by Ajahn Nyanamoli Thero
Wanting sense objects that you derive pleasure from, that is sensuality, it’s that wanting. So, in order to abandon sensuality, you have to stop being concerned with the objects that you want and start developing ‘not wanting’ of that wanting of the sense objects. Of course, restraint needs to be done first and then, on the basis of that, you can start discerning the nature of wanting anything sensual.
As long as you remain focussed on the objects that you want, you are then failing to see the root of sensuality, but consequently, if you develop ‘not wanting’ in regard to that wanting of sense objects, that’s how you overcome the sense objects. You lose concern with them because you uprooted them, through developing ‘not wanting’ of their wanting.
Sensuality is the wanting of sensual objects, welcoming, entertaining, delighting in them. That would be your wanting and accepting of that wanting of sense objects at face value. A skilled monk, a person who practises correctly, will then first be restrained and then start seeing that it’s the wanting that’s the problem. Through not welcoming, entertaining or delighting in the wanting of sensual objects, you surmount the whole domain of sensuality.
That’s what I mean when I say develop the ‘not wanting’ of sensual objects, that’s what ‘don’t delight’ means. A person who doesn’t see this will either be concerned with sensual objects, denying them, saying it’s impermanent or ugly, basically misapplying his effort towards sense objects, or failing to see that they are rooted in ‘being wanted’ that is the problem. But then equally he will then try to override that initial wanting of sensual objects, try to get rid of it, try to prevent it from arising, but you can’t do that because the arising is not in you.
As the Buddha said, “the eye wants to see pleasant sights etc” – that’s just the structure of your experience. That’s how the five senses operate, that’s why the Buddha referred to them as five feeding grounds. So, trying to interfere with that wanting of sense objects is also taking it up.
Not delighting does not mean that you deny that first arising, it means you see it as a whole, or you see that there are the sense objects that are being wanted by the senses and that’s what you don’t delight in. If wanting of sensuality has arisen, it’s going to persist on its own as an arisen dhamma, as an arisen phenomena for as long as it persists. Your only concern is to not delight in it for any time during its duration.
If somebody arrives in front of your door and wants to come in, the only way for them to enter is if you welcome them in. So in the beginning you might feel awkward, pressured and nervous because the person is in front of your door and you either go out to welcome him in out of weakness etc, but then you realize that you can’t let him in – he can stand there for hundreds of years if he wants, that’s not your concern. Your concern is to not welcome him inside. If you start practising like that, things will go away of their own accord. The Mara’s daughters, they are going to try and harass you for as long as they perceive a way in, a possibility of being allowed to come inside. When they tried with the Buddha, after his enlightenment, they could not get in because he had been practising for years. For a person who hasn’t been practising, it’s then enough for someone to come and stand at the door and that person will cave in and start engaging with them, because of the uncomfortable pressure.
All one has to do is keep the door closed, not try to chase anyone away because that would be engaging with them. Affirming or denying, either way, you are engaged with things. So, the only way to not engage is to allow a thing to arise, whichever way it arises and then not welcome it. Don’t open the door, and if you do that to the extent necessary, with the passage of time, it will stop coming.
As some suttas say “you establish your mind in the imperturbable in regard to sensuality”. It doesn’t matter what arises, one is not concerned with the content, you just maintain the attitude of not wanting the arisen wanting of these sense objects. If you do that long enough then the arising of the wanting of sense objects will change its significance. It’s not going to be about sense objects anymore, it’s going to be about “oh, this is that which is not welcomed or delighted in, this is that which is not wanted, this is that which used to be my sensuality”. Even wanting the absence of those things is taking up the wanting. The significance changes while the objects remain the same and the whole domain remains the same. The eyes still have their feeding ground, but now you have conquered them, now they can’t go feed like the wild animals used to do, you are now the one in control. So, the eye will get to eat only what the mind that doesn’t want any of it allows, and whatever it allows, it won’t be a sensual thing. Because that has been abandoned.
Sensuality requires taking that wanting for granted. That’s why if you stop wanting the wanting of sense objects, you get to see the extent of the wanting in regard to the sense objects, you get to understand the gratification. By seeing that, you get to understand the danger of the wanting of sense objects. If you say ‘yes’ to the wanting of pleasant sights and then within the next 10 seconds you go blind, or those sights are ripped away from you, would you be affected? Of course you would, but if you never give in to the original wanting of those sights, would you then be affected? You wouldn’t, because you never took on that wanting, you never welcomed it in. Like the simile of the mango tree…. (MN 54)
That directionality of wanting the sense objects is always directional, as in it’s always going to take you one way or another, which means that you can’t maintain the perspective of the domain – you have to commit to it and go with it, which means that you are not in control. It’s all great when things are going the way you want, but it’s inconceivable that that’s how things will always be. Not just from the side of your own senses failing, but also the objects as well. Just ask yourself, which is more? The times I got what I wanted or the times I didn’t, and you realise, of course, it’s the times I didn’t get what I wanted is more. So, whenever I got what I wanted, it was circumstantial, accidental – the bases of usually not getting what I wanted.
If you stop wanting any type of wanting of the sense objects, you cannot not get what you want, because you only want one thing – non-sensuality and now that is implied in sensuality. Sensuality keeps reminding you of your freedom from sensuality. Sense objects keep reminding you of your imperturbable state.
One needs to understand what sensuality is, which is the wanting of the sense objects, not just the wanting or just the sense objects. It’s the wanting of these pleasing sights etc, it’s this pressure I experience on the level of my body, on the level of my senses.
So, you stop wanting the wanting, which means that you will also have to stop being concerned with the object of your sensuality, but start looking at the nature of sensuality which is ‘it being wanted’. So, you don’t want that which is being wanted in regard to the senses. What you will then get is unshakeable peace or freedom from suffering.
Sensuality is inherently in itself unpleasant, it’s dangerous, it’s of very little gratification, it’s not worth even making the effort for the gratification. It’s like someone asking you for $1000 for a lottery ticket which has a maximum win of $5 – it’s ridiculous. Why would you do that, yet that’s what sensuality is. Even with the most refined type of sensuality, the utmost reward that you will get is always 100th of your investment. That’s why the Buddha gave the simile of sensuality being like a meatless bone that a dog keeps chewing because it’s just mad with it, he gets nothing in return. It’s of little gratification not because you theoretically pondered over it and you mused how unsatisfactory it is – no, it’s a fact, that’s the deal you always get. All you need to do is not invest in sensuality and you will gain a thousand-fold. All you need is to practise renunciation to win.
All you need to do is not do sensuality and you win. That’s the pleasure of jhāna – the pleasure of relief from the burden.
With sensuality, it’s not just that you do not get any reward – you lose even more. By contrast, renunciation is loss and debt-free.
You cannot understand the nature of sensuality correctly and still want it, the two are mutually exclusive. Understanding of it means not wanting it. People engage in sensuality because that’s the only pleasure they know. That’s not necessarily the problem, you use the same criteria, ‘I want pleasure’, the senses want pleasure. That’s fine, but it’s about what pleasure you pursue with this, that’s the difference, and that’s what the Buddha realized – that there is nothing unwholesome with the pleasure of jhāna or renunciation.
So, from the point of view of ‘wanting the pleasure of the senses’, you will get more pleasure through restraining than sensuality.
That’s why sensuality and carelessness go hand-in-hand. You need to be careless and lose sight of the perspective in order to be pulled by sensuality and give in. But everybody starts by being careless and being sensual within the sensual domain. So, you start with the restraint in order to develop the perspective of it – then you can say ‘no’ to the right things.
That’s why sensuality is not wanted by anyone, and not discerning that, you habitually go with that arisen ‘wanting of your senses’. You appropriate it and then you think that you want it. So, you don’t deny the sense objects or the wanting of them, but you say ‘no’ to them and let them endure without giving in at any point of the duration. Then you realise the pain here, that the unpleasant aspect is the aspect of the sense of suffering on account of not getting the object, but neither of that is mine, and then eventually those senses will calm down. Like the taming of the wild animal ‘simile… (SN 35:247)
If that’s not working in someone’s practice, they are probably denying ‘the wanting of the sense objects’, as in interfering with it, or are too concerned with denying the sense objects themselves. Which means they don’t have the perspective of the nature of the sensual domain, but if they do, they realise that that domain has arisen on its own. Sensuality is there – eyes want to see etc., don’t interfere with that. Don’t be careless in regard to that.
Not wanting the wanting of sense objects needs to be universal, that attitude needs to be developed so you say “This is not just for today or tomorrow that I don’t want this, this is for the rest of my life and future lives if that might happen”. The wanting of the sense objects will never be wanted, will never be welcomed. It might arise countless times more for you, but every time it arises, it is not welcomed and you won’t open the door until eventually it will have to go away. Either way, you will win, you will win by not being bothered, by not losing your investments stupidly, by not exposing yourself to risk and then, on top of that, by discerning the nature of the imperturbable, which is immeasurably more pleasurable in a wholesome sense. You can’t even compare it to the pleasure of sensuality. They are two different domains, they are mutually exclusive. You can’t have jhāna and have sensuality. Through discerning and abandoning the sensual domain, you develop the impenetrable in regard to that domain, that’s the pleasure of jhānas . Welcoming the possibility of sensuality in the future will keep sensuality pressuring you. Reaching the state of freedom from sensuality depends on your power of conviction.