Icchā (Cravings) Lead to Upādāna and to Eventual Suffering

December 21, 2019; re-written October 14, 2022

Upādāna Is a Key Concept That Has Been Hidden

1. The Buddha declared that his Dhamma or teachings on suffering “had not been known to the world” before him. In his first discourse, “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11),” he “defined” dukkha or suffering.

Idam kho pana, bhikkhave, dukkham ariyasaccam:

jātipi dukkhā, jarāpi dukkhā, byādhipi dukkho, maraṇampi dukkhāṃ, appiyehi sampayogo dukkho, piyehi vippayogo dukkho, yampicchaṃ (yam pi iccham) na labhati tampi dukkhāṃsaṃkhittena pañcu­pādā­nak­khan­dhā (panca u­pādā­na ­khan­dhā) dukkhā.

Translated: Bhikkhus, What is the Noble Truth of Suffering?

“Birth is suffering; getting old is suffering; getting sick is suffering; death is suffering. Having to associate with things one does not like is suffering, and having to separate from those one likes is suffering. If one does not get what one wants/craves (icchā), that is suffering – in brief, the origin of suffering is the “pulling close” (u­pādā­na) of the five aggregates of rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāna (pancupādānakkhandha).

  • Everyone knows that “Birth is suffering, getting old is suffering, getting sick is suffering, dying is suffering. Having to associate with things that one does not like is suffering. Having to separate from those things one likes is suffering.” That part is known to the world.
  • It may be a bit harder to understand birth as suffering, but ANY birth ends with decay and death at the end, so it is not difficult to “see.”
The “Hard-To-See” Suffering That Is Hidden

2. What is “previously unheard” is that craving (icchā) for sensory attractions leads to suffering in the future. When one craves something, one will start thinking and speaking (vaci saṅkhāra) and doing things (with kāya saṅkhāra) to “get possession” of it. That “pulling close” of “mind-pleasing things” is “upādāna” (“upa” + “ādana” as we discussed before.)

  • Since we do not “see” that hidden suffering, we tend to do immoral deeds to possess such “mind-pleasing things.”  That means generating (mano, vaci, and kāya) saṅkhāra due to our avijjā (ignorance of the core teachings of the Buddha, including the Paṭicca Samuppāda process.) 
  • The harsh consequences of such immoral deeds (kamma vipāka) may not be seen immediately or even in this life. That is why it is hard to “see” this hidden suffering.
  • That is contrary to our daily experiences. We do everything to live a luxurious life with a beautiful house, an attractive spouse, a nice car, etc. We do not see “any bad consequences” of our efforts to pursue those “mind-pleasing things.”
A Fish Does Not “See” the Hidden Suffering in a Delicious Bait

3. As we will discuss, we are no different than a fish biting into a tasty bait, a worm. That fish does not see the hook hidden in the “delicious worm.” It will be subjected to much suffering once it bites the worm and the hook attaches to its mouth.

  • The difficulty is that our deeds to get those sensory pleasures may not show their CONSEQUENCES in this life. It is useless to follow Buddha Dhamma if one does not believe in rebirth or kamma/vipāka.
  • All we crave (icchāare PARTS OF the five aggregates (pancakkhandha). That small part is pancupādānakkhandha. We like certain types of rupa (people and things), certain kinds of vedanā (feelings), etc. 
  • That is why it is critical to understand how “pulling close” (u­pādā­na) of sensory inputs (ārammana) leads to future suffering. The akusala-mūla Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS) ends up in “jarā, marana, sōka, paridēva, dukkha, dōmanassa,..” or the “whole mass of suffering.”
Craving (Icchā) Starts the Paṭicca Samuppāda Process That Leads to Suffering

4. In the previous two posts, we discussed how an external sensory input (ārammana) triggers the “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step in the PS. See, “Tanhā Paccayā Upādāna – Critical Step in Paṭicca Samuppāda” and “Mōha/Avijjā and Vipāka Viññāṇa/Kamma Viññāṇa.”

  • Continuing that discussion, let us look at how that future suffering arises. The following chart summarizes what we discussed. It shows all the steps in the PS process, starting with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” to the end, jarā, marana, sōka, paridēva, dukkha, dōmanassa,..” or the “whole mass of suffering.”
  • However, the initiation of PS cycles is not at the “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” step but the “(sam)phassa paccayā vedanā” step. Attaching to sensory input (ārammana) with liking (icchā) happens first. See #3 of “Chachakka Sutta – Six Types of Vipāka Viññāna.”


Open pdf for viewing or printing: “Icchā to Upādāna to Suffering.”

Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda Example

5. Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda explains phenomena occurring in real-time as they happen. That is easier to interpret compared to uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda, which describes events leading to future lives, especially in rebirths.

A person is in the waiting room to see a doctor and sees that someone has dropped a wallet. The moment he sees the wallet, his mind attaches to it (taṇhā). Then he thinks there could be some money in the wallet and that it is an easy way to get some “free money.” That happens within moments of him seeing the wallet.

  • “Seeing the wallet” is a cakkhu viññāna that resulted via “Cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhu viññāṇaṃ.” Within a split-second, he attaches to it (taṇhā), as we discussed in the posts on Chachakka Sutta (MN 148.)
  • Then he starts thinking about how much money can be in that wallet and how to pick it up without being noticed. Those are vaci saṅkhāra that arise due to his ignorance (avijjā) about their harmful consequences. Thus, his mind has generated “upādāna” for the wallet because he has a craving (icchā) for money.
  • Thus, his mind starts the step, “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” in Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS.)
Initiation of a new Paṭicca Samuppāda Process

6. Therefore, the “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step now leads to the start of a brand new PS process with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” (see the chart above.) We discussed that in the previous post, “Mōha/Avijjā and Vipāka Viññāṇa/Kamma Viññāṇa.

  • Those conscious thoughts about the wallet are vacī saṅkhāra. Now those saṅkhāra lead to a NEW kamma viññāna. That viññāna has the expectation of picking up the wallet and keeping it for himself. That is a manō viññāna that arises in his mind and is different from the cakkhu viññāna of “seeing the wallet.”
  • Now, that kamma viññāna leads to “nāmarūpa formation” in his mind. He runs various scenarios in his mind (vitakka/vicāra), both regarding picking up the wallet without being noticed and what he can do with the money in the wallet. That is “viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa.”
  • That immediately leads to the involvement of several internal āyatana. For example, he may look around to see whether anyone is watching. He may stand up and see whether the receptionist can see the area where he is sitting, etc. That is “nāmarūpa paccayā salāyatana.”
  • That, in turn, leads to “salāyatana paccayā (sam)phassa.” His mind’s defilements (or “san” or anusaya) affect all his thoughts and activities. That generates mind-made vedanā or “(sam)phassa paccayā (samphassa-jā-)vedanā” followed by more PS cycles. Those are the steps described in the Chachakka Sutta.
  • We need to remember that words like “phassa” and “vedanā” in the abbreviated PS must be interpreted as “samphassa” and “samphassa-jā-vedanā.” See the previous posts in this series: “Worldview of the Buddha.”
Strengthened Upādāna Leads to a Temporary Bhava

7. His mind is now back to the “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step in the PS process, and it reinforces that upādāna. The above steps may be repeated many times in his mind as he sits there and contemplates various aspects. Those, by the way, are vitakka/vicāra.

  • With the strengthening of the upādāna, his mindset changes to that of a thief’s existence (bhava). That is “upādāna paccayā bhava.” Then immediately, he is “born” (jāti) a thief. That is “bhava paccayā jāti,” By the way, in uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda, jāti can happen much later. The “bhava” remains energized as dhammā; see below.
  • Now that “thief” goes and picks up the wallet and puts it in his pocket. Now, “stealing of the wallet” is accomplished. That is the “marana” or “death” of that particular jāti as a thief.
  • However, there is more to it than just marana. “Jarā, marana, sōka, paridēva, dukkha, dōmanassa,..” will also follow.
  • Even though he got what he wanted, his mind is very agitated. Even though no one else was in the waiting room, he wondered whether the receptionist somehow saw his act. Also, now a new thought comes to his mind as to whether there is a video camera in the room. That “mental stress” is part of dōmanassa.
The Process Is Over, but the Consequences Will Prevail

8. It is possible that there was a video camera in the room. If so, he could be charged with theft a few days later. Those are part of the “mass of suffering” due to the immoral act of stealing.

  • But the critical point is the following. Even if he did not get caught, he would be paying for his immoral action in the future. The kammic energy of that immoral deed will follow him, waiting for an opportunity to bring a corresponding “bad vipāka” at some point.
  • Kammic energy is in dhammā (with a long “a” at the end, not as in Buddha Dhamma.) Let us address that in brief.
Dhammā Are Energies Created by Mind – With Kamma Viññāṇa

9. Dhammā are the underlying energies (or “kamma seeds” or “kamma bīja“) created by the mind.

  • A seed has the POTENTIAL to give rise to a tree under proper conditions like good soil, water, and sunlight. In the same way, dhammā (a kamma bīja) has the POTENTIAL to give rise to things (both living and inert) in this word.
  • That is how such dhammā (or kamma seeds) can bring vipāka in the future.
  • Just like an ordinary seed needs soil, water, and sunlight to germinate and bring about a tree, dhammā needs proper conditions to bring about corresponding vipāka. That is also why kamma is not deterministic. For example, Angulimala killed 999 people. That kammic energy was there even after Ven. Angulimala attained Arahantship. However, with that Arahantship, his mind became pure, and any conditions to bring about the vipāka of such bad kamma could not materialize. See “Account of Angulimāla – Many Insights to Buddha Dhamma.”
  • The role of dhammā is discussed in “Dhammā, Kamma, Saṅkhāra, Mind – Critical Connections.”
Icchā (Cravings) Lead to Upādāna and to Eventual Suffering

10. What we discussed above is the key message embedded in the First Noble Truth of Dukkha Sacca (pronounced: “sachcha.”)

  • It is craving (icchā) for “mind-pleasing sensory attractions in the world” that lead to taṇhā and upādāna and eventual suffering.
  • Based on icchā, we get “stuck in attractive sensory inputs” (taṇhā) and try to keep that ārammana as close as possible in mind (upādāna.) We do that in our minds by generating unwise thoughts (vaci saṅkhāra), which leads to unwise speech (more vaci saṅkhāra) and immoral actions (based on kāya saṅkhāra). That is the start of an akusala-mula PS process, “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.”
  • That process, of course, inevitably leads to the last step in the PS process,  jarā, marana, sōka, paridēva, dukkha, dōmanassa,..” or the “whole mass of suffering.”

11. The “Icchā Sutta (SN 1.69)” summarizes the importance of the icchā. One time, a deva came to the Buddha and asked:

Kenassu bajjhatī loko,                    “By what is the world bound?
kissa vinayāya muccati;                    By the removal of what one is freed?
Kissassu vippahānena,                      What is it that one must abandon
sabbaṃ chindati bandhanan” ti.       To cut off all bondage?”

The Buddha replied:

Icchāya bajjhatī loko,                    “By cravings, one is bound to the world;
icchāvinayāya muccati;                      By the removal of desire, one is freed
Icchāya vippahānena,                        Craving is what one must give up
sabbaṃ chindati bandhanan”ti.        To cut off all bondage.”

  • But, of course, the craving for “mind-pleasing things” cannot be removed by just willpower. One must understand the harmful consequences of such cravings. That understanding comes through moral living AND learning true and correct Buddha Dhamma.
  • That is why Sammā Diṭṭhi comes first in the Noble Eightfold Path. The other steps in the Path will follow once one comprehends the teachings. But a badly corrupt mind cannot grasp those teachings, which is why moral living is a prerequisite.

12. The following posts discuss more examples that may help solidify the understanding: “How Do Sense Faculties Become Internal Āyatana?” and “Key Steps of Kammic Energy Accumulation.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email