Sunday, August 06, 2006

On Desire by William B. Irvine

On Desire: Why We Want What We Want (Hardcover)
by William B. Irvine

This is an interesting book especially if you have not read something contemporary on the very interesting topic of "desire".

If you have read some scriptures such as Dhammapada (a Buddhist classic) or Bhagvadgita (a Hindu classic),  you must be having a good perspective on desire. Desires are to be mastered is their general message. Many people confuse that message with something which is utterly wrong that desires should be suppressed or killed. Be it Buddhism or Hinduism or any other religion advocates - yield to desires, know the limitations of yielding to desires, realize the temporary nature of the satisfaction, understand that there is higher purpose for your life and then become moderate. Buddha's 'madhyama marg' advocates this very philosophy. This is credible because Buddha started with  repressing desires by living a very austere life and then when austerities started causing more harm than good, he realized the usefulness and effectiveness of 'madhyama marg' (middle path).

Irvine who is a professor of philosophy at some university in Ohio writes this book like one long refreshingly easy to read essay. He does not take one or the other position on anything related to desires but seem to say 'I have read a lot about desires from various sources. Here is a summary for you...go read if you like....' For people trying to find some concrete position being taken this may come across as something very discouraging. Otherwise, it is a good read.

The author must be complemented  for mixing psychology, human physiology, philosophy, religion very nicely to present a cohesive material in a concise format.

The book is divided into 3 parts. 1)The secret life of desire 2) The science of desire 3)Dealing with our desires.

One can expect to learn a lot about certain interesting communities and how they deal with the concept of desires. Amish people who belong to a closely knit community prefer to live with minimum modern amenities as a way to avoid and moderate desires. The author describes a few more similar communities and how they deal with desires. Right or wrong, it provides an interesting view of these much misunderstood communities.


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