According to Buddhist tradition are there different types of craving? It occurs to me that the following could all be described using the English word craving

  1. Being thirsty (for water)
  2. Really wanting a new car
  3. Wistfully missing a loved one when they are temporarily absent from your life

However they do feel like they are very different things. So are there categorisations of craving within Buddhist philosophy and if so how would my examples fit into those categories.

I'm interested in answers from any tradition but I suspect that there might be some kind of list of craving within something like the Abidharma


These are great answers so far but I wonder does anyone have anything to add on a more experiential basis perhaps referencing meditation practice.

  • How do they feel like "very different things"? You sit here and you imagine something else over there. The only difference is in the object, no?
    – Andriy Volkov
    Nov 16, 2014 at 0:01
  • @AndreiVolkov I guess it's through reflection and meditation. The quality of the experience feels different to me. Thirst and wistful remembrance seem to have very different experiential qualities (to me). Maybe more reflection is required (of course it is!) Nov 16, 2014 at 13:15

5 Answers 5


Indeed, there are four levels of craving.

  1. Craving for one's life - Highest level
  2. Craving for one's organs
  3. Craving for loved ones
  4. Craving for external objects - Lowest level

Chathurarya Sathya (Four Noble truths) by Rerukane Chandawimala Thero

Craving for life arises as perceiving the five aggregates as self and this is the highest level of craving. As an example, during a natural disaster someone would first try to save his own life at any cost, then the lives of his loved ones and finally when everyone is safe, he would try to save his possessions.

From the given example, satisfying thirst may fall under first type, wanting a car falls under fourth and missing a loved one falls under the third level.

Note- The author of the book hasn't referred to any text in Pali canon whether this is a categorization of Buddha or if it appears in Abhidhamma.


If you look at dependent origination and the Nidānas closely, craving arises due to feeling. You analyze the feeling and classify it as something desirable or undesirable or neither desirable or undesirable. These cravings can be:

  • sense-craving
  • craving to be
  • craving not to be

The above can be one classification of the types of cravings along with what @dmsp mentioned.


There's an analysis on Wikipedia:

The Buddha identified three types of taṇhā:[1][4][5][6][7][a]

  • Kama-tanha (sense-craving): craving for sense objects which provide pleasant feeling, or craving for sensory pleasures.

  • Bhava-tanha (craving to be): craving to be something, to unite with an experience. This includes craving to be solid and ongoing, to be a being that has a past and a future,[8] and craving to prevail and dominate over others.

  • Vibhava-tanha (craving not to be): craving to not experience the world, and to be nothing; a wish to be separated from painful feelings.

IIRC I first met these in an English-language paraphrase of the four noble truths at the Sermon at Benares:

... the craving to have what you don't have, the craving to keep what you can't keep, the craving to live, even the craving to die ...

Looking at your example I suppose that "being thirsty" might be a craving to live, "wanting a new car" might be craving a sense-object, and "wanting your loved one" might be craving to be separated from a painful feeling of not being with them.

  • vi-bhava could also be translated as other-bhava. So, it could be craving for other-being. Such reading extends non-being connotation.
    – catpnosis
    Jul 21, 2016 at 0:41
  • I suppose "craving for the end of this" and "craving for something other than this" (or "... after this") are similar.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 21, 2016 at 0:59

One way to look at it is in terms of needs versus wants. Clearly, your body needs water. I don't know of anyone who overdoes the desire for water, so I would not call this a craving / want at all: it is just a signal from your body like the "low oil" lamp in your car. A new car versus simple transportation is a want, so this is a classic desire scenario. Look in to what the want is trying to address? You will learn a lot about yourself from this, so the evidence of the "craving" is highly beneficial. Examine, do not suppress. Wistfully thinking of others is on the line, it could be both. We do need to care for and support each other. We could want something positive-feeling from someone. This is what I found to be the very hardest thing on my path: How to get valid needs met when so many "formations" are in the way? No fun at all.

Another way to look at what you said, which is that the English word "craving" is used in many ways:

I love drinking water. I love my new car (25 years ago when I got one). I love my loved-ones. This is why words are not useful for everything. They are not used in perfect ways like mathematical symbols (which also provoke many misunderstandings.)


No, there are not different types of craving, there are only different things for which one might crave, whether bodily or other in form, or conditional, events, etc. The fact of persisting in the desire for a thing, of clinging, is the dynamo by which anguish (dukkha) is generated and its interruption (as if extinguishing a candle flame; nirvana) is the simple, basic, aim of Buddhism.

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