When we stop feeding our cravings, says Thich Nhat Hanh, we discover that we already have everything we need to be happy.
The human mind is always searching for possessions and never feels fulfilled. This causes impure actions ever to increase. Bodhisattvas, however, always remember the principle of having few desires. They live a simple life in peace in order to practice the Way and consider the realization of perfect understanding as their only career.The Buddha said that craving is like holding a torch against the wind; the fire will burn you. When someone is thirsty and drinks only salty water, the more he drinks, the thirstier he becomes. If we run after money, for example, we think that a certain amount of money will make us happy. But once we have that amount, it’s not enough; we think we need more. There are people who have a lot of money, but they are not happy at all. The Buddha said that the object of our craving is like a bone without flesh. A dog can chew and chew on that bone and never feel satisfied.
—The Sutra on the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings
We all experience moments when we feel lonely, sad, empty, frustrated, or afraid. We fill up our feelings with a movie or a sandwich. We buy things to suppress our pain, despair, anger, and depression. We find a way to consume, in the hopes that it will obliterate the feelings. Even if a TV show isn’t interesting, we still watch it. We think anything is better than experiencing the malaise, the ill-being in us. We have lost sight of the reality that we already have all the conditions we need for our own happiness.
Each of us has our own idea of happiness. It’s because of this idea that we run after objects we desire. We sacrifice our time and, to a certain extent, destroy our bodies and our minds. According to the Buddha, happiness is simple—if we go home to the present moment, we realize that we have more than enough to be happy right here and now. All the wonders of life are in us and around us. This realization can help us release our craving, anger, and fear.
The more we consume, the more we bring in the toxins that feed our craving, anger, and ignorance. We need to do two things to return to mindful awareness. First, we can look deeply into the nutriment that is feeding our craving, examining the source. No animal or plant can survive without food. Our craving, just like our love or our suffering, also needs food to survive. If our craving refuses to go away, it’s because we keep feeding it daily. Once we have identified what feeds our craving, we can cut off this source of nutriment, and our craving will wither.
The second practice is mindful consumption. When we end our consumption of things that feed our craving, ignorance, and wrong perceptions, we can be nourished by the many wonderful things around us. Understanding and compassion are born. Joy in the present moment becomes possible. We have a chance to transform our own suffering.