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Taṇhā (Pāli; Devanāgarī: तण्हा) or tṛṣṇā (Sanskrit; Devanāgarī: तृष्णा) literally means "thirst,"[1][2] figuratively denotes "desire"[1] or "craving,"[2] and is traditionally juxtaposed with "peace of mind" (upekkha).[2]


  • 愛 Cn: ài; Jp: ai; Vi: ái
  • Tibetan:

The most basic of these meanings (the literal meaning) is "thirst"; however, in Buddhism it has a technical meaning that is much broader. In part due to the variety of possible translations, taṇhā is sometimes used as an untranslated technical term by authors writing about Buddhism.

In the framework of the Four Noble Truths, the second truth (sacca) identifies taṇhā as the origin (samudaya) of suffering (dukkha). This is elaborated upon more fully in the Twelve Nidanas of Dependent Origination (Skt.: pratītyasamutpāda; Pali: paṭiccasamuppāda) in which taṇhā is the eighth link (see diagram to the right).


In the Pali Canon, several discourses explicitly refer to three types of craving:

  • craving for "sensuality" or "sensual pleasures" (kāma-ta)
  • craving for "becoming" or "existence" (bhava-ta)
  • craving for "no becoming" or "non-existence" or "extermination" (vibhava-ta)[3][4]

Buddhist teachings describe the craving for sense objects which provide pleasant feeling, or craving for sensory pleasures. Taṇhā is a term for wishing to have or wishing to obtain. It also encompasses the negative as in wishing not to have. We can crave for pleasant feelings to be present, and for unpleasant feelings not to be present (i.e., to get rid of unpleasant feelings).

The origin of Taṇhā (craving, desire, wish, 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), the desire for fame (or infamy, its opposite), the desire for sleep, the desire for mental or emotional states (e.g., happiness, joy, rapture, love) if they are not present and one would like them to be. If we experience, say depression or sorrow, we can desire its opposite. The origin of Taṇhā is far-reaching and covers all craving, irrespective of its intensity.

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

Drawbacks and escape

According to Buddhist teachings, craving, or desire, springs from the notion that if one's desires are fulfilled it will, of itself, lead to one's 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 Bhavacakra, the repeated cycling through states driven by craving and its concomitant clinging (upadana). Further analysis of taṇhā reveals that desire for conditioned things cannot be fully satiated or satisfied, due to their impermanent nature. This is expounded in the Buddhist teaching of impermanence, change (Skt.: anitya; Pali: anicca).

Moreover, one's taṇhā leads not only to one's own suffering (dukkha) but also to "evil, unwholesome factors" (pāpakā akusalā dhammā) that lead to the suffering of others. The Pali Canon delineates this chain of events as follows: from one's taṇhā arises attachment, then possessiveness and then defensiveness from which can arise lies, arguments and conflicts.[5]

The Buddhist solution to the problem of taṇhā (craving, wishing) is the third of the four noble truths, the cessation (nirodha) of suffering. The cessation of suffering comes from the quenching (nibbuta) of taṇhā, which is the destruction of taṇhā. The problem is that we desire unsatisfactory (dukkha) things, namely sensual pleasures, existence and non-existence. When we have Right Effort, when we want that which yields satisfaction, then taṇhā is not the obstacle to enlightenment but drama elimination.

Relatedly, in the Pali Canon, ta is at times personified as one of Death's three daughters (Māra-dhītā), along with aversion (arati) and passion (rāga).[6] Thus, for instance, in the Samyutta Nikaya's Māra-sayutta, the Buddha's victory over Death is symbolically complete after Death's three daughters fail to entice the Buddha:

They had come to him glittering with beauty —
Tahā, Arati, and Rāga —
But the Teacher swept them away right there
As the wind, a fallen cotton tuft.[7]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Monier Williams, 1964, p. 454, entry for "Tṛishṇā," retrieved 2008-06-12 from "U. Cologne" at
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 294, entry for "Tahā," retrieved 2008-06-12 from "U. Chicago" at
  3. Discourses that use this three-fold typology include DN 15, DN 22, MN 44, SN 22.22, SN 22.103, SN 22.104, SN 22.105, SN 38.10, SN 39.10, SN 45.170, SN 56.11, SN 56.13 and SN 56.14.
  4. Regarding the English translations of the Pali words kāma, bhava and vibhava, the English terms "sensuality," "becoming" and "no becoming" are typical of Thanissaro Bhikkhu and can be found, for instance, in his translation of DN 15 (Thanissaro, 1997). The terms "sensual pleasures," "existence" and "extermination" can be found, for instance, throughout Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation of the Samyutta Nikaya (2000, pp. 872, 963, 1298, 1562, 1844, 1848). Walshe (1995, p. 346) uses "sensual," "existence" and "non-existence" in his translation of the Mahasatipatthana Sutta (DN 22).
  5. The connection between craving and interpersonal violence is elaborated upon in this fashion in the Pali Canon's Mahānidāna Sutta ("Great Discourse on Causation," DN 15) (Thanissaro, 1997, see in particular the discourse section entitled "Dependent on Craving").
  6. See, e.g., SN 4.25 (Bodhi, 2000, pp. 217-20), and Sn 835 (Saddhatissa, 1998, p. 98). In a similar fashion, in Sn 436 (Saddhatissa, 1998, p. 48), ta is personified as one of Death's four armies (senā) along with desire (kāmā), aversion (arati) and hunger-thirst (khuppipāsā).
  7. SN 4.25, v. 518 (Bodhi, 2000, p. 220).


  • Saddhatissa, H. (trans.) (1998). The Sutta-Nipāta. London: RoutledgeCurzon Press. ISBN 0-7007-0181-8.
  • Walshe, Maurice (trans.) (1995). The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Pubs. ISBN 0-86171-103-3.

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 taṇhā and chanda.
  • "Nietzsche and Buddhism: A Study in Nihilism and Ironic Affinities" by Robert Morrison. Oxford University Press, 1998.
    • Chapter 10 is a comparison between Nietzsche's Will to Power and Tanha, which gives a very nuanced and positive explanation of the central role tanha plays in the Buddhist path.

External links

Preceded by
Twelve Nidānas
Succeeded by

sr:Танха sv:Tanha th:ตัณหา vi:Ái (Phật giáo)

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