselves to our attachment! hahahaha. Sounds like escape-clause logic to me! But it is true….

Desires are natural, normal, yet we must think deeply about the origin of our desires and when the true origins reveal themselves to us, we can become unattached to them. So, even though you may always have a soft-spot for mint chocolate-chip ice cream, it doesn’t mean you need to be attached by it, to be governed by it.

Who is the master? Our desires or ourselves?

First one may take back control over their desires, then one may give back control over themselves to the Universe.

Some concepts on conception.

Is this a hole? What value does this definition provide? Knowing when to use tools and when to put them down is the art of non-attchment. The Buddha left his raft behind for us. When we cross the shore, it is time to let it adrift, no matter the love and gratitude we hold for it.

Is this a hole? What value does this definition provide? Knowing when to use tools and when to put them down is the art of non-attchment. The Buddha left his raft behind for us. When we cross the shore, it is time to let it adrift, no matter the love and gratitude we hold for it.

Sometimes it feels like the Universe lets us know it is happy with what we are doing. Sometimes I think too much and conceptualize things that no concept can contain.

In fact, as soon as something is defined or conceptualized, it kills off potential possibilities. This is a double-edged sword, of course.

For example, water freezes at 32 F, or 0 C. Now, that can be a very, very useful definition! However, if one attaches themselves firmly to that definition, they kill the possibilities where this might not be true. So, if someone was on a mountain top, expecting their water to freeze at 32 F, they would be ill-prepared when it didn’t freeze at that temperature! Now, this isn’t a science lesson, but it has to do with atmospheric pressure. So, you can expand the definition of the freezing point of water with qualifiers, such as it will freeze at 32 F at sea level. I could go on and on. But the point is, that even good useful definitions are restrictive. But that’s what makes them so useful in the first place! It is focusing energy, like making a knife. The tip of the knife penetrates so well because of the potential energy stored in the blade and handle. It focuses the energy to a small point.

So what is my point? (no pun intended actually, but i like the pun now reading it, haha). The point is that concepts are dangerous. But they are not to be shunned. In Buddhism, conceptualization, of Enlightenment, for example, is a sure-fired way not to realize Enlightenment! However, that does not mean to disregard concepts. The key is about attachment. All our thoughts, our thinking minds, they are ALL concepts. So long as we do not attach ourselves to them, then we will be fine!

So, thinking mind is Buddha mind too… but just do not attach to that concept, lol!