Three Kinds of Craving

From Dancing with Life by Phillip Moffitt:

dancingwithlifeThe Pali word for craving is tanha, which means “thirst.” The Buddha identified three distinct kinds of tanha that you repeatedly experience; they are often unnoticed, because they arise and then are quickly preempted by yet another and then another.

First if your craving for the six kinds of sense desires, or kama tanha: craving for certain food tastes or for pleasing sounds or for silence; craving for sexual, affectionate, or comforting touch or simple physical comfort in your body; craving for attractive, pleasant, comforting, inspiring sights as well as for pleasant, refreshing smells; and finally, craving for thoughts that are confirming, useful, stimulating, and reassuring to you. Just think of how many different sense desires you have in any given moment!

The second type of craving is the desire for existence and for becoming what you are not. In Pali this is called bhava tanha. You may want to be wealthy, or more athletic, or sexually desirable, or a better musician. The craving to “become” can be wholesome—to be a good parent or a better friend to others, or to be more generous, healthier, or more disciplined—yet still cause suffering…

The third type of tanha arises when you are disillusioned with something in your life and want to get rid of it or want it to cease with such intensity that you crave nonexistence. This state of mind is called vibhava tanha. For instance, you may be so overwhelmed by chronic back pain or a difficult emotion that you are flooded with aversion to life itself. Or you have such antipathy toward your physical appearance, aging, or disease that life seems unbearable. In each of these instances, your nervous system is overcome by the energy generated by the craving, and it seems as if your whole being is rejecting existence. Vibhava tanha is annihilation. If you have ever felt suicidal, even briefly, then you have had flashes of vibhava tanha in the extreme. In its milder manifestations, vibhava tanha is part of everyday life. For example, you can feel so humiliated when you make a big mistake in front of others that for a brief moment your mind is filled with this craving.

The Ego's Fear of Humiliation

From Dancing with Life by Phillip Moffitt:

dancingwithlife When you collapse into suffering, it is because your ego sees suffering as a personal failure and feels humiliated. This sense of failure is based on the ego's mistaken idea that winning in life means no suffering. Your ego may well be under the delusion that the opposite of suffering is happiness. When your ego believes this, then every moment of suffering is felt as a personal defeat, insult, indignity, or proof of your inadequacy or of life being unfair. This is subjective suffering, self-centered and neurotic.

Your subjective dukkha is your ego suffering from its own ideas about how things are supposed to be. When things go wrong, your ego may feel humiliated even though you may not consciously realize it. Such suffering is your ego's narcissistic and mistaken, self-centered reaction to life's challenges. The ego collapses, becomes depressed, or grieves for itself. Or it becomes resentful and refuses to participate, or helpless and frozen with dread. Or the ego contracts into anger and lashes out. In its delusion the ego is unwilling to voluntarily carry the darkness of life. When suffering is penetrated by mindfulness and compassion, the ego dies a thousand deaths and yet ends up healthier for it. Your ego isn't bad, nor are you a bad person because you have an ego. The ego is a result of causes and conditions and, in my view, is necessary for a healthy, whole life. I tell students don't leave home without it, but don't let it drive the vehicle on your spiritual journey.

The idea of being willing to bear your suffering like a carriage carrying a heavy load is a hopeful, comforting image. But if the opposite of your suffering isn't happiness, then what is it? Nonsuffering is having a relaxed, composed mind that is fully present with whatever is occurring in the moment. And it is the capacity to be in relationship to whatever is arising such that you're able to respond from your deepest intentions. And it is a feeling of relatedness in your life that is free from aversion to suffering.