Lusts: Insatiable, Fleeting, Unsatisfying
There is no satisfying lusts, even by a shower of gold pieces; he who knows that lusts have a short taste and cause pain, he is wise; even in the [supernal] pleasures [of the devas], he finds no satisfaction; the disciple who is fully awakened delights only in the destruction of all desires [The Dhammapada 14:186-7].
Lust is a common trait of the human character and has a long, sordid history: for “every inclination of his [a human’s] heart is evil from childhood.” [Genesis 8:21]. In spiritual terminology, lust in synonymous with temptation and perdition, being one of the seven deadly sins of Christianity.
Unrestrained immersion in physical pleasures produces an insatiable craving for more and more — a desire to increase the volume, amplify the intensity and heighten the emotion. The resulting passions overwhelm the mind, destroying restraint and leaving us enslaved to our lust.
Our reckless cravings do not stop, even when we have all we want. We are not satisfied by any amount of indulgence, so we seek additional depravities to reach our illusory satisfaction.
Our mind becomes a numb spectator, barely remembering the past, staggering between rebellion and arrogance.
So if a man live in any way of lasciviousness, the more his impure lust prevails, the more sweet and pleasant will it make the sin appear, and so the more will he be disposed and prejudiced to think there is no evil in it. [Jonathan Edwards].
The environment of today’s prodigal society incessantly prods and entices our appetites, arousing passions that overwhelm our spiritual convictions. We find ourselves forgetting our basic beliefs while succumbing to prurient desires. We disregard spiritual progress and the promise of a higher existence for transient pleasure.
Many of us are in captivity, chained to a dissolute lifestyle of sexual desires and perverted appetites. Our modern captors include a wanton consumerism that taints our moral fiber and a faithless relativism that debases our integrity.
Modern lust is a highly advanced strain. Chemicals, pharmaceuticals and technology have added new dimensions to our desires. Packaged with other popular pleasures and commercially marketed in sports and entertainment venues, lust is now globally exploited. Its availability, variety and low cost make it a favorite of everyone, even children.
It is true that the materialistic society, the so-called culture that has evolved under the tender mercies of capitalism, has produced what seems to be the ultimate limit of this worldliness. And nowhere, except perhaps in the analogous society of pagan Rome, has there ever been such a flowering of cheap and petty and disgusting lusts and vanities as in the world of capitalism, where there is no evil that is not fostered and encouraged for the sake of making money. [Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain, p. 148].
Disease of the Mind
Lust seeps into the void left by the absence of God. Thoughts of self-restraint vanish beneath our rationalization and self-delusion.
The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. [Romans 8:7].
Lust then becomes a hunger that takes control of the mind and makes it heedless of proper conduct.
For temperance, sobriety, and chastity, which we are wont to oppose to luxury, drunkenness, and lust, are not emotions or passive states, but indicate a power of the mind which moderates the last-named emotions . . . But, in reality, avarice, ambition, lust, etc. are species of madness, though they may not be reckoned among diseases. [Baruch Spinoza].
The carnal inclinations of our mind produce distorted impulses that misuse the natural needs of the body. Eventually, lust becomes an attitude, a state of mind that we willfully adopt and to which we knowingly succumb.
Hast thou seen him who chooseth for his god his own lust? Wouldst thou then be guardian over him? Or deemest thou that most of them hear or understand? They are but as the cattle – nay, but they are farther astray? [Quran 25:43-44].
Weaning the Soul from Lust
Fasting is a natural antidote against lust. Whether we fast for spiritual or therapeutic reasons, the absence of nutrients in our body sends us into a uniquely disciplined pattern of self-control.
… every wise man will refrain his soul, and keep it low; will wean it more and more from all those indulgences of the inferior appetites, which naturally tend to chain it down to earth, and to pollute as well as debase it. Here is another perpetual reason for fasting; to remove the food of lust and sensuality, to withdraw the incentives of foolish and hurtful desires, of vile and vain affections. [John Wesley, The Sermons of John Wesley, Sermon 27.4].
Fasting heals the soul overwhelmed by lust. During the momentary intermission between intemperance and overindulgence, before we again feel the pull of our lustful desires, we can take steps to prevent the recurring excesses.
A man who eats too much cannot strive against laziness, while a gluttonous and idle man will never be able to contend with sexual lust. Therefore, according to all moral teachings, the effort towards self-control commences with a struggle against the lust of gluttony—commences with fasting. [Leo Tolstoy, The First Step, The Works of Leo Tolstoy].
By fasting, we temporarily tame passions and subdue cravings. With reduced nutrients diminishing physical passions, our heightened spiritual awareness helps us sublimate worldly appetites.
For he who fasts, is light and active, and prays wakefully, and quenches his evil lusts, makes God propitious, and humbles his proud stomach. And he who prays with his fasting, has two wings, lighter than the winds themselves. [Saint Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea (or Golden Chain): St. Matthew].
Entering into Your Self
A fast proclaims our freedom from lust and self-destructive passions. It is a manifesto declaring that the physical world no longer holds us in bondage.
We become sober when we fast. Our demeanor resembles a person in pain or ill. Trivial pleasures and amusements have little attraction.
We eat for God so that our body may gain strength to serve God and perform our duties and responsibilities towards others. It is also for God that we hunger, to subdue the body lest it sin against God, to control and not be controlled bodily desires and lusts so that they may not control our actions. We behave in accordance with the spirit, not the body, for the sake of our love of God, and the fellowship with His Divine Spirit. Fasting for any other reason, is rejected by God. [H.H. Pope Shenouda III, The Spirituality of Fasting, p. 58].
By diminishing sexual desires, fasting facilitates discipline and self-control. We exchange material and transitory physical pleasures for unrestrained trust in God.
Turning to a higher consciousness harnesses our unrestrained passions and strengthens our resolve. Ultimately, the mercy of God frees us – and God is most merciful.
Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. Enter again into yourself. [St. Augustine, “On Prayer and Fasting,” Quoted by St. Thomas Aquinas].