In Buddhism, Tanha means desire, thirst, greed, or longing. The longing can be of material things, sensual pleasures, or life. In addition, tanha includes desire for negative aspects such as death. Buddhism teaches that tanha is the cause of suffering and pain, a concept known as dukkha. Buddhists believe that tanha cause suffering because it leads to frustration since the world is ever changing and never satisfying (smith, 1991, p. 92). In addition, tanha leads to conflicts between parties and individuals, which lead to suffering. According to (Voorst, 2000, p. 87), tanha leads to samsara, characterized by repeated rebirths, tedious earthly existence, and death, through which all beings pass. Samsara is a form of dukkha as it is painful and unsatisfactory. It is caused by desire, ignorance, and karma.
There is enough evidence to support tanha as the fundamental cause of human suffering. From the painful and frustrating pursuit of desires to individual, community, national, and international conflicts, craving continues to cause a lot of suffering. Desire causes people to harm themselves and others. However, there is no evidence to support the belief in the cycle of rebirth as a result of tanha.
Role of the Path to Enlightenment in Reducing Tanha
Buddhists believe in an eightfold path to enlightenment, which leads to the cessation or end of dukkha. The path requires a person to restrain themselves, cultivate discipline, and practice mindfulness. One concept of the eightfold path is the right view, which can lead to a favorable state of rebirth in samsara and therefore reduce suffering or lead to awakening and escape from rebirths. In pursuit of right view, the person reduces their inclination towards tanha. Right view saves the person from confusion, deluded thinking, and misunderstanding that result from tanha (Voorst, 2000, p. 90). The right view helps a person realize that every action results in karma and decides one’s realm in future rebirths.
The second concept is right resolve, which helps the person to practice renunciation by leaving home, denouncing worldly living, and commiting to spiritual pursuit. Voorst (2000) states that, right resolve is the practice of renunciation, “to be free from ill will, to be harmless” (p. 82). Therefore, right resolve can lead to a reduction in tanha. Right conduct is another concept that advices one to abstain from such acts as killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. The Buddhist is to abstain from killing any sentient being including human beings, animals, birds, and insects. In addition, the person is not to take what belongs to another by force, stealth, deceit, or fraud (Smith, 1991, p. 97). The person is also to abstain from sexual contact with an unmarried person, another person’s spouse, a betrothed person, or female convicts. All the abstinences lead to a reduction in tanha and dukkha.
Why Buddhists Avoid Talking about God
Buddhists avoid talking about God in their pursuit of nirvana and the reason is a fundamental principle of Buddhism. The teachings of Buddha discourage any attempts to reach one’s goals through shortcuts or through help other than one’s own efforts in self-awareness and understanding. If one pursues enlightenment through a god-centered religion, the person does not rely on their self-awareness. Buddhists rely on three concepts to understand right and wrong. The concepts are the intention, the effect upon self, and the effect on others (Voorst, 2000, p. 88). Buddhism is not a religion of rituals, tradition, or spirituality. It teaches against divination, forecasting, and miracles. Instead, it encourages personal efforts in attaining nirvana.
The belief in personal efforts in attaining nirvana can help a person live a positive life devoid of dangerous craving and help reduce suffering. However, someone seeking to develop spirituality might be hindered by the human-centeredness of the religion. Human beings have their limitations and relying totally on one’s ability to be completely enlightened may be inhibited by their own weaknesses.
- Smith, H. (1991). The world’s religions: Our great wisdom traditions. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.
- Voorst. R. E. (2000). Anthology of world scriptures. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub.