A Secular Understanding of Dependent Origination: #8 Craving

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”.

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