The Four Noble Truths are defined in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta as:

"The Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha), monks, is this: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, association with the unpleasant is suffering, dissociation from the pleasant is suffering, not to receive what one desires is suffering — in brief the five aggregates subject to grasping are suffering.

"The Noble Truth of the Origin (cause) of Suffering is this: It is this craving (thirst) which produces re-becoming (rebirth) accompanied by passionate greed, and finding fresh delight now here, and now there, namely craving for sense pleasure, craving for existence and craving for non-existence (self-annihilation).

"The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering is this: It is the complete cessation of that very craving, giving it up, relinquishing it, liberating oneself from it, and detaching oneself from it.

"The Noble Truth of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering is this: It is the Noble Eightfold Path, and nothing else, namely: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

From this, it is widely assumed that to end suffering, we must end craving and that's it.

However, according to SN45.179 and SN45.180, it is not just craving that must be ended, but also the ten fetters, through the Noble Eightfold Path.

“Bhikkhus, there are these five lower fetters. What five? Identity view, doubt, the distorted grasp of rules and vows, sensual desire, ill will. These are the five lower fetters. This Noble Eightfold Path is to be developed for direct knowledge of these five lower fetters, for the full understanding of them, for their utter destruction, for their abandoning.”

“Bhikkhus, there are these five higher fetters. What five? Lust for form, lust for the formless, conceit, restlessness, ignorance. These are the five higher fetters. The Noble Eightfold Path is to be developed for direct knowledge of these five higher fetters, for the full understanding of them, for their utter destruction, for their abandoning.

So, why is craving singled out in the third noble truth, rather than including all of the ten fetters?

4 Answers 4


Craving cannot be eliminated at will. You need to do something to eliminate it. That is what the fourth noble truth is about. In other words, one needs to cultivate wisdom to eliminate craving. Elimination/weakening of fetters are the mileposts of developing wisdom.


raga, tanha, nandhi, (or desire) is reason in rebirth, renewal, becoming-and that is the direct cause of suffering.

Desires for things in 3 categories:

  • sense pleasures,
  • craving for existence,
  • and vibhava(craving for non-existence) (Buddha didnt explain in detail of what craving for non-existence is, tho many teachers tried to fill in .

I believe desires in three categories can be explained with ten fetters. craving for sense pleasures is about lower fetters, and craving for existence and non-existence is all about higher fetters.


Ending of fetters is included in the Fourth Noble Truth - the Eightfold Noble Path leading to cessation of suffering.

Unsatisfied craving (tanha) and clinging/sustenance (upadana) are singled out because they are the immediate causes of dukkha, while everything else (illusion of self and the fetters) serves as the support/foundation but is not the direct cause.

In other words, craving is singled out because suffering is singled out. And suffering is singled out because it's the most obvious difference between Samsara and Nirvana, it is what we all have in common, so it's a good point to start.

However, cessation of suffering is just one aspect of The Goal. The other aspect is Bodhi - awakening. If we remember awakening we can see that cessation of craving is not enough, there has to be realization or insight. And achievement of that insight is what most of the Noble Path is about.

  • This is definitely a Mahayana answer as opposed to Sankha's Theravada answer. From my understanding, the Theravada purpose of Bodhi is using wisdom to end suffering. There is no other purpose. And the only difference between Samsara and Nirvana in Theravada is anicca and dukkha.
    – ruben2020
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 7:36

The third noble truth explains the nature of the cessation of suffering, which is the cessation of craving. When craving is absent, the mind is cool & peaceful (Nibbana) because craving is hot & agitated.

Each fetter, except ignorance, if not a form of craving, is a form of attachment & thus has craving has its preceding condition. Dependent Origination explains the preceding condition of attachment is craving. Therefore, naturally, ending craving will end of each fetter (except ignorance).

As for ignorance, as explained at the end of SN 22.59, the sole purpose of ending ignorance is to end craving, i.e., manifest dispassion, as follows:

Seeing thus, bhikkhus, the instructed noble disciple experiences revulsion towards form, revulsion towards feeling, revulsion towards perception, revulsion towards volitional formations, revulsion towards consciousness. Experiencing revulsion, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion his mind is liberated.

SN 22.59

It follows Nibbana is the destruction of craving. There is actually no other way to describe it.

Dhp 154. O house-builder, you are seen! You will not build this house again. For your rafters are broken and your ridgepole shattered. My mind has reached the Unconditioned; I have attained the destruction of craving.

Above, the house-builder is 'craving' & the house built is 'ego-existence' ('jati'). Yet the view of the questioner is probably 'backwards', i.e., the questioner probably believes ego produces craving rather than craving produces ego. If this is true, the questioner should urgently refer to SN 12.12:

Who, O Lord, craves?"

"The question is not correct," said the Exalted One. "I do not say that 'he craves.' Had I said so, then the question 'Who craves?' would be appropriate. But since I did not speak thus, the correct way to ask the question will be 'What is the condition of craving?' And to that the correct reply is: 'Feeling is the condition of craving, and craving is the condition of clinging.'

SN 12.12

These confusions arise when there is belief in reincarnation, such as believing 'bhava' & 'jati' are reincarnation. When this reincarnation belief is held, there is the belief a 'self' reincarnates and a 'self' produces craving. But in the true teachings, 'bhava' & 'jati' are mere 'self-views', which are products of craving; and which is why each fetter (except ignorance) has craving as its preceding condition. Thus by ending craving, each fetter is ended; which includes ending ignorance because, when the mind sees with clear wisdom that having no craving is peaceful, ignorance also ends in respect to what real Nibbana is.

But in Buddhism today, especially in Mahayana but also in Theravada, there are all kinds of erroneous wrong views that 'non-thinking' or 'non-conceptuality' is Nibbana. This shows when the end of craving is not seen clearly, ignorance remains. Thus the end of craving also ends ignorance.

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