If one of the goals to becoming enlightened is to lose all craving, desire or Tanha how is one to do that without the craving, desire or tanha to do just that. In other words, is wanting to eradicate all craving and desires a craving or desire itself?


5 Answers 5


This is a very common misreading of the four noble truths. Don't feel bad; you've got a lot of company! The Buddha never actually said that all craving is bad. In the 2nd noble truth, he is very specific about the kind of craving his path seeks to eradicate.

And this, monks, is the noble truth of the origination of stress: the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.

from the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta

The third noble truth is the extinction of that kind of craving -

And this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of stress: the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving.

from the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta

The desire that truly seeks liberation is not the same mind that craves for sensual pleasure, becoming, or not becoming. Sure, there are people who begin practice because they believe that enlightenment will add something to their personality - as if nirvana will bring about something they are otherwise lacking. Perhaps they crave for the pleasure of meditative absorption or believe that the wisdom that the path generates will give them a sense of personal power. Perhaps they believe that the Buddhist path will lead to some sort of Schopenhauer paradise of pure nothingness. Those lesser desires for liberation need to be given up if one is to proceed past a certain point. But the desire to put a final end to suffering? If it's pure, there's nothing wrong with that.

  • Answer implies that there is kind of craving that is not needing to be abandoned. Which is wrong.
    – catpnosis
    Jul 20, 2016 at 21:53

As dean mentioned, there is a sutta which seems to match your question.

In the Brahmana Sutta: To Unnabha the Brahman, Venerable Ananda says,

"Brahman, there is the case where a monk develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on desire & the fabrications of exertion. He develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on persistence... concentration founded on intent... concentration founded on discrimination & the fabrications of exertion. This, Brahman, is the path, this is the practice for the abandoning of that desire."

I guess that "founded on desire" might refer to what is called "Right intention" or "right aspiration" or "the exertion of our own will to change"; although it (i.e. the second of the eightfold path) is also translated as 'Right Resolve'.

Also, "fabrications of exertion" is Right effort, etc.

Given that explanation, the Brahman says that seems like a contradiction,

"If that's so, Master Ananda, then it's an endless path, and not one with an end, for it's impossible that one could abandon desire by means of desire."

According to the Sutta the answer is that the 'desire' ends when the goal is reached,

"In that case, brahman, let me question you on this matter. Answer as you see fit. What do you think: Didn't you first have desire, thinking, 'I'll go to the park,' and then when you reached the park, wasn't that particular desire allayed?"

"Yes, sir."

"Didn't you first have persistence, thinking, 'I'll go to the park,' and then when you reached the park, wasn't that particular persistence allayed?"

"Yes, sir."

"Didn't you first have the intent, thinking, 'I'll go to the park,' and then when you reached the park, wasn't that particular intent allayed?"

"Yes, sir."

"Didn't you first have [an act of] discrimination, thinking, 'I'll go to the park,' and then when you reached the park, wasn't that particular act of discrimination allayed?"

"Yes, sir."

"So it is with an arahant whose mental effluents are ended, who has reached fulfillment, done the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, totally destroyed the fetter of becoming, and who is released through right gnosis. Whatever desire he first had for the attainment of arahantship, on attaining arahantship that particular desire is allayed. Whatever persistence he first had for the attainment of arahantship, on attaining arahantship that particular persistence is allayed. Whatever intent he first had for the attainment of arahantship, on attaining arahantship that particular intent is allayed. Whatever discrimination he first had for the attainment of arahantship, on attaining arahantship that particular discrimination is allayed. So what do you think, brahman? Is this an endless path, or one with an end?"

"You're right, Master Ananda. This is a path with an end, and not an endless one.

The "path with an end" is I think a reference to the 3rd noble truth, and to nirvana or arahantship as an escape from samsara.

Also, Taṇhā is desire (or thirst) but not all desire is Taṇhā.

Wikipedia's Contrast to wholesome desire (chanda) says,

The Buddhist teachings contrast the reflexive, self-centered desire of taṇhā with wholesome types of desire, such as the desire to benefit others or the desire to follow the Buddhist path.[c] Wholesome types of desire are traditionally identified as chanda.[20][21][d]

Ajahn Sucitto states:

Sometimes taṇhā is translated as “desire,” but that gives rise to some crucial misinterpretations with reference to the way of Liberation. As we shall see, some form of desire is essential in order to aspire to, and persist in, cultivating the path out of dukkha. Desire as an eagerness to offer, to commit, to apply oneself to meditation, is called chanda. It’s a psychological “yes,” a choice, not a pathology. In fact, you could summarize Dhamma training as the transformation of taṇhā into chanda. It’s a process whereby we guide volition, grab and hold on to the steering wheel, and travel with clarity toward our deeper well-being. So we’re not trying to get rid of desire (which would take another kind of desire, wouldn’t it). Instead, we are trying to transmute it, take it out of the shadow of gratification and need, and use its aspiration and vigor to bring us into light and clarity.[20]

  • This is great!!
    – user382
    Apr 24, 2015 at 1:29
  • All chanda is tanha.
    – catpnosis
    Jul 20, 2016 at 22:07
  • @catpnosis The Wikipedia section I quoted has been rewritten. Maybe you could expand your comment into an answer of your own?
    – ChrisW
    Jul 20, 2016 at 22:51
  • All chanda is not tanha. Iddhipada is not tanha. It is Right Aspiration, 2nd factor of 8 fold path. For example, a Buddha has destroyed all tanha. Yet the Buddha said in the Mahaparibbana Sutta that for one, such as him, that has developed the Four Iddhipapada, which include Chandha Iddhipada, they can extend their life. Regards Jul 21, 2016 at 3:36
  • @Dhammadhatu Aforementioned Brahmana Sutta (SN 51.15) speak exactly about chandha iddhipada. And it does not say that this chanda is different from that chanda. It implies that these both chandas are of same nature, and they are not contradict because of completely other reason.
    – catpnosis
    Jul 21, 2016 at 19:28

I agree with enenalan.

i dont remember from what sutta. it was something like, when one wants to be somewhere, The desire to get there is ceased once you have reached your destination.

Interestingly, in Buddha's first sermon, one of the causes of suffering (or stress -dhukka) is "craving for non-becoming or vibhava-tanha" .

in all pali cannons, Buddha mentioned "craving for non-becoming" only once in his 40+ years of teaching. this, i suspect, is the last cause for suffering one has to abandon to become enlightened. Those who reached this point is called anagami.

Please let me know if anyone ever heard " craving for non-becoming or vibhava tanha" mentioned in any other sutta besides the Dhammacakkappavattana. I would greatly appreciate it.

  • 2
    This sutta: Brahmana Sutta: To Unnabha the Brahman
    – ChrisW
    Apr 23, 2015 at 17:20
  • 1
    Your questions about vibhava-tanha could be good as a new/separate question.
    – ChrisW
    Apr 23, 2015 at 17:51
  • The Mahasatipatthana Sutta (DN 22:19) is just one example. It comes up in the capacity of the four noble truths fairly regularly. You can also find something similar in the Brahmajala Sutta (DN 1:84-92), although this deals with ucchedavada or "annihilationism" and is treated as a teaching, not a craving.
    – user698
    Apr 23, 2015 at 17:53
  • thanks enenalan. I should have put it as bhava-tanha and vibhava tanha mentioned in pali canons as context of four noble truths. unlike 5 sensual pleasures, Buddha or other disciples (which later confirmed by Buddha) mentioned them many times in many different ways. vibhava tanha seldomly mentioned as craving. my thought is once one eliminate karma-tanha, then there is no special instruction besides 8 fold path for those who still have bhava-tanha or vibhava tanha left. thanks ChrisW. good idea to open a new thread for Vibhava Tanha.
    – dean
    Apr 23, 2015 at 20:08

If one of the goals to becoming enlightened is to lose all craving, desire or Tanha how is one to do that without the craving, desire or tanha to do just that.

It's not supposed to be that way. Tanha is neutral factor (in a sense that it will not necessarily cause evil deeds). Tanha is also always and everywhere present factor in non-englihtened beings. And tanha is quite complicated notion to define, so, it's rarely used directly as is (in the Abhidhamma). Instead, it's used in derived terms, like lobha, raga, etc. But, tanha could present itself not just as unwholesome roots (lobha, desa, moha), but also as factor of enlightenment (chanda).

In other words, is wanting to eradicate all craving and desires a craving or desire itself?

It is. Tanha, in the form of chanda, is conductive to exertion. With wisdom you could direct it on the right way.

Nettipakarana p.87: There are two types of tanha, skilful and unskilful. Unskilful tanha leads to samsara, skilful tanha is abandonment, it leads to diminution.

(Implied question) Is it contradictory to stop tanha with tanha? No, as already mentioned, Brahmana Sutta confirms. Tanha is stoppable factor, if it's done in proper way. Cause of tanha is ignorance (avijja) which is stoppable factor either.

Additional quotes from R. Morrison article:

In the Anguttara Nikaaya we have the statement: 'he abandons tanhaa by means of tanhaa'.[A ii. 146] [...] commentary [adds]:

Based on the present craving [tanhaa] (i. e., desire for becoming an Arahant), he gives up previous craving that was the root-cause of (one's involvement in) the cycle of rebirth. Now (it may be asked) whether such present craving (for Arahantship) is wholesome [kusala] or unwholesome [akusala]? — It is unwholesome. — Should it be pursued or not? — It should be pursued [sevitabbaa]. — Does it drag one into rebirth [patisandhim aakaddhati] or not? — It does not drag one into rebirth.

As Nyanaponika adds at the end of this quote, 'Such permissible (sevitabbaa) craving is abandoned when its object is attained'.

On the other hand, how Enlightenment is not producible by tanha? Function of tanha is to drag us into next birth. Thus, relying on tanha we can not expect next birth to be Enlightenment, we can not rebirth into arhats.

  • 1
    It is chanda that can be regarded as a neutral factor. The Nettipakarana is obviously not Buddha Vaca (words of Buddha) nor is A ii. 146 (AN 4.159), which is attributed to Ananda, who was not enlightened. For example, Ananda's explanation of 'nutriment' in A ii. 146 is not exactly correct. In attempting to enter to path, there many be forms of 'craving to be'. But when the path is actually entered (in stream entry), it is from the abandoning of craving rather than from the use of craving. Regards. – Jul 21, 2016 at 4:12
  • @Dhammadhatu This sounds like Theravada revisionism. Nettipakarana is included into the Tipitaka and sutta is still sutta.
    – catpnosis
    Jul 21, 2016 at 19:34

To stop craving you have to be equanimous to pleasant and unpleasant sensation and contemplate impermanence of pleasant, unpleasant and neutral sensations.

(1) the latent tendency to lust reinforced by being attached to pleasant feelings;
(2) the latent tendency to aversion reinforced by rejecting painful feelings;
(3) the latent tendency to ignorance reinforced by ignoring neutral feelings

Pahāna Sutta

“And what is that one thing, venerable sir?” “Ignorance, monk, is the one thing through whose abandoning ignorance is abandoned by a monk, and true knowledge arises.”

“But, venerable sir, how should a monk know, how should he see, for ignorance to be abandoned by him, and for true knowledge to arise?”

“Here, bhikshu, the monk has learned [heard] that nothing is worth clinging to. And a monk has learned that nothing is worth clinging to, thus: he directly knows all things. Having directly understood all things, he fully understands all things.

Having fully understood everything, he sees all signs differently:

He sees the eye differently; he sees forms differently; he sees eye-consciousness differently; he sees eye-contact differently. Whatever that is pleasant, or painful, or neutral, that arises on account of eye contact as condition, that, too, he sees differently.


Avijja Pahana Sutta 2

"Nothing worth clinging to" means being equanimous.

Having fully understood all things, he knows whatever feelings there are, whether pleasant, painful or neither painful nor pleasant.

As regards to those feelings,

he dwells contemplating impermanence in them;

he dwells contemplating dispassion [fading away of lust] in them;

he dwells contemplating ending (of suffering) in them;

he dwells contemplating letting go (of defilements).

When he dwells contemplating impermanence in them, contemplating dispassion in them, contemplating ending in them, contemplating letting go, he does not cling to anything in the world.

Not clinging, he is not agitated; being not agitated, he himself surely attains nirvana.

He understands, "Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, done what is to be done, there is no more for this state of being."

Pacalā Sutta

Letting go is what is discussed in the Pahana Suttas above. What is discussed in this extract is knowing impermanence of arising and passing nature and being equanimous.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .