(Pinyin: zh-cn: tānài)
(Wylie: sred pa;
Tanha (Pāli: Taṇhā, also tanha; Sanskrit: tṛṣṇā, also trishna) literally means "thirst," and is commonly translated as craving or desire.
Within Buddhism, taṇhā is defined as the craving to hold onto pleasurable experiences, to be separated from painful or unpleasant experiences, and for neutral experiences or feelings not to decline. The Buddhist tradition identifies taṇhā as a self-centered type of desire that is based in ignorance. This type of desire is contrasted to wholesome types of desire such as the desire to benefit others or to follow the Buddhist path. In the first teaching of the Buddha on the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha identified taṇhā as a principal cause in the arising of dukkha (suffering, anxiety, dissatisfaction). Taṇhā is also identified as the eighth link in the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Types
- 3 Qualities
- 4 Effects
- 5 Cessation of
- 6 Contrast to wholesome desire (chanda)
- 7 Relation to the three poisons
- 8 Relation to addiction
- 9 Symbolic representations of
- 10 Translating the term tanha
- 11 Etymology
- 12 See also
- 13 Notes
- 14 References
- 15 Sources
- 16 Further reading
- 17 External links
In the first teaching of the Buddha on the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha identified taṇhā as a principal cause in the arising of dukkha (suffering, anxiety, dissatisfaction). Walpola Rahula states:
It is this "thirst", desire, greed, craving, manifesting itself in various ways, that gives rise to all forms of suffering and the continuity of beings. But it should not be taken as the first cause, for there is no first cause possible as, according to Buddhism, everything is relative and inter-dependent. Even this "thirst", taṇhā, which is considered as the cause or origin of dukkha, depends for its arising (samudaya) on something else, which is sensation (vedanā), and sensation arises depending on contact (phassa), and so on and so forth goes on the circle which is known as Conditioned Genesis (Paṭicca-samuppāda)... So taṇhā, "thirst", is not the first or the only cause of the arising of dukkha. But it is the most palpable and immediate cause, the "principal thing" and the "all-pervading thing". Hence in certain places of the original Pali texts themselves the definition of samudaya or the origin of dukkha includes other defilements and impurities (kilesā, sāsavā dhammā), in addition to taṇhā "thirst" which is always given the first place. Within the necessarily limited space of our discussion, it will be sufficient if we remember that this "thirst" has as its centre the false idea of self arising out of ignorance.
Taṇhā is also identified as the eighth link in the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination. In the context of the twelve links, the emphasis is on the types of craving "that nourish the karmic potency that will produce the next lifetime."
However, taṇnhā, meaning "thirst," is not a chosen kind of desire, it's a reflex. It's the desire to pull something in and feed on it, the desire that's never satisfied because it just shifts from one sense base to another, from one emotional need to the next, from one sense of achievement to another goal. It's the desire that comes from a black hole of need, however small and manageable that need is. The Buddha said that regardless of its specific topics, this thirst relates to three channels: sense-craving (kāmataṇhā); craving to be something, to unite with an experience (bhavataṇhā); and craving to be nothing, or to dissociate from an experience (vibhavataṇhā).
- Kama-tanha (sense-craving): craving for sense objects which provide pleasant feeling, or craving for sensory pleasures.
- Bhava-tanha (craving to be): craving to be something, to unite with an experience. This includes craving to be solid and ongoing, to be a being that has a past and a future, and craving to prevail and dominate over others.
- Vibhava-tanha (craving not to be): craving to not experience the world, and to be nothing; a wish to be separated from painful feelings.
Kama-tanha is described as follows:
- Pali: kama-tanha
- Also referred to as craving for "sensuality" or "sensual pleasures"
- This is a craving for sense objects which provide pleasant feeling, or craving for sensory pleasures.
- Walpola Rahula states that tanha includes not only desire for sense-pleasures, wealth and power, but also "desire for, and attachment to, ideas and ideals, views, opinions, theories, conceptions and beliefs (dhamma-taṇhā)."
Bhava-tanha (craving to be)
Bhava-tanha is described as follows:
- Pali: bhava-taṇhā
- Also referred to as craving for "becoming" or "existence"
- This is craving to be something, to unite with an experience.
- Ron Leifer states: "The desire for life is present in the body at birth, in its homeostatic, hormonal, and reflexive mechanisms... At the more subtle level of ego, the desire for life is the ego's striving to establish itself, to solidify itself, to gain a secure foothold, to prevail and dominate, and so to enjoy the sensuous delights of the phenomenal world. The desire for life manifests itself in all of ego's selfish, ambitious strivings..."
- Ajahn Sucitto states: "Craving to be something is not a decision, it’s a reflex... So the result of craving to be solid and ongoing, to be a being that has a past and a future, together with the current wish to resolve the past and future, are combined to establish each individual’s present world as complex and unsteady. This thirst to be something keeps us reaching out for what isn’t here. And so we lose the inner balance that allows us to discern a here-and-now fulfillment in ourselves."
Vibhava-tanha (craving not to be)
Vibhava-tanha is described as follows:
- Pali: vibhava-taṇhā
- Also referred to as craving for "no becoming" or "non-existence" or "extermination"[lower-alpha 2]
- This is craving to not experience the world, and to be nothing.
- The Dalai Lama states that craving for "destruction is a wish to be separated from painful feelings".
- Ron Leifer states: "As the desire for life is based on the desire for pleasure and happiness, the desire for death is based on the desire to escape pain and [suffering]... The desire for death is the yearning for relief from pain, from anxiety, from disappointment, despair, and negativity."
- "The motive for the desire for death is most transparent in cases of suicide. Clearly, people with terminal illnesses who commit suicide are motivated by the desire to escape from physical pain and suffering. In so-called "altruistic" suicide, such as hari-kari, kamakazi, and other forms of socially conditioned suicide, the motive is to avoid mental suffering–shame, humiliation, and disgrace."
[Craving] is like someone who is extremely hungry. Such a person doesn't actually think in terms of eating the food, chewing it and swallowing it. Instead the food just goes into his stomach. It's very simple, there's no effort involved, it just goes into him... Craving in this case is not so much what the weightwatcher's club talks about, but it's genuine craving. It actually just happens. We could actually say to somebody literally, "I don't know what happened, I just did it. It just happened to me. It just happens to me constantly." ... So it's instant craving, rather than deliberate craving as such. At that level, there's no intellectualization at all involved.
Taṇhā encompasses both the desire to get something and its opposite, the desire to get rid of it.
Ron Leifer states:
Taṇhā itself is bipolar, divided into greed and hatred, or passion and aggression. On the one hand is the desire to have something, to possess it, to experience it, to pull it in, to own it. On the other hand is the desire to avoid something, to keep it away, reject it, renounce it, destroy it, and separate it from oneself. If we call these two poles desire and aversion, we can see more clearly that they represent the antithetical poles of taṇhā–the desire to possess and the desire to get rid of.
Unsatisfactory, unquenchable, addictive
Ron Leifer states:
Desire [i.e. taṇhā] causes suffering by its own nature because it is inherently unsatisfactory. Desire means deprivation. To want something is to lack it, to be deprived of it. We do not want things we have, we only want things we don't have. Thirst is the desire for water and it occurs in the absence of water. Hunger is the feeling of lacking food. Desiring means not having, being frustrated, suffering. Craving is suffering. This is a most important insight, one which we drive into secrecy by our refusal to acknowledge it, thus creating the esoteric knowledge we then seek.
According to the Buddhist teachings, desire for conditioned things cannot be fully satiated or satisfied, due to their impermanent nature. This is emphasized in the Buddhist teaching of impermanence.
According to the Buddha’s analysis, all the troubles and strife in the world, from little personal quarrels in families to great wars between nations and countries, arise out of this selfish ‘thirst’. From this point of view, all economic, political and social problems are rooted in this selfish ‘thirst’. Great statesmen who try to settle international disputes and talk of war and peace only in economic and political terms touch the superficialities, and never go deep into the real root of the problem. As the Buddha told Raṭṭapāla: “The world lacks and hankers, and is enslaved to “thirst” (taṇhādāso).
In the Maha-nidana Sutta (The Great Causes Discourse), Buddha said:
Now, craving is dependent on feeling, seeking is dependent on craving, acquisition is dependent on seeking, ascertainment is dependent on acquisition, desire and passion is dependent on ascertainment, attachment is dependent on desire and passion, possessiveness is dependent on attachment, stinginess is dependent on possessiveness, defensiveness is dependent on stinginess, and because of defensiveness, dependent on defensiveness, various evil, unskillful phenomena come into play: the taking up of sticks and knives; conflicts, quarrels, and disputes; accusations, divisive speech, and lies.
- Bhikkhus, there is a noble truth about the cessation of suffering. It is the complete fading away and cessation of this craving [tanha]; its abandonment and relinquishment; getting free from and being independent of it.
According to the four noble truths, cessation of taṇhā can be obtained by following the Noble Eightfold Path. Within this path, contemplating the impermanent nature of all things is regarded as a specific antidote to taṇhā.
Contrast to wholesome desire (chanda)
The Buddhist teachings contrast the reflexive, self-centered desire of taṇhā with wholesome types of desire, such as the desire to benefit others or the desire to follow the Buddhist path.[lower-alpha 3] Wholesome types of desire are traditionally identified as chanda.[lower-alpha 4]
Ajahn Sucitto states:
- Sometimes taṇhā is translated as “desire,” but that gives rise to some crucial misinterpretations with reference to the way of Liberation. As we shall see, some form of desire is essential in order to aspire to, and persist in, cultivating the path out of dukkha. Desire as an eagerness to offer, to commit, to apply oneself to meditation, is called chanda. It’s a psychological “yes,” a choice, not a pathology. In fact, you could summarize Dhamma training as the transformation of taṇhā into chanda. It’s a process whereby we guide volition, grab and hold on to the steering wheel, and travel with clarity toward our deeper well-being. So we’re not trying to get rid of desire (which would take another kind of desire, wouldn’t it). Instead, we are trying to transmute it, take it out of the shadow of gratification and need, and use its aspiration and vigor to bring us into light and clarity.
Relation to the three poisons
- Avidya or Moha (ignorance), the root of the three poisons, is also the basis for taṇhā.
- Raga (attachment) is equivalent to bhava-taṇhā (craving to be) and kāma-taṇhā (sense-craving).
- Dosa (Dvesha) (aversion) is equivalent to vibhava-taṇhā (craving not to be).
For example, in the first discourse of the Buddha, the Buddha identified tanha as the principle cause of suffering. However, his third discourse, the Fire Sermon, and other suttas, the Buddha identifies the causes of suffering as the "fires" of raga, dosa (dvesha), and moha; in the Fire Sermon, the Buddha states that nirvana is obtained by extinguishing these fires.
Relation to addiction
Taṇhā is sometimes related to the Western psychological concept of addiction. For example:
- The Dalai Lama states:
- Ron Leifer states:
- Obsessions, compulsions, and addictions are desires out of control, desires gone wild.
- Mingyur Rinpoche states:
- Christopher Titmuss states:
- [Tanha] is desire with other factors that are going along with it, which in some way or other are unhealthy. To take what’s called the three poisons of the mind: greed, it’s got desire in it, obviously; anger, violence, it has desire in it; fear, has desire in it; confusion, has desire in it. So, replication of the word is “desire” is something which is problematic, which has an impact on our own life. Stress has desire in it, worry has desire in it, anxiety, etc. And it also has its impacting consequence on others. Interview with Christopher Titmuss
Symbolic representations of
Taṇhā is sometimes identified as one of Māra's three daughters, along with Arati (Boredom), and Rāga (Passion). In some accounts of the Buddha's enlightenment, it is said that the demon Māra sent his three daughters to tempt the Buddha to give up his quest.
In a similar fashion, in Sn 436 (Saddhatissa, 1998, p. 48), taṇhā is personified as one of Death's four armies (senā) along with desire (kāmā), aversion (arati) and hunger-thirst (khuppipāsā).
Translating the term tanha
The term tanha is sometimes translated as "craving" or "desire". However, some translators prefer to leave the term taṇhā untranslated. For example, Smith and Novak emphasize the difficulty of translating this term as follows:
- The cause of life’s dislocation is tanha. Again, imprecisions of translations—all are to some degree inaccurate—make it wise to stay close to the original word. Tanha is usually translated as “desire.” There is some truth in this, but if we try to make “desire” tanha’s equivalent, we run into difficulties. To begin with, the equivalence would make this Second Truth unhelpful, for to shut down desires, all desires, in our present state would be to die, and to die is not to solve life’s problem. But beyond being unhelpful, the claim of equivalence would be flatly wrong, for there are some desires the Buddha explicitly advocated—the desire for liberation, for example, or for the happiness of others.
- Avidyā (Buddhism)
- Buddhism and psychology
- Chanda (Buddhism)
- Kleshas (Buddhism)
- Three poisons (Buddhism)
- Twelve Nidanas
- Pali discourses that use this three-fold typology include DN 15, DN 22, MN 44, SN 22.22, SN 22.103, SN 22.104, SN 22.105, SN 38.10, SN 39.10, SN 45.170, SN 56.11, SN 56.13 and SN 56.14.
- Regarding the English translations of the Pali words kāma, bhava and vibhava, the English terms "sensuality," "becoming" and "no becoming" are typical of Thanissaro Bhikkhu and can be found, for instance, in his translation of DN 15 (Thanissaro, 1997). The terms "sensual pleasures," "existence" and "extermination" can be found, for instance, throughout Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation of the Samyutta Nikaya (2000, pp. 872, 963, 1298, 1562, 1844, 1848). Walshe (1995, p. 346) uses "sensual," "existence" and "non-existence" in his translation of the Mahasatipatthana Sutta (DN 22). Ajahn Sucitto used the terms "sense-craving", "craving to be", "craving not to be"; see Ajahn Succito (2010), Kindle Location 943.
- The Buddhist tradition identifies two types of desire:
- Dalai Lama states: "There are two types of desire: One type is without reason and is mixed with the afflictive emotions. The second type views what is good as good and seeks to achieve it. This latter type of desire is right, and it is in terms of it that a practitioner engages in practice. Similarly, the pursuit of material progress based on the perception that it can serve humankind and is therefore good is also correct."
- Smith and Novak state: "Tanha is usually translated as “desire.” There is some truth in this, but if we try to make “desire” tanha’s equivalent, we run into difficulties. To begin with, the equivalence would make this Second Truth unhelpful, for to shut down desires, all desires, in our present state would be to die, and to die is not to solve life’s problem. But beyond being unhelpful, the claim of equivalence would be flatly wrong, for there are some desires the Buddha explicitly advocated—the desire for liberation, for example, or for the happiness of others."
- The authors Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-5, ibid., pp. 275-6, entry for "Chanda") present an alternate definition; they assert that "chanda has both positive and negative connotations; as a vice, it is often associated with rāga (lust)."
- Taṇhā and avidya (ignorance) can be related to the three poisons:
- Peter Harvey states: "This teaches that everything internal and external to a person is ‘burning’ with the ‘fires’ of attachment, hatred (raga, dosa (Skt dvesha)) and delusion (moha) and of birth, ageing and death. Here the ‘fires’ refer both to the causes of dukkha and to dukkha itself. Attachment (i.e. sensual and other forms of lust) and hatred are closely related to craving for things and craving to be rid of things, and delusion is synonymous with spiritual ignorance. Nirvana during life is frequently defined as the destruction of these three ‘fires’ or defilements (e.g. S.IV. 251 (BW. 364; EB. 3.4.1))."
- Rupert Gethin relates tanha to aversion and ignorance as follows: "The psychological relationship of aversion to craving is not hard to see. Unfulfilled craving and frustrated attachment become the conditions for aversion, anger, depression, hatred, and cruelty and violence which are in themselves quite manifestly unpleasant (duḥkha as pain) and in turn bring further suffering. But what about doubt, agitation, and ignorance? Developed Buddhist thought understands these states as having an important psychological relationship. Even in the absence of craving and aversion, we view the world through a mind that is often fundamentally unclear, unsettled, and confused. Not surprisingly we fail to see things as they truly are. At this point it begins to become quite apparent just how and why craving leads to suffering. There is a discrepancy between our craving and the world we live in, between our expectations and the way things are. We want the world to be other than it is. Our craving is based on a fundamental misjudgement of the situation; a judgement that assumes that when our craving gets what it wants we will be happy, that when our craving possesses the objects of its desire we will be satisfied. But such a judgement in turn assumes a world in which things are permanent, unchanging, stable, and reliable. But the world is simply not like that. In short, in craving we fail to see how things truly are, and in failing to see how things truly are we crave. In other words craving goes hand in hand with a fundamental ignorance and misapprehension of the nature of the world.
- Ron Leifer relates tanha to raga and doha as follows: "Tanha itself is bibolar, divided into greed and hatred, or passion and aggression. On the one hand is the desire to have something, to possess it, to experience it, to pull it in, to own it. On the other hand is the desire to avoid something, to keep it away, reject it, renounce it, destroy it, and separate it from oneself. If we call these two poles desire and aversion, we can see more clearly that they represent the antithetical poles of taṇhā–the desire to possess and the desire to get rid of.
- Leifer relates tanha to avidya (moho) as follows: "Tanha, desire, is interwoven with avidya, ignorance, by means of the mistaken presumption that the samsaric dance of opposites is ultimate reality. Ignorance is the mother of greed and hatred because it gives them life. It rationalizes and justifies them."
- Note: Mingyur Rinpoche is specifically referring to rāga (one of the three poisons); but rāga is equivalent to kāma-taṇhā (sense-craving), one of the three channels of taṇhā.
- Walpola Sri Rahula (2007). Kindel Locations 791-809.
- Dalai Lama (1992), p. 21. (from the introduction by Jeffry Hopkins)
- Sonam Rinchen (2006), p. 11.
- Ajahn Sucitto (2010), Kindle Location 943-946
- Leifer (1997), p. 98.
- Ranjung Yeshe Wiki - Dharma Dictionary. http://rywiki.tsadra.org/index.php/sred_pa
- Gethin (1998), p. 70
- Ajahn Sucitto 2010, Kindle loc. 966-979.
- Leifer (1997), p. 101.
- Ajahn Sucitto (2010), Kindle Locations 966-979
- Dalai Lama (1992), p. 58.
- Leifer (1997), p. 102.
- Chogyam Trungpa (1972), p. 7.
- Leifer (1997), p. 96.
- Leifer (1997), p. 94.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (1997) (See in particular the discourse section entitled "Dependent on Craving").
- Ajahn Sucitto (2010), Kindle Locations 1341-1343
- Dalai Lama 2013, Kindle Locations 466-469.
- Smith & Novak 2009, p. 35.
- Ajahn Sucitto (2010), Kindle Locations 933-944
- P. A. Payutto. Buddhist Economics, Chapter 2
- Harvey 2013, p. 73.
- Gethin 1998, pp. 73-74.
- Leifer 1997, p. 96.
- Leifer 1997, p. 97.
- emphasis added
- Goleman, Daniel (2008). Kindle Location 107. (from the Forward by the Dalai Lama)
- Leifer (1997), p. 93.
- Mingyur Rinpoche (2007), p. 119
- The Buddha's Encounters with Mara the Tempter
- See, e.g., SN 4.25 (Bodhi, 2000, pp. 217-20), and Sn 835 (Saddhatissa, 1998, p. 98).
- Monier Williams, 1964, p. 454, entry for "Tṛishṇā," retrieved 2008-06-12 from "U. Cologne" at http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/MWScanpdf/mw0454-tRpAya.pdf.
- Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 294, entry for "Taṇhā," retrieved 2008-06-12 from "U. Chicago" at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.1:1:1936.pali.
- Ajahn Sucitto (2010). Turning the Wheel of Truth: Commentary on the Buddha's First Teaching. Shambhala.
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (trans.) (2000). The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Pubs. ISBN 0-86171-331-1.
- Chogyam Trungpa (1972). "Karma and Rebirth: The Twelve Nidanas, by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche." Karma and the Twelve Nidanas, A Sourcebook for the Shambhala School of Buddhist Studies. Vajradhatu Publications.
- Dalai Lama (2013), Kindness, Clarity, and Insight, Snow Lion, Kindle Edition
- Dalai Lama (1998), The Four Noble Truths, Thorsons
- Dalai Lama (1992), Hopkins, Jeffrey, ed., The Meaning of Life, Wisdom
- Gethin, Rupert (1998), Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press
- Goldstein, Joseph (2013), Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening, Sounds True, Kindle Edition
- Goleman, Daniel (2009), Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, Bantam
- Harvey, Peter (2013), An Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press
- Leifer, Ron (1997), The Happiness Project, Snow Lion
- Mingyur Rinpoche (2007), The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, Harmony Kindle Edition
- Monier-Williams, Monier (1899, 1964). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-864308-X. Retrieved 2008-06-12 from "Cologne University" at http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/index.php?sfx=pdf.
- P. A. Payutto. Buddhist Economics, A Middle Way for the Market Place Chapter 2
- Ranjung Yeshe Wiki - Dharma Dictionary. http://rywiki.tsadra.org/index.php/sred_pa (sred pa is the Tibetan term for tanha)
- Rhys Davids, T.W. & William Stede (eds.) (1921-5). The Pali Text Society’s Pali–English Dictionary. Chipstead: Pali Text Society. Retrieved 2008-06-12 from "U. Chicago" at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/pali/.
- Saddhatissa, H. (trans.) (1998). The Sutta-Nipāta. London: RoutledgeCurzon Press. ISBN 0-7007-0181-8.
- Smith, Huston; Novak, Philip (2009), Buddhism: A Concise Introduction, HarperOne, Kindle Edition
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (1997). Maha-nidana Sutta: The Great Causes Discourse (DN 15). Retrieved 2008-01-04 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.15.0.than.html.
- Walpola Sri Rahula (2007). What the Buddha Taught. Grove Press. Kindel Edition.
- Walshe, Maurice (trans.) (1995). The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Pubs. ISBN 0-86171-103-3.
- Philosophy of the Buddha by Archie J. Bahm. Asian Humanities Press. Berkeley, CA: 1993. ISBN 0-87573-025-6.
- Chapter 5 is about craving, and discusses the difference between taṇhā and chanda.
- "Nietzsche and Buddhism: A Study in Nihilism and Ironic Affinities" by Robert Morrison. Oxford University Press, 1998.
- Chapter 10 is a comparison between Nietzsche's Will to Power and Tanha, which gives a very nuanced and positive explanation of the central role tanha plays in the Buddhist path.
- The Buddhist View of Human Nature
- Why We Are All Addicted; Andrew Weil, MD
- A Buddhist View of Addiction
- Practicing for the extinction of kilesa-tanhā (palikanon.com)
- Ranjung Yeshe wiki entry for sred pa
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