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As we pointed out earlier, the five clinging-aggregates constantly press for recognition as ‘self’. And the puthujjana, not being able to withstand the pressure, takes the five clinging-aggregates (or a part of them) in one way or another, as self. His ‘being’, which at the very root is a being-’I’, is therefore also a being-’self’; or it is a ‘self’-existence. This is termed bhava in Pāli.

Being-’self’ means being-something-that-is-taken-as-self; and what is taken for self is the five clinging-aggregates (or a part thereof). Now the five clinging-aggregates (or a part thereof) taken as self is also the ‘person’ (sakkāya). Therefore, ‘being’ (bhava) ultimately means being-a-’person’, or it means the existence-of-the-’person’.

Now, what maintains the ‘personality’, or what maintains ‘being’? The answer is holding or clinging (upādāna).

Basically, clinging is mentally endowing the immediate experience as ‘I’, when the conceit ‘I’ is conceived in the awareness of the immediate experience. This clinging determines or points to an ‘I’ that is not a mere concept (conceit) but a concept with a definite referent. Repeatedly determining this situation with every different experience points to an ‘I’ that stands separate from every individual experience. It points to the existence of such an ‘I’. In other words, taking experience as ‘I’ determines being-’I’, determines ‘I’-am.

By clinging to matter there is ‘(I) am’, not by non-clinging. By clinging to feeling… perception… determinations… consciousness is there ‘(I) am’, not by non-clinging.” — Ānanda-sutta (Saṃyutta-nikāya 22.83)

Therefore the Buddha teaches that ‘being’ is dependent on clinging (upādāna):

“With clinging as a condition, ‘being’.” — Pokkharanī-sutta (Saṃyuta-nikāya 13.2)

The existentialist is not wrong when he says: “When I no longer have anything I shall no longer be anything.” But he is wrong when he says, “Being is not reduced to having, but having is transformed into being.” Though in the latter case he gives preference to having, he is wrong is thinking that having is transformed into being. ‘Having’ (considering ‘I’ and ‘mine’) must be there for ‘being’ to be there.

If ‘I’ is to be, something has to be reckoned or stamped as ‘I’. In the hypothetical situation where an eternal self-similar I actually exists, no such reckoning is necessary. It is only because no such actual I is available that taking this and that as ‘I’ is necessary. So in the absence of an eternal self-similar I, the puthujjana creates an ‘I’, and in reflexion falsely assumes this creation of his to be actually an eternal self-similar I—a self. He thus thinks that he actually exists as a self.

Now, what does this reckoning to be ‘I’ and ‘self’—this clinging—depend on? It depends fundamentally on the craving-to-be-’I’. The craving-to-be-’I’ is envisioned, has the character of an appetite, a hunger; and it is insatiable, because it always a wanting of more. The puthujjana incessantly experiences a dire need to continue as ‘I’, to persist as ‘I’, to be ‘I’. He craves-to-be-’I’. This craving-to-be-’I’ is, in the first place, not a craving for eternal existence, where eternity is conceived as an infinity of duration. Just as the question of being for all time, of being eternal, is consequential to that of merely continuing to be, craving for eternal being is also consequential to this craving-to-be-’I’. Craving-to-be-’I’ is always pregnant with craving for eternal being. But craving for eternal being (immortality) is not always present or manifest. When manifest, it stands as a coarse layer over the craving-to-be-’I’, which is always present in the root-structure of the puthujjana’s experience—just like the scum that forms over the surface of a boiling soup.

The Buddha teaches that in addition to craving-for-’being’ there is also a craving for what, on the surface, is the opposite of ‘being’. This is referred to as vibhavataṇhā, craving-for-’nonbeing’. The Pāli word vibhava has been translated as ‘nonbeing’, however it is not easy to render in English. Ready-to-hand translations of it as nonexistence, nonbeing, self-annihilation etc. tend to miss the point. Therefore it is all the more important to get at its correct meaning.

The puthujjana first takes what is not-self to be self. Thus his existence is really a ‘self’-existence, a ‘being’ (bhava), although he thinks it is the existence of a self, a being-self. Then he finds that this ‘being’ is unsatisfactory. But since this ‘being’, which for him is actually being-self, is unsatisfactory, he thinks that being-self is unsatisfactory. So he looks for what he thinks is nonbeing-self. In other words, he looks for cutting-off of a not-self, assuming that it is really the cutting off of a self. In this way he looks for a false nonbeing, a false cutting off. He looks for ‘nonbeing’ (vibhava).

The trouble is that the puthujjana looks for nonbeing-self, having taken what is not-being-self to be actually being-self. Thus every attempt towards  ‘nonbeing’ (vibhava) directly involves the confirmation or assertion of ‘being’ (bhava). In other words, every attempt to do away with the existence of a falsely assumed self carries with it the assumption of the existence of a self; so that the fatal error of assuming that his existence is the existence of a self is thereby perpetuated .Trying to get away from ‘being’ through ‘nonbeing’ is only becoming more tied to ‘being’—like a dog tied to a post with a leash, in attempting to release itself from the post, only keeps running round and round the post.

Those worthy recluses and divines who make known the cutting off, the perishing, the nonbeing of the existing creature—they, through fear of the ‘person’, through loathing the ‘person’, are simply running and circling around the ‘person’. Just as a dog tied to a firm stake or post runs and circles round the post or stake, so these recluses and divines through fear of the ‘person’, through loathing the ‘person’, are simply running and circling around the ‘person’.” — Pañcattaya-sutta (Majjima-nikāya 102)

The post is ‘self’-existence, or ‘being’ (bhava); the leash is not knowing or not understanding what ‘being’ really is; and running round and round the post is the attempt at ‘nonbeing’. Running round the post only keeps the dog attached to the post; similarly, attempting ‘nonbeing’ only maintains ‘being’.

If the puthujjana wants to do away with ‘being’, he must stop creating ‘being’. That means he must stop creating ‘self’. And for this he must first understand that he is taking what is really not-self to be self. ‘Nonbeing’ simply involves him in re-creating ‘being’, and so provides him no escape from ‘being’.

Whatsoever recluses or divines think that through ‘nonbeing’ they can escape from ‘being’, all such have not escaped from ‘being’, I declare.” — Kālattayadukkha-sutta (Saṃyutta-nikāya 22.10)

All this indicates that vibhava is not non-‘being’. Absence of ‘being’ is called abhava in the Suttas. The Suttas’ usage of vibhava and not abhava indicates a careful ontological distinction.

Now, my present mode of ‘being’ as a totality—’myself’ determined by my whole situation—is the most satisfactory choice from among those that were available to me for actualization at the time of choosing. No doubt, we sometimes refrain from choosing the experience that we consider would being us the greatest possible immediate satisfaction; but we are then experiencing a reflexive satisfaction by anticipating a greater future satisfaction or advantage by foregoing the immediate one. This anticipation or reflexive satisfaction is part of our present total experience. Of all the modes of ‘being’ possible at the time, I chose to be this mode because it appeared the most satisfactory; and right now, this is what I crave most within the scope of realizable possibility. So this present mode of ‘being’ has present craving-for-’being’ as condition.

Now, if I crave only for this mode of ‘being’, there can never be any other ‘being’ other than the resent ‘being’ on my responsibility. Of course, I can have some ‘being’ forced on my by circumstances beyond my control; but that would not be my responsibility. Further, for me to crave only for this present mode of ‘being’ it must be completely satisfactory. But this present ‘being’ may not appear completely satisfactory when it is places against the many modes of ‘being’ it now points to; and these many modes of ‘being’ pointed to are the intentions (or better, determinations) that form an integral part of this present ‘being’.

This means there is an inherent unsatisfactoriness in my present being, which was thought to be most satisfactory at the time of choice. It is not all possible satisfaction; it is always lacking (ūno) and unsatisfied (atitto). At every instant of my ‘being’ I apprehend a certain contingency or unjustifiability, however minor, in the earlier choice that determined my present mode of ‘being’. I am therefore always on the verge of considering my present ‘being’, which was determined by that choice, in an objective fashion, and consequently of surpassing it and making it a thing of the past by now determining a new mode of ‘being’. So I crave for the undoing of my present mode of ‘being’. This is vibhavataṇhā, craving for ‘nonbeing’. And by that means I expect the anticipated ‘being’ to give me the highest possible satisfaction that can be intended right now. But when this new ‘being’ is made present, the same situation holds.

Thus we find that both craving-for-’being’ and craving-for-‘nonbeing’ are both present in the structure of our experience, though one may be more manifest than the other depending on the nature of the ‘being’. More exactly, when pleasure is felt, there is more craving-for-’being’, and so we wish to continue in that state of ‘being’; and when displeasure is felt, craving-for-‘nonbeing’ is manifest, so there is a wish to pass away from that state of ‘being’ into another.

It is necessary to realize that craving-for-‘nonbeing’ has to be there if there is craving-for-‘being’. The puthujjana’s existence is being-‘self’ and not being-self. It is because his existence is the existence of a false self that the necessity for ‘nonbeing’ always presents itself to some degree. A deception must always sooner or later lead to a betrayal. It is not difficult to see that craving-for-‘nonbeing’ is there in experience; it is difficult to see that craving-for-‘nonbeing’ has to be there as a necessary part of the structure of experience. Thus it is not the fact that is difficult to see, it is the necessity for the fact.

The existentialist says, “Fundamentally man is the desire to be, and the existence of this desire is not to be established by an empirical induction; it is the result of an a priori description of the being for-itself, since desire is a lack and since the for-itself is the being which is to itself its own lack of being.”

This is a very interesting statement. By ‘desire to be’ he is referring essentially to bhavataṇhā. Now, he cannot hope to solve this dilemma. For it can be solved only by seeing that the being of the for-itself is no more lack of being; in other words, by seeing that there is no more desire to be. And this he cannot do, for the simple reason that, by assumption, the being of the for-itself is the lack of being, is the desire to be.

It is also a good example of how the existential ambiguity becomes insurmountable to the existentialist. The existentialist does not of course know that he has put himself into this situation (a situation from which he cannot extricate himself) by his tacit assumption of self—an assumption that, as a puthujjana, he cannot help but make. We can summarize this plight of the existentialist in the following way: knowingly or unknowingly he takes something or other as self in one way or another, and then finds that he cannot justify his action; then he sees no way out, yet he cannot help but cling to belief in self (attavādupādāna).

Now, just as much as a ‘person’ (sakkāya) contains ‘person’-view (sakkāyadiṭṭhi), ‘being’ (bhava) contains ‘being’-view (bhavadiṭṭhi) and ‘nonbeing’-view (vibhavadiṭṭhi). ‘Being’-view is simply the view that this living is being self, and ‘nonbeing’-view is the view that there is doing away with this living which is being self. Both views are wrong, simply because they both assume self. Further, just as much as ‘nonbeing’ (vibhava) embodies ‘being’ (bhava), ‘nonbeing’-view (vibhavadiṭṭhi) embodies ‘being’-view (bhavadiṭṭhi).

On the surface, ‘being’-view (bhavadiṭṭhi) seems in opposition to ‘nonbeing’-view (vibhavadiṭṭhi), just as much as on the surface, ‘being’ (bhava) seems in opposition to ‘nonbeing’ (vibhava). But inasmuch as they both spring from the same source—‘self’—they actually promote each other. They do this in an indirect way, by directly promoting ‘self’ in outwardly opposing directions. So even though on the surface, ‘being’-view and ‘nonbeing’-view seem in opposition to each other, each helps the other to avoid and prevent the destruction of ‘self’ and things dependent on ‘self’.

Monks, there are two views: ‘being’-view and ‘nonbeing’-view. Whosoever recluses and divines, monks, are stuck to ‘being’-view, are gone to ‘being’-view, are attached to ‘being’-view—they are opposed by ‘nonbeing’-view. Whosoever recluses and divines, monks, are stuck to ‘nonbeing’-view, are gone to ‘nonbeing’-view, are attached to ‘nonbeing’-view—they are opposed by ‘being’-view. Whosoever recluses and divines, monks, do not understand as they really are the arising of, the fall of, the satisfaction in, the misery of and the escape from these two views—they are with lust, they are with hate, they are with delusion, they are with clinging, they are foolish, they are with devotion and opposition, they are fond of subjective evaluations, they are not fully released from birth, aging, death, sorrow, lamentation, displeasure, grief and despair. They are not fully released from suffering, I declare.” — Cula-sihanada Sutta (Majjhima-nikāya 11)

These two views, ‘being’-view (bhavadiṭṭhi) and ‘nonbeing’-view (vibhavadiṭṭhi), push the puthujjana to one of two beliefs: either belief in eternalism or belief in annihilation. The eternalist belief (sassatavāda) is the belief that ‘this my self is eternal’, and the annihilationist belief (ucchadavāda) is the belief that ‘this my self will be annihilated at death’. The puthujjana reflecting on his death has no option but to hold to one of these two beliefs as his view of his own future. The opposition mentioned in the Sutta passage is particularly effective at this level; the believer in eternalism is deterred by annihilationism and the believer in annihilation is deterred by eternalism. Neither is certain of his position, nor can he be.

The Buddha points out that belief in eternalism is due to sticking fast (oliyanti) to ‘being’.

Men and gods, monks, are loving ‘being’, are intent on ‘being’, are delighted in ‘being’. When doctrine for the cessation of ‘being’ is set forth, their mind does not spring forward to it, does not brighten, does not get steadied, does not get drawn in. Thus, monks, do some stick fast.” — Diṭṭhigata-sutta (Khuddaka-nikāya 4.49)

On the other hand, the Buddha teaches that in the case of the self-reflexive individual, believing in annihilation is due to delighting in ‘nonbeing’ and therefore going to excess or overshooting the mark (atidhāvanti). It happens like this:

The extent and degree of repulsion (patighā) from ‘being’ in individuals is a variable factor. While one puthujjana would be repelled from certain kinds of feelings, perceptions etc., another would be repelled from these and more. Some go the whole hog, and are repelled from everything that falls within ‘being’. They are dissatisfied with their past; dissatisfied with the present; and they cannot foresee any satisfaction in the future which see will be old age, decrepitude and death. In other words, they are dissatisfied with their past, present and future ‘being’, so the look for complete escape from ‘being’. Now, this dissatisfaction and looking for an escape from ‘being’, by themselves, are quite wholesome things. It is in fact the basis of all authenticity; and set in its proper perspective, could become a fruitful approach to the Buddha’s teaching. This is shown in the Dīghanaka Sutta (Majjhima-nikāya 74), a conversation between the Buddha and the wanderer Dīghanaka, who expresses a view almost identical to what we have just described:

After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he stood to one side. As he was standing there, he said to the Blessed One, “Master Gotama, I am of the view, of the opinion, that ‘All is not pleasing to me’.”

“But even this view of yours, Aggivessana — ‘All is not pleasing to me’ — is even that not pleasing to you?”

“Even if this view of mine were pleasing to me, Master Gotama, it would still be the same, it would still be the same.”

“Well, Aggivessana, there are more than many in the world who say, ‘It would still be the same, it would still be the same,’ yet they both do not abandon that view and they cling to another view. There are fewer than few in the world who say, ‘It would still be the same, it would still be the same,’ and they both abandon that view and do not cling to another view.

“There are some brahmans & contemplatives who are of the view, of the opinion, that ‘All is pleasing to me.’ There are some brahmans & contemplatives who are of the view, of the opinion, that ‘All is not pleasing to me.’ There are some brahmans & contemplatives who are of the view, of the opinion, that ‘A part is pleasing to me; a part is not pleasing to me.’

“With regard to those brahmans & contemplatives who are of the view, of the opinion, that ‘All is pleasing to me’: That view of theirs is close to being impassioned, close to bondage, close to delighting, close to holding, close to clinging. With regard to those brahmans & contemplatives who are of the view, of the opinion, that ‘All is not pleasing to me’: That view of theirs is close to not being impassioned, close to non-bondage, close to not-delighting, close to not-holding, close to not-clinging.”

Now, as said in the Sutta, ‘there are many more in the world’ who, without abandoning the view that nothing pleases them, keep clinging to that view. Consequently, they keep looking for a complete escape from ‘being’. Unfortunately, they do not know that such an escape is available in this life. Not knowing any escape available in this life itself, they come to the conclusion or seek comfort in the idea that the only escape that will make an end of it all is death.

“Some afflicted by ‘being’, ashamed thereby, loathing it, delight in ‘nonbeing’ thus: ‘Venerable Sir, inasmuch as when the body breaks up at death, this my self is cut off, is destroyed, does not exist after death—that is the peaceful, that is the excellent, that is the true state of affairs’. Thus, monks, some go to excess.” — Diṭṭhigata-sutta (Khuddaka-nikāya 4.49)

The puthujjana who goes to excess in this fashion is far from being convinced about the matter. After all, it is not something that he can be truthfully convinced about. But under the setup he finds himself in, it does at least give him some consolation; it is the only ‘escape’ he can imagine, thus driving his view too far, to regions beyond his vision and reach—to after-death. His difficulty is, of course, that he knows no escape from ‘being’ that can be experienced in this life itself.

The rationalist or materialist also believes in annihilation, and he too does not know an escape from ‘being’ that can be experienced in this life. But in his case the belief in annihilation is not born from self-reflexion. He relishes the belief for another reason: it permits him to enjoy the pleasures of the senses and lose himself in unlimited labyrinth forms of inauthenticity. It enables him to “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” It is more pleasurable for him to indulge in sensuality, forcing himself to believe in annihilation as a justification. Certainty doesn’t matter to him; not being a subjective thinker he is not very concerned about it. Though of course when old age and death draw near, he finds himself not so sure about himself and his views, and becomes rather anxious. After all, he cannot be truthfully convinced about annihilation; it is simply a convenient belief that caters to his craving for sensuality.

We have explored the fact that in the puthujjana’s experience there are both craving-for-‘being’ and craving-for-‘nonbeing’. Craving-for-‘being’ is structurally necessary for his present mode of ‘being’; and craving-for-‘nonbeing’ is structurally necessary for change of mode of ‘being’ to occur. These cravings are always in conflict—one tending toward stability, the other toward change. And the puthujjana attempts, with varying degrees of success—but never total success—to resolve the conflict by intensifying the pleasure of experienced ‘being’, to reduce the need for a different mode of ‘being’.

In other words, the puthujjana attempts to make craving-for-‘nonbeing’ disappear by intensifying the pleasure felt in present ‘being’, and in this way make the conflict vanish too. When present ‘being’ is the most pleasurable in comparison with all possible mode of ‘being’ in his purview at any given time, he does not wish it to change. Attention is then almost fully on the present experience, and other possible modes of experience recede far from the sphere of attention; he does not wish to be disturbed. In seeking pleasurable present ‘being’ he tries to come as close as possible to a mode of ‘being’ that is wholly desirable and therefore unnecessary to change.

Now, whenever the puthujjana finds that he needs to intensify the pleasurability of his ‘being’, the only means he has for it is through the intensity of pleasure which occurs in the realm of the five sense-bases: eye, ear, nose, tongue and body. The more sensuous or sensory an experience is, the more intense it is; and that applies to both pleasant and unpleasant experiences. An orgasm, for example, is one of the most intensely pleasurable experiences. This increase in pleasurability is, however derived only from pleasant sensual experience.

There are five percepts corresponding to the five sense-bases: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. These percepts in combination with pleasure are referred to in the Suttas as kāma. Kāma can be rendered as sensuality. And the foregoing indicates that his sensuality is both qualitative and quantitative. Thus, the pleasure occurring in the realm of the five sense-bases, in itself, is not sensuality; it becomes sensuality only when it is dear, lustful, etc.

There are, monks, sights perceived through the eye… sounds perceived through the ear… smells perceived through the nose… tastes perceived through the tongue… touches perceived through the body, that are liked, lovely, pleasing, dear, connected with sensuality, lustful. These, monks, are called ‘things to be fettered with’. The desire-&-lust therein, that is the fetter that is in them.” —Paṭhamamārapāsa-sutta (Saṃyuta-nikāya 35.97)

Thus the five percepts become the five strands-of-sensuality (kāmaguṇa) only when they are associated with desire-&-lust, or at the most basic level, only when they are associated with subjectivity.

There are, friend, these five strands-of-sensuality. What five? Sights perceived through the eye, that are liked, lovely, pleasing, dear, connected with sensuality, lustful; sounds perceived through the ear… smells perceived through the nose… tastes perceived through the tongue… touches perceived through the body, that are liked, lovely, pleasing, dear, connected with sensuality, lustful. These, friend, are the five strands-of-sensuality.” — Kāmaguṇa-sutta (Aṅgutta-nikāya 9.65)

If there is to be sensuality (kāma), attachment to these five percepts must be there. It is not a case of mere experience being sensuous; it is a case of subjective experience being sensuous, of ‘being’ being sensuous. And that is precisely why intense sensuality provides a means of resolving the conflict between ‘being’ and ‘nonbeing’, however much in the end it proves inadequate for the task.

Regarding the descriptions of the strands-of-sensuality (kāmaguna) given so far, so far we have stressed the percepts alone. However, we should point out that these strands-of-sensuality should not be considered purely as the percepts. They are pleasant percepts, and that means the strands-of-sensuality are more precisely name-&-form (nāma-rūpa). The question of their being pleasant is one of intention (cetanā). A strand-of-sensuality is more accurately a particular name-&-form conjoined with subjectivity (‘I’-making and ‘mine’-making).

The cravings in the puthujjana’s experience are of three types:

  1. craving-for-‘being’ (bhavataṇhā)
  2. craving-for-‘nonbeing’ (vibhavataṇhā)
  3. craving-for-sensuality (kāmataṇhā)

There are, monks, these three cravings. What three? craving-for-sensuality, craving-for-‘being’ and craving-for-‘nonbeing’. These, indeed, are the three cravings.” — Taṇhāsutta (Ittivutaka 58)

Sensuality is difficult to examine, simply because to examine it, it has to be brought under reflexion—under mindfulness-&-awareness (satisampajjana)—and under reflexion the pleasure aspect of it tends to disappear. Therefore the more we practice right reflexion, the less sensually pleasurable our lives become. When we perceive with mindfulness-&-awareness the same pleasant percepts that at times of no mindfulness-&-awareness develop sensuality, we find no sensuality developing in us. Herein also lies the key to the virtuous conduct (sīla) the Buddha teaches, and stresses if one is to develop the path leading to the cessation of all suffering. Seeing sensuality and craving-for-sensuality on the surface, as they usually outwardly appear, is not difficult; the puthujjana sees them at this level. But the Buddha’s teaching is necessary to see them at their root-structural level, as they really are.

The five strands-of-sensuality are so pertinent to human ‘being’ that the Buddha qualifies them in the Gilāna-sutta (Saṃyutta-Nikāya 55.54) as the “five human strands-of-sensuality” (manussa pañca kāmaguna) to distinguish the sensuality of celestial ‘being’ (dibbakāma) as a higher and finer order than human.

The pleasure associated with sensuality may be called sensual-pleasure (kāmasukha).

Whatever indeed, friend, is the pleasure and joy that arises dependent upon these five strands-of-sensuality—that, my friend, is called sensual-pleasure.” — Nibbāna-sukha Sutta (Anguttara-nikāya 9.34)

Sensual-pleasure is also the satisfaction of sensuality (kāmanam assādo):

Whatever indeed, monks, is the pleasure and joy that arises dependent upon these five strands-of-sensuality—that is the satisfaction of sensuality.” — Maha-dukkhakkhandha Sutta (Majjhima-nikāya 13)

When the puthujjana experiences an unpleasant bodily feeling, he also feels an unpleasant mental sensation.

He feels a twofold feeling, bodily and mental.” — Salla-sutta (Saṃyutta-Nikāya 36.6)

The unpleasant mental feeling—displeasure—could be of sorrow (soka), or lamentation (parideva), distress (kilamati) or so on. He therefore develops a feeling of revulsion (patigha) towards this present ‘being’.

To him, indeed, touched by displeasurable feeling, comes revulsion.” — Salla-sutta (Saṃyutta-Nikāya 36.6)

Now, his feeling of revulsion or hate is towards the displeasure; and he thinks this displeasure is because of the bodily unpleasant feeling. He does not know that the displeasure is due top another condition far more difficult to see: a subtle apprehension of danger to the ‘being’ that he perceives as the main significance the unpleasant bodily feeling points to. He wants to perceive pleasure, and he can perceive pleasure only in the pleasure of sensuality, in sensual-pleasure; simply because that is the only escape he knows from displeasure.

He, touched by displeasurable feeling, delights in sensual-pleasure. What is the reason for it? The uninstructed puthujjana does not know an escape from displeasurable feeling other than sensual-pleasure.” — Salla-sutta (Saṃyutta-Nikāya 36.6)

Perceiving this pleasure and anticipating feeling it, he develops desire-&-lust (chandarāgo) towards it. That is, he clings to the perceived sensual-pleasure in (possible) ‘being’. The Buddha says:

Those who are not free from lust toward sensuality are devoured by craving-for-sensuality, like people with sores that itch.” — Magandiya Sutta (Majjhima-nikāya 75)

If we extend this simile we may say that the sore (vana) is the conceit ‘(I) am’ (asmimāna); waning to scratch is the craving-for-sensuality (kāmataṇhā) scratching is the indulgence in sensuality (kāma); and the pleasure and satisfaction derived from scratching is the pleasure and satisfaction derived from indulgence in sensuality (kāmasukha kāmanam assādo). And just as the pleasure from scratching is immediately followed by displeasure and misery, so is the pleasure and satisfaction in sensuality. Unfortunately, the displeasure that follows is greater than the pleasure.

Friend, the Auspicious One has declared that sensuality just involves time (so that its fruit of displeasure matures), is of much displeasure and misery, is of much despair, has more misery (dissatisfaction or disappointment) in it.” — Samiddhi-sutta (Saṃyutta-nikāya 1.20)

The intelligent and observant puthujjana may see that sensuality ends in displeasure; but he cannot do anything about it, because sensual-pleasure is the only refuge from displeasure that he knows. When he experiences sensual-pleasure he craves more of it, perhaps of a different variety; and when he is not experiencing sensual-pleasure, then also he craves sensual-pleasure. Thus in the structure of the puthujjana’s experience there is always this craving for sensuality along with craving-for-‘being’ and craving-for-‘nonbeing’. And just as much as clinging (upādāna) must be present for ‘being’ to be there, craving (taṇhā) must be present for clinging (upādāna) to be there. So the Buddha teaches us:

With craving as condition, clinging; with clinging as condition, ‘being’.” — Vibhaṅga-sutta (Saṃyutta-nikāya 12.2)

The strands-of-sensuality are dependent upon resources (bhoga) or external material amenities (āmisa). To have the pleasure of sensuality one must have sensuality itself; to have sensuality one must have the strands-of-sensuality; to have the strands-of-sensuality one must have external things that can be contacted so that the strands-of sensuality can arise. These take the forms of tasty food, wines, musical instruments, sex, etc. In the context of contemporary society it all means one must have money. So to experience sense-pleasure one must possess amenities, and that means one has to work for them. The Buddha explains:

Now this drawback in the case of sensuality, this mass of stress visible here & now, has sensuality for its reason, sensuality for its source, sensuality for its cause, the reason being simply sensuality.

“If the clansman gains no wealth while thus working & striving & making effort, he sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught: ‘My work is in vain, my efforts are fruitless!’ …

“If the clansman gains wealth while thus working & striving & making effort, he experiences pain & distress in protecting it: ‘How will neither kings nor thieves make off with my property, nor fire burn it, nor water sweep it away, nor hateful heirs make off with it?’ And as he thus guards and watches over his property, kings or thieves make off with it, or fire burns it, or water sweeps it away, or hateful heirs make off with it. And he sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught: ‘What was mine is no more!’ …

“Again, it is with sensuality for the reason, sensuality for the source, sensuality for the cause, the reason being simply sensuality, that kings quarrel with kings, nobles with nobles, brahmans with brahmans, householders with householders, mother with child, child with mother, father with child, child with father, brother with brother, sister with sister, brother with sister, sister with brother, friend with friend. And then in their quarrels, brawls, & disputes, they attack one another with fists or with clods or with sticks or with knives, so that they incur death or deadly pain…

“Again, it is with sensuality for the reason, sensuality for the source… that (people) engage in bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, mental misconduct. Having engaged in bodily, verbal, and mental misconduct, they — on the break-up of the body, after death — re-appear in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. Now this drawback too in the case of sensuality, this mass of stress in the future life, has sensuality for its reason, sensuality for its source, sensuality for its cause, the reason being simply sensuality.” — Maha-dukkhakkhandha Sutta (Majjhima-nikāya 13)

We see in experience that of kāmataṇhā, bhavataṇhā and vibhavataṇhā, the last two are more potent than the first; and that is because bhavataṇhā and vibhavataṇhā involve ‘self’ more than kāmataṇhā does. Being ‘I’, ‘mine’ and ‘self’ are of more fundamental importance than the things that are considered as being ‘I’, ‘mine’ and ‘self’; and the strands of sensuality (kāmaguna) are the only things that are so considered. This is also the reason why the puthujjana can be led to hold some belief in an eternal existence of a self (soul, ego, etc.)—in a sort of metaphysical existence that would be free from sensual pleasure and the prison of his mutable body. All religious faiths fundamentally and essentially cater to this belief, though their catering may take different forms. Mysticism is thus dependent upon bhavataṇhā. The mystic’s ‘union with the divine’, ‘beatific vision’ or whatever he wishes to call it, is merely a fine and subtle form of clinging (upādāna).

Craving (taṇhā) is a necessary part of the structure of ‘being’, because ‘being’ cannot otherwise continue to be ‘being’. Taṇhā is not the coarse hankering after something we do not have. That hankering after the things of the world is termed abhijja, rendered as covetousness. Covetousness (abhijja) is a coarse layer that stands over taṇhā; taṇhā is the subtle craving for more of what we already have. Bhavataṇhā—craving-for-’being’—is really craving-for-more-’being’, craving-for-continuation-of-’being’. The mode of ‘being’ craved for is always secondary, though necessarily related because ‘being’ is always ‘being’-in-some-mode. Switching between modes is determined by vibhavataṇhā. When the stomach is hungry, food is wanted. The type of food is always secondary, though necessarily related because eating is always eating-some-food. However, unlike the craving of the stomach, taṇhā is never appeased, because it is craving for more ‘being’, or for furtherance of ‘being’, continuation of ‘being’.

At the most subtle level, this situation is more difficult to see. Satisfaction (assādo) is the satisfaction of craving (taṇhā). But the satisfaction of craving is not the appeasement of craving. On the contrary, it is the continuation of craving. It is not things that we crave for fundamentally, it is the pursuit of things. In other words we fundamentally crave for craving. Craving-for-’being’ (bhavataṇhā) at the most fundamental level, is the craving for the craving for ‘I am’; and all craving depends on this craving for craving. That craving depends on craving for craving is similar, as we shall see later on, to the fact that non-knowledge depends on non-knowledge of non-knowledge.

In the Mahā-satipatthana Sutta (Dīgha-nikāya 22) there is not only craving for things like sight, sound, smell, etc., but there is also craving for craving-for-sight (taṇhā for rūpataṇhā), craving for craving-for-sound, etc.

Thus seeing, Rāhula, the instructed disciple turns away from craving-for-sight, turns away from craving-for-sound… craving-for-smell… craving-for-taste… craving-for-touch… turns away from craving-for-ideas. Turning away, he loses passion…”— Taṇhā-sutta (Saṃyutta-Nikāya 18.8)

This turning away from craving is only because there is craving-for-craving. If there were no craving-for-craving, there would be no necessity for turning away from craving. Thus to turn away from craving is to give up craving for craving.

For example, a man wishes (hungers) to enjoy tasty food. But if he is to enjoy tasty food he must be hungry. So he must like to be hungry, because he can enjoy tasty food only if he is hungry. He is thus hungry for hunger; he loves to be hungry.

Apart from craving for pleasant sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches, there is also a craving for pleasant mental images or ideas (dhamma). In Pāli this is called dhammataṇhā. Thus craving for ‘I am’ would be dhammataṇhā; so would craving for craving. These cravings for dhamma or ideas are not included in the standard definition of the five strands-of-sensuality; but it would be wrong to think that all dhammataṇhā falls outside the sphere of craving-for-sensuality (kāmataṇhā). A mental image or idea (dhamma) is very often involved with the five pleasant percepts—pleasant sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. For this reason, certain dhammataṇhā could be considered as very subtle forms of kāmataṇhā compared with the gross form of direct craving for the five strands-of-sensuality.

Further, the three categories of craving—craving-for-’being’, craving-for-’nonbeing’ and craving-for-sensuality (bhavataṇhā, vibhavataṇhā and kāmataṇhā)—all embrace craving for all types of ‘being’. In the Mahā-satipatthana Sutta (Digha-nikāya 22) these types are grouped under ten categories—craving for:

  1. the sense organs
  2. the percepts
  3. consciousness
  4. contact
  5. feeling born of contact
  6. perception
  7. intention (intended intention, sancetanā)
  8. craving
  9. thinking
  10. pondering

Each of these categories is again divided according to the six sense organs (internal bases) or the six percepts (external bases). For example, craving for contact could be craving for contact by the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or by mind; craving for intention could be craving for intention regarding sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or idea. In the Cakkhu-sutta (Saṃyutta-Nikāya 18.1) the ten groups take a slightly different form. They are craving for:

  1. the sense organs
  2. the percepts
  3. consciousness
  4. contact
  5. feeling born of contact
  6. perception
  7. intention (intended intention, sancetanā)
  8. craving
  9. the six elements (earth, water, fire, air, space and consciousness)
  10. the five aggregates

Here again each of the categories are subdivided into six, in relation to the sense organs or percepts. But whichever group we accept it comes to craving for all the aspects of ‘being’.

Name-&-Form and Consciousness ← Prev | Next → Terminology of Desire

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