Chapter Two

Table of Contents

Second, Renunciation of Desires for External Sense Objects

Desire for "Forms"
Desire for Sounds
Desire for Fragrances
Desire for Flavors
Desire for Touchables
A Summary Discussion of Desire


As for the above-listed "renunciation of desire," this refers to the five [objects of] desire. When one wishes to endeavor at sitting in dhyana cultivating stopping and contemplation, it is absolutely essential to renounce them. As for the five desires, this refers to worldly forms, sounds, smells, tastes and touchables. They are ever able to deceive and delude all ordinary people causing them to develop fond attachment. If one is able to become deeply aware of the negative consequences of desires, one will not become involved with them. This is what is meant by renouncing desire.


First, the renunciation of the desire for form, refers to such forms as the stately and decorous shapes and features of men and women including long eyebrows, red lips and white teeth, as well as things universally regarded as precious, colors such as blue, yellow, red, white, vermillion, purple, chartreuse and green, and all sorts of marvelous forms which are able to influence the foolish person seeing them to develop fondness for them and consequently embark on all manner of unwholesome karmic deeds. One example is King Bimbasaara who, on account of sexual desire, stole into a hostile kingdom and entered the quarters of the courtesan Aamrapaalii. Another is the King Udayana who, corrupted by lust, hacked off the hands and feet of five hundred rishis.(22) [Desire for forms] is possessed of all manner of negative consequences like this.


Second, the renunciation of the desire for sounds, refers to musical sounds such as issue from harps, zithers, or flutes, and such as are created by strings, bamboo, metal or stone, and refers also to such sounds as the voices of men and women singing, chanting, hymning, or reciting. They may influence the foolish common person who hears them to develop defiled attachment and then consequently generate all manner of unwholesome karmic deeds. One example of this phenomenon is the case of the five hundred rishis dwelling in the Snowy Mountains who heard the singing of the gandharva(23) maiden, lost dhyana absorption and thus experienced intoxication, derangement and disturbance of mind. On account of all sorts of reasons such as these one should realize the negative consequences of [desire for] sounds.


Third, the renunciation of the desire for fragrances, refers to the physical scents of men and women, the fragrances of society's food, drink and perfumes as well as all manner of incenses and aromas. An ordinary fool does not understand the [true] character of fragrances and thus on sensing them becomes fondly attached and opens the door to the fetters.(24)

An example of this is the case of the bhikshu at the side of the lotus pond who smelled the fragrance of the blossoms and whose thoughts were moved to fondness and pleasure. The pond spirit then rebuked him soundly by scolding, "Why did you steal my fragrance?!" One may, on account of becoming attached to fragrances, stir to action otherwise quiescent fetters. For all manner of reasons such as these one should realize the negative consequences of [the desire for] fragrances.


Fourth, the renunciation of the desire for flavors, refers to bitterness, sourness, sweetness, pungency, saltiness, mildness and other such fine flavors characteristic of fine beverages and cuisine. They may be able to incite the foolish common person to develop a kind of impure attachment and then consequently engage in unwholesome karma. An example of this is the case of the shraama.nera who developed an unhealthy obsession with the flavor of curds and who thus, at the conclusion of his life, was reborn among curd worms. For all manner of reasons such as these one should realize the negative consequences of [the desire for] flavors.


Fifth, the renunciation of the desire for touchables, refers to the softness and delicate slickness of the bodies of men and women, to the sensation of physical warmth when it is cold, physical coolness when it is hot, as well as to all other pleasant tactile contacts. The foolish person, lacking in wisdom, is submerged by them and thus generates karma which blocks progress along the Way. An example of this was the one-horned rishi who on account of indulging the desire for physical contact lost the superknowledges and ended up with a lustful woman riding him about, mounted atop his shoulders. For all manner of reasons such as these, one should realize the negative consequences of [the desire for] touchables.


The dharma of renouncing desire as treated above is drawn from the discussion in The Mahayana Treatise. (25)


It additionally states, "Alas! These beings! They are constantly harassed by the five desires and yet they still pursue them incessantly.

"As for these five types of desire, when one gains [their objects] they become progressively more intense, just as when a fire is stoked with more firewood its flames burn ever brighter. The five desires afford no [enduring] pleasure. [They go on and on] like a dog's gnawing away at a withered old bone. The five desires proliferate contention just as carrion occasions the skirmishing of scavenging birds. The five desires scorch a person just as one is burned carrying a torch into the wind. The five desires bring harm to a person just as when one treads upon a poisonous snake. The five desires have nothing real about them for they are like bounty gained in a dream. [Satisfaction gained from] the five desires doesn't remain for long. It's borrowed only for an instant and is like the gleam of a spark. A wise man contemplates them as like an enemy or a thief. The worldly person is foolish and deluded, is greedily attached to the five desires, won't relinquish them even in the face of death, and later on undergoes immeasurable suffering and aggravation [as a result]."


This dharma of the five desires is something [people] have in common with animals. All beings act under the direction of the five desires and are slaves to the desires. On account of these corrupting desires one may sink down into the three [lower] paths [of rebirth]. [One should contemplate thus,] "If now in cultivating dhyana I were to continue to be obstructed and covered over by them, I would be acting like a great thief." One must urgently distance oneself from [the five desires].


A pertinent treatment of this topic is found in The Dhyana Sutra verse:

[End of Chapter Two]

End Notes

22. A rishi is a recluse who devotes himself to meditation. (text)

23. A gandharva is a type of musical spirit attracted to fine fragrances. (text)

24. "Fetters" are just the afflictions of greed, hatred, stupidity, arrogance, doubt, etc. which tie people up and bind them to the world. (text)

25. Chih-i refers to an abbreviated title of the 100-fascicle work by Nagarjuna more commonly known as The Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom (T25.1509). These quotations and references all come from fascicle number seventeen. (text)