I understand that the active seeking of sensual pleasure is not seen as good, but it's not clear to me whether it should be actively avoided.

I was preparing some noodles to eat this morning and inside the pack was a sachet of flavouring. I pondered upon this for a moment; should I add it to the food?

The following thoughts occurred in favour of adding the flavour:

  • I am eating the noodles for the purpose of feeding the body, not for the sensual pleasure. Why not add it?

  • Deliberately depriving oneself of the little sensual pleasure there is in a meal could be regarded as self-mortification.

The following thoughts occurred in opposition of adding the flavour:

  • Does the very notion of considering this only highlight my craving of sensual pleasure?

  • Why should I feel compelled to add the flavouring for reasons other than nutritional value?

I am interested in whether any Buddhist teachings directly address this sensual pleasure in such a situation, and more broadly whether sensual pleasures should be actively avoided in such a manner.

  • 1
    Carefulness is advised in rejecting sensual pleasures for laypeople. It can build up a lot of aversion in the mind. The Buddha said that until he reached the jhanas he could not abandon sensual pleasures. One can enjoy sensual pleasures with care as to not become obssessed. The minds needs to be happy to be healthy and a mind deprived of sensual pleasures will not be happy.
    – user4878
    Jul 29, 2016 at 17:13
  • Be moderate about your sensual pleasures. The key for ending craving for sensual pleasures is to experience a higher pleasure of concentration. Then the mind will be automatically attracted to this new pleasure. Practice metta. In my experience, the practice of metta brings a higher pleasure (higher than the sensual pleasures). May 25, 2023 at 13:35

4 Answers 4


Reading your post, i remembered the Middle Way or the Noble Eightfold Path as a path of moderation, between the extremes, any sensorial pleasure provokes addiction if not moderated.

In the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, it reads:

these two extremes ought not to be practiced by one who has gone forth from the household life. (What are the two?) There is addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures, which is low, coarse, the way of ordinary people, unworthy, and unprofitable; and there is addiction to self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable.

Avoiding both these extremes, the Tathagata (the Perfect One) has realized the Middle Path

Depending on the spiritual tradition, some are more strict on interpreting moderation, and some like my own have a stronger focus on the self conscience: If you are mindful your unconscious urges will be apparent to you, and you will know what causes suffering to you and what does not.

Having said so, Monastics were advised in the 8 precepts not to indulge in any sensual pleasures, because I believe Budha regarded that as a problem if one was to attain enlightenment since it is so prone to cravings which will result in suffering.

In the Kamma Sutta:

If one, longing for sexual pleasure, achieves it, yes, he's enraptured at heart. The mortal gets what he wants. But if for that person — longing, desiring — the pleasures diminish, he's shattered, as if shot with an arrow.

For lay people it is recommended in the 5 precepts to abstain from sexual misconduct, which along with some guidelines more or less sprinkled in the Buddhist literature, I believe it should be interpreted in light of cultural and traditional practices, or even the self own conscience.

Citations from here:

Noble Eightfold Path

Buddhism and sexuality

Five Precepts

  • Thank you. Could you further elaborate on what you mean by "moderation" (not in the literal sense, in the teaching sense)? It seems to me upon reflection that any indulgence would provoke the addiction.
    – OMGtechy
    Jul 29, 2016 at 12:03
  • In the teaching sense it will depend on the spiritual tradition, some traditions are more strict, others like my own have a stronger focus on the self conscience. If you are mindful your unconscious urges will be apparent to you, and you will know what causes suffering to you. Hope this helps
    – Luis
    Jul 29, 2016 at 12:11
  • It does help, thank you. If you edit your answer to include this I may accept it after others have been given a chance to give an alternative.
    – OMGtechy
    Jul 29, 2016 at 12:14
  • Glad it helped. May you be free from suffering. Metta
    – Luis
    Jul 29, 2016 at 12:21

I think that's an advanced/difficult question.

In summary I think it's recommended that you to avoid becoming 'attached' to sensual pleasure[s]. Seeking (sensual) pleasure (i.e. 'thirsting' or 'craving' for pleasure) might be a symptom of and a precursor to being attached to it. And 'contact' with objects, from which arise 'feelings' of pleasure, might lead to 'craving' and 'attachment'.

I think the above is part of the theory of the Twelve Nidānas (sense base -> contact -> feeling -> craving -> attachment).

I'm not sure but maybe theoretically you can break the chain anywhere: if you avoid contact for example then it doesn't arise; or if you have contact but avoid feeling; or etc.

Food is a difficult subject partly because (unlike sex, drugs, music, money) it isn't possible to avoid contact.

I guess that to the extent that monastics eat what they're given, they don't choose it and so it's easier to see it as uncontrolled/non-self/impermanent -- not a karmic act maybe (not an act of will) -- nothing to worry about (though this about "not worrying" is more-or-less idealistic on my part -- in practice they cope with hunger).

Another reason why I assume that this topic is difficult is because, according to the Four stages of enlightenment, "freedom from sensual desire" is associated with one of the last two stages.

Here is an annotated version of the Sekha Sutta (which Saptha Visuddhi's answer recommended). It begins to explain terms like "one whose sense-doors are guarded". Even so it might require more to understand, for example it says "he grasps neither its sign nor its detail" which supposes you understand the word "sign" (which is annotated in a footnote but also mentioned in the introduction to this Sutta Discovery essay).

It's possible that you'll find basic teaching helpful: "Thinking about food but don't get attached to the thought, let it go, keep breathing" or "This is the arising of stress, and the cessation of stress" or "Not me or mine" etc.

You mentioned "mortification" but, in English anyway, I think that means literally "putting to death" i.e. it's an extreme. Foregoing a useless snack isn't necessarily it. I think the theory is that by avoiding attachment/craving for sensual pleasure you can avoid suffering and find a more lasting ease. Mortification is wrong but (for monks, more or less 'advanced') something like disillusionment/revulsion (Nibbidā) is recommended in various of the Pali suttas.

  • I think the teaching varies with the school and the student: e.g. to start with you're meant to avoid attachment (to what you're attracted to), then (later) some schools want you to avoid or free yourself from aversion -- see this answer for example and these answers -- so you may get seemingly mutually contradictory answers unless you know e.g. which school you're asking (and perhaps for what kind of student).
    – ChrisW
    Jul 31, 2016 at 14:04

The scriptures tell us that all beings subsist on food. So we have to eat. But there is a big difference between live to eat and eat to live. That’s why there is a precept for monks against eating after noon or before dawn. It is there for them to not give into pleasures of taste. So it is OK to taste the tastes, but being mindful about is, as in how Buddha advised Mahànàma, on how does the noble disciple partake food reflecting? .

The discourse “where there is passion” in Samyutta Nikaya or Atthi Raga Sutta Buddha says that there are four kinds of nutriments. One is material or physical, while the other three are mental nutriments. It is important that we understand these four nutriments clearly to understand how they nourish us resulting in rebirth. Also it will answer your next question. Of course you should add the flavour. Also you should have the full awareness when you taste the flavour. This is how my teacher, Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thero, explained it:

” To understand this factor, I will explain in this manner. Our consciousness is with the physical food we consume. For example, do we have a desire for food? Yes, we have. Do we not derive pleasure from what we eat? Yes, we do. Do we have a passion for what we eat? Yes, we do. Thus our mind is attached to the food. When our mind is attached, consciousness arises and grows. It grows like a tree. Therefore the cause for the growth of consciousness is passion, delight or pleasure and craving. When consciousness arises, mentality-materiality (nama rupa) alights. We will try to understand what this means in the following manner. For example, we see some tasty food. Then what happens in our mind? The food was something that we saw from our eyes. What happens next? We develop a desire to consume it. Therefore desire for taste has arisen. Then what happens? We feel like buying it, to cook it, to taste its flavour. What has grown is consciousness. When consciousness arises, mentality-materiality is established. When we see some tasty food or think of food, there is secretion of saliva. What does it mean? It is a reaction in our body - contact and feelings have arisen automatically. There are six factors that manifest itself. The four elements that constitute our body - the material phenomena (rupa); contact (phassa), feeling (vedana), perception (sanna), volition (cetana) and attentiveness (manasikara).”

”If you think carefully you would realize this happens when our thoughts are with food. As we think of food, before we could flutter an eyelid, desire for food arises and consciousness is established. Then mentality-materiality alights. Where mentality-materiality alights, there is the growth of fabrications resulting in the ‘kamma’ process, and thus renewed becoming and rebirth results. Birth results in ageing, sickness and death, and sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair.”

”In the same way the Tathagatha has explained the nutriment of physical food to be regarded. It should be for sustenance and not for its passion, delight or desire. To cultivate one’s mind in this manner is difficult but not impossible. In the modern world we are often misled by the propaganda to promote the sale of various kinds of food. The mentality of our society is to satisfy man’s senses and desires. Food advertisements often rouse our desires and they do not show reality. That is why the Buddha said when one consumes food one should not think that the food consumed is to gain strength, sensual desire or to be athletic. We should consume food with the thought that it is for sustenance. This would help in our moral training and would also help in the development of mindfulness. We should think that food is subject to change, is impermanent, it gets spoilt and perishes. Then the desire, craving for food will not arise. Then we would learn to be mindful that all conditioned things are impermanent (anicca).”

  • Thank you, I think you're right about the live to eat part; I was eating to live and there was some pleasure available as part of the process. Still not clear cut, but "food" for thought
    – OMGtechy
    Jul 31, 2016 at 13:46
  • I'm a bit busy right now, but I will try to expand on this later. With metta... Jul 31, 2016 at 14:51

The Buddha never asked us to avoid certain things for fear of getting attached. He never asked us to close our eyes so that we don't see beautiful things. Instead, what the Buddha said was to train your mind so that you don't get attached to these things.

So with the noddles, I think it's ok for you to put the flavour packet in and have a tasty meal, but while you're eating, eat it mindfully. Make sure that you don't cling to it, remember that the taste is impermanent etc.

You can also practice 'Asubha' with regards to food if you're very attached to this taste. You can think that this taste only lasts momentarily whilst it's in my tongue. After that point, you don't feel any taste at all. And imagine what happens to this food after it goes into the body and digests itself. So in that way, you can try to reduce and control your craving/ clinging to this taste, and still have pleasant meals.

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