Obsession

Death sweeps away
The person obsessed
With gathering flowers,
As a great flood sweeps away a sleeping village.

A person obsessed
With gathering flowers,
Insatiable for sense pleasures,
Is under the sway of Death.

Dhammapada v. 47-48, translated by Gil Fronsdal

These verses follow on from the previous, focusing on pleasures of the body and how our obsession with them can blind us to reality. It seems odd to me that we can be obsessed with sensual pleasures whether we are actually enjoying them or not. There are people whose lives revolve around food, dreaming about the exquisite tastes of a planned meal, and the next and the next. Others feel that they are only truly alive when engaged in sexual activity. For many of us, visual beauty is what keeps us excited, whether it be beautiful art, people, scenery, or other sights. Music is the drug of choice for quite a few of us. Some people do in fact enjoy these pleasure frequently, others simply dream about them; both types are obsessed.

The difference between enjoying an experience and being obsessed is the feeling that “I can’t live without this”. Try driving without listening to music (or talk radio) and see whether you feel deprived. Try to notice how much of your daydreaming is about a particular hoped-for experience in the future.

These obsessions prevent us from living the life in front of us. They make us blind to others, wrapping us up in our own little world, and prevent us from focusing our attention on the present.Through our obsessive thinking about sensual pleasures, remembered or anticipated, we cut ourselves off from reality. This is called being “under the sway of death”.

Our experience is made up of pleasurable and painful experiences, of the subtle and gross, the physical and mental. Can we be present continuously to all of it?

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