Desire. Who can live without it? It is both torment and delight, the needy tongue and the self-satisfied taste, the fire and the ash. Who can understand it?

What is the cost of desire? Does wisdom conquer desire or require it?

The word desire almost drips with positive connotation. But it is also a seductive lie. Desire cannot hold the mind. The mind immediately flits from the thought of desire to the thought of the object of desire, to the thought of desire satisfied. A desire satisfied is delight. But a desire unsatisfied and unsatisfiable is torment. Beware of all-too easy positive connotations. Truth loves to hide.

A desire may be a generalized or passing wish, or a dark ineradicable sin. We say: be careful what you wish for. I say: pay attention to the clinging you have already become. Desire cannot hold the mind, but the mind can hold desire.

Between the light and the heavy, desire is everything from a want to a need. As a want, desire marks a lack in us. We want to be filled up. Here desire is like a hole in us we want plugged, lest our tears get out. When the edges of that want get sharp, desire becomes a cutting need. Our needs are sharp desires in us. Like wants, they can be filled, but later they will need filling again. Needs cycle in us, desire ebbs and rises. Hunger and lust quelled will only sleep a time, then rouse themselves again against us.

Desire is also a power. It is a power over us we can overcome and direct. Or rather, we can direct it and overcome ourselves; the power we cannot halt or stay. Desire as energy can be turned about on itself, bad lashing out against bad, darkness against darkness, until suddenly our own darkness furnishes us a torch to light our way. "Be lamps unto yourselves," they say the Buddha said.

But beyond power, beyond lack and need, forgoing transient imagination and the devoutly wished-for consummation, desire is wise compassion, wise as a serpent, compassionate as a lake. Desire thus clarified of the sensuous and the selfish is ennobling; sublimated in purity, it is the ultimate we can become. It is not what we want, nor what we really want; but what we really, really want, the mother and trump of all desires. Catch hold of it. It is our only ticket on the last train to the final goal, to truth, to the shining bounteous spirit that has always spurred us on to attain it, this very moment, this very lifetime.

I know you want it.