And how does one be free from craving food without starving to death ?


6 Answers 6


Hunger is not "craving" (tanha, technical Buddhist term). Craving is basically when you are in whatever state you are (let's call that X) and you imagine (visualize) some other state Y. And then you label Y as "desirable" and strongly wish that you were there, and then by inference state X becomes "unacceptable", hence you experience [mental/emotional] suffering. Makes sense?

Hunger is just a signal you get from your body: "need food". Craving is conceptual, hunger is not. Craving involves judging, taking sides. Hunger is just raw sensation.

  • 1
    What about thinking what you will have for dinner, how you will cook it ? Dec 5, 2017 at 12:12
  • 2
    If it becomes obsessive, sure. If you'd rather be there than here, and go over the scene again and again, that's craving and clinging.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Dec 5, 2017 at 13:33
  • Who says beyond conceptual thinking of an unreleased being? Any relayable to add?
    – user11235
    Dec 10, 2017 at 5:01

And how does one be free from craving food without starving to death ?


From karuṇā and paññā.

  • Through his wisdom the bodhisattva perfects within himself the character of a Buddha, through his compassion the ability to perform the work of a Buddha. Through wisdom he brings himself across (the stream of becoming), through compassion he leads others across. Through wisdom he understands the suffering of others, through compassion he strives to alleviate their suffering. Through wisdom he becomes disenchanted with suffering, through compassion he accepts suffering. Through wisdom he aspires for nibbāna, through compassion he remains in the round of existence. Through compassion he enters saṃsāra, through wisdom he does not delight in it. Through wisdom he destroys all attachments, but because his wisdom is accompanied by compassion he never desists from activity that benefits others. Through compassion he shakes with sympathy for all, but because his compassion is accompanied by wisdom his mind is unattached. Through wisdom he is free from "I-making" and "mine-making," through compassion he is free from lethargy and depression.

    So too, through wisdom and compassion respectively, he becomes his own protector and the protector of others, a sage and a hero, one who does not torment himself and one who does not torment others, one who promotes his own welfare and the welfare of others, fearless and a giver of fearlessness, dominated by consideration for the Dhamma and by consideration for the world, grateful for favors done and forward in doing favors for others, devoid of delusion and devoid of craving, accomplished in knowledge and accomplished in conduct, possessed of the powers and possessed of the grounds of self-confidence.


"How, O monks, should the nutriment edible food be considered? Suppose a couple, husband and wife, have set out on a journey through the desert, carrying only limited provisions. They have with them their only son, dearly beloved by them. Now, while these two traveled through the desert, their limited stock of provisions ran out and came to an end, but there was still a stretch of desert not yet crossed. Then the two thought: 'Our small stock of provisions has run out, it has come to an end; and there is still a stretch of desert that is not yet crossed. Should we not kill our only son, so dearly beloved, prepare dried and roasted meat, and eating our son's flesh, we may cross in that way the remaining part of the desert, lest all three of us perish?'>


When it comes to talking about “craving” (tanha), it is important to take note of a major difference between tanha and sankhara, the cause of tanha (and other mental states): The fact that tanha is conscious (while sankhara is not) prevents an easy understanding of tanha. Sankhara consists of the unconscious mental processes that cause us to make sense of things and to do things that makes sense to us. Strictly speaking, it is unwholesome sankhara that cause the confusion called suffering. Tanha actually means unwholesome motivation caused by unwholesome sankhara. Desire or craving is only one form of tanha. As with the English translation of many Pali and Sanskrit terms, replacing one word with one word can be seriously misleading. Once a person understands the concept of sankhara, it is obvious that hunger and thirst are not caused by sankhara and one has no need to ask questions about the nature of hunger and thirst. The Pali Text Society Pali-English dictionary provides two definitions for tanha: (1) a “literal meaning” in which it means “tormented by hunger and thirst” and (2) a “secondary meaning” in which it means “a state of mind that leads to rebirth.” The two definitions are not interchangeable, as some translators seem to think.


Yes and no.

  • No -- I think that Buddhism distinguishes between (unwholesome) "craving", and (possibly wholesome) "desire".
  • Yes -- I think that food, for example, can be (though isn't necessarily) an object of craving.

Something similar is true for "thirst":

  • "Thirst" is literally a synonym for (unwholesome or unfortunate) craving -- see tanha.
  • It's alternatively a physical need, or "requisite" (and therefore a component of "the holy life").

For a more detailed explanation of craving, see answers to this topic (and the four noble truths).

One of these things is not like the others: although I suppose that reproduction can be, however it does not have to be, considered a "survival drive" in the same category as food and drink. In particular I think that Buddhist dhamma sees food and drink as necessities, but not sex. Monks are expected to need food and drink, but to be celibate -- see for example this sutta for more details.

There's a description is this sutta of how Gotama tried doing without food, or with extremely little food -- and didn't find that resulted in the enlightenment he was looking for, didn't find it conducive to the Enlightenment he was seeking:

But with this racking practice of austerities I haven't attained any superior human state, any distinction in knowledge or vision worthy of the noble ones. Could there be another path to Awakening?'

"I thought: 'I recall once, when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities — I entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. Could that be the path to Awakening?'

In the first thing he said in the first discourse he gave after enlightenment:

There are these two extremes that are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth. Which two? That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects: base, vulgar, common, ignoble, unprofitable; and that which is devoted to self-affliction: painful, ignoble, unprofitable. Avoiding both of these extremes, the middle way realized by the Tathagata — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.

These two extremes, bhikkhus, should not be adopted by one who has gone forth from the home life. Which two? On one hand, the devotion to hedonism towards kāma (sensuality), which is inferior, vulgar, common, an·ariya (ignoble), deprived of benefit, and on the other hand the devotion to self-mortification, which is dukkha (painful), an·ariya, deprived of benefit. Without going to these two extremes, bhikkhus, the Tathāgata has fully awaken to the majjhima paṭipada (Middle Way), which produces vision, which produces ñāṇa (knowledge), and leads to appeasement, to abhiñña (higher/direct knowledge), to sambodhi (true awakening), to Nibbāna.

So, there's some answer to your question in the doctrine of the Middle Way.

Several suttas (including AN 4.37, AN 4.159, and MN 2) advise eating, not with the intention of creating a feeling of fullness, but only with the intention of removing the feeling of hunger:

And how does a monk know moderation in eating? There is the case where a monk, considering it appropriately, takes his food not playfully, nor for intoxication, nor for putting on bulk, nor for beautification, but simply for the survival & continuance of this body, for ending its afflictions, for the support of the holy life, thinking, 'I will destroy old feelings [of hunger] & not create new feelings [from overeating]. Thus I will maintain myself, be blameless, & live in comfort.' This is how a monk knows moderation in eating.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ChrisW
    Dec 8, 2017 at 14:14
  • The Buddha distinguishes between different kind of craving, "Buddhism" might do such as well. Aside of good craving (for release), and bad torwad world, there are cravings which might be useful to maintain a certain existence to go beyond. It's propable not conductive to think that hunger is a positive graving since it should merely work as a drive to go beyond. So hunger is like suffering good and required to go beyound it. The statement "only with the intention of removing the feeling of hunger" might be excuse for many things. So maybe some fine adjusting in the answer would be good.
    – user11235
    Dec 10, 2017 at 5:12
  • I added a reference (to a sutta) about "feelings" of hunger. Whether hunger is a craving could be complicated: in my opinion a desire to never be hungry might be vibhava-taṇhā; and people can also have sensual cravings causing overeating ... but it's too simplistic to say, "hunger is a craving" if that implies "starving to death" as asked in the OP (I'm not sure but I think that's a Jain doctrine, whereas Buddhism teaches the Middle Way instead).
    – ChrisW
    Dec 10, 2017 at 7:39
  • "desire to never be hungry might be vibhava-taṇhā" really? Being free of craving seems to be aversive for Chris? Why? Freedom? Staring consciously to death in an desire for not-becoming, yes, that would be foulish. But to let nature take it's cause, giving one remainders just as a field of merits, let it be the cause of others where it goes, such is peaceful and free. Neither in live nor death one delights. But it's not the place for extended discussions. Doors are open on other lanes. Common translation of tanha is hunger or thirst: craving, longing after, grasping, hoping after, this or that
    – user11235
    Dec 10, 2017 at 7:50

There are 3 parts of basic survival drives, in paṭiccasamuppāda.

  1. One in vipāka-vaṭṭa (fruit), it is physical painful feeling, such as touch-feeling in hungry, happened at physical organs, such as touch-sense-organ. Both are fruit arose by kamma, called kāma-uppatti-bhava.

No one can stop this basic survival drive part of paṭiccasamuppāda except anupādisesa-nibbāna, nibbāna after arahanta's death.

  1. One in kilesa-vaṭṭa (unwholesome), it is kāma-taṇhā', that is called kāma-string in mahādukkhakkhandha-sutta.

The practitioner can perfect stop this basic survival drive part by magga-kamma, Eightfold Path.

  1. Another in kamma-vaṭṭa (karmma), it is called kāma-kamma-bhava/saṅkhāra.

The practitioner can perfect stop this basic survival drive part by magga-kamma, Eightfold Path.


In Buddhism, it says that hunger, thirst, and reproduction as old habits. When craving (Tanha) for old habits they become new habits hence rebirth.

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