Further to these comments, why do the Noble Truths talk about 'craving', specifically, instead of about 'attachment'?

Wouldn't they make as much sense, or even make more sense, if they identified attachment rather than craving as a condition for the types of suffering which are mentioned in the first noble truth?

  • Are you distinguishing between Taṇhā and Upādāna -- respectively craving and attachment?
    – user382
    Oct 2, 2016 at 23:33
  • Yes (at least as far as I understand those two words). The second noble truth in SN 56.11 says that taṇhā is the cause/origin of dukkha ... which I find not quite immediately obvious, because the types of suffering identified in the first noble truth seem to me to be to be more immediately associated with attachment (i.e. grasping for specific somethings).
    – ChrisW
    Oct 2, 2016 at 23:43
  • my understanding is the 2nd noble truth of 'samudhaya' is not about 'cause'. 'samudhaya' does not mean 'cause' ('hetu'); 'hetu' means a singular cause. where as 'samudhaya' can include multiple causes. it means 'complete arising'; similar to 'origination'. therefore the 'arising' of suffering is when there is craving that results in new becoming. there must be both craving & becoming for suffering to 'arise' or 'mature' or 'samudhaya'. Within that 'becoming', there is attachment (upadana). that is why is some suttas, the 12 link D.O. formula is used as the 2nd noble truth (eg. AN 3.61) Oct 3, 2016 at 10:41
  • @Dhammadhatu To attempt to be non-attached towards craving symptoms is a difficult endeavor because the craving symptoms themselves, whilst not being suffering itself, still have a tormenting or oppressive quality. --- Since you mentioned this, craving itself is NOT considered to be Dukkha? Only attachment and the subsequent loss of the object is? Regards
    – Val
    Oct 9, 2018 at 6:22

6 Answers 6


Craving (lit. "thirst", tanha) is a technical term that means that very phenomenological moment when you (here!) daydream about something (over there!). Buddha says "unsatisfied craving IS dukkha" (suffering) - note how he does not say "craving is the cause of suffering", he says "unsatisfied craving IS". That's because dukkha isn't exactly "suffering", it should be more precisely translated as "unsatisfactoriness", or, as I sometimes translate it, "the feeling of wrongness". So as you see, to say that "unsatisfied craving IS the feeling of wrongness" is almost a truism, a statement that is obviously and self-evidently true. This way Buddha not as much identifies the cause of suffering, as illustrates the nature of suffering, brings it into light and shows it upclose so we can see it for what it is. Indeed, suffering is nothing else but the painful experience of the unsatisfied craving for another experience.

As for "attachment", I feel like this is a long-standing misunderstanding that crept in since the earliest days of Buddhism, when the term upatthana/upattana (to attend) got mixed up with upadana (fuel). In my opinion, the sequence here is that what one craves for, one attends to, thereby fueling the craving. In other words, as you keep obsessing over the object of your craving, you only make it worse.

This makes it clear that upattana/upadana (to-attend/to-fuel, usually translated as clinging or attachment) is not really the direct cause of suffering, but only a sustaining factor. The direct cause of suffering is craving.

Four Noble Truths (at leat the first three) are focused on the immediate experience of suffering, as it occurs and can be ceased in the present moment. That's why they talk about craving being the cause.

The Twelve Nidanas cover the big picture: how entire experience of "I" and "The World" arises. In that context it's more appropriate to talk about Upadana being a fuel for Bhava, and Avidya being the root cause of it all. Avidya (invalid/confused understanding ~of the experience) causes reification of experience as external objects which then become the object of craving. This craving causes dukkha, sure, but more importantly for the big picture it leads to ego-centric imagination (Upadana) which leads to individuation (Bhava).

I hope this analysis of the terms and how they relate to the phenomenology of suffering clarifies the topic.


"Wouldn't they make as much sense, or even make more sense, if they identified attachment rather than craving as a condition for the types of suffering which are mentioned in the first noble truth?"

If I understand correctly, in that case it seems it would explain the origin of attachment as attachment.

In the sutta SN 56.11 in your comment dukkha itself is exemplified by a list of things:

birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering;

and summarized as:

in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.

The list of examples seems to freely mix things that can more or less swing either way as craving or attachment. But when describing the origin of dukkha, he says "craving". Though he gives a few examples afterwards, one reading is that the very presence of "craving", this identifiable and characteristic thirst independent of the object it craves, is a deeper problem, more fundamental than attachment, this being a posterior stage in the process.

Indeed, this is reflected in dependend origination:

With craving as condition, attachment comes to be.

In reverse order:

But with the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving comes cessation of attachment; with the cessation of attachment, cessation of existence [...]


It is very difficult to deal with attachment (clinging; egoism) if one has not dealt with craving. If (the urge; drive; energy of) craving is not extinguished then attachment will keep raising its ugly head.

It is like having craving symptoms towards a drug. To resolve this, the craving symptoms must be destroyed via cold turkey, otherwise the mind will continue to be tormented by the craving symptoms. To attempt to be non-attached towards craving symptoms is a difficult endeavor because the craving symptoms themselves, whilst not being suffering itself, still have a tormenting or oppressive quality. MN 148 is the only sutta I am aware of that mentions non-attachment towards craving. Most suttas mention the extinguishing of craving.

Or many men become monks but fail due to not being able to overcome sexual desires. Abstinence from sexuality & attempts at non-attachment towards sexual desire generally do not extinguish the sexual desire (craving). Thus, the life of a monk is difficult for them.

That said, attachment (upadana) is mentioned in the 1st noble truth as suffering itself. By using the word 'sankhittena', the 1st noble truth summarises all suffering as attachment (to the five aggregates), such as described in MN 140:

I am' is a construing. 'I am this' is a construing. 'I shall be' is a construing. 'I shall not be'... 'I shall be possessed of form'... 'I shall not be possessed of form'... 'I shall be percipient'... 'I shall not be percipient'... 'I shall be neither percipient nor non-percipient' is a construing. Construing is a disease, construing is a cancer, construing is an arrow. By going beyond all construing, he is said to be a sage at peace.

For example, the various sufferings that occur in relation to child-birth, living, aging, sickness, death, separation, grief, loss, etc, only occur when there is attachment involved. The sufferings of birth, aging, sickness & death do not occur when there is no attachment.

Whether the mind is attached to something (e.g. possessive) or whether the mind suffers sorrow (grief) from losing what it is attached to, both the pre-grief possessiveness & post-possessiveness-grief are suffering & bondage. (However, this can generally only be comprehended with the experience of non-attachment. Without a meditative experience of liberation via non-attachment, most people cannot comprehend attachment itself is suffering).

The 2nd noble truth does mention 'becoming', which is similar to attachment, when it describes the arising of suffering as: "craving leading to new becoming".


From the Pali dictionary from the Ven. Nyanatiloka (p. 327)

Taṇhā: (lit. ‘thirst’): ‘craving’, is the chief root of suffering, and of the evercontinuing cycle of rebirths. “What, O monks, is the origin of suffering? It is that craving which gives rise to ever-fresh rebirth and, bound up with pleasure and lust, now here, now there, finds ever fresh delight. It is the sensual craving (kāma-taṇhā), the craving for existence ( bhava-taṇhā), the craving for non-existence (vibhava-taṇhā)’’ (D. 22).

According to this explanation it becomes quite clear that taṇhā and the second Noble Truth is more a statement about the origin of suffering. The term condition doesn't really imply that. If you ask about the pure condition of suffering clinging would probably be the proper answer (according to dependent origination). But it's practically speaking more important to name the root, because that is where you tear something out by the roots (make an end to suffering).

From page 340:

Upādāna: ‘clinging’, according to Vis.M. XVII, is an intensified degree of craving (taṇhā, q.v.). The 4 kinds of clinging are: sensuous clinging (kāmūpādāna), clinging to views (ditthūpādāna), clinging to mere rules and ritual (sīlabbatūpādāna), clinging to the personality-belief (attavādūpādāna).

I think the definition of clinging as strong desire is very compact and explaining. If you look at it from a point of view of dependent origination, there is vedanā (feeling) followed by taṇhā (craving) which is the key point in this chain, because before the moment of craving the mind is still free from defilements. After this there is upādāna (clinging), but it's of the same type as craving.


Craving is not good because it is more than an unconscious attachment--it is an uncontrollable addiction... and it is an extreme form of attachment.

Attachment can be good. Having an attachment to Dharma can be good, having an attachment to truth, good words, etc. leads to unconscious inclination towards factors of the Way.

The Buddha did declare that we must have a strong attachment to Dharma and then eventually must abandon it. But he never said we need craving for anything.

Attachment to everything including the idea of attachment itself is eliminated as one dissolves into complete enlightenment.

Even the idea of eliminating this attachment-to-attachment. It might seem like just playing with words. At the ultimate state there is no such thing as attachment, no nothing and no not-nothing.

It is something to meditate on when doing vipassana to be free from mind-objects and the idea of freedom form it in itself.

  • I don't want to quibble but AN 4.159 says, "This body comes into being through craving. And yet it is by relying on craving that craving is to be abandoned."
    – ChrisW
    Oct 10, 2016 at 15:28
  • Oh that is interesting.. definitely not quibble. I dont like that passage very much. It skips over the possibility of using sexual intercourse to overcome sexual intercourse, breaking the principle of becoming free of something through it. Typical theravadin limitation.
    – Ahmed
    Oct 10, 2016 at 16:36
  • I don't understand "non-Theravada" doctrine about "using sexual intercourse to overcome sexual intercourse". There's also SN 51.15.
    – ChrisW
    Oct 10, 2016 at 18:51
  • i.e. Sexual Tantra. It is good he didn't go into that teaching because there are easily too many misconceptions about sexuality although I recommend the book "TantraCure for Men" for some excellent clarification with eastern and scientific experiment principles on the nature of this "beyond sexuality through sexuality" just like "beyond attachment through attachment" because neither are as straightforward as they sound pretty...
    – Ahmed
    Oct 11, 2016 at 4:09

I think we can show that the Noble Truths talk about both craving and attachment. We don't have to read them as craving "instead of" attachment.

First note that the Noble Truths (DN 22) describe the origination of stress as particular kind of craving, and this kind is

[b] "And what is the noble truth of the origination of stress? The craving that makes for further becoming

What AN 10.92 says specifically about the condition for suffering is a lot of things but begins with ignorance

With ignorance as a condition ... With feeling as a condition there is craving.

With craving as a condition there is clinging/sustenance.

With clinging/sustenance as a condition there is becoming.

With becoming as a condition...old age & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.

The Second Noble Truth (DN 22), identifies non-attachment ("letting go") as the condition for the cessation of stress.

[c] "And what is the noble truth of the cessation of stress? The remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving.

If the way to awakening was to simply to quit all desires (water, food, sleep, breath, chanda, etc) "cold turkey", then why would the Noble Truths tell us that "letting go" leads to cessation stress, rather than to say simply "quit food, water, breath, etc."

So I'm almost in agreement with your second question, since the condition for cessation of stress is non-attachment.

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