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Taṇhā (Pāli: तण्हा) or Tṛṣṇā (Sanskrit: तृष्णा) means "thirst, desire, craving, wanting, longing, yearning".

Synonyms:

  • 愛 Cn: ài; Jp: ai; Vi: ái
  • Tibetan: sred.pa

The most basic of these meanings (the literal meaning) is "thirst"; however, in Buddhism it has a technical meaning that is much broader. In part due to the variety of possible translations, taṇhā is sometimes used as an untranslated technical term by authors writing about Buddhism.

  The 12 Nidānas:  
Ignorance
Formations
Consciousness
Mind & Body
Six Sense Bases
Contact
Feeling
Craving
Clinging
Becoming
Birth
Old Age & Death
 

Taṇhā is the eighth link in the Twelve Nidanas of Dependent Origination (Pratītyasamutpāda/Paṭiccasamuppāda). Taṇhā is also the fundamental constituent of Samudaya - the Noble Truth of the Origination of Suffering, the second of the Four Noble Truths. Buddhist teachings describe the craving for sense objects which provide pleasant feeling, or craving for sensory pleasures. Taṇhā is a term for wanting to have or wanting to obtain. It also encompasses the negative as in wanting not to have. We can crave for pleasant feelings to be present, and for unpleasant feelings not to be present (i.e., to get rid of unpleasant feelings).

According to Buddhist teachings, craving, or desire, springs from the notion that if one's desires are fulfilled it will, of itself, lead to one's lasting happiness or well-being. Such beliefs normally result in further craving/desire and the repeated enactment of activities to bring about the desired results. This is graphically depicted in the Bhavacakra. The repeated cycling through states driven by craving and its concomitant clinging Upadana.

The meaning of Taṇhā (craving, desire, want, thirst), extends beyond the desire for material objects or sense pleasures. It also includes the desire for life (or death, in the case of someone wishing to commit suicide), the desire for fame (or infamy, its opposite), the desire for sleep, the desire for mental or emotional states (e.g., happiness, joy, rapture, love) if they are not present and one would like them to be. If we experience, say depression or sorrow, we can desire its opposite. The meaning of Taṇhā is far-reaching and covers all desire, all wanting, all craving, irrespective of its intensity.

Taṇhā is sometimes taken as interchangeable with the term addiction, except that that would be too narrow a view. Taṇhā tends to include a far broader range of human experience and feeling than medical discussions of addiction tend to include.

Further analysis of Taṇhā reveals that desire for conditioned things cannot be fully satiated or satisfied, due to their impermanent nature. This is expounded in the Buddhist teaching of Anitya impermanence, change (Pali: Anicca).

The Buddhist solution to the problem of Taṇhā (craving, wanting) is the next of the four noble truths, Nirodha, the cessation of suffering which is Noble Eightfold Path and the Six Paramita. The cessation of suffering comes from the quenching (nibbuta) of tanha, which is not the destruction of tanha as much as the natural cessation of it that follows its true and real satisfaction. The problem is not that we desire, but rather that we desire unsatisfactory (dukkha) things, namely sensual pleasures, existence and non-existence. When we have Right Effort, when we desire that which yields satisfaction, then tanha is not the obstacle to enlightenment but the vehicle for its realization.

Preceded by:
Vedanā
Twelve Nidānas
Tṛṣṇā
Succeeded by:
Upādāna

Further reading

  • Philosophy of the Buddha by Archie J. Bahm. Asian Humanities Press. Berkeley, CA: 1993. ISBN 0-87573-025-6.
    • Chapter 5 is about craving, and discusses the difference between taṇhā and chanda.
  • "Nietzsche and Buddhism: A Study in Nihilism and Ironic Affinities" by Robert Morrison. Oxford University Press, 1998.
    • Chapter 10 is a comparison between Nietzsche's Will to Power and Tanha, which gives a very nuanced and positive explanation of the central role tanha plays in the Buddhist path.

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