SO, I know that's a pretty grand title, and believe me, I'll get to that point. But to begin I have to explain the thought process that led me there.
I've had the idea for a while now that my life would be considerably better if I could fully control my own actions, based solely on reasonable decisions. However, this doesn't seem to be the current case. The other day, after having eaten half a pizza, I still had the other half left. I KNEW that: the calories would worsen my already burgeoning weight problem, that my girlfriend would be mad that I didn't save her dinner, and that there would be shame in my own lack of self control if I ate the pizza. I was even full, and knew that it would cause me some discomfort to carry the extra food around. But the smell of that cheese and pepperoni was too much, and I ate it anyways.
The ultimate result was worse than if I'd just put the half back in the fridge. I knew it was an unreasonable choice and that the end would be bad, but I made that decision anyways. And as an atheist, I find it very disturbing that I can't even enforce my own reason on myself. I've seen the same pattern evolve with homework, getting up in the morning, exercise, cleaning, masturbation, even things like my work. The immediate reward of procrastinating, eating, laying there, etc is overwhelmingly chosen, and I don't even usually like the outcome
I feel that if I were somehow able to force myself to make the "correct" choices, my life would be better. I'd be healthier, I'd be fit, I'd go to bed on time, I'd get better grades, I'd live in a spotless apartment, and I'd have more money. There is no question that overriding my base desires would (a vast majority of the time) improve my life.
So now I admit, the title was just to catch your eye- it is a far reaching extension of my own observations about myself. It is a bit of a reach to assume that just this is the source of "man's suffering". But I do still pose the question- how can one overcome these short term, self-destructive, basic desires, these urges, in order to undoubtedly improve your life?
In my experience, our behavior runs on a sort of feed back loop. Bad decisions lead to worse decisions more often, and good decisions....well, you get the point. The trick is finding a toe hold to get you started. For a spotless apartment, can you spend 5 minutes each day cleaning? It isn't much, and it's actually really hard to do, but if you can convince yourself to take 5 minutes each day, marking it on the calendar, it can start to tip the equation in your favour.
I've tried both ways, and I've found, yes it's true that "if I were somehow able to force myself to make the "correct" choices, my life would be better."
Buddhism seems to say that desires are the cause of all suffering, and therefore we should renounce all desire. I can appreciate this point of view, but I think it's a bit like being dead. I like having desires sometimes, and fulfilling them. The real danger is "cravings" - desires you can't control. They control you.
Oh yes, I love The Dhammapada.
Only a man himself can be the master of himself: who else from outside could be his master? When the Master and servant are one, then there is true help and self-possession.
It is easy to do what is wrong, to do what is bad for oneself; but very difficult to do what is right, to do what is good for oneself.
He who does what should not be done and fails to do what should be done, who forgets the true aim of life and sinks into transient pleasures - he will one day envy the man who lives in high contemplation.
Be therefore not bound to pleasure for the loss of pleasure is pain. There are no fetters for the man who is beyond pleasure and pain.
From craving arises sorrow and from craving arises fear. If a man is free from craving, he is free from fear and sorrow.
He who has virtue and vision, who follows DHAMMA, the Path of Perfection, whose words are truth, and does the work to be done - the world loves such a man.
We romance or idealize a great deal in our lives.
'If we have X, our lives will be so much better!'
Sometimes this seems to be true, but the list of where it is not true seems to be growing.
Over the last three years, my wife idealized having two dogs, a pedistle sink, a membership in Direct Buy, and lots of seasonal flowers, during a time when money was tight, my business was slowing down, she did not have a job, and our prospects showed no future improvement within my ability to envision. I posted my misgivings with her, but she made a case for the most expensive options on the basis of 'dream' not practicality. So now we have expenses that consume a major portion of our income with little return and that now interfer with creating new options, due to the absence of liquidity. We are slowly climbing out of the hole, but if we had not made the 'dream' based expenditures, our recovery would have been significantly faster. As we talk about our decisions based upon 'dream', my wife gives a good indication that she now understands why I said, 'no, not now', and how thoughs decisions interfered with our recovery. Dream, bound to whim, linked with mismatched economic liquidity, can be a lfe killing combination.
Look into habits and habit formation. I'd say more, but I don't currently have the time to do so.
"But I do still pose the question- how can one overcome these short term, self-destructive, basic desires, these urges, in order to undoubtedly improve your life?"
It seems to me you need more willpower and determination to do the right choice. Eating that 2nd half of the pizza really goes to show you have very little self control (at least in that instance)
Your reasoning skills seem normal as you know the consequences of your actions. So as I like to say - Just stop doing it. Just make the change. It has to come from within. If being fat and eating your girlfriends dinner and feeling ashamed that you did the wrong thing doesn't make you reflect and change your ways then I don't know what else to say.
The whole Reebok philosophy, eh?
One fairly interesting teaching of the Buddha is that the source of all suffering is craving—taking a rather broad view of craving, including the craving to end one's cravings. Take a look at The Fire Sermon with this in mind.
So, what about the urge I always feel to alleviate suffering in living creatures?
Well, it's an urge, but it's not a selfish, lazy, wasteful or destructive one.
It's in human nature to want to make others happy.
I suppose the Buddha would say that you can alleviate suffering without torturing yourself into unhappiness over it.
I was just thinking the exact same thing (I think).
A dramatic act may produce the same bad reaction, whether it is intended for good or evil.
The difference is that even though the consequences may be bad in some way, the person acting for good will retain their full self-respect, and shrug off the bad consequences; the person doing evil will know they deserve the bad consequences as a punishment for being bad; they will be likely to hate themselves; every blow will hurt like a knife in the heart.