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Episode 177 - Thirst

Buddhism for Everyone with JoAnn Fox

Release Date: 08/26/2023

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More Episodes

"The rain could turn to gold and still your thirst would not be slaked' the Buddha said. In this episode we explore the connection between the Buddhist teachings of emptiness and craving. Understanding this connection is fundamental to understanding the nature of suffering and the path to liberation.

Emptiness (Shunyata)

Emptiness refers to the fundamental nature of reality, which is devoid of inherent, fixed, or independent existence. The empty nature of all things is the opposite of how we normally perceive reality. If we see something as beautiful, we do not think our mind has anything to do with creating that beauty. We see a table, and we naturally think a table has an inherent identity as a table. 

According to the Buddha, all phenomena, including physical objects, mental states, and even the self, lack an unchanging essence or self-nature. Emptiness is not a form of nothingness, but rather the absence of inherent, permanent, or self-existing characteristics.

Craving (Tanha) or Thirst

Craving (Tanha) is another crucial concept in Buddhism, often identified as the root cause of suffering. Sometimes Tanha is translated as “greed,” “attachment,” or “thirst.” In this episode, we related to this concept mainly as thirst. Thirst can be understood as a relentless attachment to sensory pleasures, material possessions, and other living beings. Thirst/craving is not merely enjoying these things, but becoming attached to them, so that if we can’t have them or they disappoint us, we suffer. Buddha said attachment is like tasting honey on the razor’s edge; the first taste is sweet, but, inevitably, pain follows. 

 Understanding the connection between emptiness and craving

At the deepest level, thirst arises due to our ignorance of the true nature of reality, emptiness. According to the teachings of emptiness, nothing arises independently or in isolation. Instead, everything arises in dependence on causes and conditions.

Emptiness means that all things lack inherent existence. For example, all things in reality depend on the name they are given, their function, label, and our mind’s imputation (and more). Craving arises due to ignorance of this interdependent nature of things. We develop attachments and desires based on the mistaken idea of independent and fixed things of beauty or pleasure. We don’t think that our mind is creating the beauty or pleasure we’re craving, but it is! 

Cessation of Craving and Liberation

The Buddha taught that the cessation of craving leads to the cessation of suffering. The realization of the emptiness of all phenomena leads to the eradication of ignorance and, consequently, the cessation of craving. When craving is extinguished, suffering ceases, and one attains enlightenment,

O Brahmana, cut off the stream of craving with diligence, and abandon sense desires.

O Brahmana, perceiving the cessation of the conditioned,

be an arahat who realizes Nibbana, the Unconditioned. (Verse 383)

—Buddha, The Dhammapada.

References and Links

Buddha.The Dhammapada. Translated by Gil Fronsdale. (Kindle). Shambala, Boston and London, 2011. (Link)

Buddha (1986).The Dhammapada: Verses and Stories. Translated by Daw Mya Tin, M.A. (Website). Edited by Editorial Committee, Burma Tipitaka Association Rangoon. Courtesy .of Nibbana.com. For free distribution only, as a gift of dhamma. Retrieved from https://www.tipitaka.net/tipitaka/dhp/verseload.php?verse=386

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