Tortured by Love, Lust, a Crush? Buddhism has some advice for you.

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“Foulness Meditation”

“The Lord Buddha advised those who are ardent on attaining Nibbana to contemplate the body with its impurities…”


Growing up, my momma was an American Buddhist. While I appreciated the community hugely, growing up, I didn’t get into Buddhism personally until I was 16. I was graduating from high school, and figured that before I left my teenage home (Karme Choling, a Buddhist meditation center in rural Vermont) I’d say goodbye to all that in proper Buddhist style: by doing a weeklong meditation retreat. Nine hours a day, including zen-style meals, of meditation.

And I finally, personally, fell in love with Buddhism. Meditation, I belatedly realized, wasn’t just some way of avoiding living life. It wasn’t boring. It was…to use a word I generally avoid…transformative. I could begin to live and enjoy life from a clear, open, sane, relaxed point of view (and as a teenager, that was one helluva discovery).

So I canceled my plans and studied and partied and meditated and worked (as a lumberjack) at Karme Choling for a year. Along the way, I learned a whole hell of a lot.

One of the funny little things that’s stuck with me is how to wake oneself from that exquisite pain that is lust or having a crush on someone. If you’re in love or in lust or intimidated or entranced by a beautiful man or woman, you have only to remember that, just like everyone else, below that alluring exterior they’re full or blood and spit and mucus and poo and pee, like everyone else. You’re actually supposed to visiualize them going to the bathroom.

It works. You remember they’re human, and stop tripping out.

Excerpt from a Buddhist text:

35) How to Combat and Subdue Lust and Desire

Afflictions stemming from greed, while numerous, are all included within the defilements of the “five desires” and the “six Dusts.” From the root of greed stem other evil afflictions, such as stinginess, envy, hate, fraud, deceit … known as secondary afflictions. The “five desires” refers to the five defilements, that is, the desire for beautiful forms (sexual desire …), wealth and money, fame and power, exquisite food and elegant attire, [excessive] rest and sleep.[48] The “six Dusts” are form, sound, scent, taste, touch and dharmas [i.e., external opinions and views].

The six Dusts encompass the five desires; however, the term “five desires was created as a separate expression to stress the five heavy defilements of human beings in the realm of the “six Dusts.” The concept “six Dusts” is used when speaking in general, while the expression “five desires” refers to specific afflictions. I employ the term “six Dusts” here to cover other defilements not included in the five desires, such as excessive fondness for music and songs as well as infatuation with romances, novels, etc …

When the five desires and six Dusts flare up, the general way to counteract them is through skillful visualization of four truths: Impurity, Suffering, Impermanence, and No-Self.

1. Impurity

This means that the body is impure, the mind is impure and the realm is impure. Impurity of the body means that we should reflect on the fact that beneath the covering layers of skin, our bodies and those of others are composed entirely of filthy, smelly substances such as meat, bones, blood, pus, phlegm, saliva, excrement, urine, etc. Not only that, body fluids are excreted through nine apertures (mouth, ears, nose, anus, etc.). If we stop to think carefully, the physical body of sentient beings is hardly worth cherishing.


Vaguely relephant bonus: Karme Choling’s innovative garden:


Image: Flickr

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Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view. His dream of 9 years, the Elephant “Ecosystem” will find a way to pay 1,000s of writers a month, helping reverse the tide of low-quality, unpaid writing & reading for free online.

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anonymous Oct 26, 2015 1:23pm

Your thinking is closer to what I believe juliette. But releasing the hold it has over us seems impossible. I’m not even sure I want it to go away. I need to feel thru it. Accept any consequences that might result. In hindsight I find the thinking remains until one of two things happen. 1. The pain is too great to hold on so tightly, or 2. A new obsession, love, crush replace a the old. I will live, I will feel, I will go on till things change. Embracing this as a part of life is a gorgeous thought.

anonymous Jul 8, 2015 8:39am

Sorry, another thought. I think I see what you are getting at with the "impurities" of the body now. I think what you are saying is that we are all "biodegradable", so the superficial reason we are crushing on someone is impermanent and should not be the basis of our actions. Am I getting closer to the idea here?

anonymous Jul 8, 2015 8:35am

I thought that repression was an act of violence (according to Thich Nhat Hahn), and Buddhism teaches non-violence so we shouldn't try to crush any of these feelings, but take them out and look at them for what they really are? Be kind to it, "speak" to it, to get at the truth, and only then can we maybe see the crush for what it is – a projection of what we would hope that other person is based on physical attractiveness. It is not necessarily who they really are, and forcing our idealizations of them onto them is also an act of violence, which we should avoid. The crush itself might actually be productive in the proper context. It could inspire us to get to know that person for who they really are, but be careful not to fall into the trap of projecting an incorrect notion onto them. Just my novice ideas, anyway. thanks for the article, it got me to thinking.

anonymous Apr 27, 2015 4:31pm

Some really weird comments here. The teaching is not world-denying or moralistic. It's about dependent origination and the suffering created by reification, by thinking that all things exist inherently, rather than conventionally and relationally. The woman on the toilet has no essence, she does not "exist" from her side but instead she- like every "thing"- is dependent on parts and conditions, and they are in turn dependent on other parts and conditions. Yep, some of these parts are her internal organs. Yep, she is an organism that consumes the environment and shits it out. The teaching is meant to get you out of the object-subject, me-them, etc etc dualities. The emptiness teachings are the pinnacle of eastern thought and if deeply understood are life changing. You managed to dismiss all of this in 20 words or less. Sure the article did not present the teaching in the most sophisticated way. Of course, you're happily dancing and having sex in the woods and your man is still with you (i hope) so you're in no need of any teaching to overcome suffering right???

anonymous Apr 12, 2015 10:49am

This is exactly the kind of world-denying, life hating fundamentalist crap that sent me running away from Buddhism (and all other organized religions) a few years ago. I would much rather spend my life dancing naked in the woods, reveling in the miracle of physical existence, and having hot, sweaty sex with my ridiculously attractive man, thanks. You can keep your ideas about ‘defilement’ and ‘filth’ to yourself. I think I’ll be walking away from Elephant Journal now, too.

anonymous Feb 21, 2015 10:43am

Awesome, now I’ve developed a golden showers fetish. Thanks, Elephant!

anonymous Feb 16, 2015 3:11pm

Using such a beautiful girl in the picture was not the way to go. She is very attractive.

anonymous Dec 15, 2014 7:12am

Where is the rest of the article?

anonymous Apr 24, 2013 12:17am

Pretty! This was an extremely wonderful article. Thank you for providing this info.

anonymous Nov 29, 2012 6:29am

I have another way of looking at a human body. I feel all matter are on a constant path in a transformations. I tend to think what could be the status of the attractive female in 50 yrs, 100 yrs, 500 yrs , 1000 yrs. Then it helps me to realise that they break down to the basic element levels and then they combine in other proportions to form other matter . We take pleasure looking at things that exist for a brief period of time in a universal scale of time. As Achan Cha once told what all the things in the world are saying to us is that they are changing in every second. We do not understand the language of universe and hence we fail to grasp the truth.

anonymous Oct 3, 2012 11:10am

if the crush is simple there should be no worry
if the crush becomes obsession then outside help is needed.
its all in your hands .
ppl can suggest things. Your life your will.

anonymous Oct 1, 2012 7:49am

Great topic! How about acknowledging the feeling of lust, breathing into it, and just accepting it as part of being human? I'd rather accept it than try to deny it, reject it, fight it, or manipulate it into something else. I find that my lustful feelings usually fade especially if I am fortunate enough to get to know the person I lust after. Thanks for the brief insight into Buddhism's perspective.

anonymous Oct 1, 2012 1:33am

I find this very helpful and the link, 'for the rest, click here', is working for me and I will be reading it later. The Buddhist texts were written a very long time ago and I don't know, but I imagine they were mainly aimed at monks, who had to really put the brakes on any desire completely, so perhaps the teachings were a good tool for them to achieve this. Most of us do not need to crush our desires so radically, but there are occasions when we do need to get a grip on our feelings, and it can be a tough job, so thanks for the above Waylon, because someone has hijacked my head and I can't get him out, it's driving me crazy!

anonymous Sep 30, 2012 5:32pm

Or you can just remember how hurtful all of the lies, and cheating of the past 4 decades have been. That usually resolves the issues for me.

anonymous Sep 30, 2012 4:55pm

Totally stupid. We are not impure, nor are rocks, mud, or thorns. How about you just gather yourself together and tell yourself it's just a crush? Wait, is there something wrong with having a crush? Geesh!

anonymous Sep 12, 2012 7:55pm

This kind of rubbish is why I could never follow a Buddhist path. Life-hating garbage.

anonymous Apr 27, 2012 8:27pm

[…] by love, lust, a crush? Buddhism has some advice for you. […]

anonymous Jun 23, 2011 9:30pm

As a human physiology student, I see the body as a miracle. The obsessive definition of the body as defilement is not something I can understand. Love and lust are just two possible ways to relate to another miraculous being.

    anonymous May 1, 2012 4:07pm

    The obsession with beauty is so great that the opposite is needed to counter it at the start. Eventually obsession with both beauty and ugliness is abandoned and equanamity gained.

anonymous May 16, 2011 5:05pm

FYI: "… for the rest, click here." link is a dead end. My curiosity is peaked! I want to read the rest! But I can't! *exhale with a big sigh*

anonymous May 16, 2011 4:56pm

My problem is that I love this woman for her personality not her appearance. I don't care what she looks like. What do you do then?

    anonymous May 1, 2012 4:04pm

    Personality is impermanent. One minute your full of compassion, the next minute there is raging anger.

      anonymous Sep 10, 2013 12:41pm

      Ok, i have gone past the appearance issue and (most times) do not objectify the human body, tho' I still have issues with mainaing my own. I need to move everyday, but I guess that's just healthy. But I really need to

        anonymous Sep 10, 2013 12:54pm

        Oh damn I didn't finish my comment. Ahm, well.. I meant if I'm not hooked on neither body nor personality, how do I fall in love with someone? I understand that falling for someone for their gentle compassionate peaceful caring nature is also a as they can get angry and sorrowful and maybe after months or so when you press one of their buttons/issues as most people have them, they could be raging. What do I do then, do I turn away disconcerted or disappointed? Or maybe find someone whose so beyond all that, that they keep being so balanced all the time?
        But then again is it love if it is conditional? But would you really fall for someone who consistently agresses you verbally or has a temper or . On WHAT CRITERIA would you fall for them? If I consider unconditional love, the one I harbor for all beings, then I could just choose any odd person as a mate and accept them as they are and try to support and nurture them through their life experiences with a Mother Theresa attitude.

          anonymous Sep 10, 2013 12:54pm

          Do I choose someone who I want to make happy? Someone with similar goals and visions? Someone who has thus far been supporting me in my affairs and vice-versa and who creates a great space for inner growth? It's all goal based, impermanent, relative and somewhat selfish.

          And what's the alternative? The nunnery (not that I'd mind).

          And isn;t a woman's responsibility to find a good father for her children, kind, compassionate, loving, peaceful, honest, wise, etc.. We are all people and we were moulded by the context of our lives so there's no blame for anyone there, but isn't romantic love by default conditional?

anonymous Aug 21, 2010 5:36am

The Buddha also said to find the beauty in all things

Blake Wilson Jul 1, 2010 6:49pm

I tried this and I only fell in love with blood and poop.

anonymous May 31, 2010 6:19pm

I have always disliked this teaching. You should not have to convince yourself that the person you desire is nasty or dirty. None of us are nasty and dirty! Instead I realize that my lust, which torments me everyday, is simply my objectification of a attractive female. Honestly I could care less if she has a great mind or personality, I just want to touch that booty. Since I know that objectification of a person is wrong, it helps tame the lust. Remember she/he has a mom, a dad, maybe kids, dreams of her/his own, talents, and student loan payments.

anonymous May 17, 2010 1:39am

Nope its not working. They are still attractive regardless of other bodily functions.

anonymous May 16, 2010 5:25am

Picturing him pooping isn't working. I'm gonna have to go with vomiting and violent diarrhea!

anonymous May 15, 2010 4:09pm

Ok…so…tell us why this is important and what happens next.

anonymous May 15, 2010 1:48am

Wayne, thanks for writing this article! Thinking about a new lover sitting on the toilet seems like a healthy and effective (Buddhist) antidote to the insanely-unrealistic projections that we can't help but heap upon new loves. It's like a the proverbial cold shower. And how.

Best of care!

anonymous May 13, 2010 10:08pm

Ok, I will play along:) It took me a while to figure out why she is on the toilet, then I finally recalled there is text-based content to accompany her graphic imagery. If that pic is supposed to help me recognize her humaneness, as Judas priest sang, "You've got another thing comin'".

    anonymous Aug 17, 2012 2:33pm

    It is so that you start thinking of her as able to die, and believe me when she is dead, you won't want to touch her half as much as you want to now.

    anonymous Feb 16, 2015 3:09pm

    Using an insanely attractive woman did not drive the point for me. She looks beautiful.

    anonymous Apr 10, 2015 4:21pm

    haha me too……… the pic totally threw me and my brain off! Lol

anonymous May 14, 2010 4:08am

Hi Buddha Lovers

We have started a group for Buddha lovers who believe in Preaching’s and sermon of Buddha and follow the truth suggested by Lord Siddhartha. We have real life instances statue of Lord Siddhartha in form of Statues. Have a look on these statues based on the truth instance of Buddha's Life.

Tanu's Crafting

anonymous May 14, 2010 5:52pm

Its not denying lust & desire, its working with the underlying energy in a more productive way so as to loosen our grasp on it…but first we must see the reality of it coz we tend to attach a storyline to our emotions when that energy arises & follow it blindly

Cindy Heisler May 2, 2018 3:07pm

It seems like the article just kind of fell mid-sentence?

Marke Johnston Mar 5, 2017 10:50pm

Not helping. I want to share a life with 'her' And the visual I get, is quite desireable. Our bathroom.