Yellow Robe - A Real Buddhist's Journal

Jun 23rd
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Home Teachings Dependant Originations What is Dependant Origination - Feeling to Craving

What is Dependant Origination - Feeling to Craving

E-mail Print PDF
Article Index
What is Dependant Origination
Ignorance to Formations
Formations to Consciousness
Consciousness to Mind-and-Body
Mind-and-Body to Six Bases
Six Bases to Contact
Contact to Feeling
Feeling to Craving
Craving to Clinging
Clinging to Becoming
Becoming to Birth
Birth to Suffering
The Three Periods
Other Aspects
All Pages

Feeling to Craving

Because of pleasant or unpleasant feeling, craving (tanhā) arises. It craves for sensual objects that one lacks or for more of the objects that one has already. Its thirst for sensual objects is unquenchable. A certain deva said that devas were like hungry ghosts because, just as hungry ghosts are starving due to lack of food or drink, devas are unsatiated although they indulge in all kinds of pleasures. This is quite plausible, for the lifespan of a Tāvatimsa Deva is millions of years, and life is still longer in the higher celestial realms such as Yāma or Nimmānarati. Yet, in spite of their fabulous and lifelong enjoyment of bliss, the devas are never satisfied. The same is true of human beings. Poor people seek pleasure to the best of their ability. However, due to their poverty, they can seldom fulfil their desires. The craving of the rich is even greater due to the nature of craving. The more it is fed, the more voracious it becomes, so it is more oppressive in wealthy countries than in poor ones.

Craving never tires of pleasant objects; it yearns for attractive men or women. It hearkens after melodious sounds, it pines for fragrant scents, hungers for delicious food, and thirsts for sweet drinks. It craves tactile sensations, which is surely the most acute form of craving for pleasure-loving people. Craving also includes high esteem for mental-objects, which are inaccessible to the other senses. 'Mental-objects' include the five sense faculties, subtle elements like cohesion, and mental properties, i.e. concepts of forms, qualities, names, etc. People long to have keen senses because they want to see clearly, to hear distinctly, or to have a delicate sense of touch. They seek the element of fluidity as they wish to keep their mouth, throat, and skin moist. They delight in the awareness of their own sex and of the opposite sex, so they are attached to masculinity or femininity. They want to live long and to move easily, which shows their desire for the subtle material phenomena of vitality and lightness, etc. Their yearning for happiness, a retentive memory, and sharp intelligence points to their desire for keen mental faculties. Love of one's own appearance or that of the opposite sex, and the wish for praise and fame, again shows the delight in concepts.

For the six sense-objects there are six kinds of craving. These six cravings may mean just craving for sensual pleasures (kāmatanhā), or may be associated with craving for existence (bhavatanhā), which implies eternalism. Craving is also linked with desire for non-existence (vibhavatanhā), implying annihilationism, which makes some people excessively attached to sensuality. So, for each of the six sense objects, there are three kinds of craving (kāmatanhā, bhavatanhā and vibhavatanhā), or eighteen altogether. Each of these may have objects in one's own body or external objects, giving thirty-six kinds of craving. Again, since each of these may relate to objects in the past, present or future, altogether one hundred and eight kinds of craving can be defined. However, these can be summarised in just three groups: craving for sensuality, craving for existence and craving for non-existence.

People who have to tolerate unpleasant sense-objects long for pleasant ones. Those who are in pain seek relief from it. In brief, the suffering person longs for happiness. People seek freedom from pain, poverty, and unpleasant feelings, because the absence of suffering means happiness. We seek freedom from preoccupation with unpleasant thoughts, from anxiety about food, clothing, and shelter. However, once we have all the necessities of life, we are inclined to develop other cravings. The wealthy man wants to increase his wealth, for craving is insatiable. We wish to enjoy life continuously, and to increase our possessions. The more we have, the more we want, and the higher the quality of life is, the greater is the desire to enhance it. Craving never ends for it is fuelled and perpetuated by feeling.

As for the craving associated with neutral feeling, the commentary describes neutral feeling as pleasant because of its poise and subtlety. In the case of contact with ordinary sense-objects, neither a pleasant nor an unpleasant feeling is apparent. However, since neutral feeling is fine and subtle, it is tinged with enjoyment, so it makes us crave for more definite pleasure. It leads to discontent with the ordinary sense-objects and kindles the desire for better food, finer clothes, more refined pleasures and improved living conditions. In brief, beautiful objects stimulate attachment and craving for exquisite things. Unpleasant objects create the desire to be rid of them. When the sense-objects produce neutral feelings, we are still discontented and crave for enjoyment. This shows how feeling produces craving.

Craving and the Cycle of Existence

Simultaneous with the arising of sense consciousness, mind and matter, sense-bases, contact, and feeling arise. For everyone who is not yet free from defilements, feeling leads to craving. Craving in turn causes attachment, which motivates wholesome or unwholesome deeds (kammabhava). With the right supporting conditions, kammabhava leads to rebirth and so to aging, disease, death, and all other mental and physical suffering. Thus feelings lead to suffering in the cycle of existence. Nobody can prevent the arising of mind and matter, sense-bases, contact, and feeling as concomitants of consciousness. Even the Buddha and the arahants have pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feelings because of contact with sense-objects. They feel pain that arises from physical affliction but they do not suffer mentally, nor do they take delight in pleasant sensations. So they are free from craving and attachment. They do not strive for pleasure and happiness, and because of their non-kammic way of life, they do away with rebirth, mind and matter and other causes of suffering. This is the extinction of suffering for the arahant who is completely free from defilements. So it is said, "Due to the complete extinction of craving rooted in pleasant or unpleasant feeling on the Noble Path, the extinction of attachment comes about."

Pleasant and unpleasant feelings make one long for enjoyment. However, they do not affect the arahants. This may sound incredible, but the most alluring sense-object has no appeal for arahants, who have no desire for pleasure. They are entirely free from craving and attachment, which means the complete extinction of kamma, rebirth and its attendant suffering. So it is said, "The extinction of attachment leads to the extinction of kammic effort. The extinction of kammic effort leads to extinction of rebirth, and extinction of rebirth leads to extinction of aging, death, grief, lamentation, and despair."

The Extinction of Craving

With the extinction of craving all its effects cease, resulting in the extinction of suffering. It does not imply the end of happiness or of a living being. It is simply the cessation of the psychophysical process that is the origin of suffering. Just as arahantship means the complete extinction of craving, the attainment of non-returning means the extinction of sensual desire and rebirth in the sensual realm. At the stream-winner stage, one has eradicated all craving that might lead to the lower realms, or to more than seven existences. Thus implicit in Dependent Origination is the alleviation of suffering with the reduction of craving. Likewise, insight ensures the momentary extinction of craving. Sense-objects lead to pleasant and unpleasant feelings, which, in the absence of insight, end in craving and its attendant suffering. However, one who practises constant mindfulness and has developed insight sees only the arising and passing away of all phenomena, their impermanence, suffering, and impersonality. Pleasant or unpleasant feelings are also seen to arise and pass away instantly. One does not delight in the feelings that arise, nor does one crave for others, so one is free from craving.

Extinction of craving on the Noble Path differs from temporary extinction by insight. In the former case, the extinction is permanent and concerns every sense-object, whereas in the latter case extinction is neither permanent nor universal. Craving is extinct only at the moment of contemplation and only with respect to the object contemplated. Therefore, it is called momentary or partial extinction of defilements (tadanga-nibbuti). One who practises mindfulness is aware just of seeing, hearing, etc. This bare awareness leaves no room for craving, and its attendant attachment, kamma, rebirth, etc., cease to occur. In other words, with the cessation of craving, the cycle of suffering is partly cut off, which is called "tadanga-nibbuti."

The Story of Venerable Mahātissa

Venerable Mahātissa of Sri Lanka overcame craving through the practice of both samatha and vipassanā. One day, on the way to Anurādhapura for his alms round, he met a woman who had left her home after quarrelling with her husband. At the sight of the elder, a lustful desire arose in her and she laughed aloud lasciviously. On looking at her, the elder noticed her teeth. Since he had been contemplating a skeleton, the body of the woman looked like a heap of bones. Concentrating on this mental image he attained jhāna. Then, after contemplating this image with his jhānic state of mind, he attained arahantship. The elder continued his journey and met the woman's husband, who asked him whether he had seen a woman. The elder replied that he did see something but did not know whether it was a man or a woman. All that he noticed was a skeleton that passed him on the way. He saw just the woman's teeth, but his practice of contemplation turned the impression of her body into the image of a skeleton. Therefore, there was no chance for lust or any other defilement to arise from his seeing the woman. Then practising vipassanā based on his jhānic consciousness, he became free from defilements and attained arahantship.

Non-meditators might doubt that an image of a skeleton could arise at the sight of a person's teeth. However, without practice one cannot know what mind-training can do. Just concentrating without any training cannot help to create mental images, for they depend on steadfast and prolonged practice of contemplation. Imagination is the power of perception. Repeated contemplation strengthens perception, which then helps to create any kind of image. That this is possible even for a parrot is illustrated by a story from the commentary on the Satipatthāna Sutta.

The Story of a Parrot

A dancer stayed for the night with the bhikkhunīs and left an intelligent parrot when she went away. The bird was cared for by the novices. The senior bhikkhunī thought that the bird should have something to contemplate while living among spiritual aspirants. So she taught her to contemplate " atthi — bones." One morning, the parrot was seized by an eagle. Because of the outcry raised by the novices, the eagle dropped the parrot. The bhikkhunī asked the parrot what it contemplated when it was seized by the eagle. The bird replied, "I thought of a skeleton being carried off and I wondered where it would be scattered." The bhikkhunī said, "Well done! This contemplation will contribute to your liberation from existence."

A thing that is repeatedly contemplated will become fixed in the mind. If even a parrot can visualize a skeleton, a human being can do the same. The parrot imagined itself and others to be skeletons. Because of this contemplation, it had no fear, anger or worry when it was taken away by the eagle.

So Satipatthāna meditation is extolled as a practice that helps to overcome grief and anxiety and to extinguish mental and physical suffering. However, many people are not as wise as this parrot since they never take any interest in the Dhamma nor do they practise it. The meditator should resolve to surpass the parrot in the practice of insight. If Venerable Mahātissa had failed to regard the laughing woman as a skeleton, he might have become lustful and yielded to temptation in the solitude of the forest. Even if he had had no sexual desire then, any attractive impression of the woman could have made him vulnerable to temptation later. However, thanks to his insight through contemplation of the skeleton, he overcame defilements and achieved final liberation.

Contemplation and Extinction

With the total extinction of craving, attachment is extinguished, which entails the eradication of all the consequences. Contemplation of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and not-self ensures the partial extinction of craving, attachment, kamma, rebirth, etc. The aim of insight meditation is to eradicate defilements and to put an end to all suffering, so it deserves the attention of everyone who seeks happiness. Without this practice, pleasant or unpleasant feelings at every moment of seeing are sure to lead to craving, kamma, and rebirth. The consciousness involved in every moment of seeing is due to ignorance and mental formations in the previous existence. Seeing occurs with consciousness, mind and matter, the sense-bases, contact, and feeling. The Pali texts treat each of these separately when explaining their causal relations, but they do not arise separately. If consciousness arises from mental formations, it arises with its respective mind and matter, sense-bases, contact, and feeling. All these phenomena are the product of past mental formations. They are called the cycle of resultants. The cycle of defilements — ignorance, craving, and attachment — produces the cycle of kamma — mental formations and becoming. This leads to the cycle of resultants — consciousness, mind and matter, sense-organs, contact, and feeling. This again leads to the cycle of defilements.

The arising of these five resultants when seeing just means seeing to most people. In fact, seeing is the product of consciousness, mind and matter, the eye-base, contact, and feeling. It is the same with other psychophysical events such as hearing, smelling, and so forth. Seeing involves consciousness together with attention, volition, etc., based on the eye. It also requires eye-sensitivity, visual object, visual-consciousness, and mental advertence (dhammāyatana). Contact with the visual object is phassa, and the pleasant or unpleasant feelings that the object occasions are vedanā. So all five resultants accompany every moment of seeing. The same may be said of other phenomena that arise from hearing, smelling, and so forth.

Cutting Off at the Foundation

This constant stream of five psychophysical resultants is what we call a man, a deva, or a living being. However, these are just conventional terms that refer to the five mental and physical aggregates. Ultimately, no substantial, permanent being can be found. The only reality is the arising and passing away of psychophysical phenomena. For the mindful meditator this insight means the extinction of craving, attachment, kamma, rebirth, and suffering — a chain of consequences that, for an unmindful person, might result from feeling. This is how to end the cycle of existence through the elimination of its key link — craving, as conditioned by feeling. To prevent feeling from giving rise to craving, one should note all phenomena that arise from the six senses. The most obvious is the tactile sensation that accompanies the four primary elements. So, the beginner should start contemplation with tactile sensations.

This method is according to the Buddha's teaching in the Satipatthāna Sutta, "One knows 'I am walking' when one walks." How does one know it? One knows it by mentally noting, "walking, walking." One practises mindfulness, too, when one stands, lies down, bends the arms, or does anything else. When no bodily action or movement can be noted, one should direct the attention to the abdominal rising and falling. One should also note any thought or mental activity and any feeling that may arise. In brief, one must be mindful of all the psychophysical phenomena that arise from the six senses. As concentration develops, such mindfulness leads to insight into impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and not-self, an insight that leaves no room for craving. With the extinction of craving, attachment ceases, and therefore rebirth too, with all its attendant suffering. This is the way to stop the cycle of existence through the elimination of its root cause, craving.

Technology has created machines that cannot be operated without knowing how they work, but those who know how can control them just by turning a key. Similarly, the key to the cycle of Dependent Origination is the link between craving and feeling. However, this is true only if feeling is conjoined with two kinds of latent tendencies: santānānusaya and ārammanānusaya. Arahants are free from these tendencies and so, although they have feelings, they have no craving. This extinction of craving leaves no room for new kamma and neutralises old kamma, so the arahant is not reborn. Other people have latent defilements, which does not mean the existence of immoral desires lying dormant somewhere, but only the possibility of their arising under suitable circumstances. Hence, the term 'santānānusaya kilesa.' These latent defilements may become greed, hatred, ignorance or other defects in those who fail to contemplate, and who thus embrace illusions of permanence, happiness and selfhood. Defilements that may arise from sense-objects in the absence of insight are called ārammanānusaya kilesa.

Defilements and Unmindfulness

Greed and ill-will regarding what one has seen or heard are manifestations of the second kind of latent tendency. The impressions we retain are of permanent, lovely or repulsive objects. So recall of those images leads to greed, hatred or delusion. Greed is a synonym for craving. It usually arises directly in response to pleasant feeling, but it may also arise when unpleasant feelings make us crave for pleasure. Delusion leads to unmindfulness, and therefore to attachment and craving. Only the practice of bare awareness rules out the possibility of craving and nostalgia. Without it, craving dominates us and leads to suffering.

In the Mora Jātaka, the bodhisatta was a peacock who used to utter a verse of protection in the morning after he awoke and at night before he went to sleep. So, for 700 years he escaped the traps set by a hunter. Then the hunter employed a peahen as a decoy. Enticed by her, the peacock forgot to recite the verse and so fell into the trap.

Guttila was a harpist in Benares. He courted a woman but was ridiculed and scorned. So at night he sang a sweet song and played his harp in front of her house. Fascinated by the music, she rushed out, stumbled, and fell to her death. In the Mora Jātaka it was the female voice, and here it was the male voice that led to death.

No-one can deny that sound is impermanent. Every sound vanishes instantly, yet we enjoy songs and music because of their apparent continuity. If we note every sound as, "hearing," "hearing," our realisation of impermanence makes it impossible for pleasant feeling to engender craving. This means the non-arising of attachment and its resultant suffering.

Smell is seldom predominant. A meditator must, of course, note it and see that it does not lead to craving.

Mindfulness is especially important in eating. Unmindful people love delicious food. They are fond of such pleasure, and always want to enjoy it. According to the Bālapandita Sutta, those who do misdeeds for the sake of delicious food are reborn as animals that eat grass, leaves or human excreta. Unpalatable food creates the desire for delicious food. So, when eating, one must note carefully each movement of the hand and mouth, and every taste. Through such mindfulness, one realises that all actions and feelings vanish. Thus one gains an insight into impermanence, an insight leading to the extinction of craving and its attendant suffering.

Thoughts and Tactile Impressions

Tactile impression is always present over the entire physical body. Thinking, too, is always present unless one is asleep. So thoughts and tactile impressions form the objects of insight practice most of the time. One should contemplate them when nothing else engages one's attention. Thoughts should be noted, even if they happen to be unpleasant. A beginner is often assailed by distractions, but they usually disappear as one gains experience and develops concentration. Thoughts about the Dhamma may occur sometimes, and should also be noted. Contemplation of thoughts ensures insight into impermanence and the extinction of suffering.

Some readers may be wondering how insight meditation relates to Dependent Origination. The doctrine explains the chain of effects conditioned by their respective causes. I want to show how to stop the suffering that results from the interaction of cause and effect. So I should describe the practice wherever it is relevant. Thus when it is said, "Ignorance leads to mental formations" and "mental formations lead to rebirth," I must show how to remove ignorance. Similarly, concerning consciousness, etc., I must stress how to break the link between feeling and craving, which is the main cause of suffering.

Three Kinds of Craving

If feeling is not rightly contemplated, it leads to one of three kinds of craving: craving for sensual pleasure, craving for existence or craving for non-existence. The first, craving for sensual pleasures, is focused on sensual objects and is most prevalent among the beings of the sensual realm. Craving for existence is based on the eternity-belief. It assumes the permanence of living beings and the indestructibility of the self despite the dissolution of the physical body. This belief is not deep-rooted among Buddhists, but non-Buddhists hold it so firmly that it is a major impediment to their liberation. Their craving for existence is evident in their illusion of a permanent self and their love of pleasure. Craving for non-existence is born of annihilationism. This view is not found among Buddhists, and one is not a true Buddhist if one holds it. Craving for non-existence means the desire for the cessation of the life-stream after death, and the love of pleasure rooted in the materialistic view of life.

Each of these three cravings stems from the failure to realise impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and not-self through the introspection of feelings. So to forestall craving and its consequences, namely, rebirth and suffering, one should contemplate all phenomena and try to see everything as it really is.


Preserve this Website


" If there is no wound on the hand, one may handle poison; poison does not affect one who has no wound; there can be no evil for one who has no evil intention. "

The Dhammapada

Social Bookmark

Yellow Robe Newsletter