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(An informal talk given to a group of newly ordained monks after the evening chanting, middle of the Rains Retreat, 1978)
Our way of practice is looking closely at things and making them clear. Were persistent and constant, yet not rushed or hurried. Neither are we too slow. Its a matter of gradually feeling our way and bringing it together. However, all of this bringing it together is working towards something, there is a point to our practice.
For most of us, when we first start to practice, its nothing other than desire. We start to practice because of wanting. At this stage our wanting is wanting in the wrong way. That is, its deluded. Its wanting mixed with wrong understanding.
If wanting is not mixed with wrong understanding like this, we say that its wanting with wisdom (Panna).  Its not deluded — its wanting with right understanding. In a case like this we say that its due to a persons Parami or past accumulations. However, this isnt the case with everyone.
Some people dont want to have desire, or they want not to have desires, because they think that our practice is directed at not wanting. However, if there is no desire, then theres no way of practice.
We can see this for ourselves. The Buddha and all His Disciples practiced to put an end to defilements. We must want to practice and must want to put an end to defilements. We must want to have peace of mind and want not to have confusion. However, if this wanting is mixed with wrong understanding, then it will only amount to more difficulties for us. If we are honest about it, we really know nothing at all. Or, what we do know is of no consequence, since we are unable to use it properly.
Everybody, including the Buddha, started out like this, with the desire to practice — wanting to have peace of mind and wanting not to have confusion and suffering. These two kinds of desire have exactly the same value. If not understood then both wanting to be free from confusion and not wanting to have suffering are defilements. Theyre a foolish way of wanting — desire without wisdom.
In our practice we see this desire as either sensual indulgence or self mortification. Its in this very conflict that our Teacher, the Buddha, was caught up, just this dilemma. He followed many ways of practice which merely ended up in these two extremes. And these days we are exactly the same. We are still afflicted by this duality, and because of it we keep falling from the Way.
However, this is how we must start out. We start out as worldly beings, as beings with defilements, with wanting devoid of wisdom, desire without right understanding. If we lack proper understanding, then both kinds of desire work against us. Whether its wanting or not wanting, its still craving (Tanha). If we dont understand these two things then we wont know how to deal with them when they arise. We will feel that to go forward is wrong and to go backwards is wrong, and yet we cant stop. Whatever we do we just find more wanting. This is because of the lack of wisdom and because of craving.
Its right here, with this wanting and not wanting, that we can understand the Dhamma. The Dhamma which we are looking for exists right here, but we dont see it. Rather, we persist in our efforts to stop wanting. We want things to be a certain way and not any other way. Or, we want them not to be a certain way, but to be another way. Really these two things are the same. They are part of the same duality.
Perhaps we may not realize that the Buddha and all of His Disciples had this kind of wanting. However the Buddha understood regarding wanting and not wanting. He understood that they are simply the activity of mind, that such things merely appear in a flash and then disappear. These kinds of desires are going on all the time. When there is wisdom, we dont identify with them — we are free from clinging. Whether its wanting or not wanting, we simply see it as such. In reality its merely the activity of the natural mind. When we take a close look, we see clearly that this is how it is.
Footnotes and references:
Panna: has a wide range of meanings from general common sense to knowledgeable understanding, to profound insight into Dhamma. Although each use of the word may have a different meaning, implicit in all of them is an increasing understanding of Dhamma culminating in profound Insight and Enlightenment.