The Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path Reflection: Desires Extinguished or Non-Attachment to Desire?


A final reflection on the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path is an open question.  

Is there a conceivable point, at the end of the Buddhist journey, where personal desire is completely extinguished?  Does a real life Enlightened Buddha (if there is such a thing) never experience thirst for water?  A natural wish to avoid physical pain?  Or a personal desire for sex?  A candy bar?  Comfort?  The company of others?

If suffering is a result of desire, as the Second Noble Truth would lead us to believe, this would seem to be a natural understanding of Enlightenment.  No desire, no suffering.  There are also various texts which seem to imply this.  For instance, here are some statements from the Dhammapada (the term trishna – thirst/craving – is here translated as "selfish desire"):

"How can you describe him in human language – the Buddha, the awakened one, free from the net of desires and the pollution of passions, free from all conditioning?" (14:180)

"They are true followers of the Buddha who rejoice in the conquest of desires." (14:187)

"He is a real monk who has extinguished all selfish desires, large and small." (19:265)

"Not by rituals and resolutions, nor by much learning, nor by celibacy, nor even by meditation can you find the supreme, immortal joy of nirvana until you have extinguished your self-will." (19:271-272)

"Cut down the whole forest of selfish desires, not just one tree only.  Cut down the whole forest and you will be on your way to liberation." (20:283)

"Abiding joy will be yours when all selfish desires end." (21: 305)


Or... is a realistic picture of the end of the journey simply non-attachment to desire?  That is, we still experience normal desires, we just become unconcerned if they are fulfilled.  

A quote from Katsuki Sekida's Zen Training captures this idea well:
 


 

"Every time we succeed in banishing a mean or restricted ego—a petty ego—another ego with a broader outlook appears in its place, and eventually what we may call an “egoless ego” will make its appearance. And when you have acquired an egoless ego, there is no hatred, no jealousy, no fear; you experience a state in which you see everything in its true aspect. It is a state in which you cling to or adhere to nothing. It is not that you are without desires, but that while desiring and adhering to things you are at the same time unattached to them... True freedom is freedom from your own desires."

 

 

I tend to think that even someone at the end of the path, a "non-returner" or an aharant in Buddhist nomenclature, would still experience desire. 

Maybe I'm just splitting hairs.