Session Four

The Second Noble Truth

The second of the four noble truths is about the origin of suffering. The Buddha taught that the origin of unsatisfactoriness lies in craving, a kind of unquenchable thirst for things to be different.

Origin of Suffering

Some translators have suggested that the Buddha said that desire is the cause of suffering. However, tanha has a narrower meaning than the English word ‘desire’. ‘Craving’ captures the addictive quality of tanha. When we crave for things we are caught in an unrealistic fantasy about the kind of satisfaction they will bring. If we do not see into this process, we become caught in ongoing cycles of craving and disappointment.

There are said to be three types of craving: kama tanha, bhava tanha and vibhava tanha. Kama tanha is the craving for sensual pleasures. This can include pinning our sense of well-being to eating particular foods, seeing particular sights, and experiencing particular sensations. While there is no intrinsic problem with pleasant sensations, the difficulty arises when we attach to these pleasures. In doing that, the sense of being dependent on these things grows and a corresponding feeling of grief and loss arises when they are absent.

Bhava tanha, in contrast, is the craving to be. We can understand this as the wish for continued physical existence and also as the desire to defend a particular identity. This may manifest as an excessive concern with success or status. The opposite of this is vibhava tanha, the craving not to be. This may mean the wish for the end of physical existence or the craving to get rid of certain qualities.


In your journal, contemplate how these kinds of craving may arise in your life. What are the ‘stories’ told by these kind of craving? The key is to be aware of them as they arise and pass. There is no need to try to get rid of these forms of craving or to judge yourself when they arise (that would simply be more vibhava tanha). With awareness we can come to know these forms of craving as patterns that arise and pass in the mind. We can learn to be aware of them without needing to be driven by them. 

Home Practice

Practice the meditation on sounds each for twenty minutes.

Write brief notes in your journal about what you notice in your practice.

Reflect in your journal on the relationship between suffering and craving.