Removal of Craving
Bhikkhu T. Seelananda, Bhavana Society Forest Monastery, High View, WV, USA
Craving or an intense urge is tanhā in Pāli. This is the cause of un-satisfactoriness, stress, distress, depression and discomfort. Craving arises because of feelings. It is because of craving we attach to things, thinking ‘this is mine’, ‘this is me’ and ‘this is myself.’
Not only that, according to the Great Discourse on Causes (Digha Nikaya,15), it is because of craving that seeking arises, and dependent on seeking acquisition arises. Dependent on acquisition ascertainment arises; dependent on ascertainment, desire and passion arise; dependent on desire and passion, attachment arises; dependent on attachment, possessiveness arises; dependent on possessiveness, stinginess arises; dependent on stinginess, defensiveness arises. It is because of defensiveness that various, unskillful, evil phenomena come into play: the taking up of sticks, knives and other weapons; conflicts, quarrels, and disputes; accusations, divisive speech, and lies. Here, the Buddha says, “This is the cause, this is the reason, this is the origination, this is the requisite condition for seeking—i.e., craving.”
So, if craving is totally stopped there is no more seeking. With no more seeking the chain of conflict ceases. For the stoppage of craving the Buddha has pointed out the way. Mindfulness is the way. When there is the eye and forms, eye consciousness arises. The meeting of these—eye, forms and consciousness—is eye contact. Because of contact, feeling arises. Because of feelings, craving arises. When there is craving the cycle starts to play out with attachment, existence, birth, decay and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain and distress arise and together with these the whole mass of un-satisfactoriness arises. How to stop this spinning of the cycle? It is clear that feeling is the cause of craving. According to the teaching of the Buddha, in order to stop anything one has to stop the cause of it. So, since the cause of craving is feelings one has to stop feelings. But because of our ignorance and delusion we cannot understand feelings at the time of the arising of feelings. We simply merge with feelings. If the feeling is pleasant we grasp it; then craving arises. If it is painful feeling, we then refuse it; then aversion arises. If the feeling is neither painful-nor-pleasant, then we are deluded by that feeling.
Then what should we do? We have to understand the cause of feelings, too. The cause of feelings is contact. This is where three things come together. When these three things (the internal base, external base and consciousness) come together, if we are mindful, we can understand the nature of the cycle of the origin of the whole mass of un-satisfactoriness as well as the nature of the cessation of un-satisfactoriness. For this purpose, wise-attention is an indispensable factor. When we develop and cultivate mindfulness, one develops wise-attention simultaneously. And this is why we have to practice, to cultivate and develop mindfulness.
It is only through mindfulness, clear comprehension and wise attention that one can see through and penetrate things as they are. That is vipassnā (insight) or wisdom. Therefore, whoever wishes to understand, reduce and/or completely eliminate craving should practice meditation on mindfulness of body, feelings, mind and mental objects. This is the way. The Buddha said, “This is the only direct way for this purpose.”
Besides the above four kinds of mindfulness, there are several other ways to practice mindfulness. These include mindfulness of breathing, mindfulness of death, mindfulness of elements and mindfulness of body (kāyagatāsati).
When we practice mindfulness it always conjoins with clear comprehension. This is how we come to the path with clear understanding of what we’re really doing. With this clear understanding our practice become more and more clear to us. Then we want to practice more and more. Whenever we practice more we can gain more and more experiences. That itself is the way toward the complete removal of craving and the attainment of spiritual enlightenment. Removal of craving itself is Nibbāna. The Buddha says:
“The craving of a person who lives negligently spreads like a creeping vine. Such a person leaps ever onward like a monkey seeking fruit in the forest ....
“The streams flow everywhere; the creeper of craving sprouts and remains. Seeing that the creeper has sprouted, use insight to cut it at the root.”
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