I had a dream last night that had a moment of lewdness. In the dream I then shifted my focus on the drawbacks of passion, it’s like borrowed goods, a pit of hot coals, a bone with no meat. I’ve had this happen before and I find I appreciate it, the mental training staying strong even in dreams. It lends some credence to arahants not having nocturnal emissions. The set of metaphors used to explain the danger of passion I focused on is MN 54:
“Suppose a dog, overcome with weakness & hunger, were to come across a slaughterhouse, and there a dexterous butcher or butcher’s apprentice were to fling him a chain of bones—thoroughly scraped, without any flesh, smeared with blood. What do you think: Would the dog, gnawing on that chain of bones—thoroughly scraped, without any flesh, smeared with blood—appease its weakness & hunger?”
“No, lord. And why is that? Because the chain of bones is thoroughly scraped, without any flesh, & smeared with blood. The dog would get nothing but its share of weariness & vexation.”
In this way is sensuality a trap for ‘The Blessed One has compared sensuality to a chain of bones, of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks.’. I think of playing video games, where hours go by and I don’t gain anything meaningful, often I don’t even feel happy, only not bored. So many ways of engaging in sensuality end in a lack of fulfillment, even what fulfillment there is, is transient. Satisfaction from a large meal is inconstant and passes on, it’s not stable.
“Now suppose a vulture, a kite, or a hawk, seizing a lump of flesh, were to take off, and other vultures, kites, or hawks—following right after it—were to tear at it with their beaks & pull at it with their claws. What do you think: If that vulture, kite, or hawk were not quickly to drop that lump of flesh, would it meet with death from that cause, or with death-like pain?”
Each story in this sutta follows on this formula, Buddha tells a story, whoever he is talking to agrees that whatever the outcome of the story it’s not agreeable. The lump of flesh is akin to so many forms of sensuality which we cling to even as it causes us pain. The sense of being right in an argument that causes discord. Doing things a certain way even as it is ineffective.
“Now suppose a man were to come against the wind, carrying a burning grass torch. What do you think: If he were not quickly to drop that grass torch, would he burn his hand or his arm or some other part of his body, so that he would meet with death from that cause, or with death-like pain?”
Once I was driving some kids at my job as the leaves were turning orange. I got distracted by the visual appeal of the leaves and nearly rear ended the car in front of me. Thanks to the vehicle’s auto stop and collision alert I didn’t. The string of sensual forms is dangerous.
“Now suppose there were a pit of glowing embers, deeper than a man’s height, full of embers that were neither flaming nor smoking, and a man were to come along—loving life, hating death, loving pleasure, abhorring pain—and two strong men, grabbing him with their arms, were to drag him to the pit of embers. What do you think: Wouldn’t the man twist his body this way & that?”
“Yes, lord. And why is that? Because he would realize, ‘If I fall into this pit of glowing embers, I will meet with death from that cause, or with death-like pain.’”
A lot of sensuality looks appealing in a certain way, especially when we romanticize pain. When I was doing drugs there was a thread online You know you’re a junkie when, one of the things was about romanticizing the suffering. I found that in a lot of music too, The Weeknd’s whole album The Beauty Behind The Madness was a glorification of a downward spiral. I did that a lot and I notice my mind still does it with cigarettes, even though I quit.
“Now suppose a man, when dreaming, were to see delightful parks, delightful forests, delightful stretches of land, & delightful lakes, and on awakening were to see nothing. In the same way, householder, a disciple of the noble ones considers this point: ‘The Blessed One has compared sensuality to a dream, of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks.’”
A lot of sensuality is essentially fantasy. Getting engrossed in a TV show or book, sexual fantasy, laying around thinking of what I’d do with a lot of money. It all takes up time and rarely produces anything of value. In dreams we often can awake with fear or other distracting feelings not dependent on reality.
“Now suppose a man having borrowed some goods—a manly carriage, fine jewels, & ear ornaments—were to go into the market preceded & surrounded by his borrowed goods, and people seeing him would say, ‘How wealthy this man is, for this is how the wealthy enjoy their possessions,’ but the actual owners, wherever they might see him, would strip him then & there of what is theirs. What do you think: Would the man justifiably be upset?”
“No, lord. And why is that? Because the owners are stripping him of what is theirs.”
Sensuality and it’s objects can be lost and taken away at any time. A lot of the kids I work with are dependent upon music as a source of sensuality and experience great stress if they lose their music player. I’ve noticed since I stopped listening to music I am not worried about not having an AUX cord. Similarly with drugs I am no longer plagued with the fear of being around without some on me or close by.
“Now suppose that, not far from a village or town, there were a dense forest grove, and there in the grove was a tree with delicious fruit, abundant fruit, but with no fruit fallen to the ground. A man would come along, desiring fruit, looking for fruit, searching for fruit. Plunging into the forest grove, he would see the tree… and the thought would occur to him, ‘This is a tree with delicious fruit, abundant fruit, and there is no fruit fallen to the ground, but I know how to climb a tree. Why don’t I climb the tree, eat what I like, and fill my clothes with the fruit?’ So, having climbed the tree, he would eat what he liked and fill his clothes with the fruit.
Then a second man would come along, desiring fruit, looking for fruit, searching for fruit and carrying a sharp ax. Plunging into the forest grove, he would see the tree… and the thought would occur to him, ‘This is a tree with delicious fruit, abundant fruit, and there is no fruit fallen to the ground, and I don’t know how to climb a tree. Why don’t I chop down this tree at the root, eat what I like, and fill my clothes with the fruit?’ So he would chop the tree at the root. What do you think: If the first man who climbed the tree didn’t quickly come down, wouldn’t the falling tree crush his hand or foot or some other part of his body, so that he would meet with death from that cause, or with death-like pain?”
Similar to borrowed goods our clinging to sensuality can be disrupted by others. Driving on open roads disrupted by traffic, drugs disrupted by an absent dealer or closed liquor store. Once I was attending a party for a friend and the neighbors complained of the volume of the music, my friend experienced great stress. Happiness dependent on others either providing or not interfering is not a stable or enduring happiness.
“Imagine a bowl of water mixed with lac, yellow orpiment, indigo, or crimson, such that a man with good eyesight examining the reflection of his face in it would not be able to know or see his face as it actually is. In the same way, when one remains with awareness possessed by sensual passion, overcome with sensual passion, and neither knows nor sees the escape, as it has come to be, from sensual passion once it has arisen, then one neither knows nor sees what is for one’s own benefit, or for the benefit of others, or for the benefit of both….SN 46:55
When I was young I spent a lot of time playing World of Warcraft and had a real shitty group of “friends” that bullied me relentlessly yet I held onto that group because of the few moments of communion, my sensual passion blinding me to the trauma. Later when I was doing drugs I remember distinctly after leaving Vermont, being alone in my bedroom abusing Gabapentin telling myself that I just needed to get through the week, that without drugs I simply couldn’t tolerate being alive. I couldn’t see how much the drug abuse was hurting me.