In this human world there are many pleasant experiences — pleasant sense experiences, pleasant experiences in the mind, pleasant emotions, pleasant meditative states.  Desire is conditioned by contact with these pleasant feelings, just as contact with the unpleasant conditions aversion. We’re living in a world with so many pleasant things — we’re quite privileged in this way — and that’s the field out of which desire arises. 

Before studying the hindrance of desire, reflect on the pleasant things in your world. Reflect on your experience of desire that accompanies these pleasant experiences and things.

What is desire?

How does desire function? 

We translate the Pali word tanha as desire or craving. But because desire has several meanings in English, we need to be clear about how we are using  the word.

For example, there is desire to accomplish something. Such desire may be motivated by compassion, love, or wisdom or by more unwholesome factors like greed or selfishness. We may have the desire for enlightenment. Desire can also mean the wish to satisfy some very basic needs, such as the desire for food and  shelter. These desires do not necessarily involve greed or craving.

Reflect on whether your desire for love, wisdom, compassion is ever mixed with thirst, craving. How about your desire for food, shelter, job — are these tinged with clinging or craving?

When we talk of desire as a hindrance, we’re speaking of the force of greed in the mind— the energy of craving or grasping. The Buddha taught that desire and ignorance  are the root causes of what he called samsara,the cycle of birth and death. Because of ignorance, we don’t see the true nature of phenomena so desire arises; because of desire we don’t see clearly, and  so we do many actions out of ignorance, each creating their own karmic fruits.

Tanha is sometimes translated as thirst. Reflect on what it feels like when you’re thirsty. Can you relate his feeling to other desires? Where do you experience tanha arising?

Thirsting for something is a powerful force. Tanha is  that greed or thirst for some pleasant experience. Where do we see this arising? We can see it clearly in the areas of our strongest attachments. Look at where you’re the most attached and you’ll see desire arising in different ways.

We can see it arise with regard to our bodies, to the people who are close to us, to the various pleasant sense experiences in our lives. 

The force of desire encompasses quite a range and we don’t have to look very far. It’s very pervasive, operating on many different levels

We see it in obsessive passion. If we observe the difference between the love we may feel for our family or friends and the feeling of desire we have for objects of passion we can experience how different these states are.

Reflect on your important relationships. Can you see both love and attachment, love and desire, love and thirst? Reflect on how each are working for you.

We see desire in our addictive cravings. When you’re addicted to something, whether it’s a strong one (alchohol or drugs) or a minor one ( the morning coffee) it’s that force of desire, of greed, of thirst that is at work.

Reflect on how much of your mental energy is consumed with wanting.

We see desire in our recurrent fantasies. On meditation retreats people often spend some time sitting lost in fantasy. It might be sexual fantasies, it might be fantasies of the next vacation, the next meal. You just get into this nice, pleasant reverie about something, the hour goes quickly, and then we think, “Oh, that was a good sitting!” Mindfulness was lost, but it was enjoyable!

Sometimes we experience desire simply as a passing  whim of the mind. You’re going down the street and the thought arises, “I’d like an ice cream.” While the object of desire may be something quite harmless, it’s that force of wanting that arises and takes over.

While an ice cream cone itself may seem unimportant, the energy of wanting, of desire, is not superficial. It is rooted very deeply in our consciousness.



1 of 4

Your Weary Mind

Sloth & Torpor
Letting Go