Buddhism and Bad Desires


This activity helps students provide their own evidence for Buddha's argument against desire.


The Buddha's argument against desiring is a tough pill to swallow: this exercise makes it a bit more plausible.


It is best to begin this as a solo activity and then have students share their answer in their group.

Texts / Connections

Relevant texts:

The Dhammapada


The role of desires / passions has also been an important topic in Western philosophy: this activity could easily be used in a lesson with philosophers like Plato, Epicurus, the Stoics, Hume, or John Stuart Mill (just to give a few examples).

Courses and Topics

Introduction to Philosophy, Introduction to Ethics

Activity Plan

As an individual activity (for roughly 3-4 minutes), give students the following prompt:

Think (and briefly describe) a time in your life when you really, really wanted something, more than anything else in the world, and you finally got it, and it was a letdown. Or, think or a time when you really, really wanted something, and didn't get it, and later were glad that you didn't.

Then, ask students to get into their groups and share their answers.

Variations (optional)

As with any group activity in Buddhism, it can be fun to have students form a new group (because the world is unstable and full of change).

Discussion Questions (optional)

Just because some goals and desires lead to letdowns, that doesn't mean that they all do. What additional arguments might we need to get to a place where we are rejecting all desires?

Does the Buddha suggest eliminating all desires and goals, or just the ones that you feel really strongly? Can we find a principled difference between the two?


Seth Robertson (University of Oklahoma)