TanhaTanha (Sanskrit: Trsna), translates as desire, craving, thirst, want, longing, yearning. As with many Buddhist terms, they have no direct translation into English. We therefore have to use several terms to try and fully describe the original meaning.

Tanha is link eight in the twelve linked chain of Dependent Origination Pratitya-samutpada. Tanha is also a constituent part of Samudaya the second of the Four Noble Truths. Buddhist teachings, describe the craving for sense objects which provide pleasant feeling, or craving for sensory pleasures. Tanha is a term for wanting to have or wanting to obtain. It also encompasses the negative as in wanting not to have. We can crave for pleasant feelings to be present, and for unpleasant feelings not to be present (ie get rid of unpleasant feelings).

Craving, or desire, springs from the mistaken notion that if “My” desires are fulfilled it will, of itself, lead to “My” lasting happiness or well-being. Such beliefs normally result in further craving/desire and the repeated enactment of activities to bring about the desired results. This is graphically depicted in the Wheel of Life. The repeated cycling through states driven by craving and its concomitant clinging Upadana.

The meaning of Tanha (craving, desire, want, thirst), extends beyond the desire for material objects or sense pleasures. It also includes the desire for life (or death, in the case of someone wishing to commit suicide), desire for fame (or infamy, its opposite), desire for sleep, desire for mental or emotional states (happiness, joy, rapture, love) if they are not present and would like them to be. If we experience, say depression or sorrow, we can desire its opposite. The meaning of Tanha is far-reaching and covers ALL desire, ALL wanting, ALL craving, irrespective of its intensity, but this isn’t how it is normally used in buddhist understanding.

Tanha is sometimes taken as interchangeable with the term addiction, except that would be too narrow a view. Tanha tends to include a far broader range of human experience and feeling than medical discussions of addiction tend to include.

Further analysis of Tanha, reveals that worldly desires cannot be fully satiated or satisfied, due to their impermanent nature. This is expounded in the Buddhist teaching of Anitya impermanence, change (Pal: Anicca).

The Buddhist solution to the problem of Tanha (craving, wanting) is the Noble Eightfold Path and the Six Paramita.

Further reading

  • Philosophy of the Buddha by Archie J. Bahm. Asian Humanities Press. Berkeley, CA: 1993. ISBN 0-87573-025-6.
    • Chapter 5 is about craving, and discusses the difference between tanha and chanda.

Tṛṣna Ái (Phật giáo)

buddha monk

buddha monk