(This story and reflection come from a session of Upavana’s online “Lay Sangha Chat”, held on the first and last quarter Moon, open to all and hosted by Upavana sangha members.)
“So I bought the chocolate bar. And ate it.” He shrugged his shoulders with a good-humored expression of “I tried not to, but didn’t quite make it.”
The handful of sangha members chuckled and nodded in solidarity and tossed helpful bits of advice. We reassured one another for having experienced similar chocolate bar defilements ourselves.
But the story is not one of failure on the path or disregard of the teachings of Buddhism.
“I had a craving for chocolate. I wanted a chocolate bar. I really wanted it and I thought about it and kept trying not to want a chocolate bar. I thought about other foods that I would rather have, foods that were wholesome and wise choices. I thought of fruits piled in the grocery store, mangoes, pineapples, bananas, coconuts… Even these bountiful mind formations did not appease the craving. Determined, I left my rooms and went to the market. I went directly to the fruit, piled as high as I had imagined and equally fruitful and a variety beyond compare. I stayed in the fruit market for some long time. Then I bought a chocolate bar. And I ate it.” He shrugged and beamed a smile to the sangha.
The intensity and persistence of this man’s struggle and thought processes intrigued me. This is practice. This is when the teachings consume parts of your daily decision making and direct you to reevaluate your actions, motivations, and the basic reasons why you are craving. This is when the Path has become firm and unambiguous.
End of story? No, it is a slightly shorter chapter in the same story. Every time the Chocolate Hindrance occurs, this fellow will square up to it and resolve it. Again and again, until the Actual Time Required to distract and convince himself that he does not want the chocolate becomes so negligible that he realizes he no longer supports the craving. By this time the Chocolate Hindrance has lost its importance, become a fond joke, a pleasant memory, an indifference.
As Tahn Pamutto points out, we always have a choice. Even in, and especially in, our habits, we have a choice. Habits are the myriad tiny repeated behavior patterns we perform with our minds and our bodies.
The Chocolate Hindrance did not exist until the man made a choice to limit or exclude the object [chocolate] from his habits.
Making the choice to limit the object sets a new boundary. Becoming watchful of chocolate as an expression of hindrance means becoming incrementally more watchful of one’s behavior.
Each encounter with the idea of chocolate becomes practice. Each “failure” to resist the craving of chocolate becomes practice. The tiny but measurable decrease in time and effort to resist the Chocolate Hindrance becomes apparent over time… Once upon a time, the man would not hesitate to buy the chocolate bar straight away, with nary a wave to the fruit market tables. Now, he struggles. Now, he works at the solution. Now he practices. And now, each time he is confronted with a Chocolate Hindrance, he is fully familiar with it. And each time he is more skilled at disengaging himself from the craving. Even if he gets to eat the chocolate bar in the end.
Because no one said you can’t have the chocolate. It is only suggested that it can be enjoyed without attachment.
Without the agony of not-being-allowed-to-have-chocolate, the pain of eating-chocolate-and-feeling-bad-after, the disappointment of having succumbed to buying the darned thing, the emptyness of physical surrender to an “object”, the perception that one has Broken The Rules…..it can be enjoyed without attachment.
Only, by the time you have achieved separation from the Power of Chocolate…
It’s possible you won’t care about chocolate.
*The Five Hindrances are sense desires, ill will, sloth (& torpor), restlessness (& worry), doubt
Respectfully submitted by Laura