How To Dissolve The Assumptions of Desire And Ill Will

How to see through the Assumption of Desire and Ill Will

The Assumptions of desire and ill will are the fetters 4 and 5 in the Buddhist framework of the ten fetters. They show up after the self-illusion is seen through and address the question: Why are we reacting all the time?

In case you’re wondering why we are already at fetters #4 and #5, with the self-illusion, doubt and clinging to rites and rituals also dropped away, the second and third fetter.


How You Can Notice Desire And Ill Will

You’ll notice a slight restlessness, a continuous subtle search for “What could I do now, how can I feel better or less bad?”

There is a continuous pushing and pulling at experience, in a subtle or not so subtle way. When something happens that feels nice, we want to keep it and if possible, make it stronger. When something happens that doesn’t feel good, we want to get rid of it or at least make it feel a less worse.

Thoughts start imagining scenarios where the situation turns out in the best way possible for us, we might get angry or insist that we get what we want, or do something in order to feel good.

Sometimes, the reaction happens swiftly and we find ourselves in anger, yelling at somebody or slamming a door.


Desire and Ill Will in Slow Motion

In the inquiry into desire and ill will, we explore in slow motion how a reaction happens and what triggers it. Why do we react?

What is actually going on when we are reacting, how is the reaction started? What leads to reactions? It feels like we want something or we don’t want it and that starts the reaction. Is that so?

During a reaction, the slow motion shows:

  1. There is a situation or thought
  2. followed by pleasant or unpleasant sensations
  3. Here, between sensations and reaction, there should be the trigger for the reaction, desire or ill will, wanting or not wanting.
  4. A reaction happens. We continue to think about the situation, argue with our imaginary opponent, or get irritated, angry or sad, and do what we can do to feel better.

In the inquiry, the third step in the slow motion is looked into. Is there indeed a trigger that starts the reaction? The trigger stands for desire and ill will.


How to See Through the Assumptions of Desire and Ill Will

Before you begin this inquiry, it is important that the self-illusion is seen through. As long as we think there is a ‘ME’ that could decide or control anything, it is not possible to see through desire and ill will.

When the self-illusion is seen through and you feel at home in the new perspective, you can start with the inquiry into desire and ill will.

For the inquiry into desire and ill will, you use a problem that you really want to get rid of. If a fairy came and promised you to take a problem away by swinging her star-dust covered wand, which problem would you like to disappear?

It is important that we only work with facts in the inquiry and not with the reaction. When the reaction started, we can no longer look for what triggered it.

In the context of this inquiry, it is neither good or bad to react, the terms good or bad don’t make any sense here. Once the reaction has set in, it is simply a perspective that won’t allow you to look for the trigger in the “gap” between sensations and reaction, that’s all. No need to avoid reactions. They are simply a sign that an assumption is still in place.


The different steps in the inquiry

Step #1

What is the problem?

In the first step, you describe the problem that needs to be solved.

Here is an example: Robert and Jane (the names and story are invented) have been married for quite a while.  Robert feels that his wife doesn’t love him any longer.

What does she do or not do that makes him think she doesn’t love him any longer? We are looking for the facts that are happening that can be observed by another person as well.

Robert tells me, his wife doesn’t hug him spontaneously any longer. This is what we will work with. A sentence is built by negating what is wanted and not there:

“Jane doesn’t hug me spontaneously.”

You’ll notice that I took the “any longer” out of the sentence because in the “any longer”, a reaction is already hiding, the moaning about the situation.


Step #2:

Experience in Slow Motion What Is Going On

Since it is often very hard to watch what is going on in the heat of the actual situation, we take this situation into our “consciousness lab”.

When Robert is by himself, he intones the sentence: „Jane doesn’t hug me spontaneously.“
After intoning the sentence silently or aloud, body sensations appear, a pressure in the heart area and a constriction in the throat.

Also, some reactions set in. Memories appear, they talk about how it had been in the past and sadness mixed with anger can be felt.

Now, Robert practices to stay “in the gap”, feeling the sensations, also feeling the pull to react but not giving in. This dynamic state is called “the gap”. He intones the sentences, feels the pressure in the heart area and the constriction in the throat for 1-2 minutes and then lets the sensations fade out. Repeating this several times a day, Robert gets used to staying with the uncomfortable sensations.


Step #3

Do Desire and Ill Will Trigger The Reaction?

With a bit of practice, Robert succeeds in “staying in the gap”. He feels the primary body sensations, experiences the pull to react but resists it and looks for desire and ill will, wanting and not wanting. Do they appear and start the reaction? They should be visible right now, in this dynamic state between sensations and reaction.


Step #4

Desire and Ill Will Weaken

Robert does this experiment 4 x daily for 10-15 min. Quickly, his anger and sadness about his wife not hugging him spontaneously disappears. It is simply a fact that his wife doesn’t hug him like it is a fact that the sun is warm.


Step #5

Seeing Through the Assumption of Desire and Ill Will

In this last step, the assumption of desire and ill will, wanting and not wanting triggering a reaction, is seen through.

In his first-hand experience, Robert sees that there is nothing that starts a reaction and experiences a shift. This deep insight is different for everybody and hard to put into words.

With this insight, the whole situation looses its charge and so do other situations he used to react to. He feels content without needing his wife to do what he wishes or other situations to make him feel good. And the biggest surprise for him is: Without having told Jane anything about his inquiry, she starts to hug him spontaneously. (This result cannot be garantueed!)


Weakening and Falling Away Of Desire and Ill Will

For fully seeing through these fetters, at least two rounds with two different problems are needed, often more.

In the beginning, the fetters are weakened and the reactions are shorter and don’t peak as high as before. When the assumptions of desire and ill will fall away, reactivity ceases.

The work in these fetters is very emotional. Deep feelings arise and often, unresolved conflicts surface that need to be looked into.


Once- and Non-Returner

The Buddha emphasized strongly how important the weakening and the falling away of the fetters desire and ill are. He said that the weakening led to only having one more life as a human being and with the falling away of the fetters, the seeker became a non-returner. They would not be born again as a human being but would be liberated from a higher formless realm.

Rebirth might be something relevant for you or not, this shows what a big step is made when desire and ill will are seen through.



My work in the fetters 4 and 5

The Problem

In my first round, I worked on a relationship issue. In the second round, I used my chocoholism to look into desire and ill will. Yes, I couldn’t walk past a piece of chocolate.

Satyadhana, my guide, asked me what needed to happen so I would forget grabbing a piece of chocolate, and I knew it immediately – and I knew, this was a deep dive.

I longed to be held by somebody without them saying a word, so I knew there is somebody, I was not alone.

My parents had fled after WW II from the eastern part of Germany which was occupied by Russians to Hamburg. They dwelled in the basement of a bombed house, trying to build a life again. At the age of 2 weeks, I was given into full time daycare, together with many other children.

The sentence that resonated with the feeling I had was: There isn’t anybody. It perfectly matched the terrible loneliness I felt.


Working with the sentence

When I intoned the sentence, body sensations arose that moved up and down the food pipe. I was flooded with fears, formless and without any content. The fears also remained during the rest of the day and often, I could hardly sleep.

Finally, I felt so exhausted that I only wanted this inquiry to be finished. At that time, I was at the wedding of my niece. I sat on my hotel bed and committed to not getting up before this round was finished. Again, I said the sentence, felt the sensations which were labeled fear and waited and looked. What triggered the need to eat chocolate? I waited and waited, repeated the sentence when the sensations weakened.


The Shift

After about one hour, something totally unexpected happened. All of a sudden, everything was gone. The sensations were gone, the fear was gone, the gap was gone. The spook was gone. It felt like an awakening from a really bad nightmare.

It was immediately clear, that was it. There was no desire and ill will and never had been. They had been an assumption about what was happening just like the assumption of a ‘me’.


The Tests

I have no idea how it works but each time I had a new insight, situations appeared that tested the insight. Was it totally clear or were there still tendencies left that could fabricate the illusion?

The next morning, still in the hotel, I got a call from my radiooncological unit. I had an appointment with my physician during the breast cancer radiation and another physician would replace her. Whether that was okay with me?

Oh! That was about the maximum credible accident for me. It was so difficult to find good doctors with whom I felt safe after being diagnosed with breast cancer. I waited and said nothing. No sensations arose, no “NO”…

The receptionist kept talking kindly to me, apologizing. She hat witnessed my meltdown when I had to change physicians the last time. Finally, I simply said, “It’s fine.” It was fine.

All day long, things happened where I normally would have reacted quite heartily. And all these reactions simply didn’t appear any longer. Unbelievable! It did feel strange. My sister who knew my sweet tooth had brought a whole bag of sweets to the hotel. I didn’t feel like eating them at all. How weird was that!

Slowly, a deep sweet contentment spread through my body. I hadn’t even known what true contentment was! This freedom!

On my journey home, I had to change trains. That was usually the moment when I got myself something sweet. This time, I went into the bakery, bought a coffee and that was it. I think, this had never happened in my life before and I didn’t miss a thing.


What I would like to know from you

How do you experience wanting and not wanting? How does it feel to keep looking for something better?
Did you already inquire into desire and ill will? How did it go and how did you feel after finishing a round?

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And if you know a friend who is also longing to awaken, share this post with them.



Comments 6

  1. Fantastic, thanks!
    What was the sentence you repeated for the issue of chocolate? In one’s own case, do we simply find a sentence that neutrally/factually describes a situation, and then gently work with it in the gap?

    1. Post

      Hi Julian, :-)

      I used the sentence, ‘There isn’t anybody’. Now, sentences are copyrighted for every single person. Not really, but every single person needs a sentence that is unique and fully resonates with their experience.

      What we do is we find out what we want to happen and describe it in a way that a third person would know for sure that it is happening. And the negate that.

      For example: Instead of saying, ‘everybody is talking about me badly’ it would need to be more specific (and you need to have it heard, otherwise it’s hearsay which doesn’t count as proof.)

      Let’s say your boss criticized you in a not so nice way. What would you have wanted to hear from him? You could use direct speech, it’s very helpful.

      The sentence would, for example, be, ‘Mr. Singh didn’t say, “You did very good work with this, thank you so much, I highly appreciate that you’re working for me.”

      Then you feel the primary sensations, the first body sensations that arise. Stay with them, resist the pull into the reaction, maybe a thought narrative and the associated feelings. When you stay with the sensations, resisting the pull, you’re in the gap.

      Now comes the crucial question: What starts the thoughts, what sparks them? What do you find?

      We think that ‘ill will’ sparks them, not wanting the icky sensations that arise. Can you find ill will, not wanting?

      I hope this helps.


  2. Hi Christiane
    I was pointed toward you by Steven Gothard, a friend.
    I watched your video where you use I dont know if I can break this Fetter/Awaken statement, which has
    added a fruitful twist to my exploration. I was using some painful interactions with friends, and not
    wanting/accepting their views, that made me….emmm…loose touch with them.Working presently with another friend Tejapushpa. But I was finding that after a while i either couldn’t really feel a reaction, or just was getting frustrated that I couldn’t really see/experience the gap.
    I read something that Satyadana/kevin recommended, to explore and notice either side of gap, sensation/reaction. which has
    been a bit more helpful.
    I have something I could run past you ….when I make the statement I dont know if i can awaken/break fetter, it then came into thought ‘i dont know if i’ve broken any fetters’, which surely does set up a panic/anxious spin and off into stories. Highlights a doubt, and festering uncertainty, and a reaction. What if I ahvent done any fetters at all! And that this could really pull a whole world view down, that i have been resting on perhaps for many years.
    Over ten years ago some sort of awakening occurred that turned my life around, and for a while even overwhelmed a sense of unhappiness so well ingrained. which for quite a few years seemed to totally clear up the holding onto a central sense of agency and self and lifted a load of very well developed psychological weight from my way of living. A clarity of mind, understanding of teachings, openness, curiosity and certainty about awakening being possible and unfolding really was central. It was obvious to me however that despite initially feeling that it was all now done, that it wasnt and that more unravelling was still to take place and was taking place.
    The last few years have presented many emotional, deeper unconscious so called wounds and traumas that have so effected the way i have existed and lived, and i feel i have done well to explore and delve with support from others into these and feel a lot more mature and kind about that history and those stories. they still try to kick in, and run off and do reactions, but generally I feel more inclined to let them flow out quickly with less need for the dramas.
    But when i have then turned to a more direct look at the 4th /5th arena, where i suspect I probably am, I seem to get stumped and even feel that maybe the I has not even really been seen through. When i question this as honestly as i can I either feel a bit fuzzy in mind, or clearly just drop back into a open awareness and clarity that just knows that all this is just thinking stories and a usual pattern of anxiety and panic. My initial openings out of selfing occurred from an intensive few months of Pure awareness/Mahamudra type approach where as i asked about the location/shape/colour etec etc of self. Then one morning it all just dropped away and there was only consciousness exploring consciousness which was located nowhere but everywhere, sort of thing. which then just brought simple, everyday, profound lovely, all encompassing contentedness responses and fruits. Which lasted on and off for about two years. This type of ‘experience’ is what has always underpinned my faith of an awakening, and which still supports an intuitive sense that something has been done, but not all has been done. I have however seemed to struggle to then ‘do’ more specific direct work like Fetters work, as there a sense of just rest and let it unfold. However now there’s a trepidation that something more is needed and that maybe i cant quite do it.
    sorry so many words.

    I suppose i feel the need for some outside affirmation, but also want to be honest in case i am still caught up in a self view that is more first fetter than 4/5.

    anything you might be able to suggest/say would be appreciated. in the mean time I feel that asking the statements can be helpful.

    best wishes


    1. Post

      Dear Padmadasa,

      thank you for this post and your wonderful honesty! It’s not easy to admit to yourself and openly in the comment, that you are not on your spiritual path where you (and probably others) thought you are. <3

      Having experienced a profound lovely, all-encompassing contentedness for two years and then dropping out of it, must be really painful. I happen to work with somebody who went through this as well.

      It sounds like the work you did put you in a state where several assumptions were gone for a while. Unfortunately, it was the 'leading edge' as we call it, the perspective hadn't shifted fully yet, so now the suffering is back with the old assumptions being back because they can still be fabricated.

      Being able to easily drop into the (also fabricated) state of open awareness and clarity can give you temporary relief from the assumptions again. The state is conditioned insofar as you have to induce it. The awakened state is what's left when there is no inclination left to alter what is.

      What is needed now is a clear shift of perspective in your everyday consciousness, the same kind of shift a child has when it sees that Santa doesn't exist. It will never be able to even think that there is a real Santa out there.

      To find out whether the assumption of a 'me' is still in place, you could check whether it feels like there is a doer, an agent that initiates moving, deciding, thinking, to whom feelings and states arise.

      If there is something left and you want to go beyond it, the fetter inquiry has proven to be a very reliable path. The person I spoke of who experienced the same as you has now gone beyond the fetters after about 2 years of more inquiry.

      So there is hope! :-)


  3. Pingback: Restlessness, The 9th Fetter - End Seeking And Find Awakening

  4. Need a little help…

    Q: “If a fairy came and promised you to take a problem away by swinging her star-dust covered wand, which problem would you like to disappear?”

    A: the feeling that something else needs to happen

    “A sentence is built by negating what is wanted and not there:”

    How would this sentence look?

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