What may be news to you if you’ve been living under a rock for the last 3 incalculable eons, is that desire and willpower don’t mix well. When you have a one-pointed desire for something, your willpower will deprive you of accomplishing that goal. There’s actually a kind of cosmic law, a fundamental building block of all phenomena ensuring that obsessive, consciously entertained desires cannot be realized through blatant concentration or efforts.
You can certainly achieve your desires by measuring and mapping out which steps it will take to realize them, and fulfilling these steps one at a time (i.e. the Scientific Method). But this involves one-pointed concentration on the individual tasks themselves and following those tasks without entertaining the cumulative desire to be realized from them. That method is the example Thanissaro Bhikkhu is always using to describe the practice of the Buddhist path: it’s like driving a car to the mountains; you don’t keep your eyes on the mountains while you’re driving, you keep them on the road that takes you to the mountains. If you stare at the mountains, you’ll crash and never reach them.
There are the methods of autosuggestion to the subconscious, practiced widely in some magickal traditions. This is where the folklore of making wishes comes from. People in contemporary society seem to think those wishes upon birthday-cake-candles and coins-thrown-in-fountains are all nonsense or superstition, but they are legitimately wishes. There’s a pretty concise science to it all.
Still, a problem is that desires will fog up a person’s perception. And the less desires a being has, the stronger their overall perception of things. Desires work as powerful illusions. An individual under the influence of a desire will temporarily find everything else in one’s life to become less important. This is why in Buddhism or in any other religious path, a person lives a simplistic life with few desires. Because happiness comes from abiding in deep awareness of the nature of reality, which cannot happen while one is following a desire. In fact, achieving enlightenment is spurred initially by a strong desire for true happiness, but it has to be let go at some point because the desire is just an illusion that serves a temporary purpose for the mind.
Of course, unless one is a monastic, one is not simply going to give up sex, money or alcohol very easily. But it’s worth noting that these things do weaken the mind. And a weak mind is ripe to be plundered by those beings deeply enamored with emotions and deep urges, or the ability to manipulate the fabric of the desire realm.
For example, some people are skeptical of hypnotism, and if you really 100% can resist hypnosis it won’t work on you. But the problem is that most people eventually will just give in to the instructions of the hypnotist and follow the repetitive imagery or sound or whatever, simply because their minds are untrained, weak, easily bored and always looking for something to attach to. So when people get brainwashed or hypnotized or fooled by an illusion, it’s because they waver from their willpower to resist it for just one moment. This is enough to entrance a person. And this one moment is the one that matters; it’s the one where you make your stupidest mistakes.
In other words, the more desires you have, the less likely you are to see things coming your way. Or something.
Confucianism, Christianity and Buddhism all sort of function under a similar premise: they have a specific set of teachings one should carry out which will make everything else in the universe knowable. In other words, don’t wonder about all that other stuff (like what is the self or the “I”; what is the essence of sexual desire) if you really want to observe what the nature of everything is.
But you already knew that, right?