The MahaNidana Sutta says

“Ānanda, if one is asked: ‘Is clinging due to a specific condition?’ one should say: ‘It is.’ If one is asked: ‘Through what condition is there clinging?’ one should say: ‘With craving as condition there is clinging.’’

So the cause of attachment is desire. However, my question is

Can desire without the attachment still lead to suffering?

  • 1
    Desire without attachment arises only when the mind is in one of the four bramha viharas. Such desire is obviously not going to lead to suffering. Of course with wisdom ordinary desires with attachment can be greatly attenuated, so relief is easy, but it will still be a slightly sticky mind.
    – Buddho
    Aug 24, 2015 at 11:07
  • 1
    @Buddho Short though that is, I think that's an answer and not just a comment.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 24, 2015 at 12:27
  • Anagami (no returner?) has no Attachment. ("Kamaraga"). Although he can gain "Niroda Samapaththi", he left delusion. Not Perceive "Sunnata" yet. He feels "things are". so some sort of suffering can be, when not in samadi.(Jana).
    – Shrawaka
    Aug 24, 2015 at 12:36
  • @chrisw I added it as a comment because I couldn't give a substantial answer from my phone. I would like to add as answers only those I spend time to develop into a well researched piece.
    – Buddho
    Aug 24, 2015 at 14:38

3 Answers 3


Can desire without the attachment still lead to suffering?

When attachment is ceased desire is ceased. When desire is ceased, suffering is ceased.

This should be understood correctly. The statement "When attachment is ceased desire is ceased" does not mean that a person devoid of attachment, has no desires. Desire is still present, but the person can freely choose what he wishes to desire. His desires are not conditioned by past kamma anymore. So, when he notices "oh this is suffering", he simply frees himself from these desires which cause this same suffering, to the point when he is completely liberated from suffering.

Desire without attachment can still lead to suffering, but this suffering is short lived, because a person with non-attachment can easily free himself from this same desire. That's how a person free from attachment identifies desires that cause him suffering. By seeing and knowing desires that lead to suffering, he acquires wisdom about his own suffering and stops it completely.

An enlightened being is free from all desires that cause him suffering. He could choose to be unwise and desire to suffer, but he chooses not to because he knows "suffering creates more suffering". Thus, because he doesn't want to create more suffering, he chooses to completely stop suffering. By seeing and knowing "suffering creates more suffering", he acquires wisdom about his own suffering and the suffering of other beings and minimizes it as much as he can.


Can desire without the attachment still lead to suffering? . . YES
The MahaNidana Sutta says
Ānanda, if one is asked: ‘Are aging and death due to a specific condition?’ one should say: ‘They are.’ If one is asked: ‘Through what condition is there aging and death?’ one should say: ‘With birth as condition there is aging and death.’
“Ānanda, if one is asked: ‘Is birth due to a specific condition?’ one should say: ‘It is.’ If one is asked: ‘Through what condition is there birth?’ one should say: ‘With existence as condition there is birth.’

So aging and death(Suffering) <-- birth <--existence <--clinging (attachment) <--craving (desire) <--feeling <-- contact <-- mentality-materiality <-- consciousness <--mentality-materiality

“Ānanda, if one is asked: ‘Is consciousness due to a specific condition?’ one should say: ‘It is.’ If one is asked: ‘Through what condition is there consciousness?’ one should say: ‘With mentality-materiality as condition there is consciousness.’

Hence consciousness << == >> mentality-materiality (FORM)

“Thus, Ānanda, with mentality-materiality as condition there is consciousness; with consciousness as condition there is mentality-materiality; with mentality-materiality as condition there is contact; with contact as condition there is feeling; with feeling as condition there is craving; with craving as condition there is clinging; with clinging as condition there is existence; with existence as condition there is birth; and with birth as condition, aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair come to be. Such is the origin of this entire mass of suffering.

This is interdependent state.
Q1). What is desire without the attachment mean?
Q2). In what situations this happen?
Q3). If the interdependency exist that situation?
Q4). Whit are the situations the interdependency not exist?

Anyway if interdependency is, then the suffering may arise.

for example infant child (without attachment-"kama") will suffer future..

  • Does this answer say, "yes desire without attachment leads to suffering" or does it say "there is no desire without attachment because they're interdependent"? Also I'm not sure what you mean by "interdependent": is your explanation of "interdependent" different from this answer which says, "the twelve links of dependent origination are talking about necessary causation, not sufficient causation"?
    – ChrisW
    Aug 24, 2015 at 10:42
  • I used "Interdependent" for Patichchasamuthpada. their is no equality.
    – Shrawaka
    Aug 24, 2015 at 13:13

The question is

Can desire without the attachment still lead to suffering?

We have at least one concrete example of a negative answer to this question, from the Theravāda tradition which is the case of dhammachanda - desire for the Dhamma. This kind of desire, does not result in attachment or suffering. Quite the opposite. There is also the desire for the well-being of others that is such a vital part of Mahāyāna Buddhist practice.

It is certainly possible for someone to experience the attractive aspect of a sense experience without trying to grasp it. We do not noticeably grasp after every single pleasant experience we have for example. Some simply come and go. But the tendency which associates happiness with pleasant sense experience runs very deep and in practice we are usually grasping after some pleasant experience - trying to prevent it ceasing, or trying to recapture it through repetition. So desire without attachment is in fact extremely rare.

In the Theravāda model of the fetters, desire for sense experience (kāmarāga) is the 4th of the ten fetters (saṃyojana), but more subtle kinds of desire also exist, 6th is desire for material existence (rūparāga) and 7th is desire for immaterial existence (arūparāga). A once returner has weakened the 4th and 5th fetters; a non-returner has broken them, but is still subject to the more subtle forms of craving. Only the Arahant is entirely free from craving.

Mahāyāna Buddhists use a different model - the ten bodhisatva bhūmis. As one progresses through the bhūmis or "levels". The first bhūmi involves a very strong desire to help all beings to be liberated (bodhicitta). Since bodhicitta involves a direct experience of śūnyatā or emptiness, even the beginning bodhisatva is already free from the grosser aspects of desire. Through success stages the bodhisatva purifies their mind and their karma, through the practice of the six perfections, until they are completely free of any negative mental events.

Note that the two models are almost complete unrelated. Sometimes answers to questions like this are given in strongly sectarian terms - as though, for example, the Theravāda model is the only possible way of seeing the answer. For Buddhism as a whole this is always a distortion - sectarian views are seldom representative of Buddhists as a whole.

What we find in practice, however, is that these models are highly hypothetical and theoretical and can be entirely unrelated to one's experience of progress in the spiritual life. If I may be permitted an anecdote from my own life, I used to eat meat. I even worked in a butchers shop when I was a student (mostly cleaning, but also making small goods like sausages). I loved eating meat. But later when I discovered Buddhism I took on being a vegetarian, at first for ideological reasons, then later because I came to love animals. More than 20 years later I now never crave meat. I am entirely cured of any desire or attachment to eating the stuff. I find the very idea disgusting. I never knowingly eat anything that has or had neurons. Even if I was to cease being a Buddhist, I cannot imagine ever eating meat, except perhaps in the direst emergency (I feel about meat the way most people feel about cannibalism). So it is entirely possible to break some attachments, while still operating in a mode which is underpinned by patterns of desire and attachment.

One can gradually reduce the amount of desire one experiences - especially, I think, as one gets older and the blood cools. And as far as I know, there is no discussion of this phenomenon in any Buddhist text. Buddhists tend to present desire in terms of idealised models involving desire being an all or nothing proposition. I think we need to be wary of any kind of absolute, or any opinion stated as "Truth". We Buddhists all too often seem to fall for our own propaganda.


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