Overcoming Lust as a Buddhist

Overcoming Lust as a Buddhist

A goal of Buddhism is to “renounce” or overcome lust.  So much so, that the most fervent Buddhists live as celibate monks.  Their hope is to eventually enter Nirvana, a state where they expect to “extinguish all desires”—not just lust.

My quotes in this post come from a wonderfully insightful book[i] by Timothy Tennent who urges us to open our eyes to the good in other religions and cultures.  He shows that we can learn from them even as we introduce the gospel.

Buddhists are correct.  Evil desires are to blame for our troubles (2 Peter 1:4).

Despite knowing where lust leads, Buddhists express inability to stop it.  For example, Shinran—the founder of the largest strain of Buddhism—described himself as being “false and untrue without the least purity of mind.” Elsewhere, in the “middle of a theological work, he paused to declare that he had ‘drowned in the broad sea of lust.’ ”

Here are two things that Buddhists—as well as Christians—need to recognize:

  1. Desire itself is not sinful

Desires, cravings, wants and urges are all ways to describe appetites that we have for experiences or possessions both good and bad.   These desires are not sinful in themselves.  They derive from the way we are built, our experience, our environment and our imagination.

In other words, no matter what evil thing you desire, that desire is not sin.

  1. Intensity of desire does not make it sin

Further, the intensity of your desire is not the issue.  It is not sin even if you have a strong or overpowering thirst for illicit sex, pornography, homosexuality or anything else.

When then does desire become sinful lust? 

Sin happens when you take a misdirected desire and act on it in your heart.  Gratifying sinful desire by lusting in your heart is a good example of this.  It is easy to know when this occurs with sexual lust because it is always accompanied by a psychobiological signal—the illicit sexual buzz.  (You can read more about this at this link)

Jesus called this illicit sexual buzz “adultery in the heart” and it makes His teaching instantly convicting and piercing for those whose behavior is pure but whose hearts are not.

Jesus did not teach us to “extinguish” desire.  Our desires are what drive us forward.  When properly fulfilled, they become the source of joy, pleasure, accomplishment and satisfaction.

Extinguishing desire—even if it were a good thing—cannot be done.  Shinran failed at this and so will everyone else who tries.  It is a dead end.

If you are a Buddhist, I urge you to consider the teachings of Jesus.  He came to free us from sinful lust enabling us to realize the true desires of our hearts.

[i] Tennent, Timothy C. (2009-05-26). Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. Zondervan. Kindle Edition.  This is the best book I have read all year.  I highly recommend it.


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