Different philosophies and religions give us different answers to the question why we are subject to suffering. Some say that it comes through mere chance, or by fate or destiny, some attribute it to the will of an Almighty God. Buddha rejects these answers which, he says, either encourage a passive acceptance of suffering or else get us involved in treating the symptoms.

You can only eliminate dukkha by eradicating the cause. lf we deal only with the symptoms, with forms of dukkha, leaving the causes intact, then beneath the surface, beneath our comforts and pleasures,  the volcano of suffering will gather force and in time it’s bound to erupt.

In the second noble truth Buddha points out that the origin of Dukkha is craving, tanha.

The word tanha literally means thirst. It is commonly translated as craving. You may also see it referred to as desire, but this can be misleading, as it might be interpreted as suggesting that Buddhism insists on eliminating all desire.

The Buddha recognizes that desire is ambivalent — there can be wholesome desire, for example the desire to practice the dharma, the desire to give, the desire to observe the precepts, the desire to relieve the suffering. There are also neutral desires, such as the desire to take a walk, the desire to sleep when tired, to eat when hungry.

And there are unwholesome desires — cravings. Tanha refers to unwholesome desire, craving grounded in ignorance and delusion, the drive for personal gratification.  

This will become clear in the Lesson 6, the teaching on dependent arising.

Forms of craving

The Buddha says craving takes three forms.

Sensual craving - kama tanha
The craving for sense pleasures. Craving for pleasant sights, sounds, smells, tastes,  touch sensations, and for enjoyable ideas, images and so on based on those sense impressions….

Craving for existence - bhava tanha
The craving for continued survival – the life urge. The drive to go on existing, to become prominent, famous and wealthy, to become this, to become that. When joined with the belief in a permanent self, the craving for existence issues in the desire issues in for personal immortality.

Craving for annihilation - vibhava tanha
Craving for non-existence. The wish for self-annihilation arises when the pain of life becomes so unbearable one wishes to escape by annihilitating oneself. While the most evident manifestation is suicide, annihilation includes other self-destructive behavior.

Craving - the cause of suffering

The causal role of craving can be seen at two levels — a psychological level and a universal or cosmic level.

Psychological level
We find that craving — the desire for personal gratification — is the underlying root of unhappiness, sorrow, grief, fear, worry, and disappointment.

Craving gives rise to sorrow when we are separated from the persons or things we are attached to, when are hopes are disappointed, when we meet with rejection, when we fail to get the things we want. Craving gives rise to fear when we become afraid of losing what we have obtained, we are afraid that people might reject us or that circumstances might separate us.

There are several stages in the psychological process by which craving leads to Dukkha:

Dukkha of striving and seeking
The very moment craving arises it brings along with it a feeling of dissatisfaction. This arises due to the contrast between one's present state of lack-of oneself without the object-and the possibility of fulfilling oneself by possession  of the object. This is the suffering of lack.

Dukkha of protection
In the enjoyment of the object is the suffering of protection. Once we get an object we have to protect it.

Dukkha of loss
With the break up of an object or loss of a loved one there is suffering of deprivation.

If we examine our mind carefully we find that simply yielding to desire doesn’t bring deep satisfaction. Bringing only temporary satisfaction, it actually fuels the force of craving, so that craving arises.

Cosmic level
At a deeper level, craving is the force which fuels the round of rebirth, samsara. Craving uses the body as a means of finding delight. At death the body can no longer support consciousness, but the craving remains. Therefore, It latches onto a new body as the physical form and brings about rebirth, and the new existence provides the base of craving. In this way it originates Dukkha over and over again.


The Four Noble Truths
The Second Noble Truth — the origin of dukkha

4 of 7

Qualities of the Dharma
The Four Noble Truths
The Noble Eightfold Path
The True Nature of Existence
  The Five Aggregates of Clinging
  Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta
  Dependent Arising
  Kamma, Nibbana and Rebirth


The Sangha
The Buddhist Sangha