Craving for spiritual attainments

What fetter is it (sensual desires?) when one has craving (big or small) for spiritual attainments.

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if by spiritual attainments states of jhana are understood or supranormal (psychic) powers and knowledges which are the result of developed jhanas, then it’s hardly sensual desire since jhanic experience isn’t sensual

could be conceit (māna) if the motive is self-aggrandizement and desire to overtop others


Dear Alaber,

I remember from a talk by Ajahn Brahm, that he said, that craving for awakening is required at the beginning of the path (and it is probably also still required at the middle of the path).

He gave the simile of climbing a ladder. You have to crave for the next rung of the ladder, then you have to grasp it and get attached, and then you use that to pull yourself up. Only when your feet are on that very rung, it is time to let go of that stage. If you stand at the bottom of the ladder and get attached to nothing, then nothing will happen.
I like this simile, because it reflects the process-nature of the noble eightfold path. First you have to direct your attention in a new direction, then you have to cling to the new rung, internalize it until you can rest with your feet on it and then, when it is time you leave it behind easily, while progressing further. Opposed to that one will not get the momentum to be conditioned in new, wholesome ways, but will carry on with all the existing patterns (or will keep being conditioned by ones surroundings), if standing in front of the path never wanting to cling to anything.

Hence, desire for observing precepts, desire to study the Dhamma, desire for kindness, desire to meditate, desire for seclusion&renunciation, desire to attain Nibbāna one day, that’s all good at the beginning and along the journey.
Of course these desires also have to be balanced by wisdom. There is no point getting all worked up that there is lack of seclusion, after entering a bus (or after coming to the daily routine after having been to a retreat).

The Buddha himself used the example of the raft. You only let go of the raft when you reached the safe shore on the other side. You do not let go of the raft when you just started. This means you only let go all spiritual desires, when you are fully awakened. (sorry, I am not sure of the reference to the EBT right now).

However, if you get stuck with clinging to Jhāna; if you take dwelling with a mind immersed in Jhāna as the only goal & purpose of the path, when really it is time to become aware of the conditioned nature of that experience, then this would be delusion (wrong view) or sensual desire (with the mind as sense door clinging to the feeling of immense pleasure or peace) in my view. Thus, this could become an obstacle at this quite advanced stage along the path.
(A word of caution: I do not attain Jhānas myself.)

With much mettā,



Dear Alaber,

From my understanding, one is supposed to get attached to the practice most of the time until they’ve reached the end of the path. One needs that wholesome desire and attachment to doing good deeds (as Robert as mentioned) and s/he will naturally let go of it at the end. Be reminded of gradual practice of generosity, virtue and wisdom, which lead to the jhanas.
Now when we meditate, it’s just plain samadhi. But when we meditate with a solid and strong foundation built on the three above, we go into samma samadhi. Only in samma samadhi do we get the full taste of the Dhamma and can really understand it.

Might be getting off track but I think this relates to this thread: Now if someone was to get balloon headed about their progress in the beginning, they will not go any further even if they do attain some sort of special power (think Devadatta, he stopped because he got low level physic powers and he really got deluded because of it). One can observe from Devadatta’s case that he didn’t have enough wisdom developed. Another case if that of an ascetic who had the power to walk on water (which the man devoted his time to attain in 25 years time). The Buddha told him he could’ve just took the ferry or boat to cross a body of water and not have wasted 25 years of his time.

with anjali and metta,



Thanks to all for your replies.
I still believe that craving is not good.
As Leigh Brasington says: “The likelihood of you experiencing a jhana is inversely proportional to the amount of desire that you have for it … if you are craving a jhana, you’ve got sense desire and an unwholesome state of mind.”

A we have six senses, craving for spiritual attainments is associated with the mind, the sixth sense, so it is sensual desire.

Anyway instead of desire I prefer to say I have the intention for some spiritual attainments.
After all these attainments occur when we are ready for it, not by doing, not by trying to get them but simply by practicing the Path, day by day. Eventually something will happen.


Dear Alaber,

Sense desire is usually a translation of the Pali word kāmacchanda, and as such it refers to the desire for the objects of the five external senses. It is roughly equivalent to the English word sensuality.

With metta.


Thank you Ajahn

So if not sensual desire then what hindrance is craving for spiritual attainments that I believe is preventing them to occur?

With Metta


I think it might best be regarded as a kind of restlessness that is based on delusion. Because of the sense of self, we believe we need to take charge of the situation and do things to get the desired results. So the sense of self leads to craving, including restlessness.

But as you mentioned before, this sense of craving seems to be a necessary aspect of the path. The suttas themselves say that the craving for awakening is allayed only when awakening is achieved. If there is no desire for awakening, however subtle that desire might be, you will not do what is required for progress.

With metta.


Does anyone have sutta references for a good ‘desire’ for liberation/nibbana, be it kama or chanda?

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Not kāma, because this term is specifically related to sensual pleasure. It is never considered an aid to Awakening.

But for chanda, and a few other words that denote desire, there are a few such suttas. Here is one for chanda (SN 51.13):

Chandaṃ ce, bhikkhave, bhikkhu nissāya labhati samādhiṃ, labhati cittassa ekaggataṃ – ayaṃ vuccati chandasamādhi.

Bhikkhus, if a bhikkhu gains concentration, gains one-pointedness of mind based upon desire, this is called concentration due to desire.

And this at SN 51.15:

Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Venerable Ānanda was dwelling at Kosambī in Ghosita’s Park. Then the brahmin Uṇṇābha approached the Venerable Ānanda and exchanged greetings with him. When they had concluded their greetings and cordial talk, he sat down to one side and said to the Venerable Ānanda: “For what purpose, Master Ānanda, is the holy life lived under the ascetic Gotama?”

“It is for the sake of abandoning desire [chanda], brahmin, that the holy life is lived under the Blessed One.”

“But, Master Ānanda, is there a path, is there a way for the abandoning of this desire?”

“There is a path, brahmin, there is a way for the abandoning of this desire.”

“But, Master Ānanda, what is the path, what is the way for the abandoning of this desire?”

“Here, brahmin, a bhikkhu develops the basis for spiritual power that possesses concentration due to desire [chanda] and volitional formations of striving. He develops the basis for spiritual power that possesses concentration due to energy … concentration due to mind … concentration due to investigation and volitional formations of striving. This, brahmin, is the path, this is the way for the abandoning of this desire.”

“Such being the case, Master Ānanda, the situation is interminable, not terminable. It is impossible that one can abandon desire by means of desire itself.”

“Well then, brahmin, I will question you about this matter. Answer as you see fit. What do you think, brahmin, did you earlier have the desire, ‘I will go to the park,’ and after you went to the park, did the corresponding desire subside?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you earlier arouse energy, thinking, ‘I will go to the park,’ and after you went to the park, did the corresponding energy subside?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you earlier make up your mind, ‘I will go to the park,’ and after you went to the park, did the corresponding resolution subside?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you earlier make an investigation, ‘Shall I go to the park?’ and after you went to the park, did the corresponding investigation subside?”

“Yes, sir.”

“It is exactly the same, brahmin, with a bhikkhu who is an arahant, one whose taints are destroyed, who has lived the holy life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, reached his own goal, utterly destroyed the fetters of existence, and is completely liberated through final knowledge. He earlier had the desire for the attainment of arahantship, and when he attained arahantship, the corresponding desire subsided. He earlier had aroused energy for the attainment of arahantship, and when he attained arahantship, the corresponding energy subsided. He earlier had made up his mind to attain arahantship, and when he attained arahantship, the corresponding resolution subsided. He earlier made an investigation for the attainment of arahantship, and when he attained arahantship, the corresponding investigation subsided.

“What do you think, brahmin, such being the case, is the situation terminable or interminable?”

“Surely, Master Ānanda, such being the case, the situation is terminable, not interminable. Magnificent, Master Ānanda!… From today let Master Ānanda remember me as a lay follower who has gone for refuge for life.”

At MN 137 we have the same idea expressed with the Pali word piha:

Tattha katamāni cha nekkhammasitāni domanassāni? Rūpānaṃtveva aniccataṃ viditvā vipariṇāmavirāganirodhaṃ, ‘pubbe ceva rūpā etarahi ca sabbe te rūpā aniccā dukkhā vipariṇāmadhammā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya disvā anuttaresu vimokkhesu pihaṃ upaṭṭhāpeti – ‘kudāssu nāmāhaṃ tadāyatanaṃ upasampajja viharissāmi yadariyā etarahi āyatanaṃ upasampajja viharantī’ti iti anuttaresu vimokkhesu pihaṃ upaṭṭhāpayato uppajjati pihapaccayā domanassaṃ. Yaṃ evarūpaṃ domanassaṃ idaṃ vuccati nekkhammasitaṃ domanassaṃ.

Herein, what are the six kinds of grief based on renunciation? When, by knowing the impermanence, change, fading away, and cessation of forms, one sees as it actually is with proper wisdom that forms both formerly and now are all impermanent, suffering, and subject to change, one generates a longing [piha] for the supreme liberations thus: ‘When shall I enter upon and abide in that base that the noble ones now enter upon and abide in?’ In one who generates thus a longing for the supreme liberations, grief arises with that longing as condition. Such grief as this is called grief based on renunciation.

And for taṇhā, “craving”, we have this from AN 4.159:

‘Taṇhāsambhūto ayaṃ, bhagini, kāyo taṇhaṃ nissāya. Taṇhā pahātabbā’ti, iti kho panetaṃ vuttaṃ. Kiñcetaṃ paṭicca vuttaṃ? Idha, bhagini, bhikkhu suṇāti – ‘itthannāmo kira bhikkhu āsavānaṃ khayā anāsavaṃ cetovimuttiṃ paññāvimuttiṃ diṭṭheva dhamme sayaṃ abhiññā sacchikatvā upasampajja viharatī’ti. Tassa evaṃ hoti – ‘kudāssu nāma ahampi āsavānaṃ khayā anāsavaṃ cetovimuttiṃ paññāvimuttiṃ diṭṭheva dhamme sayaṃ abhiññā sacchikatvā upasampajja viharissāmī’ti! So aparena samayena taṇhaṃ nissāya taṇhaṃ pajahati. ‘Taṇhāsambhūto ayaṃ, bhagini, kāyo taṇhaṃ nissāya. Taṇhā pahātabbā’ti, iti yaṃ taṃ vuttaṃ idametaṃ paṭicca vuttaṃ.

When it was said: ‘This body has originated from craving; in dependence on craving, craving is to be abandoned,’ for what reason was this said? Here, sister, a bhikkhu hears: ‘The bhikkhu named so-and-so, with the destruction of the taints, has realized for himself with direct knowledge, in this very life, the taintless liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, and having entered upon it, he dwells in it.’ He thinks: ‘When will I, with the destruction of the taints, realize for myself with direct knowledge, in this very life, the taintless liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, and having entered upon it, dwell in it?’ Some time later, in dependence upon craving, he abandons craving. When it was said: ‘This body has originated from craving; in dependence on craving, craving is to be abandoned,’ it was because of this that this was said.



I found particularly SN 51.15 and MN 137 convincing since they express a desire for liberation.

For the sake of completion I searched around with the suttas you provided and found MN 44:

‘Oh, when will I enter and remain in the same dimension that the noble ones enter and remain in today?’ Nursing such a longing (piha) for the supreme liberations gives rise to sadness due to longing. With this they give up repulsion, and the underlying tendency to repulsion does not lie within that.


Not sure where to report this but looking at MN137:
When using hover-over dictionary over the word " nekkhammasita" it gives:
nekkhammasita: (one) who lives in a small town; a townsman; a (leading) trader or merchant; the inhabitants of a small town; the townspeople (mfn.)
[Ed: found this to be entry for negama]
But upon clicking the link “nekkhammasita” it gives:
New Concise Pali English Dictionary
connected with, attached to, rooted in, the of renunciation; appropriate (only) to the life of renunciation.

Note -
Found NCPED entry in Cone’s dictionary. :slight_smile:
PTS PED has “based or bent on a holy life (opp. geha°)” (SN36.22)
CPED doesn’t have nekkhammasita but it has nekkhamma and sita 2. depending on; attached.
PTS PED sita2 (pp. of sayati) 2. reclining, resting, depending on, attached, clinging to
Can’t find any sanskrit parallel with nekkhamma ( Naiṣkramya?)

PS (Background):
On another note, presumably nekkhamma links back (or connected or in practise) to the 3rd noble truth cāga paṭinissaga mutthi anālaya?
And cāgānussati = cāga paṭinissaga mutthi anālaya?
I confirmed one Q&A with Ajahn Brahm (which was confirmed previously by 2 others) - “cāga paṭinissaga mutthi anālaya” = different aspects/facets of the same thing. Another 2 questions came up immediately in the mind. Grateful to see. The ending of questions would be nice. :slight_smile:


As a matter of course, I regularly downclimb everything I upclimb. Getting to the top is halfway. Sometimes I joke with myself that I’m practicing to be freed both ways.

MN70:15.1: And what person is freed both ways?


Hello Wai Yin, nice to see you here again.

Yes, this is clearly wrong. @Sujato or @Vimala, is there anything to be done about this?

Nekkhamma is usually limited to renunciation of the sensual world. In other words, it’s the opposite of desire for sensual pleasures. Cāga, paṭinissagga, mutti, and anālaya, on the other hand, refer to the complete renunciation of saṃsāric existence, which includes the desire to exist in any form.

The word cāga is the same, but it’s significance is a bit different in the two contexts. Cāga is found in the standard formula for generosity, in the sense that you give up when you give away. This is what cāgnussati refers to, that is, the joy that comes from simple generosity. In the third noble truth, however, it refers to the giving up of everything.

Absolutely. Stream-entry should fulfil your wish. So no more time to mess around. Wait … what am I doing at the keyboard … :scream:


Thank you Ajahn Brahmali! Happy New Year! Happy New Decade!
Looking forward to the coming Sutta Retreat at BGF (Malaysia) February (15-23).

PS - Ajahn Brahm said in his reading of Ratana Sutta (Rains 2012) that “You don’t know where you are on the path until you reach the goal.”
[A short discussion on Facebook:
Brother @Sylvester said: “I thought anagamins know that they are anagamin.”
I just replied: “Dunno… I’ll (try to) let you know when I find out. Hahahahaha…
Likewise, O brother, do let me know when you know for real.”
Stephen Sas (NY, pāli student of Bhikkhu Bodhi): “anagamis get their own vip lounge in the sky, so they must figure it out sooner or later…”]

pattipatta = paṭipadā? (Sounds like it from his explanation) and finally found a clue in PTS entry (thanks to Sanskrit parallel to Ratana Sutta — prāptiprāptā): paṭipadā means of reaching a goal or destination, path, way, means, method, mode of progress (cp. Dhs. translation 53, 82, 92, 143), course, practice (cp. BSk. pratipad in meaning of pratipatti “line of conduct” Avs.ii.140 with note)

No need to answer, unless you want to. :slight_smile: Will figure out answers eventually (have to anyway).


I suspect Ajahn Brahm was referring to the distinction between the person who is practising for the attainment of stream-entry (etc.), sometimes called the “path attainer”, and the person who has attained the fruit of stream-entry (etc.), ie, who is a stream-enterer proper. As you would know, there are four pairs of noble disciples and eight individuals. It is only the four individuals who have attained the four fruit who can be confident of their attainment.

Could it be paṭipatti? This essentially means practice, as in dhammānudhammapaṭipatti.


I agree with Ajahn Brahmali. See SN 41.9 for Mr Citta’s VIP Lounge.

Ditto for the Stream Enterer, eg SN 12.41.

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Why is it seems anathapindika have been taught about dependent origination in sn 12.41 , but he’s astonished by sariputta’s dhamma in mn143 that he asked the teaching to be taught to lay persons?


Thank you Ajahn @Brahmali for pointing this out.
It is not my job any more to do this but I had a quick look at it for Bhante @Sujato to take care.

It turns out that the ncped dictionary has been 1-off i.e. the words and their definitions had been wrongly placed by one from the word ‘niṭṭhā’ onwards. In the dictionary this has been corrected but not in the lookup tool.

In the lookup tool it is slighly more difficult because that is made up out of ncped in combination with cped dictionaries. So probably best to recreate it from the original ncped.json and add extra entries from cped.json where they do not exist in ncped.
The file that needs to be changed is:


In SN12.41, Anāthapiṇḍika learned something short and practical. He learned to think less and was content with that. He learned to let go of choices:

SN12.41:12.3: ‘When this exists, that is; when this doesn’t exist, that is not. Due to the arising of this, that arises; due to the cessation of this, that ceases. Ignorance is a condition for choices. Choices are a condition for consciousness. … That is how this entire mass of suffering originates. When ignorance fades away and ceases with nothing left over, choices cease. When choices cease, consciousness ceases. … That is how this entire mass of suffering ceases.’

On his deathbed, quite late, it occurred to Anāthapiṇḍika that making fewer choices wasn’t going to help him die. He was still grasping for more. Sariputta kindly put him at ease:

MN143:14.5: ‘I shall not grasp whatever is seen, heard, thought, known, sought, and explored by my mind, and there shall be no consciousness of mine dependent on that.’

For most of his life, Anāthapiṇḍika relinquished ignorance more and more, letting go of identity view. And that was enough for him. He was content as a householder. He was not prepared to relinquish that life to go forth. It was not until his deathbed that he embraced the truth that he had to relinquish the householder life anyhow. In those last moments, he essentially was ready to go forth and heed Sariputta’s lesson. He had let go of the choice to be a householder and was ready to listen.

(Thank you for SN12.41. That was new to me.)