Kāma Tanhā, Bhava Tanhā, Vibhava Tanhā

Revised November 9, 2019

Kāma tanhā, bhava tanhā, vibhava tanhā are three incorrectly translated key Pāli words.

Tanhā is Not Craving

1. Tanhā is “getting attached to things in this world” via greed, hate, and ignorance. Most times, it is incorrectly translated as “craving.”

  • The word tanhā comes from “thán” + “hā,” where “thán” rhymes like in “thatch” and means “a place; “hā” means getting attached or fused; see, “Tanhā – How we Attach via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance.” Note that “tan” in tanhā pronounced like in “thunder.”

2. We attach to things because of the ignorance that they can provide lasting happiness; this attachment first manifests in greed. But when someone or something gets in the way, we generate hate; then we attach via hatred.

  • For example, a teenager wants a car, and his desire builds up with time. He is firmly attached to that idea of getting a car. If a parent refuses, then he may generate anger and even hate towards the parent. Now he is attached to two places (to the vehicle via desire and to the parent via anger.)
Kāma Tanhā

3. In kāma lōka, all five physical sense faculties are present. Getting attached to anything via the five sense faculties is kāma tanhā.

  • Furthermore, attachment arising from the desire to enjoy taste, smell, and body touch are exclusively restricted to the kāma lōka. Those three require a “solid body” as we can imagine.
  • In the rūpa lōkas, living beings do not have “solid bodies.” Yet, they can see and hear without having physical eyes or ears.
  • Therefore, in rūpa lōkas, tanhā arise only due to sights and sounds. Thus an Anāgami, who will be born in a rūpa lōka has some rūpa tanhā and sadda tanhā because he/she may like to see a Buddha statue or listen to a discourse.
Bhava Tanhā

4. Bhava tanhā arises from attachment to “any existence.” Thus bhava tanhā is present in kāma lōka, rūpa lōka, and arūpa lōka, i.e., all 31 realms.

  • Even in the kāma lōka, there may be people who do not enjoy the “kāma” or sense pleasures; but they still want to live a quiet, peaceful life. They mostly have bhava tanhā. They may like to be in a secluded place, cultivating jhāna; that is their desired “bhava.” If they develop jhānas, they will be born in rūpa lōka or arūpa lōka due to their new “gathi.”
  • There are other subtle forms of “bhava” too. Some like to become famous, earn a title, to get a high-profile job or a responsibility, etc. These are not associated with sensual pleasures and are also due to bhava tanhā.
Vibhava Tanhā

5. Vibhava tanhā arises from the wrong view of materialism (uccēda ditthi in the time of the Buddha; uccēda pronounced “uchchēda”). One believes that one ceases to exist at death. One believes that the mind is a byproduct of the body (brain). And thus, when the body dies, that is the end of the story.

  • Therefore one believes that one needs to enjoy the pleasures of this life before dying. Such a person would normally have kāma tanhā as well.
  • It is easy to have vibhava tanhā in modern society. That is especially true if one has not heard about the Buddha’s message about a more complex world with 31 realms and a rebirth process. Our human sensory faculties cannot access such “hidden” aspects of this world. One believes only what one can see.
  • It takes an effort to verify that indeed, the more comprehensive world view is needed to EXPLAIN all that we can experience; see, “Vagaries of Life and the Way to Seek “Good Rebirths.”
  • Many immoral acts are done with uccēda ditthi (or materialism or nihilism) because one believes that everything in this world is for one’s enjoyment.
  • Even though it is evident that animals cry with pain when being killed, that is not of any consequences in their minds. The logic is that If this birth is the one and the last, there is no possibility that one could face the same fate in the future.

6. The connection of uccēda (or uccheda) ditthi to vibhava tanhā is made in Section 3.2.4 Ucchēdavāda in the Brahmajala Sutta.

  • It is an excellent idea to contemplate the fact that there is a difference between cutting vegetables and killing animals for food. An animal is a living being and feels pain.
  • Then how is an animal different from us? The difference is only at the intellectual level. We have higher intelligence only because we have been fortunate to get this temporary human life because of a previous good deed.
  • In the next birth, we could be born an animal; it depends on the types of kamma that we have accumulated. It takes time to go through such an analysis, and to convince oneself of the ability of the Buddha Dhamma to provide “good explanations.” Many people do not take the needed time to do such an investigation.
Connection to Magga Phala

7. Let us see how each type of tanhā decreases as one progresses on the Path.

  • When one starts on the Path and makes an effort to understand the message of the Buddha, one starts losing all three types of tanhā gradually. With time one can feel that change and the resulting nirāmisa sukha that comes from it. It may take a few days, months, or even a year to see a significant difference depending on the individual.
  • Vibhava tanhā is removed at the Sōtapanna stage. It is essential to realize that one is bound to have vibhava tanhā if one does not believe in the rebirth process.
  • kāma tanhā leads to various levels of attachment that are removed step-by-step in the four stages of Nibbana: Kāmaccanda removed at the Sōtapanna stage. Kāma raga reduced at the Sakadāgami stage and removed at the Anāgami stage. See the next post, “Lobha, Raga and kāmaccanda, kāmaraga.”
  • As long as one is reborn anywhere in the 31 realms, one has bhava tanhā. Thus, bhava tanhā is eliminated only at the Arahant stage.
Connection to Āsava/Anusaya

8. Finally, two relevant points:

  • It is important to note that these three “tendencies to bind” (kāma tanhā, bhava tanhā, vibhava tanhā) arise due to kāmasava, bhavāsava, and vibhavāsava . Tanhā occurs due to asāva: One gets “attached” because one has deeply- embedded cravings for worldly things.
  • Sometimes vibhavāsava is split into two: ditthāsava (ditthi asāva) and avijjāsava (avijja āsava). That is because vibhavāsava arises due to wrong views and ignorance.
  • Āsava/Anusaya discussed in detail at, “Āsava, Anusaya, and Gati (Gathi).”

Next, “Lobha, Raga and kāmachanda, kāmaraga“, …….

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