There are these six classes of craving: craving for forms, craving for sounds, craving for odors, craving for flavors, craving for tangibles, craving for mind-objects. — MN 9 translated by Bhikkhus Nanamoli and Bodhi


What is being defined by “craving for sense-objects” is actually far more complex than the simple words of the sutta indicate. This has to be so — it has to be complex — because what’s happening here is conditioned by all that has gone before. The simple-sounding field of the senses is provided because everything we are seeking from the beginning has to come to us through our senses (as defined by the Buddha to include the mind and ideas). Whether it’s that we want more wine to drown our sorrows, or to hear people agree with our convictions, it all starts with the senses, so that’s the field.

But what this is really saying is that when the senses have followed the directions given them by our need to define who we are, how the world relates to us, and to seek confirmation that we’re right about our conclusions about who we are and how things serve us, and they have made contact with something that relates to this quest, and feeling has arisen of the good / bad / indifferent variety, we then go on to want more of the same.

It’s fairly obvious that we crave the things that shore up our sense of self, and that we feel will be of advantage to us. It’s usually stated that aversion may seem like the opposite of craving but it isn’t, because it is wanting to get away from something, wanting to move toward comfortable feelings so it is still a sort of craving. But I believe something more is being expressed here, which is that the craving is for confirmation of self, regardless of whether it is about something we are drawn to or averse to. Whether someone says, “You are brilliant!” and we eat up the praise as confirmation that we really are that good, or someone says, “You are so stupid you’ve totally deluded yourself!” and we suddenly find this person disagreeable, so obviously their opinion doesn’t count, it is all about confirming who I am in relation to the world, defining the world in terms of me. So, for example, “That person who disagrees with me is clearly no good / stupid / deluded” defines that person in terms of good/bad for me. It is that confirmation that we crave, more than any individual object or ideology.

This link, then, describes the way, in response to an initial feeling, we react to it by wanting to be fed more of this type of experience: more information that can help develop and sustain a sense of “who I am”.



Table of Contents for A Secular Understanding of Dependent Arising

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  1. […] Craving: It is craving that is named as the cause of dukkha — craving for what, exactly? […]

  2. Dana Nourie on June 11, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Wow, Linda, I’d never really thought of craving in regard to verifying or solidifying the sense of self, but that makes lots of sense, especially given the previous articles. Not sure why I didn’t really think of it in those terms. I think I’ve been too attached to just wanting craving to go away (aversion to craving). I’m going to watch craving more closely in terms of selfing and what arose beforehand.

    Thanks for another fabulous article!

    • Candol on June 15, 2012 at 8:55 am

      I’m really surprised you say that this is new to you Dana because it has seemed to me that you are someone around here who has been most concerned to articulate how we keep reinforcing this problematic sense of self and looking for ways to undermine it. In fact i have grasped this way of thinking about self from you and as part of that i have just assumed that craving would be one of those things that would support this sense of self. So yeah, i am a bit stunned. Maybe you knew it but didnt’ know you knew it.

      What Linda seems to be saying with her version of DO is that all steps of the process feed our sense of self. I am not going to dispute that one either. I think it seems utterly clear. I am totally on board with the notion that the cycle of DO is what feeds our sense of self and with it our dukkha. Undermine self and you end dukkha. Break the cycle somewhere and you start the process of ending dukkha. Or at least undermine the self and you should no longer suffer from craving and aversion, let alone ignorance – that’s already gone by the wayside.

      Now please don’t tell me Linda that this is not you mean either. I won’t retaliate if you do.

      • Linda on June 15, 2012 at 1:15 pm

        No, you’re right, Candol. On a gross level DO is all about how we foster that problematic sense of a lasting self. Every single step has something to say about it. But that isn’t well-agreed-upon in the wider world of Buddhism. It is that point I refered to in my “Pop Quiz” post — a well-known Bhikkhu was shocked that anyone could think that DO was about anatta at all. Craving gets discussed in terms of “kama” — of sensual pleasures — quite a lot, so much so that it seems that is the main point — pleasure; the dangers of pleasure; we need to learn to be disenchanted with pleasure. No pleasure allowed! No fun at all! End all feeling! We seem to take that as the main point of what’s being said in this whole middle section.

        But namarupa is saying that the central point is actually “the self” — it’s not so much the craving for pleasures as it is craving for that security that is a satisfied self that knows it is a satisfied self. Would the term “self-satisfaction” fit? Can we use such a popular term and give it a slight Buddhist twist? A little hint of irony in what we’re saying about “self” when we say it, and what it is that “satisfies” that self? This is the game the Buddha played over and over in his texts. He used popular terms, gave them a little twist, and expected those who were paying attention to “get it”. But it’s a dangerous game, playing with language in that way — very easily misunderstood.

  3. Abimael Rodriguez Ortiz on June 13, 2012 at 8:16 am

    “It’s usually stated that aversion may seem like the opposite of craving but it isn’t, because it is wanting to get away from something, wanting to move toward comfortable feelings so it is still a sort of craving. ”

    Linda, this makes a heap of sense to me, and this also shows the tricky nature of craving 🙂

    • Linda on June 15, 2012 at 1:06 pm

      Thanks, Abimael. It is, as the Buddha said about DO in general, “deep, deep”. The more we look at it, the deeper it goes.

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