The Force of Bhava-tanha

Ajahn Jitindriya

The Force of Bhava-tanha

Moving experientially into the territory of our own heart, we’re moving into those places that actually haven’t seen the light before. In psychological terms, we might call them our own ‘shadow places’, or in Buddhist psychology, as I said before, this is where we meet Mara and all his powerful forces. It is new territory and often we just don’t know where we are, or where it is taking us.

This is one of the benefits of having community, a teacher and the schedules of the monastery—all so helpful in just providing some kind of container for the work that one is doing, because one can find oneself in some very vulnerable spaces, some very unsure spaces, where our old views of ourselves and things start falling apart and we’re just not really sure what’s going on any more, either internally or externally. That holding environment of the monastery, the teacher and the teaching then is very, very helpful.

Our own commitment to practice is also a container of sorts – which can hold our experience in a certain way, a wholesome way – allowing this work to continue. Our need for security is so strong that our tendency is to want to find a position, to find ‘who’ we are, to identify with this thing or that thing. This is a major force in the mind.

That searching force, bhava-tanha, is always looking to be something, out of this sense of insecurity. As we try to arrest that force of bhava-tanha (which is what much of the practice is about – to ease it up), we have to start to get familiar with that very uncomfortable place of not quite being anything at all, or not quite knowing what’s going on. It feels very uncomfortable, but actually, it’s a very potent place to practise.

You can see the mind, in all its desperation, searching for security or affirmation or approval; needing something concrete, something firm, some ‘thing’ to identify with. That’s just the force of bhava-tanha. It’s there, and it’s what we have to learn from – to see how it’s always leading us into new births, new positions, new views of ourselves and others and the world. We can see these positions and views taking shape, forming, and we can also see them breaking up and dissolving.

We can start to investigate the true nature of our experience. What is it, this true nature? The Buddha is always pointing it out. If we could just recognise the true nature of phenomena as it’s happening, this in itself is what leads to freedom. To recognise the characteristic aspect of impermanence in all of our experiences – whether they be ephemeral thoughts and feelings, or whether they be views and notions, or whether it’s this bodily experience made up of the four great elements: it’s all anicca – impermanent, continually changing, mutable.

This is an opportunity to see that as the reality – that is ‘the way it is’.

This reflection by Ajahn Jitindriya is from the book, Awakening Presence, (pdf) pp.79-80.