259. The cause of suffering

What is the cause of suffering? We often imagine – wrongly – that the Buddha said that desire was the cause of suffering. But he didn’t. He said that the cause of suffering was the three poisons of ignorance, attachment and aversion.

The most important of these three is ignorance: the other two follow on from that. Ignorance is a confusion about our true nature: instead of understanding our nature as relational, we falsely think we are beings encased in a self. Thinking in this way, it is only natural to want or to keep what we like, and discard what we don’t.

We confuse ourselves so easily because our society’s usual way of thinking of desire is to think of it in terms of a lack: something is missing.

The point isn’t technical, it’s of fundamental importance. If we misunderstand desire, if we can’t see it as the pulse and flow and expression of this great being, then we will aspire to a buddhism of false equanimity, a buddhism which is empty and lifeless. With the ghost of suffering inside.