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As all students of Buddhism know, unending desire is the cause of human suffering. Because our desires can never be completely satisfied, we suffer. Buddhism therefore supplies us with a method for dampening desire called the eightfold path. The thing about this eightfold path is that it takes many years to master, perhaps even a lifetime. So it is mostly the old, wise masters who have been able to eliminate desire and suffering.

But then something occurred to me a few days ago, as I was feeling old and physically ill. Merely growing old--without practicing the eightfold path--is accompanied by loss of sexual desire, and probably other desires as well. When you are tired you just don't desire much. The same goes for being sick: you don't feel like eating or doing much.

So how do we know whether the desirelessness of ancient masters is actually accomplished by practice of the eightfold path, or by simply becoming more decrepit?