Kāma Assāda – A Root Cause of Suffering

April 4, 2020; revised April 6, 2020; August 9, 2023

Kāma Assāda – Sensory Pleasures

1. Kāma assāda, or simply “kāma,” means “sensory pleasures.” See, “What is “Kāma”? It is not Just Sex.”

  • We all like and crave sensory pleasures. An average human likes to eat tasty foods, smell perfumes, and experience soothing bodily contact, including sex. He/she also wants to see related objects and listen to related sounds. Thus, an average human enjoys such sensory events through all five physical senses.
  • Besides, we also tend to endlessly think about such “pleasures” and how to get more of them. Thus, we use all six senses to “enjoy sensual pleasures.” That leads to kāma taṇhā, one of the three types of taṇhā: kāma taṇhā, bhava taṇhā, vibhava taṇhā.
  • The Buddha pointed out that we are trapped in the suffering-filled rebirth process because of this tendency to value sensory pleasures or kāma assāda. That is another way to discuss the “previously unknown suffering” that the Buddha introduced in his first discourse, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. The dangers in kāma assāda stated there as one extreme way to live life, or “kāma­su­khal­li­kānu­yogo.”
  • It is important to note that Buddha rejected the opposite extreme, too (“atta­kila­mathā­nuyogo.”) There is no need to force oneself to eat less or to eat not-tasty food, be subject to unpleasant bodily contacts, etc. The “middle way” is to live a simple life away from both extremes and to contemplate and comprehend the “true nature of this world 31 realms.”
  • It is not easy to comprehend the bad consequences/danger (ādinava) of kāma assāda. We will go through a systematic analysis.
Connection to the Previous Post

2. In the previous post (“Difference Between Dhammā and Saṅkhāra“), we discussed that causes (kamma bija)  are not enough to bring about their results (kamma vipāka.) Just because one has done bad kamma does not mean one will have to face adverse consequences, especially unfortunate rebirths. The same is true for good kamma.

  • We all have done enough good and bad kamma to sustain the rebirth process over billions of years. However, even Angulimala, who killed almost a thousand people, was able to nullify that kamma. He did that by purifying his mind (attaining Arahantship) and removing avijjā and taṇhā that fuel the Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda process.
  • That indirect way of “overcoming” a kamma bija is called kammakkhaya. It does not destroy any previous kamma bija. Instead, one would remove the conditions for such kamma bija to “germinate.” As we know, the removal of avijjā will stop the tendency to attach to “worldly things” (taṇhā). Then, the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step in Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda will not take place. See “Kanha (Dark) and Sukka (Bright) Kamma and Kammakkhaya.”
  • The key message of the Buddha was that the rebirth process in “this world” is filled with suffering. When one comprehends that “hidden suffering” of “this world,” one will strive to overcome the rebirth process and attain Nibbāna.
  • “This world” (“ayam loko”) consists of three loka: kāma loka (with 11 realms,) rupa loka (with 16 realms,) and the arupa loka (with four realms.) As we know, at the Sotapanna stage, one overcomes rebirths in the four lowest realms (apāyā.) Rebirths in all realms in kāma loka will stop at the Anāgāmi stage. At the Arahanthood, rebirths in all three lokā (i.e., in all 31 realms) will end, and Nibbāna realized.
Most Living Beings Are Trapped in the Four Lowest Realms (Apāyā)

3. Over 99% of the living beings are trapped in the four lowest realms (apāyā) in the kāma loka. It is extremely difficult to get rebirth in a higher realm.

  • For example, there are less than eight billion people on Earth. But there are a million times more ants on Earth! There are a trillion types of lifeforms on Earth; see “The Largest Study of Life Forms Ever Has Estimated That Earth Is Home to 1 TRILLION Species.” These are mind-boggling numbers! That is not counting the other three realms in the apāyā that we cannot see.
  • While it is hard to get rebirth in the human and Deva realms, it is EVEN HARDER to get rebirths in rupa loka and arupa loka, collectively called Brahma loka. That is because one has to overcome (at least temporarily suppress) kāma rāga (craving for sensory pleasures) to be eligible for rebirth in a Brahma realm. If one can attain a jhāna, that means one has at least temporarily suppressed (during this lifetime) attachment to sensory pleasures, especially the desire for sex.
  • That is why it is tough for most people to attain jhāna.
Easy to Describe and Hard to Imagine Life in the Two Brahma Loka

4. Those Brahmā do not need “solid, dense bodies” like ours since they have overcome the desire for physical touch, taste, and smell. Solid, dense bodies are required for those three sensory contacts.

  • Rupāvacara Brahmās still have cravings for seeing and listening. But those two functions can be achieved without dense bodies and just with the two corresponding pasāda rupa. A pasāda rupa is a suddhāṭṭhaka that is “energized” by kammic energy. A rupāvacara Brahma also has hadaya vatthu (seat of mind), another “energized” suddhāṭṭhaka.
  • Those living beings in the highest loka, the arupāvacara Brahma loka, have only the mind. They have given up the desire to see and hear as well. Thus, they have only hadaya vatthu, just a single suddhāṭṭhaka!
  • It is not easy for an average human to even imagine such lifeforms. Only a Buddha can discover such details about the “wider world of 31 realms.”
  • Anyway, the point is that it is much easier to explain the lifeforms in the highest 20 realms. Furthermore, they mainly experience jhānic pleasures. Therefore, even sensory experience is easy to explain. That was briefly discussed in the previous post, “Kamma and Paṭicca Samuppāda – Introduction.”
Eleven Realms in Kāma Loka Are Very Complex – Simplest Are the Deva Realms

5. Compared to the higher-lying 20  Brahma realms, life in the 11 realms in kāma loka is very complex.

  • The 6 Deva realms in the kāma loka are the simplest. They have opapātika births (instantaneous births) without a “growth stage” like ours. Even though they have all five physical senses, their “physical bodies” are much less dense, almost like the gandhabbā.
  • As we have discussed, a gandhabba is born with a mental body that is similar to a Brahma. That means just with a hadaya vatthu and a set of pasāda rupa. Then that gandhabba can absorb aroma (scents) and become a bit denser, but still cannot be seen by average humans. See, “Ghost 1990 Movie – Good Depiction of Gandhabba Concept.” A Deva is similar to a gandhabba with a “bit more dense body” than just the mental body.
  • Devā enjoy sensory pleasures and do not experience significant bodily ailments or diseases. Thus, the main difference between them and Brahmā is while Brahmās enjoy jhānic pleasures, Devās enjoy sensual pleasures or kāma assāda.
Complexity Starts at the Human Realm

6. As we know, suffering is the highest in the lowest four realms, including the animal realm.

  • Therefore, the human realm is unique. Some humans enjoy life, almost like some Devā, without even any health problems. Then are others who suffer almost like some animals due to either financial or health issues. Furthermore, a human could cultivate jhāna and enjoy jhānic pleasures like Brahmā.
  • Brahmā and Devā are content with their sensual or jhānic pleasures. It is mostly those who had attained magga phala as humans who are interested in following the Path. On the other hand, those in the apāyā do not have the mental capacity even to comprehend Dhamma.
  • That is why the human realm is the best-suited to follow the Noble Path. Humans can comprehend Dhamma. Furthermore, other than relatively few, they do experience enough suffering to be motivated to think about the problem of suffering.
  • In this and a few upcoming posts, we will focus more on the reasons for living beings to be born in all these different realms. That will help us understand the critical principles of Paṭicca Samuppāda.
Overview of the Three Lokā

7. We know that causes are not ENOUGH to bring rebirths in respective realms, as discussed in the previous post, “Kamma and Paṭicca Samuppāda – Introduction.” But causes are NECESSARY to bring rebirth in a given realm. Without a cause, there cannot be a rebirth in a given realm.

  • As discussed in that post, one MUST cultivate a jhāna to get rebirth in a Brahma realm. A rupāvacara jhāna leads to rebirth in one of 16 realms in the rupāvacara Brahma realms (in rupa loka). An arupāvacara jhāna will lead to rebirth in an arupāvacara Brahma realm (in arupa loka).
  • Of the three types of lokakāma loka is the “default loka” for living beings. Living beings have cravings for sensory pleasures (kāma assāda), and that is kāma rāga. One who has very strong kāma rāga, and is willing to do immoral deeds to enjoy them, has lobha.
  • Those with lobha also have a higher version of patigha, and that is dosa. One acting with lobha/dosa can do immoral deeds (pāpa kamma) and make kamma bija suitable to bring rebirths in the apāyā (four lowest realms in kāma loka.)
  • To summarize, lobha/dosa are strong versions of kāma rāga/patigha; see “Lōbha, Dōsa, Mōha versus Rāga, Patigha, Avijjā.”
  • Those with kāma rāga/patigha are capable of engaging in moral actions (puñña kamma.) Such puñña kamma are the causes to bring “good rebirths” in the human realm or the six Deva realms.
  • The bottom line is that living beings in kāma loka have strong cravings for sensual pleasures (kāma rāga.) Until those cravings are removed, it is not possible to overcome rebirths in kāma loka.
  • As we know, even a Sotapanna has kāma rāga. Only an Anāgāmi has removed kāma rāga.
Craving for Sensory Pleasures Is the Root of Most Suffering

8. From the above discussion, it should be clear that suffering in the rebirth process can be attributed to the innate tendency of living beings to crave sensual pleasures (i.e., to have kāma rāga.)

  • When they do immoral deeds (pāpa kamma) in their pursuit of sensual pleasures, they build up kammic energies (kamma bija) to bring about rebirths in the apāyā.
  • Even those who just enjoy sensual pleasures (without doing immoral deeds like killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, etc.) cannot “escape” the realms in the kāma loka. This is clear in the “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” and “upādāna paccayā bhava” steps in Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • In order to overcome or transcend the kāma loka, one MUST lose the cravings for sensual pleasures or kāma assāda. I will try to use the term “kāma assāda” in the future since it relates directly to kāma loka. Here “assāda” means “pleasures,” and thus kāma assāda are sensual pleasures (taste, smell, and touches, including sex.)
Dangers in Kāma Assāda

9. What we discussed above is an essential teaching of the Buddha that is hidden these days. The Buddha described “kāma assāda” or just “kāma” to be very dangerous.

  • Bhaya Sutta (AN 6.23) says: “‘ Bhayan’ti, bhikkhave, kāmānametaṃ adhivacanaṃ; ‘dukkhan’ti, bhikkhave, kāmānametaṃ adhivacanaṃ; ‘rogo’ti, bhikkhave, kāmānametaṃ adhivacanaṃ;..” OR “‘Danger,’ ‘suffering,’ ‘disease,’..are terms for sensual pleasures.”
  • Bhaya Sutta (AN 8.56) says, “‘Danger’ is a term for sensual pleasures. ‘Suffering,’ ‘disease,’ ‘infected wound,’ ‘pierced by a spear,’ etc., are terms for sensual pleasures.” And why is ‘danger’ a term for sensual pleasures? Someone who is caught up in sensual greed and shackled by lustful desire is not freed from dangers in the present life or lives to come. That is why ‘danger’ is a term for sensual pleasures..”
  • See the English translations there for more details.
  • There are many suttā that emphasize the hidden dangers in kāma assāda or kāma rāga. For example, Mahādukkhakkhandha Sutta (MN 13)Cūḷadukkhakkhandha Sutta (MN 14)Cūḷadhammasamādāna Sutta (MN 45), and many others discuss the ādinava or “bad and dangerous consequences of indulging in sensual pleasures, i.e., dangers of kāma assāda.
  • I have given the links to the Pāli versions of those suttās at Sutta Central. One can access translations to several languages, including English, by clicking on the “down arrow” above the name of the sutta.

10. We will make the connection of various types of rebirths to saṅkhāra and Paṭicca Samuppāda in the next post.

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