You can’t always get what you want

Interesting that when Mick Jagger sang “You can’t always get what you want” in Brazil in 2006, there were one million people listening to him. One million people – we Buddhists have been saying the same thing for 2500 years …. but the crowds we draw in Bangkok have not reached a million, not even at Wat Dhammakaya. (BBC story on the Brazil concert).

It is a common misconception that the Buddhist goal is to stomp out all of your desires, or that you cannot let yourself enjoy anything ever again. That is the kind of practise you find in the Ascent of Mount Carmel by St. John of the Cross, not in the Buddhist scriptures. In fact, the Buddha himself tried this, in his 6 years of practising austerities, and nearly died in the attempt. In the opening words of his opening sutta he says that severe austerities will not take you to enlightenment any more than living the life of luxury will. Both these extremes are still based on desire – using desire to try and set up a particular state of mind – be it fleeting happiness from a sense desire, or the relatively stable happiness of perfected concentration. In the latter, even though the mind has stopped still, there is still desire lingering there that will remanifest once you exit the particular mind state you have generated.

Every Englishman craves MarmiteStomping out all desire in life is not possible, and I have not encountered any monks who have even tried. I recently got 2 jars of MARMITE – every Englishman’s favourite food, and I have every intention of enjoying them to the full.

  The discovery the Buddha made was that beyond, or prior to, the pleasure of the senses is the Nibbana-Dhatu, the nibbana element. That is permanent, unchanging, and undying. Thus the first declaration he made was that the Deathless (Amata) had been rediscovered.

And because I delight in that, I do not crave what is inferior (Maghandiya sutta)

Can you have your Marmite and eat it ? Well, the path involves investigation into desire, and the finding of it to be ultimately unsatisfactory, thus generating the Energy (yes, a kind of desire) to find the Deathless too.


There are Gods and men, who when they hear about putting an end to desire, their hearts do not respond

People would rather listen to Mick Jagger singing out how he Can’t Get No Satisfaction, than finding out why not.


About Cittasamvaro

Auto blogography of an urban monk
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One Response to You can’t always get what you want

  1. contoveros says:

    I seem to recall that part of the song goes something like this:
    Can’t always get what you, but you can get what you need.

    I might have paraphrased that. But I don’t think that is half as bad as the first part. Even if a million people did not pay attention to the second part.

    Maybe they will when they learn the truth about the first.

    michael j

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