My Absolute Desire


 David Berman, a retired Philosophy Professor at Trinity College, Dublin, says that there is nothing more important than to “work out what your absolute desire is and then go in that direction.” (David Berman, Absolute and Final Desire: Plato or Buddha, in Desire, Ed. Timo Airaksinen and Wojciech W. Gasparski, Praxiology, Volume 24)

 Nothing more important? That may seem so high sounding - so stark, radical, and perhaps impossible.

 Need it be so? 

 Why yes, for the alternative to grounding your life in some absolute, defining consideration is to fall instead into the haze of a relativistic fog. 

 That fog is the grey zone - the grey zone of lesser desires, all mixed up and competing with each other to effect an empty, impoverished existence that lacks a central focus - an absolute desire.

 At our worst, our lives are about nothing more than the pursuit of all kinds of lesser desires - none especially admirable, or even noteworthy. 

 What’s missing is that surge of aspiration that rises to the level of a commanding, absolute desire.

 The Upanishads are instructive here about choosing between lower desires and something higher. Nachiketa, a young seeker, is told: “Nachiketa, as a human being, you have been born with the capacity to make choices.” (Beth Spindler, Joy or Pleasure, What's the Difference? Yoga International, Sept 30, 2015)

 Nachiketa is being told that his very dignity as a human being is his innate ability to discriminate between lower and higher desires: "No other creature has this capacity, and no human being can avoid this responsibility.

 At "every moment you have a choice of two alternatives in what you do, say, and think."

 You can therefore choose between either the pleasant way, or the beneficial way - the way of momentary satisfactions, or enduring onesi.e. the way of sugar and flour, or the way of real food.

 An experiment on mice makes the point. 

 One group of mice were given food and a wheel to run on. They lived a simple, Spartan-like mice existence.

 Here is one of them.


 The other group of mice were given lots of variety - "a mouse playground - with food, mirrors, other mouse buddies, tubes, and materials for nesting fun.” 

 The test results showed that the second group were more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s.

 The Spartan mice warriors, in contrast - in their simple environment - were better able to ward off disease. (B. Spindler)

 So, just as an aspiring athlete requires a single-minded discipline, and a successful marriage requires the absolute commitment of 'to you alone, forsaking all others,' a spiritual aspirant requires the unequivocal desire to know God.

 Without which, the life being lived is an ill-defined one. It is a life that is lacking its most essential component - the one thing needful - the absolute desire for the Ultimate which relegates all lesser desires to a subordinate status.

 Such an unfocused life has missed its greatest possibility, as in the case of the philosopher, David Hume, whose own self-confessed absolute desire was to aspire no higher than to gain worldly honour.

 Thus in his final year, Hume wrote about "my love of literary fame, my ruling passion.” (David Hume, My Own Life (1777) referenced by David Berman in Berkeley’s & Hume’s Philosophical Memoirs, Philosophy Now, Issue 120) 

 George Berkeley in his last days chose to emphasize something much different. Berkeley’s own absolute desire was to attain truth(Siris, 1744)

 Berkeley describes a feverish expectancy for truth that still burned within him as an old man. In his memoir, for example, he references Plato’s allegory of 'getting out of the cave of ignorance to ascend into the realm of truth.' 

 So these two philosophers exhibit entirely different tones. Whereas Hume presents himself as a content man - "urbane and polite," Berkely, emphasizes an ongoing feverish desire for truth.

 Hume, on the one hand, according to Berman, led the way into that orientation of mind where truth has “ceased to be the cry of all.”

 Berkeley, on the other, kept the cry for truth alive. (D.Berman) 

  Now, what is the object of my absolute desire? 

  The object is the nature of my possible destiny.

   And, well, there are two views about that. And they could not be more different. 

 The one view is that of the thinkers associated with the family of Plato. The other, with the Buddha.

 For the Platonists, one's absolute desire is for personal deification. For the Buddhists, the absolute desire is for absolute nothingness.

 And so the Buddhist approach is to overcome individuality and personality. All personal striving is to be abandoned in order to attain a condition of impersonal being, or nothingness.

 For from this point of view, "the individual self is ephemeral 

  - an illusion,

     - a fiction, 

      - an appearance of the one only Being.” 

 In these terms, your absolute desire is to lose any sense of a personal self and to identify instead with Brahmin, or the nothingness of Nirvana.

 Which was Arthur Schopenhauer’s absolute desire as he lay dying. On his death-bed he declared that his absolute desire was to attain absolute nothingness. 

 For the Platonists, in contrast, “the self is indivisible.” The person is "an individual person or substance, among other similiar beings.” 

 The absolute desire of the Platonist therefore is a personal destiny.

  And so it is clear that these two positions, the Platonic one, and the Buddhist one, are radically opposed. 

  And my absolute conviction is that no synthesis is possible between such diametrically opposed positions. 

 And I therefore come back to the point I made in another article. Which is that when the Light shone in the pages of the New Testament its effect was to transfigure the persons touched by it.

 The effect of Christ’s presence was to bring a man to his senses, to bring him back to himself. To establish him in his distinct and particular identity.

 Which was a foretaste of the nature of eternal life, of a personal destiny beyond the grave.

 In these terms, our life journey is not towards dissolution, or nothingness, but towards transfiguration and glorification.

 This, in my estimate, is the highest possible view of human nature. 

 It is saying that you as you matter, and will in the life to come.

 This view, the New Testament one, is an absolute contrast to those views that diminish the self as

 - a mere reflection,

   -  a shadow,

      - a condensation of the Divine -

        - or as "a minor aspect of God’s existence." (Professor Natalia Isayeva, Early Vedanta to Kashmir Shaivism) 

  And thus it is my absolute desire is to stand one day before Him. 

  My absolute desire is one day to be in the presence of that One, Jesus Christ my Lord, who 'loved me and gave Himself for me.'  

Silhouette of a man with hands raised in the sunset concept for religion, worship, prayer and praise