You Can’t Always Get What You Want

April 27, 2009 at 3:40 pm Leave a comment

There is a famous story about a saddhu, an Indian holy man, who wandered the country without possessions. When he was hungry people fed him; when he was tired he lay down to sleep. He was as naked as the day he was born.

One day the Saddhu made a terrible error by wandering into the tent of a Muslim Chieftain. Two of the women screamed and the Chieftain picked up his sword and slashed at the Saddhu, cutting off his arm. The Saddhu, bleeding heavily, calmly turned and walked away.

The Chieftain, shocked at what he had done, picked up the arm and took it outside to find the Saddhu. When he caught up to him the Saddhu stuck his arm back into place and turned away. But the Chieftain said, “Before you go, please give me some words of wisdom.”

The Saddhu said,

If you do not do what you want to do,

You may get to do what you like.

When the Chieftain heard these words, he left his home and followed the Saddhu as a disciple.

What did he mean by this saying? Is there an important difference between doing what we want to do (our desires) and what we like (what is good for us)? And if this difference is significant, then how can we make sure we know how to tell this difference?

As the Tao te Ching says,

Always desiring,

See only the surface.


See the essence.

To get to the bottom of things, to really experience the profound, we need to gain control of our desires. Without this, by blindly following our desires, we only scratch the surface of life. We need to learn how to gain control of our desires and so learn a more meaningful and deeper relationship to life. And in doing so, we learn how to live healthier and longer.

Entry filed under: Ancient wisdom.

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The Blog That Fell From The Sky

Reflections on an age of anxiety.


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