Dhammapada verse 334

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. (translated by Gil Fronsdal)

*In a footnote Gil says that the Pali word here refers to a creeping vine which eventually strangles the tree it grows on.

Craving may make us feel as if we are in control, but the truth is that if we live without awareness, we are under the control of our craving. In the verse above, we are the tree and the vine is our craving. 

It’s worth thinking about what in our experience craving refers to. In Pali, the word is taṇhā, whose primary meaning is thirst, or (from the Pali English Dictionary [PED]) “tormented by hunger & thirst”. This is not a passing fancy, it is a feeling that’s urgent, possibly a compulsion.

For most of us kāma-taṇhā (craving for sensual pleasures) is the dominant and most workable form of craving. Taṇhā sneaks in when our mindfulness is lax, and it distorts our thinking. It’s as if we tune in to the “craving channel” of consciousness and continue grasping at things that we think will bring us satisfaction. As soon as we acquire one form of sensual pleasure, its intensity fades and we start scanning the (metaphorical) horizon for our next target. 

There’s an important underlying concept here: [from the PED] taṇhā is a state of mind that leads to rebirth. … In the Chain of Causation (D ii. 34) we are told how Taṇhā arises — when the sense organs come into contact with the outside world there follow sensation and feeling, & these (if, as elsewhere stated, there is no mastery over them) result in Taṇhā.

This is specifically how we can recognize and abandon our craving before it strangles us. It starts with moment to moment awareness of what our mind is doing; is it at peace or agitated? What is our present level of dissatisfaction and to what do we attribute it? If we are cold, we notice and put on a sweater or blanket; if we are tired, we rest if we can. These are fairly neutral examples, but some things are harder to notice. We might want the attention or approval of a particular person; we might covet something we see, or want an experience that is inaccessible to us. Advertising is based on stimulating in us a desire that we didn’t previously have, and we are not invulnerable to these influences.

Right at the point of contact we have the opportunity to notice, at the simplest level, our liking and not liking. Awareness of that feeling, which one friend calls the “vedanā meter”, registers whether we are experiencing desire, aversion, or indifference, and how strongly we are responding to the contact (or thought). If we attach our mindfulness to the present, we can be aware of the reading on our “vedanā meter” and remind ourselves that these feelings are constantly changing and temporary. If we maintain awareness of vedanā as it rises and passes away in our minds, we will be able to prevent its conversion into clinging. Herein lies a key to our everyday freedom.


About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Causes and results, Dhammapada, Dukkha, Hindrances, Intoxicants, Mindfulness, Wisdom and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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