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Training the MindThe House of ImpermanenceThe Fetter of DesireJoy Like the Bright Gods

Dhammapada/The Fetter of Desire

Meditation and Reading taken from The Dhammapada, trans by Eknath Easwaran

All other text is by Cynthia Stewart

For a historical introduction to this sacred text, see Leader Resource 1 - Historical Introduction -
Today's Themes

One of the concepts that is most often misunderstood in Buddhism is that of non-attachment. In Buddhist teaching, this is not a rejection of all feeling so that a person becomes an automaton, cold and lifeless; rather, it is a rejection of the selfish form of attachment in which that to which we are attached, be it person, place or thing, is used to prop up our own ego. For instance, “I love you” as a statement meaning that I need you to make me feel better about myself and the state of my life is very much a selfishly attached version of the emotion, but “I love you” as a statement meaning that I want happiness and the highest good for you is a statement of true, unfettered, detached love.

The Buddha is always calling us to this second version, this way of being in the world that is detached from the needs of our ego, which has the double effect of helping us free ourselves from the constant demands of our cravings and of leaving us open to love in a deeper fashion. He says that the one who has found enlightenment, who has left all desires and cravings behind, has a “love for all of life,” “does not hurt others with unkind acts, words, or thoughts,” and “has become a force for good, working for the freedom for all” (Chapter 26).

To reach this state of enlightenment and loving in freedom, though, one must first learn not just to control one’s desires but to dig them up by the root. Desires are the ego’s way of keeping us locked into the things of the material world: as long as our wants and cravings – be they for things or for people, for noble aims or for ill ones, for impersonal honors or for practical riches – are uppermost in our mind, we will never look beyond them to the freedom that is possible in enlightenment.

Call To Worship

A flame sparks within you: “I want.”

Tiny tendrils of the flame creep along the edges of your consciousness, the warmth just enough to be felt. Slowly the flame of “I want” makes inroads where other thoughts have been, moving them, burning them, the low flame of “I want” becoming a small but steady fire: “I need.”

The steady fire rises to unsteady heights. Higher the flames lick, greater the area they cover, hotter they grow, the orange flames burning into blue until they throw off a white heat consuming everything in their path: “I must have.”

The burning of your mind with desire for things, for security, for people, for love, for stability, for anything other than what is right now – this is a conflagration that only you can bring under control. 

The conflagration begins with the simple flame of “I want.”
The control begins with the simple peace of “I accept.”


Not seeing what is pleasant brings pain; seeing what is unpleasant brings pain. Therefore go beyond both pleasure and pain.

Don’t get selfishly attached to anything, for trying to hold on to it will bring you pain. When you have neither likes nor dislikes, you will be free. 

Dhammapada 16.210-12 


The compulsive urges of the thoughtless grow like a creeper. They jump like a monkey from one life to another, looking for fruit in the forest.

When these urges drive us, sorrow spreads like wild grass. Conquer these fierce cravings and sorrow will fall away from you like drops of water from a lotus leaf.

Therefore I say, dig up craving root and all…As a tree, though cut down, recovers and grows if its roots are not destroyed, suffering will come to you more and more if these compulsive urges are not extinguished.

Wherever the thirty-six streams flow from the mind toward pleasure, the currents will sweep the unfortunate person away. The currents flow everywhere. Creepers of passion grow everywhere. Whenever you see one growing in your mind, uproot it with wisdom.

All human beings are subject to attachment and thirst for pleasure. Hankering after these, they are caught in the cycle of birth and death…Overcome this thirst and be free…

Fetters of wood, rope, or even iron, say the wise, are not as strong as selfish attachment to wealth and family. Such fetters drag us down and are hard to break. Break them by overcoming selfish desires, and turn from the world of sensory pleasure without a backward glance.

Dhammapada 24.334-41, 343, 345-46


Conquer your cravings,
Dig up your compulsive urges,
Set yourself free from selfish desires.
How to accomplish these lofty goals?
One day, one moment, one thought at a time.