- Three Cheers for Tanha
- Robert Morrison (Dharmachari Sagaramati)
- © copyright retained by the author
Robert Morrison is the author of Nietzsche and Buddhism: A Study in Nihilism and
Ironic Affinities, Oxford University Press, 1997.
Anyone acquainted with either the Paali suttas or the Theravaada
tradition as a whole, if asked for an opinion on the spiritual status of ta.nhaa,
usually translated as 'craving', would most likely answer along the lines that ta.nhaa
is entirely antithetical to the Buddhist spiritual quest, the brahmacariya, and is
almost akin to the Christian notion of 'original sin', in the sense that no one is born
without it. As the second of the Four Noble Truths tells us, ta.nhaa is the cause
of dukkha or 'suffering and unsatisfactoriness', the first Noble Truth, and the
cessation of ta.nhaa, the third Noble Truth, is synonymous with nirvaa.na
itself, the very goal of Buddhist practice. Ta.nhaa is said to be the 'seamstress'
that 'sews one just into this ever-becoming rebirth'. It is that by 'which this world
is smothered, enveloped, tangled like a ball of thread, covered as with a blight, twisted
up like a grass-rope, so that it overpasses not sa.msaara, the Downfall, the Way of
Woe, the Ruin'. It is likened to an 'arrow
thickly smeared with poison'.
Selecting certain passages from the Paali suttas, one can build up a view of ta.nhaa
as completely unwholesome and anti-spiritual, something that has simply to be negated.
Notwithstanding this reprobation of ta.nhaa, in this essay I will present a more
sympathetic view, a view that highlights the wider implications of ta.nhaa, and
contends that without it there would be no Buddhist spiritual life no brahmacariya
or 'pursuit of excellence' and therefore no Buddhas.
1. The Term Tanhaa
Ta.nhaa is literally 'drought' or 'thirst' and, as the Pali-English
Dictionary informs us, 'is found mainly in poetry, or in prose passages charged with
emotion. It is rarely used in the philosophy or the psychology'. Figuratively, it means
'craving, hunger for, excitement, the fever of unsatisfied longing'. Given its poetic
pedigree, ta.nha can be said to be a term that appeals more to the imagination than
reason, and this may be why it is hardly mentioned in the lists and abstract permutations
of the later technical, not to say arid, literature of the Abhidhamma. To those who heard
the word from the mouth of the Buddha or one of his disciples, ta.nhaa no doubt
evoked an acute pathos which the translation 'craving' miserably fails to do. To
understand ta.nhaa as simply one affect among other affects would be a mistake. For
example ta.nhaa, as we shall see, is a term that has cosmic significance, and is a
notion that is best understood metaphorically, as a metaphor that evokes the general
condition that all unenlightened beings find themselves in in the world: a state of being
characterized by a 'thirst' that compels a pursuit for appeasement, the urge to seek out
some form of gratification. In other words, ta.nhaa is a metaphor for the
existential and affective ground underlying the whole of sa.msaaric existence, the
ground out of which spring the various strivings for satisfaction, fulfilment, and
meaning. It can therefore be understood as an attempt to characterize, in a single
metaphor, the general condition of unenlightened existence, as well as providing the
primary reason why sa.msaara is deemed ultimately to be dukkha or
'unsatisfactory': as sa.msaara cannot fully quench our 'thirst', it must
appear to one who fully understands this (i.e. an ariya) as dukkha.
2. The Cosmological Perspective
In the Aggañña Sutta, which is as near as Buddhism comes to
having a kind of Genesis, at the end of the 'devolution' (sa.mva.t.ta) cycle of the
cosmos, most beings are said to be reborn in the AAbhassara Brahmaa world, where they
are said to 'dwell, mind-made, feeding on delight, self-luminous, moving through the air,
glorious'. They remain in this condition for 'a very long time'. However, all things being
impermanent, the ordinary world begins to evolve again, and those self-luminous beings, as
a result of their 'merit' (puñña) running out, tumble down the Buddhist
version of the 'great chain of being' and eventually hover around the now evolving earth.
As the Buddha tells it to Vaase.t.tha:
At that period, Vaase.t.tha, there was just one mass of water, and all was darkness,
blinding darkness. Neither moon nor sun appeared, no constellations or stars appeared,
night and day were not distinguished, nor months and fortnights, nor years or seasons, and
no male and female, beings being reckoned just as beings. And sooner or later, after a
very long period, savoury earth spread itself over the waters where those beings were. It
looked just like the skin that forms itself over hot milk as it cools. It was the colour
of fine ghee or butter, and it was very sweet, like pure wild honey.
Then some being of a greedy nature said: 'I say, what can this be?' and tasted the
savoury earth on his finger. In so doing, he became taken with the flavour, and ta.nhaa
arose in him. Then other beings, taking their cue from him, also tasted the stuff with
their fingers. They too were taken with the flavour, and ta.nhaa arose in
And as a result their self-luminance disappeared
the sun and moon
appeared, night and day were distinguished, months and fortnights appeared, and the year
and its seasons. To that extent the world re-evolved. [D iii. 84-85]
The once self-luminous beings continue their 'fall', becoming coarser
and coarser as they become more and more entangled in the world, until they eventually
create the kind of troubled and divided world that surrounds us today, populated by people
like us, driven by all sorts of affects. And, as we can see, it is ta.nhaa that
replaces the infamous bite of the infamous apple, causing the world to re-evolve
a kind of Buddhist version of the 'fall' but here the apple is replaced by what
seems to be one of those delicious Indian sweets, and the 'fall' is only a part of a cycle
that endlessly repeats itself. We also notice that ta.nhaa arose not in the mind of
a crude, biologically conditioned being, stuck somewhere in the mid-reaches of the kaama-loka,
but in the mind of a deva, a divine 'self-luminous' being from the reaches of the ruupa-loka.
Elsewhere, the Buddha declares that ta.nhaa is the 'fuel' (upaadaana) that
links one life with the next, implying that ta.nhaa is the radical condition
for existing anywhere within the Buddhist cosmos, including its higher, more refined
The cosmic significance of ta.nhaa is also witnessed elsewhere.
For example, in the A'nguttara Nikaaya we have:
Bhikkhus, a first beginning of bhava-ta.nhaa cannot be known [paññaayati]
before which one could say bhava-ta.nhaa did not exist, it has since come to be'. [A v.
Although this sutta mentions bhava-ta.nhaa, which,
together with kaama-ta.nhaa and vibhava-ta.nhaa is one of a group of three ta.nhaas
mentioned in the suttas, and not ta.nhaa per se, I think it is rather
obvious that bhava-ta.nhaa or the 'thirst-to-be', being the most general and basic
of the three, is, in fact, ta.nhaa per se. For example, kaama-ta.nhaa is
'thirsting' after specifically sensual experiences and is, therefore, an aspect of the
more general bhava-ta.nhaa, which is 'thirsting' after any form of being or
experience it is simply the urge to be, or, more correctly, to become
(bhava). If we assume that existence does not have an inherent Freudian 'Death
Wish', then the third ta.nhaa, vibhava-ta.nhaa or 'thirst for
non-existence', is more likely to be the outcome of the continual frustration of bhava-ta.nhaa
and kaama-ta.nhaa, and is therefore a secondary and derived state. The fundamental ta.nhaa
is therefore bhava-ta.nhaa, which I would understand as being synonymous with ta.nhaa
Given this, we can say that ta.nhaa has cosmic significance.
Like the cosmos itself, its beginning is said to unknowable, and it is presented, in
this Buddhist 'Genesis', as the primary and affective condition that sets in motion
another cycle of the Buddhist cosmos, implying that it is understood to be the primal
condition out of which all other affects can be said to develop. Ta.nhaa, from this
perspective, can be understood as the all-pervasive and fundamental characteristic of the
Buddhist cosmos; its raison d'être.
3. Ta.nhaa as a Metaphor
In the sutta before the one just quoted, what is said of ta.nhaa
having no knowable first beginning is also said of 'spiritual ignorance' [avijjaa].
Commenting on these two suttas, Buddhaghosa asks: 'But why does the Bhagavant
[i.e. the Buddha] give the exposition of sa.msaara with [ta.nhaa and avijjaa]
as starting points?' He provides his own answer: 'Because they are the principal causes of
action [kamman] that lead to happy and unhappy destinies'. Unlike Christianity
and Islam, Buddhism does not posit any particular point in time when the universe first
came into being, let alone posit any first cause: the cosmos has no known first beginning.
Therefore, even these two 'principal causes' of ta.nhaa and avijjaa are not
in any manner causa sui, but said to be 'conditionally connected' [idappaccayaa],
not otherwise. In other words, they have no independent, autonomous existence. 'But', as
Buddhaghosa adds, 'there is a metaphorical [pariyaaya] way in which [they] can be
treated as the root cause [of sa.msaara]. What way is that? When [they are] made to
serve as a starting point in an exposition of sa.msaara'. In other words, they
are methodologically foremost in that they represent the basic and general condition of
unenlightened, sa.msaaric existence, as well as being the last sa.msaaric tendencies to be
eroded before attaining Arahantship or complete Buddhahood. In this sense, in one form or
another, they characterize the whole of sa.msaaric existence, from its most primitive and
crude depths to its most refined heights. They can, therefore, be said to be there from
the very 'beginning' through to the final 'end' of sa.msaara. One could even add
that, conjoined, these two are the twin pillars that support the whole edifice of
sa.msaara. Ta.nhaa, therefore, according to this account, is clearly not some
particular affect among other affects, but is best understood as a metaphor a
metaphor that attempts to capture the most pervasive affective characteristic of
sa.msaaric existence. Moreover, if we take these two suttas from the A'nguttara
Nikaaya at face value, it appears that ta.nhaa, as bhava-ta.nhaa, is
even more fundamental than avijjaa or 'spiritual ignorance'. In the sutta
dealing with ta.nhaa it is said that ta.nhaa is 'nourished' by avijjaa,
which in turn is nourished by the 'five hindrances', which are nourished by 'the three
wrong ways of practice', and so on, whereas in the sutta dealing with avijjaa,
it is said that avijjaa is nourished by 'the five hindrances', which are nourished
by 'the three wrong ways of practice', and so on, making ta.nhaa more fundamental
than even avijjaa. However, both are said to be conditionally dependent, implying
that we can understand ta.nhaa and avijjaa as the affective and cognitive
aspects of the one state. In other words, there is a conditional interdependence between
affective state and perceived world which cannot be experientially separated.
To use an image from the suttas, they are like two sheaves of reeds stacked
together, which depend upon each other for support. The two sheaves of reeds in this
case are naama-ruupa or 'mind and body' and viññaa.na or 'consciousness',
which implies that 'consciousness' or 'discernment' (viññaa.na) is conditionally
dependent upon the affects, and vice versa taking naama or 'mind' as
comprising vedanaa or 'feeling-sensation', saññaa or 'apperception', and
the sa'nkhaaras or 'formative forces', which is where the affects are found. This
interdependence can also be seen elsewhere in the suttas, where the Buddha exhorts
his bhikkhus to cultivate meditative concentration (samaadhi): 'A bhikkhu
who is concentrated knows (pajaanaati) things as they really are (yathaa-bhuuta)'.
The state of samaadhi here being the necessary affective state for 'transformative
insight' (paññaa) to arise, which, notwithstanding their interdependence, again
intimates the primacy of the affective in relation to the cognitive.
4. Dependent Co-Arising and Ta.nhaa
That ta.nhaa can be understood as a general condition rather
than a specific affect can also be seen in the most common twelve-membered nidaana
chain of pa.ticca-samuppaada or 'dependent co-arising'. Here, it is said that in
dependence upon our 'contact' [phassa] with the world, vedanaa or
'feeling-sensation' arises; in dependence upon vedanaa there arises ta.nhaa;
and in dependence upon ta.nhaa arises upaadaana or 'clinging', which results
in becoming even more bound up in sa.msaaric activities. However, I do not consider ta.nhaa
here to refer to a particular affect arising in dependence upon
'feeling-sensation', but a term for a general condition: it is, as Buddhaghosa puts
it, a 'metaphorical' [pariyaaya] expression for the primary and general condition
of our being in the world, from which spring the manifold affects that arise through our
contact with the world. For example, if a heterosexual man encounters a very
attractive woman, this will probably give rise to a pleasurable 'feeling-sensation', which
in turn can form the condition for the arising of affects such as 'lust' [raaga],
'infatuation' [pema], etc. Whereas, if we encounter someone who tells us that we
are stupid, then the 'feeling-sensation' is more likely to be unpleasant, which in turn
can form the condition for the arising of affects such as 'aversion' [pa.tigha] or
'hatred' [dosa], etc. The response to 'feeling-sensation' is going to be a
particular affect, and ta.nhaa here, as I suggest, is not so much a particular
affect, but is best understood metaphorically, as the general condition from which there
can arise all manner of affects, including, as we shall see, what Buddhism regards as
'skilful' (kusala) affects, the kind of affects cultivated in an active spiritual
We get an intimation that tanhaa can give rise to skilful
affects in a version of pa.ticca-samuppaada found in the Mahaanidaana Sutta
of the Diigha Nikaaya. Here it is said that 'ta.nhaa conditions searching' (pariyesanaa),
which in turn conditions 'acquisition' (laabha), and so on ending with 'the taking
up of stick and sword, quarrels, disputes, arguments, strife, abuse, lying and other evil
and unskilful states'. The sutta then goes on to say that 'ta.nhaa is
the cause, the reason, the origin, the condition for all searching (pariyesanaa)'.
However, elsewhere, it is clear that all searching does not necessarily lead to 'lying and
other evil and unskilful states'. For example in the Majjhima Nikaaya, the Ariyapariyesanaa
Sutta tells us there is a 'noble search' (ariyaa pariyesanaa) as well as an
'ignoble search' (anariyaa pariyesanaa). The noble search corresponds to Gotama's
going forth, when, 'while still young, a black-haired young man endowed with the blessing
of youth, in the prime of life, though my mother and father wished otherwise and wept with
tearful faces, I shaved off my hair and beard, put on the yellow robe, and went forth from
the home life into homelessness
seeking the supreme state of sublime peace'. If
'ta.nhaa is the cause, the reason, the origin, the condition for all searching (pariyesanaa)',
can we not say that this noble search (ariyaa pariyesanaa) also has its origin in ta.nhaa?
If ta.nhaa is, as I have said, simply a metaphor that sums up the state we find
ourselves in in the world, a state of seeking we know not what, what other basic condition
would this noble search spring from?
In this sutta, the Buddha mentions that, before his
enlightenment, he too was caught up in the ignoble search. The switch from the ignoble to
the noble search came about as a result of his reflecting on his experience of the
unsatisfactoriness of his former searching, i.e. the ignoble search, which led him to set
out in search of something more spiritually worthy and meaningful, i.e. the noble search,
by means of which he discovered the 'supreme state of sublime peace', Nibbaana. Although
the sutta tells us that he went forth in search of 'the unaging, unailing,
deathless, sorrowless, and undefiled supreme security from bondage, Nibbaana', I think we
must assume that when he set out on this noble search he did not know if there were
such a state as nirvaa.na to be attained; he did not know if he would find
an answer. We only know this as a result of his noble search. From this episode, we can
say that the Buddha-to-be was a human being who, because of his ta.nhaa his
urge for satisfaction sought to gratify this urge through the ignoble search,
seeking satisfaction, security, happiness, fulfillment in those things which cannot
provide real satisfaction (in the sutta they are said to be 'Wife and children
men and women slaves, goats and sheep
gold and silver,' etc). The result of
searching for happiness and meaning in these areas was that his ta.nhaa was not
appeased: he experienced dissatisfaction and frustration (dukkha), which led him to
reflect more deeply on life. His reflections led him to try another way of life to satisfy
his longing to appease his ta.nhaa by setting out on the brahmacariya
or 'life in pursuit of excellence': he left home, became a sama.na, studied under
various teachers, attained what they had attained, was still not satisfied, became an
ascetic, nearly killed himself in the process, and eventually went off on his own and
finally attained what he was searching for nirvaa.na. Reading the text in
this way, it is clear that although ta.nhaa is the urge that leads to the ignoble
search, it can also be understood as the urge that leads to the noble search as well, and
the eventual attainment of nirvaa.na. The shift from the ignoble to the noble
search is not a matter of restraining ta.nhaa, or of attempting to annihilate it,
but arises as a consequence of reflection: reflecting on the fact that the life one is
leading leaves one's basic desire for fulfillment (ta.nhaa) unsatisfied. Ta.nhaa
remains to goad one onto a new search, to look for new possibilities. Therefore, we
can say that because Gotama's ta.nhaa remained unsatisfied, and his reflections led
him to see that the worldly life is inherently unsatisfactory, when he saw the Fourth
Sight he was able to respond to the religious ideal the wandering mendicant
symbolized, and 'went forth from home into the homeless life' as a sama.na, the
pursuit of which eventually led to him becoming a Buddha, an 'Awakened One'. Ta.nhaa,
therefore, can be understood as the basis from which both the ignoble and the noble search
can spring. The cause of the shift from the ignoble to the noble search is a matter of
seeing that the life one is leading, although it may have its pleasures and moments of
happiness and fulfillment, leaves one's basic existential state (ta.nhaa)
untouched. Only the noble search can affect that more basic existential condition.
5. Skilful and Unskilful Ta.nhaa
Although, as I have said, the common and accepted traditional view of ta.nhaa
is of a state antithetical to the Buddhist spiritual life, there are some rarely
commented-upon passages which indicate that ta.nhaa also has a more wholesome
In the A'nguttara Nikaaya we have the statement: 'he abandons ta.nhaa
by means of ta.nhaa'. But as to what this statement might imply, the sutta
itself provides only a hint, and is in need of exegesis. Fortunately, the commentary
Based on the present craving [ta.nhaa] (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 [pa.tisandhi.m aaka.d.dhati] 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'. In other words, the 'desire for
becoming an Arahant', which is identified here as 'present ta.nhaa', is abandoned
only when one attains Arahantship. However, it seems rather odd that although this
'present ta.nhaa', which Nyanaponika understands as the 'desire for becoming an
Arahant', 'should be pursued' and 'does not drag one into rebirth', nevertheless it is
regarded by the commentator as unskilful (akusala). How can the desire to become an
Arahant be 'unwholesome' (akusala)? Perhaps the commentator has in mind a similar
theme found in the Sa.myutta Nikaaya, where chanda or 'desire to do'
replaces ta.nhaa, and which makes the matter a little clearer. There the brahmin
U.n.naabha asks AAnanda:
What is it, master AAnanda, for which the 'life of excellence' [brahmacariya]
is lived under the recluse Gotama?
For the sake of abandoning 'desire to do' [chanda], brahmin, the life of
excellence is lived under the Exalted One. [S v. 271ff.] 
When asked whether there is any practice for abandoning this chanda,
AAnanda replies that chanda is to be abandoned by developing the four iddhi-paadas
or 'paths to power', the first of which is chanda-samaadhi or 'concentration of
will'. U.n.naabha retorts: 'That he should get rid of one chanda by means of
another chanda is an impossible thing'. AAnanda then asks U.n.naabha whether,
before setting out to visit him, he had the chanda to visit him, and when he
arrived at the Park, whether that chanda was not now abated? U.n.naabha agrees that
this is the case:
Very well then, brahmin. That monk who is [an] Arahant, in whom the aasavas
are destroyed, who has reached perfection, done what had to be done, laid down the burden,
reached the highest good, who has outworn the fetters of becoming and is freed by perfect
knowledge [sammadaññaa] that chanda which he previously had to
attain Arahantship, now that Arahantship is won, that appropriate [tajja] chanda
is appeased [pa.tippassaddha].
The chanda to be 'abandoned' [pahaana], which,
interestingly, the commentator construes as ta.nhaa, is to be abandoned by
means of developing the 'appropriate' chanda, which, here, is the chanda or
'desire' for Arahantship. And, as the text tells us, this 'appropriate' chanda is
not said to be simply negated at the attainment of Arahantship, but is said to be
'appeased', or, we could say, satisfied and fulfilled. All that is negated is the
possibility of chanda having aims and objects whose pursuit would lead to
frustration and unsatisfactoriness (dukkha). Using this model, we can therefore
fill out the statement 'he abandons ta.nhaa by means of ta.nhaa': ta.nhaa,
whose aims and objects are within sa.msaara, is to be abandoned by developing
'appropriate' [tajja] ta.nhaa, which is a form of ta.nhaa that can
become 'appeased' as its aim is Arahantship. But what form would this appropriate ta.nhaa
take? Although there are no such terms in the suttas as 'thirsting after
Arahantship' (arahatta-ta.nhaa), or 'thirsting after the Dhamma' (dhamma-ta.nhaa),
the notion that ta.nhaa can have Arahantship as its aim is found in the
There are two kinds of ta.nhaa: skilful [kusala] and unskilful [akusala].
Unskilful ta.nhaa leads to sa.msaara, skilful ta.nhaa is for
abandoning, which leads to diminishing [of sa.msaaric activities]. 
As the text goes on to tell us, quoting a passage from the Majjhima
Nikaaya, such skilful ta.nhaa is synonymous with an 'eager desire [pihaa]
to enter the peaceful sphere that the ariyas, who having realized it by themselves,
dwell in'. Thus, having 'liberation of mind' (ceto-vimutti) due to the 'fading
away of [unskilful] desire' (raaga-viraaga) as its object, such ta.nhaa is
skilful, and, in the manner of chanda, can therefore be said to be eventually
The Paali commentator, Buddhaghosa, also understands ta.nhaa as
having a wholesome aspect:
[a] cow, through her ta.nhaa for cold water, starts drinking
cold water, which gives her satisfaction and allays her torment, so the worldly man in
the grip of bhava-ta.nhaa performs actions of various kinds beginning with
abstention from killing living beings. This leads to happy destinies and gives
satisfaction because it is free from the burning defilements and, by bringing him to a
happy destiny, allays the torment of suffering [that would be experienced] in those
Buddhaghosa points out that the spiritually ignorant person is like a
thirsty cow who tries to slake her thirst by drinking hot water, 'which gives no
satisfaction', and represents unskilful action leading to continual frustration and sorrow
(dukkha). Given these examples, we can therefore say that 'getting rid of ta.nhaa
by means of ta.nhaa' implies that ta.nhaa can only be 'appeased' by becoming
skilful, by 'thirsting' after those things that, from the Buddhist point of view,
can actually bring real satisfaction. In other words, ta.nhaa, as the general
condition of unenlightened existence, can only be 'appeased' by taking up the Buddhist brahmacariya
or 'pursuit of excellence', whose goal is nirvaa.na.
It is also interesting to note that two affects closely related to ta.nhaa
raaga and kaama also have this twofold aspect. For
example, we have the terms dhamma-raaga or 'desire for the Dhamma', and dhamma-kaama
or 'love of the Dhamma', both of which are understood as kusala affects to be
developed. Yet raaga is listed as one of the three akusala-muulas or 'roots
of unskilfulness' from which other secondary unskilful affects are said to develop, and
is, as far as I am aware at least in the Theravaada tradition always
considered an akusala affect, as is kaama. Raaga and kaama,
therefore, like ta.nhaa and chanda, can also be said to have their kusala
and akusala aspects, their ariya and anariya aspects, and, when their
objects are 'appropriate', can be said to form part of the affective aspect of the
Buddhist path, and eventually find satisfaction. However, if, as I have argued, ta.nhaa
is not simply an affect among other affects, but is best understood as the affective
ground out of which all the affects can be said to spring, then these kusala forms
of chanda, raaga, and kaama can be said to be the affective expressions of kusalaa
Another interesting distinction made in the suttas, which also
has relevance here, is that between the aamisa or 'carnal' affects and the dhamma
or 'spiritual' affects. For example, there is both a 'carnal' or 'unregenerate' and a
'spiritual' or 'regenerate' form of 'longing' (esanaa), 'searching' (pariyesanaa),
'enjoyment' (bhoga), 'compassion' (anukampaa), 'generosity' (caaga),
'prosperity' (vu.d.dhi), 'favour' (anuggaha), 'sharing' (sa.mvibhaaga),
'worship' (puujaa), 'power' (iddhi), etc. Although no examples are given to
illustrate this distinction, I would conjecture that, for example in the case of 'longing'
(esanaa), as we have already have the distinction between the 'ignoble search' (anariyaa
pariyesanaa) and the 'spiritual search' (ariyaa pariyesanaa), 'longing' in its aamisa
form would be for material objects and pleasures, whereas 'longing' in its dhamma
form would have spiritual objects in mind. Therefore, as we have a whole list of affects
having a kusala, or ariya, or dhamma form, as well as an akusala,
or anariya, or aamisa form, it can be said that neither ta.nhaa, raaga,
kaama, pihaa, esanaa, pariyesanaa nor chanda are intrinsically
unskilful, ignoble, or unregenerate, but it is the objects sought after that determine
whether they are either skilful or unskilful, noble or ignoble, generate or unregenerate.
Given this, we could say that there are four conditions of ta.nhaa: (1) as the
affective ground of existence, or simply ta.nhaa per se, which is ethically
neutral, but which, as the methodological starting point, can give rise both to skilful
and to unskilful affects; (2) unskilful ta.nhaa, when it is the general condition
for the arising of unskilful affects; (3) skilful ta.nhaa, when it is the general
condition for the arising of skilful affects; (4) the 'appeasement' of ta.nhaa, or,
we could say, the 'quenching' or even 'satiation' of ta.nhaa, which is nirvaa.na.
Ta.nhaa per se is simply the general condition out of which all kinds of affects,
both skilful and unskilful, can arise. When those affects are skilful, we can say that the
general condition out of which they arise is skilful; when unskilful, the general
condition is unskilful. Given that Buddhist doctrine teaches that all things come to be
only in dependence upon conditions, and that, as I see it, ta.nhaa per se has no
ethical apriority, this raises the interesting question as to the conditions under which ta.nhaa
can be said to become either skilful or unskilful.
In the section on 'Ta.nhaa as metaphor', we saw that besides ta.nhaa,
avijjaa or 'spiritual ignorance' also had no knowable or perceptible 'first
beginning'. Further, according to Buddhaghosa, ta.nhaa and avijjaa, 'being
the principle causes of action [kamman]', 'can be treated as the root cause [of sa.msaara]',
and, methodologically, can therefore be 'made to serve as the starting point in an
exposition of sa.msaara' which, like ta.nhaa and avijjaa, has
no knowable beginning. As ta.nhaa and avijjaa are so fundamental and are so
inextricably linked one cannot have one without the other within the
individual they can be understood as the basic affective and cognitive aspects that inform
experience, which implies that how one sees and understands one's self and the world is
influenced by one's affective state, and one's affective state is in turn influenced by
the way one sees and understands one's self and the world. As we saw above, according to
Buddhaghosa, they are 'conditionally connected' [idappaccayaa]. Yet if ta.nhaa
can be skilful as well as unskilful, and skilful activity is spiritual activity, then
'spiritual ignorance' (avijjaa) cannot be the cognitive counterpart of skilful ta.nhaa,
whose object is nirvaa.na. The cognitive counterpart of skilful ta.nhaa must
be something like 'right-view' (sammaa-di.t.thi), the first member of the Noble
Eightfold Path. Further, if ta.nhaa per se has no knowable beginning, and is simply
the general condition that all beings find themselves in in the world, it would be rather
absurd to hold them all culpable for being in a condition of ta.nhaa. And, as
'spiritual ignorance' (avijjaa) is ta.nhaa's beginningless cognitive
counterpart, then beings cannot be held ultimately responsible for being born in the
condition of 'spiritual ignorance' either, implying that 'spiritual ignorance' is also an
ethically neutral state. To do otherwise would be to hold all beings culpable for not
being born fully fledged Buddhas from that 'unknowable beginning', which is clearly
ridiculous. Given this, we can draw up a correspondence between the various forms of ta.nhaa
and their cognitive counterparts:
ta.nhaa per se...........................................avijjaa
or 'spiritual ignorance'
or 'wisdom' (i.e. nirvaa.na).
The question as to how ta.nhaa can become either skilful or
unskilful can therefore be linked to the question as to how 'wrong-views' and
'right-views' arise. However, as this list of correspondences is not found as such in the
Paali tradition, I will put this question into a simplified evolutionary setting so as to
provide an alternative perspective.
6. Ta.nhaa in an Evolutionary
As ta.nhaa per se is the general existential condition we find
ourselves in, it is the source from which spring the various means of seeking some form of
gratification and purpose in life. Using Buddhist traditional terms, we can see this
search for gratification as expressive of the two 'root' affects of raaga or
'desire' in general, and dosa or 'aversion', the former being the basic response to
that which appears attractive, the latter to what appears threatening. Together with their
cognitive aspect, moha or 'bewilderment', these form the three akusala-muulas
or 'unskilful-roots' of existence. Although Buddhism is concerned solely with the
spiritual life, and these unskilful-roots are always regarded ethically as hindrances to
the individual's spiritual development, in their cruder forms they are also regarded as
hindrances to civilized society itself. Notwithstanding this, for the purposes of this
illustration, I will transfer them from their traditional conception and view them from
the perspective of a non-moral evolutionary setting, as the most general and basic natural
forces that were necessary for the evolution and survival of early man: raaga
as the urge to acquire the necessities for survival; dosa as the aggressive drive
needed when one is acquiring those necessities in a contest with others, as well as to
defend one's possessions and family/tribe against aggressors. As moha is the
dimness of the bewildered mind in relation to the truth of the spiritual life, it is
simply the general state of mind that the other affects inhabit. In early man it would be
a state of mind with very limited horizons: eating, copulating, hunting, basic
co-operation with other members of the tribe and, in moments of quiet consciousness,
perhaps the first glimmerings of 'why?' The view that simply satisfying basic needs will
ever quench ta.nhaa would be in Buddhist terms a micchaa-di.t.thi or
'wrong-view'. But because ta.nhaa cannot be fully satisfied with such basic needs,
some will eventually experience this state of affairs as unsatisfactory (dukkha),
and will therefore seek out more satisfying ways of living other views on life
which can lead, eventually, at least in some instances, to the emergence of more
developed and civilized societies. As life in such a society, at least for some, is not so
dominated by the ends of pure survival and satisfying basic needs, there will arise the
necessary freedom for more co-operative and cultivated social interaction to arise,
providing the necessary conditions for a wider range of more purely human and cultivated
responses and affects to emerge. Such a progression is compatible with the general
Buddhist doctrine of pa.ticca-samuppaada: affects arise in dependence upon
conditions. Therefore, within such conditions, more developed and civilized affects can
emerge including those which Buddhism would regard as being to some degree kusala
as well as their interrelated cognitive counterparts expressed in such cultural
forms as literature, philosophy, art, religion, etc. Some of these forms would embody, to
some degree, what Buddhism would recognize as 'mundane' (lokiya) sammaa-di.t.thi
or 'right-view', in that they would 'understand that it is good to be generous, make
offerings and sacrifices; that both good and evil actions will bear fruit and have
consequences; that there is this world and the other world', etc., views that are
found in most civilized cultures. Such a state of affairs can arise out of the fact that
man is driven by his 'thirst' for satisfaction and meaning in life, and that, as long as
he has not seen the way to satisfy his deeper longings, in other words, as long as
'right-view' has not arisen, he will continually experience dissatisfaction (dukkha),
which, in turn, is the primary condition for the search to continue.
All this, however, is contingent. Buddhism has no notion of any
divinely ordained and necessary progress up through the 'Great Chain of Being', or any of
its modern secular counterparts (there are no fatherly Buddhas looking after us). Apart
from natural forces, the main factors in the nexus of conditions within which human
development and progress can be said to happen are the all-too-fickle human desires and
aspirations. Thus the greater freedom offered by more civilized societies also gives the
opportunity for base unskilful affects to arise, which create various unwholesome
ideologies such as fascism, racialism, despotism, and express themselves in religious
bigotry and intolerance, etc. Therefore at times and for various reasons, the crude and
atavistic urges primitive raaga and dosa erupt under
conditions such as war and social strife, and, in the process, being framed in
rationalized ideologies, become much more destructive and inhuman than the raaga
and dosa counterparts found among the 'beasts'. As long as moha or
'bewilderment' is still present, all kinds of 'wrong-views' can emerge, and where there
are 'wrong-views' there is the possibility of falling victim to these atavistic urges.
Nevertheless, all things being contingent, the more civilized affects can be seen as
arising in dependence upon the more primitive urges: the fact that the more basic urges
cannot fully satisfy ta.nhaa will inevitably result in the arising of dukkha,
and as long as there is dukkha there is the possibility that man will keep
searching for something more. As long as some keep searching, there is the possibility
that one will find something. And, of course, there is also the possibility that some who
start the search will give up and decide that it is all just human vanity, and settle into
some materialistic or nihilistic creed, as did some contemporaries of the Buddha. The
greater freedom offered by civilized society offers a greater range of objects to respond
to and, therefore, a correspondingly greater potential for the development of more
peculiarly human and even spiritual affects and institutions to emerge. As no form of
existence short of nirvaa.na can quench our 'thirst', some will find even the most
civilized and cultured forms of life, including the accepted religious forms, to be dukkha,
and will therefore venture out on the Ariyan Quest (ariyaa pariyesnaa) and search
for that which, according to Buddhism, will finally quench our 'thirst': nirvaa.na.
Yet without the initial attempts of primitive raaga and dosa to find
security and satisfaction, civilization as we know it would not have arisen, and the very
conditions necessary for spiritual development in the Buddhist sense would not have
arisen. After all, without ta.nhaa there would be no existential Angst (dukkha),
and without existential Angst there would be no search for an answer to the human
predicament, and without such a search there would be no Buddhas.
7. The Teleology of Ta.nhaa
As we have seen, Buddhism envisages the universe as characterized by
the metaphor of ta.nhaa, the thirst or urge to find happiness, well-being,
satisfaction, meaning, or whatever else one wants to call it. As the Buddhist universe is
always a universe of beings there being no time when there are no beings of some
form around ta.nhaa is simply a term that symbolizes the condition we find
ourselves in in the world, a general state of wanting we know not what. And as there is no
such notion as original sin in Buddhism, we are not to blame for being in this condition
(at least not 'originally'): the general condition of ta.nhaa is just the way
things are, and no one can be said to have created it as such. This universe of beings,
characterized by ta.nhaa, is what we might call the subjective aspect of existence.
But Buddhism also posits a universal law, which is understood to exist independently of
beings, including Buddhas. This is the law of pa.ticca-samuppaada, or
'conditioned co-arising'. All the Buddhas do is simply reveal what is there, and make it
known. The most concise expression of this law of conditioned co-arising states that
whatever comes into being does so only in dependence upon conditions, conditions which
themselves only exist by way of other conditions, etc. and when the conditions change,
whatever came to be ceases to exist. Therefore we can say that this universal law of
conditioned co-arising represents the universe in its objective aspect, in the sense that
it is how the universe is independent of how we might feel about it, or want it to be.
Seeing ta.nhaa and the law of conditioned co-arising as the
subjective and objective aspects of existence, we can say it is the coming together of
these two aspects that creates human existence as we know and see it. However, such a
universe cannot be said to manifest any kind of teleology: there is no preordained end for
which it can be said to exist, towards which we must inevitably roll. There is no
providential force that ultimately guarantees our future welfare. Nevertheless, it could
be argued that although this is the case, this universe is structured in such a way that
it can be said to favour spiritual evolution, even though it cannot guarantee that it will
happen. This comes about because, from the Buddhist perspective, human beings will only
find real satisfaction, fulfilment and meaning in their lives by venturing upon something
like the Buddhist spiritual path. The reason for this is simply that such fulfilment and
meaning only come to be in dependence upon certain conditions, those conditions being what
the Buddhist spiritual path is. The Buddhist spiritual path is nothing other than the
application of the universal law of conditioned co-arising as a guide to the kind of
actions that will lead to fulfilment and meaning. Therefore our ta.nhaa will only
be fully appeased by following some such path of skilful action. If we act with
self-centred greed, ill-will, seek no more than sensual satisfaction, then, according to
the nature of the way things are, although we might find a certain amount of satisfaction,
we will eventually run into continual frustration (dukkha). This is just the way
things are. The universe, therefore, although it manifests no providence, can,
nevertheless, be said to 'favour' the spiritual life in the sense that it is only
by leading such a life that one will eventually become a fulfilled human being, or,
further, what Buddhism calls an Awakened human being, a Buddha, even though there is no
power or force in the universe that can guarantee that such will happen. Notwithstanding
this, given the vast incalculable vistas of time that Buddhist cosmology presents to us,
and that beings grounded in ta.nhaa will continually ferret for ultimate
satisfaction and meaning within a universe whose nature is best described as 'conditioned
co-arising', then it becomes a statistical probability that some being will find nirvaa.na,
that some being will become a Buddha, and reveal the way to the rest of us. Yet for such
to come about, all we need posit are these two aspects: the subjective aspect of ta.nhaa
per se inherent in all beings, and a universe whose objective aspect is revealed in the
doctrine of 'conditioned co-arising'.
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(London, 1889-1921); Thus have I Heard, trans. M.Walshe (London, 1987).
Majjhima-Nikaaya: ed. V. Trenckner and R. Chalmers, 3 vols.
Middle Length Sayings, 3 vols., trans. I. B. Horner (London,
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Bhikkhu Bodhi (Boston, 1995).
Sa.myutta-Nikaaya: ed. L. Feer, 5 vols. (London, 1884-98); The
Book of Kindred Sayings, 5 vols. trans. C. A .F. Rhys Davids and F. L. Woodword
A'nguttara-Nikaaya: ed. R. Morris and E. Hardy, 5 vols. (London,
The Book of Gradual Sayings, 5 vols., trans. F. L. Woodword and E. M. Hare
Nettippakara.na: ed. E. Hardy (London, 1902); The Guide,
trans. Ven. Ñaa.namoli (London, 1962).
Visuddhimagga of Buddhaghosa: ed. C. A. F. Rhys Davids, 2 vols.
(London, 1920-1); The Path of Purification, trans. Bhikkhu Ñyaa.namoli, 2
vols. (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1976).
Collins, S. (1993) The Discourse on what is Primary (Aggañña-Sutta), Journal
of Indian Philosophy 21, 301-93.
Gombrich, R. (1992) The Buddha's Book of Genesis, Indo-Iranian Journal
Matilal, B. K. (1985) Logic, Language and Reality, Delhi.
Nyanaponika Thera, (1970) trans., Anguttara Nikaaya: An Anthology
Pruden, L.M. (1988-90), Abhidharmako'sabhaa.syam of
Vasubandhu, translated in 4 volumes, being a translation of Poussin's French translation
with reference to the Sanskrit text and with additional notes (Berkeley, California).
- A iii. 399-400. Note that I have re-translated some of the sutta material referred
to in this paper.
- A ii. 209-10.
- M ii. 259-60.
- I use the word 'ground' here in the sense of a 'primary condition', or 'fundamental
principle' that attempts to characterize life in general. If one takes one of Flew's
definitions of metaphysics, as 'an attempt to characterize existence or reality as a whole
(A Dictionary of Philosophy, London, 1979), then we could say that ta.nhaa
is a metaphysical notion in this sense a metaphysical metaphor.
- In the sense of sa'nkhaara-dukkhataa, or 'existential unsatisfactoriness'.
- In Buddhist cosmology, the universe continually cycles through immense aeons (kappas)
of 'devolution' (sa.mva.t.ta) and 'evolution' (viva.t.ta).
- An almost identical account of this sutta is found outside the Paali tradition in
the Mahaavastu (iii. 339).
- What kind of fruit the fruit of the 'Tree of Knowledge' actually is is not mentioned in
Genesis. Tradition has taken it to be an apple, but some scholars believe it more likely
to be a fig.
- Sa.msaara is divided into three levels: 1) kaama-loka, or 'realm of sensual
desire', which is sub-divided into various realms. At the bottom are the hell realms,
then, rising up through the kaama-loka, the realms of the pettas or 'hungry
ghosts', animals, humans, and at the top the six deva realms. Here, although there
are male devas and female deviis, only in the lower two realms does
copulation take place. In the higher four gratification is achieved simply through acts
such as smiling or looking at each other; 2) ruupa-loka or 'realm of form', which
is sub-divided into seventeen levels, the beings in each being progressively more refined.
Here there is no sexual distinction; 3) aruupa-loka, or 'realm of no form', a
rather mysterious realm sub-divided into the four planes of the aruupa-jhaanas,
i.e. the realms of 'infinite-space', 'infinite-consciousness', 'no-thingness', and
- S iv. 400.
- See D iii. 216.
- See S iii. 149, where it is said: 'Inconceivable, bhikkhus, is the beginning
of sa.msaara. For beings hindered by
spiritual ignorance (avijjaa) and fettered by ta.nhaa, who go the
round of births, the beginning [of sa.msaara] cannot be known'.
- Some Buddhist scholars would say that this account should not be taken seriously as
Buddhist cosmology, it being no more than a Buddhist tongue-in-cheek satire of certain Braahmanical
beliefs (e.g. see Gombrich (1992) and Collins (1993). However that may be, from what is
said we can take it that the Buddhists understand ta.nhaa as having cosmic
- A v. 113ff.
- Vsm. 525. Note that ta.nhaa here is said to lead to 'happy destinies' as well as
- A v. 116.
- Vsm. 525.
- Although avijjaa does literally mean 'lack of knowledge' (vijjaa) in the
sense of knowledge about the true nature of things, following Matilal, I would understand avijjaa
to imply the holding of 'views' (di.t.this). As Matilal says, "the Sanskrit
term avidyaa (Paali: avijjaa), although grammatically
does not [necessarily] mean negation (or absence or lack) of anything. For
it is well known in Sanskrit grammar that the negative particle in a Sanskrit compound
does not always express simple negation or absence" [Matilal (1985), pp.321-22].
Using Patañjali's discussion of the semantic problem of the negative compound a-braahma.na
he goes on to suggest that as 'vidyaa means knowledge of reality, or ultimate
knowledge, or simply, knowledge, avidyaa [may be best understood as] something that
is liable to be mistaken as such'. In other words, avidyaa is not simply a lack of
knowledge, but thinking one has knowledge when one has not. Avijjaa therefore implies having views and opinions about
things which are not in accordance with the true nature of things. In his Abhidharmako'sabhaa.syam,
Vasubandhu says that 'Avidyaa is a separate dhamma' and is 'not a mere
negation'. For example, '.Rta or satya is truth; non-truth (an.rta)
is speech contrary to true speech' [Pruden (1988-90), pp.419-20].
- S ii. 114.
- S iii. 13; v. 414.
- Buddhaghosa's commentary on this sutta does indeed make a distinction here
between va.t.ta-muulabhuutaa purima-ta.nhaa or 'primary ta.nhaa which is the
root of sa.msaara', and samudaacaara-ta.nhaa or 'ta.nhaa in action'
[see footnote in Rhys Davids' translation]. However, my point is that it is always a
particular affect such as 'lust' or 'aversion' that arises at this point, not ta.nhaa,
even in the form of 'ta.nhaa in
action'. One could say that 'lust' is a particular form of 'ta.nhaa in action', but this is just saying that 'ta.nhaa in action' is always some
particular affect, that all the affects are expressions of ta.nhaa per se.
- D ii. 58f.
- M i. 163. Although one cannot take these more or less stock phrases too seriously
as actual, literal happenings, nevertheless it is interesting to note here that: 1) a
'black-haired young man endowed with the blessing of youth' is not how I would describe a
married twenty-nine year old; 2) there is no mention of the Buddha's wife and child; 3) he
refers to his 'mother' [maataa] and not his step-mother (Mahaapajaapati, who later became a bhikkhunii):
according to other accounts, his mother (Maayaa) died shortly after giving birth to the
- It could, and sometimes does, also lead some who despair at finding any meaning in life,
to commit suicide in the hope of becoming totally extinct. This is the third kind of ta.nhaa:
the 'desire for annihilation' (vibhava-taa.nha).
- The account of the Four Sights is found at D ii, 21-30. The first Three Sights
are of an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and represent dukkha. The Fourth Sight
is of a 'religious mendicant' (paribbaajika), symbolizing the spiritual life, the
way to the cessation of dukkha.
- Notwithstanding what the first Noble Truth tells us, i.e. that the cause of dukkha
or 'suffering and unsatisfactoriness' is ta.nhaa, I would say that it is not ta.nhaa
per se that is the primary cause of this dukkha, but the way one is
attempting to satisfy one's ta.nhaa. In other words, as the noble search represents
the forth Noble Truth, the way leading to the cessation of dukkha, then the primary
cause of dukkha is the leading of the ignoble life, which is not simply ta.nhaa,
but the expression of ta.nhaa conjoined with 'wrong-views' (micchaa-di.t.this).
If, as I have argued, ta.nhaa is also the affective ground out of which the noble
search springs, which we could say would be ta.nhaa conjoined with 'right-views' (sammaa-di.t.this),
then ta.nhaa per se is not the cause of dukkha, but only ta.nhaa
conjoined with 'wrong-views'.
- A ii. 146: ta.nha.m nissaaya ta.nha.m pajahati.
- Nyanaponika (1970), fn. 64.
- Mrs. Rhys Davids draws attention to this passage as an important example of the way in
which the notion of 'extinction of desire' needs qualifying [1920, p.222f.]. Chanda
means 'impulse, excitement; intention, resolution, will; desire for, wish for, delight in'
[PED], and, as Mrs. Rhys Davids also points out, is often a synonym of ta.nhaa.
- See also, M i. 480 and ii. 173 for chanda as the necessary 'will' to
strive and attain paññaa. As the PED says of iddhi: 'there is no single
word in English for Iddhi, as the idea is unknown in Europe. The main sense seems to be
- See footnote 4 in Woodword's translation, and also Rhys Davids' note on chanda in
Aung, (1910), p.244.
- A similar example with 'action' (kamman) is found at A i. 236. There the
Buddha says that there are three causes for the arising of action: non-greed, non-hatred,
and non-confusion. Such action is said to be skilful (kusala) and results in
happiness (sukha), but it is also said to bring about the 'cessation of action' (kamma-nirodha).
To understand what this 'cessation of action' means, one has to look elsewhere. For
example, the Mahaacattaariisaka Sutta also informs us that there are three kinds of
action, but here the three kinds form an ethical hierarchy: at the bottom there is 'wrong
action' (micchaa-kammanta) followed by two levels of 'right action'
(sammaa-kammanta). There is 'right action' which is 'affected
by the biases' (sa-aasava), 'involved in [creating] merit' (puññaa-bhaagiya),
and 'ripens in future rebecoming' (upadhi-vepakka); and there is 'right
action' that is 'noble' (ariya), 'without the biases'
(anaasava), and 'beyond the mundane world' (lokuttara)
[M iii. 74]. This latter kind of action is not karmic, and will therefore not produce
effects that will ripen within sa.msaara. As the Buddha is said to be in full 'possession
of all skilful states' [M ii. 116], we can assume that the cessation of action
implies only the cessation of unskilful actions, as well as those skilful actions
'involved in [creating] merit', etc., but which form the necessary basis for the
arising of the third kind of skilful action, upon which such karmic skilful action ceases.
- At D ii. 58, we do find the term dhamma-ta.nhaa, but here it means
'thirsting after mental states' as it is in a list of six ta.nhaas, each connected
with the objects of the six senses. It is also listed in this latter sense in the first
book of the Abhidhamma Pi.taka, the Dhammasa'nganii, among the akusala-dhammas
- The 'Guide-treatise', translated from the Paali by Ñaa.namoli as The Guide. It is not so much a commentary on the suttas, but a 'guide' for commentators on how to interpret the suttas. It was probably written around the second or first
- As the A'nguttara Nikaaya explains, the compound term 'leads to diminishing' [apacayagaamin]
stands for the practice of the ten precepts of skilful action, e.g. abstention from
harming living beings, sexual misconduct, lying, slanderous speech, bitter speech, idle
babbling, coveting, ill-will, and the only 'positive' precept, cultivating 'right-view' (sammaa-di.t.thi)
- M iii. 218. See also M i. 303-4, which adds that one then sets up an eager
desire (pihaa) for 'unsurpassed emancipation' (anuttara vimokha).
- Netti. 87.
- Vsm. 525. The 'happy destinies' [sugatis] refer to future lives in some deva-lokas
or 'heavenly worlds'.
- Raaga means 'love, affection, vehement desire for, interest in, desire for', etc; kaama
means 'desire for, longing after, love (especially sexual love or sensuality), affection'
- A iv. 423; v. 345.
- A v. 24, 27, 90, 201; Sn 92.
- See A i. 93ff. and Itv. 98. AAmisa means: '1. originally raw meat;
hence prevailing notion of 'raw, unprepared, uncultivated'.
2. 'fleshy, of the
flesh' (as opposed to mind or spirit), hence material, physical; generally in opposition
to dhamma' [PED] dhamma, in this context, being concerned with the spiritual
- Nirvaa.na can also mean 'quenched'. See PED under nibbuta.
- M iii. 72. This is 'right-view with biases [aasavas]', which does not seem
to have nirvaa.na as its goal, but is instead a means of creating the necessary
'merit' (puñña), or one could say 'conditions', for a better and happier life in
the future to arise, whether in this life or the next. As 'right-view with taints' also
includes the acknowledgement that there are 'good and virtuous recluses and brahmans in
the world who have realized for themselves by direct knowledge and declare this world and
the other world', a view that obviously includes non-Buddhist recluses, one could see this
as the Buddhist view of the ideal society, which upholds the doctrine of kamman and
the importance of the spiritual life. These would be the ideal conditions for those who
seek out 'right-view without biases', which is 'transcendental' (lokuttara) and Ariyan, and has nirvaa.na as its goal.
- 'Bhikkhus, whether there be an appearance or non-appearance of a Tathaagata,
this determination of nature (dhamma.t.thitataa), this orderliness of nature [dhamma-niyaamataa]
prevails: the relatedness of this to that" [idappaccayataa]'. [S ii. 25].
- As the Dhammapada has it 'The Tathaagatas only declare the Way; you yourselves must
strive" . Ultimately, one cannot rely upon tradition, sacred or otherwise, but
only one's own efforts.