Zen Talk: Is Passion a Good or a Bad Thing?

“Weeds are the bane of the fields, passion is the bane of humankind; so a gift to the dispassionate bears great fruit.”

Yes, I get it, Buddha: passion can lead to terrible things and terrible suffering. Extremists are so passionate that they kill in the name of things that are wrong and unnecessary and cause great suffering. Passion breeds problems.

But doesn’t passion also breed other things? What about passion for saving the world and helping people. What about the passion that comes with fighting for something you believe in that helps others: like ending slavery, oppression or discrimination? Is all passion really bad? After all, suffering arises from things other than passion and so suffering would exist even if we did away with passion – but then we’d lose the passionate people who are doing good through their passion.

I must admit that I’m a little stumped with this quote and how it can really be helpful – especially the end. A gift to the dispassionate bears great fruit?

What do you think about all this? Is it best that there be no passion?

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9 Responses

  1. “Any generalization is false, even this one.”

    “Anything taken to extreme approaches its opposite”

    The Zen- No passion follows with the Zen of no attachment to anything. In practice, not possible, but a goal (desirable ?) to shoot for. Kabballah says roughly the same thing, that perfection (the desire to impart) is a goal to strive for, but can’t be achieved. Don’t know the Talmudic equivalent.

    But, taken to extreme, Zen sux. And that is Zen. Taken in moderation, Zen is the cool that Cali strives for… and Charlestonians achieve. And that is also Zen.

  2. This might be about “egoic passion” which is different from non-egoic passion.

    We can feel passionate about our beliefs or a cause or life without the egoic attachment. Egoic passion is about “self”-consciousness while non-egoic passion is about God-consciousness.

    For example —people feel strongly about their religion. Some might equate passion in religious belief to having a firm faith that their religion is “the only truth—only right way—one and only way to salvation”…..etc. On the other hand— (mystics) who are equally passionate about religion could care less about “only…..”. They are more concerned with their spiritual path than in “owning” that path.

    Instead of something being “My” religion or “My” cause…etc you serve with passion but without attachment—without “owning” it. —-You take the “self” out.

  3. From what I understand, Buddha drew a distinction between ‘passion’ and ‘earnestness’. Being earnest about the things you do in life is good. You should do your best and enjoy yourself while doing it, but you shouldn’t become wrapped up in anything which is what generally happens when ‘passion’ comes into the picture. This creates attachment, and often leads to suffering. Probably everyone has had the experience of falling in love with something, a person, an idea, a thing, whatever, throwing themselves into it, and eventually getting burnt out. By being earnest in your actions, you take into account both positive and negative elements and act accordingly.

  4. There is a little excercise practiced in some Zen monasteries called “Washing the dishes in order to wash the dishes”. Shunryu Suzuki explains:

    “Practice has two aspects. One is to do something for your own cultivation. The other is to help others for their cultivation. Both of these aspects are still in the realm of discrimination. Even clinging to the idea of helping others before yourself is in the realm of discrimination. Non-discrimination practice is simply to work for the benefit of the dharma. If you think, “I’m sweeping the floor for you,” that’s still discriminating mind-that’s ego. That’s pure activity. Sweep the floor not because you’re going to get it clean but because you’re sweeping it. In the process the floor will get clean and that will benefit you and others. But if you think, “I’m sweeping the floor for you,” or “I’m sweeping the floor for me,” that’s discriminating mind at work. It’s clinging to the good you’re doing. It’s better to do good things than bad things, but it’s still discrimination. We should be able to do good things without partiality.”

    We can feed the hungry, for example, by having a passion about that particular activity, or we can simply feed the hungry because we dispassionately SEE that that is what needs to be done. In the former case, we are attached to the activity: “I feed”. In the latter, what is important is only that the hungry are fed. When we feed the hungry without attachment, without the ego being involved; without an ulterior motive or a “gaining idea” for self-reward in mind, then the action is complete and fulfilled. When we perform such actions in the realm of passion, something is left over, and that something must be dealt with, since it involves cause and effect, or ‘karma’. When actions are performed, they should be performed with complete attentiveness to what is being done in the Present Moment. Then, no excess baggage is carried into the next moment to contamiinate it. Zen says: “When you burn, burn completely. Then, it is over”. To perform one’s actions in this way, without attachment to them, without passion, is NOT to create more suffering in the world. It is NOT to make more ‘marks’ upon the world. It is about SEEING, and acting upon what one sees, without making waves.. When we are pasionate about what we do, it is about being personally involved, and that is where the trouble begins.

    What you quoted from the Buddha is from the Dhammapada. It is about Craving, and putting an end to Craving, and the delusive and destructive effects of craving, infatuation, and rumination over things, contrasting their undesirable effects with the freedom that comes with insight, dispassion, and inner completeness.

    In context, it reads:

    23. Weeds are the bane of the fields, passion is the bane of humankind; so a gift to the dispassionate bears great fruit.

    24. Weeds are the bane of the fields, hatred is the bane of humankind; so a gift to those free of hate bears great fruit.

    25. Weeds are the bane of the fields, folly is the bane of humankind; so a gift to those free of folly bears great fruit.

    26. Weeds are the bane of the fields, desire is the bane of humankind; so a gift to those free of desire bears great fruit.

    So, if we look at the passage you quoted in relation to the other three that are associated with it, we find that it is saying that those who act out of the wrong motivations such as passion will not achieve the desired goal, whereas those who act dispassionately, who are not attached to the outcome of their actions, will realize the fruits of thier actions.

    It is a paradox.

    Now, take a lood at the Tao te Ching:

    “The Way that can be told of is not an Unvarying Way;
    The names that can be named are not unvarying names.
    It was from the Nameless that Heaven and Earth sprang;
    The named is but the mother that rears the ten thousand creatures, each after its kind.
    Truly, “Only he that rids himself forever of desire can see the Secret Essences”;
    He that has never rid himself of desire can see only the Outcomes.
    These two things issued from the same mould, but nevertheless are different in name.
    This “same mould” we can but call the Mystery, Or rather the “Darker than any Mystery”,
    The Doorway whence issued all Secret Essences.”

    To allow ourselves to become wrapped up in passion, in Identification, is to lose sight of the Secret Essences, and to only see the Outcomes, or the Effects of the Cause. Passion is karma-driven; Dispassion is Way-driven.

    “Though my heart is on fire, my eyes are as cold as ashes”
    Zen source

  5. Further….

    “He who aims at life achieves death”
    Tao te Ching

    “There is a way which seems right to man which ends in death”

  6. “The currents carry away the one who sees wrongly, thoughts fixated on passion, whose thirty-six streams gush toward what is pleasing.”

  7. “Like two golden birds perched on the selfsame tree, intimate friends, the ego and the Self dwell in the same body. The former eats the sweet and sour fruits of the tree of life while the latter looks on in detachment. As long as we think we are the ego, we feel attached and fall into sorrow. But realize that you are the Self, the Lord of life, and you will be freed from sorrow. When you realize that you are the Self, supreme source of light, supreme source of love, you transcend the duality of life and enter into the unitive state.”

    Mundada Upanishad. 3:1-3, p. 115

  8. I am thankfull for these superb thoughts to all..knowing them clears a lot of lag, but i am reading more into it get the essence further..what i wonder is the clarity of concepts in ur n great soul’s minds as well….it is amazing n very apt..!!

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