Encountering Trsna: Tanha and The Death of Unquenchable Thirst

Scene of Deluge (Joseph Desire Court)

Ūno loko atitto taṇhādāso

(The wanting of the World is an unslakable thirst.)

As the Buddha told Raṭṭapāla: “The world lacks and hankers, and is enslaved to “thirst” (taṇhādāso).


Thirst in the Beginning…

Some thing in me, in me, wanting more.

I have to have.

I have to have more.

I have to have more!

Me, me, me -this longing desire.

To escape

To attain

To settle

Subsided by thirst

                             -thirst for more

Every desire, and then even every desire more.

To what ends do we strife

Our entire life

Towards more.




Slaves to thirst we are, by becoming more and in our attempts to be less. Even neutrality reeks of a net. Mere peons in a universal game of the cosmos craving its very self. Every encounter, every experience containing desire, born to become more (and especially at times of diligent attention one recognizes the desire to become less) of itself. Life as the constant push and pull between each and every unit believing itself to be separate autonomy from the whole (and yet only applied to those with the capacity to realize their autonomy).

In the world of duality, subject and object are seen split, appearing to be individual manifestations of  one entirety we commonly confine our attention to calling the physical realm. Collectively, this split forms the base of ignorance, or more appropriately known in Buddhist terminology as avidya, an unknowingness, a darkness between Whole and what appears to be individuated source, or a personal power of control. Thus in its apparition of polarity, desire occurs like an attraction -a gravity if you will between the split (subject and object)- desiring to appear as it truly is: interconnected and unified, wherein the base of this gravity settles as an experiential thirst or craving ( known in Sanskrit as trsna and Pali as tanha). Form craving non-form, non-form craving form. Thirst is the ground of desire, the swallowing or rejecting of a black hole in its barest form.



Immersed in Thirst

In a past life, my longing desire always wanted more. More time, more money, more things, more knowledge, more goals, more vice, and more recognition. More of her and more of him. There were also in times of thirst in which I wanted nothing more than to be a non-thing, to be left alone, to allow myself harm, to destroy myself due to impenetrable mental sufferings, to be allowed the social avoidance of these and those and escape any sort of a presentation with the manifested world -a confused and contorted thirst of me if you will. Me wanting the manifested more forever, and even more of less as well. This craving of the conscientious and controlling subject is unquenchable; for once one thirst is satisfied, the craving no longer focuses on its immediate satisfaction but suddenly on the remedial retainer.


What in me is craving? What of me?

(If only we allowed there to be more space…)


The desire to hold onto this (and every) moment of perfection, (without the recognition that this moment is perfection and already escaped) the ever-avoidance of pain replete in the physicality of our bodies, hedonistic tendencies, hedonistic tendencies, hedonistic tendencies, hedonistic tendencies, is there more to say… addictive, visceral qualities, and I repeat, the ever-avoidance of pain, my becoming is in and of itself my attachment. This thirst that I cannot quench too needs filling.


“Now, craving is dependent on feeling, seeking is dependent on craving, acquisition is dependent on seeking, ascertainment is dependent on acquisition, desire and passion is dependent on ascertainment, attachment is dependent on desire and passion, possessiveness is dependent on attachment, stinginess is dependent on possessiveness, defensiveness is dependent on stinginess, and because of defensiveness, dependent on defensiveness, various evil, unskillful phenomena come into play: the taking up of sticks and knives; conflicts, quarrels, and disputes; accusations, divisive speech, and lies.  Here, the Buddha says, “This is the cause, this is the reason, this is the origination, this is the requisite condition for seeking—i.e., craving.” (Source)


In seeking fulfillment we do not become filled.

Sparsity may serve to relinquish our burden if we can come to accept it -and live without comparison to the surplus of those privileged beside us that even they fail all too often to enjoy. As Henry Miller has alluded in his renditions of being stuck in a cancerous state, “I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.” Must we see and settle into our constant thirsting if are to survive in our attempts to be fully alive. Our well-being depends on understanding the process as a whole and especially understanding that even our most rambunctious and unsettled cravings will soon pass; the realization of our, indeed life’s, impermanent nature is essential to all human progress. Death is the great Equator. And still, I wonder how we shall find the means to last?

With every attempt at quenching our aire of thirst, we become oft more thirsty. Gulping salt water, lost in the heated tumultuous seas of our own becoming, aboard none other than a water-logged plank of our own doing, we continue swallowing the very poison which is killing us -only quicker than ticking of fate’s hands. In our misguided aim, our cure for suffering is typically to worsen the situation. 

With every ounce of attention focused toward eliminating our craving, our impediment lies in our own ability to see yet again, what the Hindu’s refer to as the ahamkara process. Ego attaching to what we believe to be a permanent structure within us which serves as only one part to an enormous veiled workings of ignorance lying carefully behind our daily habituations and familar proceedings.  There is nothing to crave, in the Whole of us, for we are filled –aye, little is our knowledge! And I repeat, sparse knowledge, sparse aims, and even more sparse defeats. Yet again, how I feel becomes desire. The wanting of more. Another thirsting of unquenchability smacks upon the moment relieved. With one sip, I ask for another, and perhaps even another because the first was so satiating. Later on, I crave non-craving: the guilt of sipping too much. Imagined insanity. 


The Death of Thirst

When thirst dissipates, so too do the severities of our attachment to our possessions and passions, our planned becomings, our projects and goals and what have yous, our to-do lists, our to-be lists, and before we know it thirst entirely atrophies firstly in a subtle lackadaisical manner followed by a then suddenly motivated manner. The source of motivation appears to relocate from a self-serving mandate to a more socially-inclined progression of one’s protocol. The Whole is considered priority, one’s self and others, an integrated view overtakes the self-serving bias which served autonomously before one’s revolution. What needed to be done is done but not simply by our individual mastery, but by a much grander, combined Process which moves to and through us as well as others. One’s separate, dare we say special, struggle ceases and the collective struggle slowly begins to unravel compassionately in one’s understanding opening up a broader world-view. 

As if there is nothing to do, nothing to accomplish, and work flows through me towards completion. Thirsting evaporates and what felt needed to be done is accomplished (without the interference of my personal story of vindication). 


Where has it gone?

That thirst

For success, to become, like no other

Passion obsolete,

What was once lost and clinching to taste

And touch

And sound

To constantly feel in direction

Always going somewhere

Bemoaning of me

And my


Is no longer to be found

Thru the means of being bound

Up to the cor of time

where knotted feigned masks

Of pretend are put sharply forward

                                                                                              …barely whispering: Entirety

A roar


All at once!


                                                                                                     -gone into the blue of broken

Settled in the never-lasting



The space of equanimity presents itself to the attentive subject mindful of trsna’s constant tug. Life’s uneasiness begins resolving through a continued emphasis on one’s reminder of impermanence: nature’s cure-all of thirsting. Our longing, wishing, greeding, and wanting are all subject to change at a moment’s whim. Our greatest challenge is becoming patient enough and diligently attentive enough to the three types of hunger we are certain to encounter upon our meditations of trsna: the thirst for sense pleasure (kama tanha), thirst for becoming or existing (bhava tanha), and the thirst for non-existence (vibhava tanha).

These are actual experiences and upon encountering these moments of tremendous grief, torment, or quite simply the self-inflicted torture of feeling as if we will be pulled apart by the very vises of our selves, we need only remember that these emotions are interior and we are responsible for dealing with them. Like every other emotion we’ve experienced, there is nothing lasting to their nature. Emotion will always change, joy lasts never long enough across the hands of time, nor do the banes of our sadness extend past a second’s flicker. As the shores are washed upon their surfaces of a sweaty, day-milked dust of phantom footwork, so too are we forgived of  a lifetime’s supply of grievances and despair. For it is known, The Great Ocean cleanses all.

Need also we remember that our satiation is not permanent, even after a most superfluous supper, hunger will strike us again. Insulin spikes and vice begets more vice, praying leads only to more insufferable prayer. Even in filling the rounds of our satiations, we are lead to the want of more. A lung’s procession of breathing from the outset demands simply one more inhalation of its oxygenated lust. Our greatest chance at overcoming the ever-suppressive reality of our dukkha is rembemering what the Persian mystics have told us from the very beginning, “لا شيء يدوم (Nothing endures).” Here begets our greatest chance at realization: our inherent gratitude, divine grace, is that all that seems to exist within the impermanent structures of our yearnings will all too certainly be relieved outside the constructs of time.

For those interested in learning more behind the workings of the second noble truth of Buddhism, or to simply better understand the process behind desire, check out the video below:


About Stephan Stansfield

Stephan is the owner, creator, and editor of Peregrine Poise.
He is currently traveling and teaching around the world. When he is not helping others discover their true potential, he finds time to surf, read, and reflect on the important issues of living a good life.


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