Types of Desire

Ajahn Pasanno

Types of  Desire

Of course, one of the things we have to do is recognize the things that distract us. We need to examine the nature of dukkha in order to relinquish its causes. The Buddha points to three different types of desire that cause suffering: kāma taṇhā, desire for sensual gratification; bhava taṇhā, desire for being or becoming; and vibhava taṇhā, desire for non-becoming or non-being.

When sensual desire, kāma taṇhā, is present, we need to explore the functioning of the mind that seeks pleasure, gratification, and comfort, in order to work with and get beyond this—how does this process work?

With bhava taṇhā, we want to examine the sense of being and becoming, that sense of “me” being something. We also need to pay attention to the attraction to becoming a certain type of person or to attaining certain states. And there is even a spiritual becoming, that sense of trying to become the peaceful and perfect meditator.

All of that is doomed to failure. We can’t ever achieve the goal of “becoming” because the nature of desire is that it can’t be fulfilled. We are always going to be seeking another state that’s more refined and pleasant, more peaceful. So we have to watch this tendency, especially when we’re in retreat.

The desire for meditation states is so easy to justify and is true in the sense that we need to cultivate the practice to develop states of peace, clarity, and stillness. But ultimately, it is the identification with these states and the identification with desire itself that is the problem.

In terms of vibhava taṇhā, we need to be looking at the internal experience of rejection of ourselves and others, the experience of holding back or pushing away and the sense of self that arises from that—not wanting to have to be in this situation, deal with that person, or participate in a particular responsibility or chore. We see that coming up frequently.

Sometimes we get so bored just having to be with ourselves—there’s much vibhava taṇhā there. We spend most of our life just waiting for things to end: “When is the morning chore time going to be over so we can have the meal?” When we are not really present with what we are doing because we are fed up with it, we look to something else, generated by that desire for non-becoming.

This reflection by Luang Por Pasanno is from the book, Don’t Hold Back, (pdf) pp. 97-98.