Kāma Tanhā, Bhava Tanhā, Vibhava Tanhā

Kāma tanhā, bhava tanhā, vibhava tanhā are three key Pāli words that are commonly misunderstood.

1. Tanhā is “getting attached to things in this world” via greed, hate, and ignorance.

  • The word tanhā comes from “thán” + “”, 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 is 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; now we attach to another thing via hate.

  • For example, a teenager wants to get a car and generates greed; he is bound 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 bound in two places.

3. In kāma lōka, where all five physical sense faculties are present. Getting attach to anything that is contacted via the five senses is kāma tanhā. However, attachment arising from the desire to enjoy taste, smell, and body touch are exclusively restricted to the kāma lōka.

  • In the rūpa lōkas, tanhā arise only due to eye and ear. 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.

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 hold a certain office or a responsibility, etc. These are not associated with sensual pleasures and are also due to bhava 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 at death one ceases to exist, i.e., one believes that the mind is a byproduct of the body (brain), and thus when the body dies, that is the end of story. Thus one believes that one needs to just enjoy the pleasures of this life before dying. They obviously have kāma tanhā as well.

  • It is easy to have vibhava tanhā, especially when one has not heard about the Buddha’s message about a wider and more complex world with 31 realms and a rebirth process. Since our normal human senses cannot access such “hidden” aspects of this world, one just believes what one sees. It takes an effort to verify that indeed the wider 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 obvious 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.
  • The connection of uccēda (or uccheda) ditthi to vibhava tanhā is made in Section 3.2.4 Ucchēdavāda in the Brahmajala Sutta.
  • The fact that there is a difference between cutting vegetables and killing animals for food should be given some contemplation. Obviously, the animal is feeling the pain. Then how is an animal different from us? They are different only at the intellectual level; but we have a higher intellectual level only because we have been fortunate to get this temporary human life of 100 years or so, 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”, and many just do not take the needed time to do such an investigation.

6. Let us see how each type of tanhā is removed as one progresses on the Path.

  • When one just 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 feel a significant change depending on the individual.
  • Vibhava tanhā is removed at Sōtapanna stage, since only someone with micca ditthi can have vibhava tanhā. It is important to realize that one has 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 is removed at the Sōtapanna stage; kāma raga is reduced at the Sakadāgami stage and is removed at the Anāgami stage. This process is discussed in 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 completely eliminated only at the Arahant stage.

7. 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 arise due to asāva: One gets “attached” because one has deeply- embedded cravings.
  • Sometimes vibhavāsava is split in to two: ditthāsava (ditthi asāva) and avijjāsava (avijja āsava). This is because vibhavāsava arises due to wrong views and ignorance.

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

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