Difference between Tanha and Upadana

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    • #18756
      upekkha100
      Participant

      Hi everyone. I am confused about the terms: tanha vs upadana. Even though closely linked, they are not the same, there are subtle and distinct difference right? And they shouldn’t be used interchangeably? As I’ve read from other PD posts, these subtle differences in Pali terms can be important.

      So my questions are:

      1) Is the word “attachment” synonymous with clinging/grasping/holding on to?

      2) upadana= attachment/clinging/grasping/holding on to?

      3)  In the Paticca Samuppāda cycle, upadana comes after tanha. Thus upadana is a consequence of tanha? Once you crave something, you will get attached to it?

      4)  My confusion comes in because in a few of Lal’s definitions of tanha, it’s defined as:
      -1) “attachment (bondage) due to greed, hate, or delusion”
      -2) “Remember that Tanha means “getting attached to something via greed, hate, of ignorance”

      Whereas in https://www.accesstoinsight.org/glossary.html,  upadana is defined as “Clinging; attachment ”

      Tanha and upadana both can’t mean attachment right? Because as I wrote above, tanha and upadana are closely linked/related but are still two different terms.

      My understanding is that tanha means craving. Upadana means attachment. So then tanha would not mean attachment right? Otherwise tanha would = upadana. It is that we get attached(upadana) from craving(having tanha) for things?

    • #18759
      Lal
      Keymaster

      It is a good question. When one really understands the difference one can see that eventual result of one getting attached AND committing kamma happens in two steps.

      As we discussed many times, we get “attached” to something AUTOMATICALLY based on our gati. These first arise as mano sankhara. This will happen as long as we have tanhā (either via either via kama raga or patigha; avijja is present in both cases). We automatically get attracted; see, “Tanhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance“.

      Now, as soon as we becomes aware of this “attachment” to something, we have the ability to be mindful and think about its consequences and move away from it. We can do this at the early vaci sankhara stage; see, “Correct Meaning of Vacī Sankhāra“.

      On the other hand, if we just “go with the flow” and go along enjoying this sense attraction, that is what is called “upādāna“. It basically means “pulling it closer” (“upa” + “ādāna”, where “upa” means “close” and “ādāna” means “pull”).

      So, basically do not have control over the “tanhā” or “initial attachment” step. It happens with mano sankhara that arise due to our gati.

      But if we are mindful, we can immediately become aware of it at the vaci sanhara stage (where we are just thinking to ourselves about this sense input, even before speaking out loud about it), we CAN stop the upādāna step, i.e., we can decide not to “pull it closer”.

      For example, if we see an attractive person, we may automatically start looking at him/her. But once we become aware of it, we can look away, and start thinking about something else.

      In another extreme example, a person who is trying to control anger, may start talking back to someone who just said something harsh. But as soon as realizing that one is going back to the old habit, one can even stop in the mid-sentence.

      When we start controlling the upādāna step, our gati will slowly change. Then, with time, the first step of “tanhā” will reduce, and eventually go away.

      That is the basis of Anapana and Satipatthana meditations.

      We also remember that in Paticca Samuppada, it is “..vedana paccaya tanha, tanha paccaya upadana..”. So, tanha comes first, and then upadana.

    • #18772
      upekkha100
      Participant

      So then the conventional definition of upadana as attachment/clinging/grasping is incorrect?

    • #18773
      Lal
      Keymaster

      That is exactly what I am saying.

      It is better to use Pali terms, when it comes to complex key words like these, and understand what is meant by those words.

      For example, vinnana is translated as “consciousness”, but it is much more complex: “Viññāna – What It Really Means“.

      Same for sanna and many other words: “Saññā – What It Really Means“.

    • #18782
      upekkha100
      Participant

      1) So for every puthujjana, when they have tanha, attachment is unavoidable/inevitable, as in attachment can’t be separated from tanha? I ask this because I used to think that maybe it was possible for even puthujjana to crave for things without attachment-but now I’m thinking that this can only be done by the first three Ariyas(Sotapanna, Sakadagami, Anagami) or maybe even yogis? Of course an Arahant has eradicated it all together.

      2) So at the automatic mano sankhara stage, only tanha and attachment is there. There is no upadana at all in the mano sankhara stage?

      You mentioned the connection between early stage of vaci sankhara with upadana. This early stage is sankappa right? So then every time each of start our conscious/silent/internal thoughts, this is when upadana step begins? So can it be stated in another way that sankappa/assada is synonymous with upadana? And cittanupassana involves being mindful of and controlling the upadana step?

      If this is the case, controlling sankappa/assada is not a trivial matter. It is the key to gradually start reducing tanha and eventually removing it. So far I have been more focused on kammantha and vaca, and not the best at sankappa.

      3) In an example of a fish who sees a pleasant object(the bait), likes what it sees, goes towards that object, takes bite out of it, gets literally hooked/attached to the shiny seemingly pleasant bait, and now vulnerable to future inevitable suffering, what here can be labeled the tanha step and what can be labeled the upadana step?

      By the way, I noticed that I seem to understand concepts better when explained through the language of Abhidhamma for some reason. Maybe because it is so precise. I wonder if a particular dominant panca indriya would be more likely to gravitate towards Abhidhamma.

    • #18783
      Lal
      Keymaster

      Yes! I am really glad to see that you have grasped it correctly.

      “So at the automatic mano sankhara stage, only tanha and attachment is there. There is no upadana at all in the mano sankhara stage?”

      • That is rght. One may get attracted to something based on one’s current gati. Those mano sankhara arise automatically, as we discussed in the post, “Amazingly Fast Time Evolution of a Thought (Citta)“.
      • Upadana or “pulling it closer” happens with vaci sankhara, when one consciously start thinking about how nice it would be to “get hold of that thing”, whatever it is.
      • Even if one does not act to get possession of it, one may enjoy just “day dreaming” about it. This is a dangerous process and not many people understand how bad (addictive) that can be.
      • In the “upadana paccaya bhava” step, one does not necessarily need to take action to make “bhava” or “kamma beeja”. Conscious thinking (vaci sankhara) is enough, if done long enough.

      So, when you say, “If this is the case, controlling sankappa/assada is not a trivial matter. It is the key to gradually start reducing tanha and eventually removing it.”, that is exactly right.

      As for #3: The fish seeing the bait and immediately getting attracted to it is tanha. Then actually thinking how nice would it be to taste is upadana.

      Of course, a fish does not have much of a neocortex like we do to “think about it”. It just goes with the first impulse; basically tanha is followed automatically by upadana, and then also acting on it.

      Of course, even if we all have the neocortex, many of us do not make use it. It needs to be used in order to really become effective. This is why it takes time to cultivate Anapana/Satipatthana. It gets easier with time to “slow down and think about the consequences”, and not to act on impulse.

      Yes. It depends on the person. Abhidhamma is not necessary, but if one likes it, then one can see much deeper.
      – Abhidhamma is more precise, and in fact when are there unresolved issues with sutta interpretations, one has to fall back on Abhidhamma.

    • #18784
      sybe07
      Spectator

      Suppose one practices the mindfullness of the in and out breath.
      At a certain moment one notices one is daydreaming and does not pay attention to the breath anymore.

      The moment one gets involved in this day dreaming proces is this also upadana?

      siebe

    • #18786
      Lal
      Keymaster

      “Day dreaming” or “not being mindful” involves thoughts that are related to greed, hate, and ignorance (lobha, dosa, moha or lower versions of them). That is the easiest way to think about it.

      Focusing one’s mind on breath also belongs to the ignorance category.

    • #18794
      upekkha100
      Participant

      Hi Siebe. In case it could help, I’d like to give examples similar to what Lal has given in the past. Lal and anyone, always feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

      Tanha via greed:
      You just finished listening to your favorite song. Even though that event has passed, you continue to consciously think about that song, with the thoughts: “that is such a lovely song, I could listen to it over and over again, I might listen to it again in a few minutes.”

      Tanha via hatred:
      Someone you don’t like just said something mean to you. Even though that event has passed, you continue to consciously think about that person, with the thoughts: “I can’t tolerate that person, how can he say that to me, I need to think of a good comeback and tell him that the next time I see him.”

      Those thoughts in the quotes are the upadana step.

      I’m not sure about what example to give for moha. Maybe something with micca ditthi? The thoughts: “if I do this particular procedure everyday, then I am guaranteed to get access to heaven forever in the afterlife, therefore I have to do this procedure diligently.”

      • #18798
        sybe07
        Spectator

        Hi upekkha100,

        thanks for the examples.

        I think the upadana step allready takes place the moment the mind takes hold of arising thoughts or mental formations. There is a moment the mind instinctively sees arising thoughts as me and mine. I belief there is at that moment attachment or pulling closer due to wrong view. Pulling close happens when mind identifies with what it experieces.

        The Buddha emphasised in many sutta’s to treath anything which arises dependently (conditioned) like this: ‘this is not mine, not who i am, not my self’.

        The habit of I making and mine making is like an instinct, a very strong habit. It happens not by free will or due to a self-entity, it is just a very strong habit. The mind seems to be very curious, like a cow. When there arises something, it immediately want to see what happens there and pulls it closer.

        If there is no tanha and upadana step this does not take place. In that case thought, as verbal formations, as vaci sankhara, would arise, just like sounds, smells etc. but no pulling closer takes place without tanha and updana. Then everything just arises and vanishes without leaving a trace.

        kind regards,
        Siebe

    • #18801
      y not
      Participant

      “I’m not sure about what example to give for moha. Maybe something with micca ditthi? The thoughts: “if I do this particular procedure everyday, then I am guaranteed to get access to heaven forever in the afterlife, therefore I have to do this procedure diligently.”

      This is not to ‘correct’ Upekkha in any way, just my viewpoint. Yes, miccha ditthi: The thoughts:” If i do……..” seems to me to be miccha ditthi in the forms of, at once, moha and vicikicca (forever in an after life), sakkayaditthi(it is fruitful for ME) and Silabbata Paramasa (do this particular procedure…do this procedure diligently).

      As to Tanha via greed: it is hard to resist going back to enjoying something one likes(of course, in cases where you are thereby not harming any one else in any way). I myself cannot resist, to quote the example Upekkha gives, listening over and over again to a song I like. I see nothing wrong in it at all, per se. It is just the attachment, the fact that one is becoming attached and spending time which could otherwise have been dedicated to more beneficial activities – reading Dhamma, for instance.

      The real danger to me seems to be Tanha via hatred, not only in the sense of the harm that one may be induced to commit to another as a result of that Tanha (via hatred) ; for that may or may not happen, depending on the degree of hatred so generated inside oneself. The harm to oneself is clear, though, and certain to follow. For years I have been training myself to prevent hate from arising from Tanha or from any other cause (with success, I humbly say); for instance, after watching some documentary about some despot or tyrant in history who caused great suffering to others. It is the feeling of hatred itself that I used to find most harmful; if not checked, it would go on for hours inside me, in some cases into the following days. Now I see the suffering which those perpetrators of all this suffering must go through themselves. It is all about compassion, even with regard to them.

      Please correct me anyone if anything I said is not quite right.

      Metta to all beings

    • #18802
      Lal
      Keymaster

      y not said: ” it is hard to resist going back to enjoying something one likes(of course, in cases where you are thereby not harming any one else in any way). I myself cannot resist, to quote the example Upekkha gives, listening over and over again to a song I like. I see nothing wrong in it at all, per se..”

      Perhaps it is easier to understand this difference between tanha and upadana by taking a more extreme example.

      Suppose one trying to break the habit of taking drugs. Initially, when the urge comes (due to tanha), he may go along with more vaci snkhara and will get “worked up” to the point that it will be impossible for him to not to use it.

      Suppose he gets better at resisting the drug use, but keeps thinking about it. He may be able to resist for longer times, but at some point he will not be able to resist. So, it is a bad idea to think that “just thinking about it not so bad”. If one is really motivated, one MUST at least keep reducing the time that one is “day dreaming about it”.

      The Buddha explained it this way: One cannot live more than seven days without food AND water. One will die.
      – But if one stops taking food, but takes in just water, one can live for several weeks.
      – That is the analogy for killing a habit. If one stops BOTH kaya sankhara (actual act) and vaci sankhara (thinking about it), then one can kill the habit in a relatively short time.

      Breaking a habit involves stopping food (associated bodily actions or kaya sankhara) and water (vaci sankhara).
      – So, one can break the habit of taking drugs in a shorter time (say a month) if he has the discipline to stop taking it AND also stop thinking about it.
      – But if he stops taking the drug but goes on enjoying thinking about it (vaci sankhara), then he may go on without suing drugs for months and months, and one day he may lose the resolve and take the drug.
      – In fact this happens to a lot of people who are trying to stop taking alcohol or even stop eating too much. They may temporarily stop those activities, but months later they break it. That is because they had not stopped generating vaci sankhara!

      Of course, I am not saying that listening to music is bad. But if one is working to get to the Anagami stage, that can be a hindrance. Of course, by that time one would have seen the “unfruitfullness” of listening to music. It is all relative. As I pointed out in a recent post, it is a step-by-step process to Nibbana.

    • #18804
      upekkha100
      Participant

      Seems to me that upadana(greedy/hateful sankappa) is like adding fuel to the fire.

      Lal, previously you wrote the following:
      -“Pancakkhandha is like a bottle of poison sitting on a table. One gets into trouble only if one takes it and drinks from it (panca upadanakkhandha). An Arahant has pancakkhandha, but no panca upadanakkhandha.”

      -“A bottle of poison sitting on a table has the potential to kill someone. But unless someone takes the bottle and drinks from it, he/she will not be affected.In the same way, we will be subjected to suffering ONLY IF we get attached to worldly things (sankata, whether it is a person, house, car, etc).”

      -Panca upadanakhanda being compared to drinking the poison, seems to imply that suffering begins at the upadana stage(pulling object of greed/hatred closer), rather than beginning at the tanha stage(getting attached).

      -The 2nd Noble Truth would be that suffering begins at the tanha stage.

      Is there a deliberate reason why the Buddha called it “panca upadanakhanda” instead of “panca tanhakhanda?”

    • #18805
      Lal
      Keymaster

      “Panca upadanakhanda being compared to drinking the poison, seems to imply that suffering begins at the upadana stage(pulling object of greed/hatred closer), rather than beginning at the tanha stage(getting attached).”

      • Yes. That is correct.

      “Is there a deliberate reason why the Buddha called it “panca upadanakhanda” instead of “panca tanhakhanda?”

      • The reason is in the above statement.
        It is the upadana that we have control over, not tanha.
        If it was tanha that leads to “bhava” WITHOUT having the upadana step in between, then no one will be able to attain Nibbana.

      This is a VERY IMPORTANT point. If this is not clear to anyone: Please read the thread from the beginning and ask questions. Be specific what the sticking point is.

      To put it in another way, attaining Nibbana is really about getting rid all gati, especially the “bad gati” in the beginning.
      – When we get rid of a certain gati over time (by controlling upadana via controlling vaci and kaya sankhara), tanha associated with that gati will be removed eventually.
      – One becomes free of the apayas by removing “apayagami gati” or “those gati that makes one do bad kamma that can lead to rebirth in the apayas”. That is the way to the Sotapanna stage. It becomes easier to get rid of”apayagami gati” when one starts grasping the anicca nature.

    • #19074
      Lal
      Keymaster

      I have published a new post, “Difference Between Tanhā and Upādāna” to further clarify the issues raised by upekkha100.

      These are critical points to grasp. Thanks to upekkha100 for raising them.

    • #19080
      upekkha100
      Participant

      Thank you Lal for making this post! I hope it helps others who could have had the same questions as me.

    • #36247
      Tobias G
      Participant

      Can we take tanha as mano sankhara based on gati and avijja? I see there is no cetasika called tanha. Therefore I guess it is sanna and vedana according to gati that is tanha.
      If a person gets attached with avijja vaci sankhara follow as vitakka and vicāra.

    • #36248
      Lal
      Keymaster

      No. An Arahant does not generate tanha but generates mano sankhara.

      A discussed in the recent post, “Saṅkhāra – Should Not be Translated as a Single Word” (see #3), any citta had mano sankhara (vedana and sanna).
      – An Arahant generates mano sankhara but does not have tanha.

    • #36252
      Tobias G
      Participant

      OK, Arahants still generate manosankhara. But there is no akusala gati. Thus those manosankhara are not defiled with gati. As you say in the post Difference Between Tanhā and Upādāna, #4:

      Then manō saṅkhāra arise automatically according to gati. That will happen as long as we have taṇhā (either via kāma rāga or paṭigha; avijjā is present in both cases). We automatically get attracted.”

      So tanha can arise if asobhana or sobhana cetasika are included in the cittas and paññā is absent.

    • #36253
      Lal
      Keymaster

      Yes. A somewhat better way to say that is as follows:

      It is possible for attachment to worldly things to happen (taṇhā) as long as the dangers of attaching to worldly things are not comprehended.
      – That understanding grows as paññā grows.
      – Thus, the tendency to attach to worldly things starts to fade away at the Sotapanna Anugami stage.

    • #36255
      Tobias G
      Participant

      You mean to say: the tendency to attach to worldly things fades at the Sotapanna Anugami stage.

    • #36257
      Lal
      Keymaster

      Yes. Corrected above.

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