SuttaCentral

Reducing cravings in increments

tanha
kilesa
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#1

When I first thought of intentionally working on cravings, it was a good few years into my practice. However, unintentionally, I had struck a blow without realising when I had practiced samadhi right at beginning of practice which showed me I could be fully contended. It showed me that there was a higher and spiritual bliss which was accessible to me, without needing sensuality. I still, from time to time, think back to this memory when I’m too tired or out of time.

And what, bhikkhus, is spiritual rapture? Here, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the first jhana… SuttaCentral

What experiences do you have?


#2

I have had a wide variety of different experiences by interrogating my cravings. I’ll share one.

Formerly I was a drinker. I experienced cravings for alcohol on days when I didn’t drink. I stopped drinking during the time when my interest in Buddhism was growing. This was for a combination of reasons, including Buddhism, but also I stopped so as to create a supportive environment for the recovery of another. (He’s fine now, and entirely sober.)

In roughly the last two years there have been perhaps four or five days when I drank anything that might be called an alcoholic beverage. (I’m not counting things like fruit juice, which contain trace amounts of alcohol naturally, or food flavoring essences, which I still use in the kitchen in tiny amounts.) Each of these times that I drank was dictated by a social circumstance where it seemed more appropriate to drink than not – my mother’s wake, for example, or the Christmas dinner that followed not long afterward. I have since come out of the sobriety closet to everyone, and I will not be offered alcohol again, I don’t believe. I’m good with that, it’s actually easier this way.

So… I now find that I don’t crave alcohol anymore. Not at all. As the suttas say, this one at least appears to be a craving that has been made like a palm stump. I can’t imagine it regrowing again. And I am happier–by far–without it.

Two doubts, however, remain.

  1. Is this appearance of being like a palm stump mistaken? Might conditions arise that bring the craving back to life? I wish I had that kind of knowledge. Right now I can’t imagine a way, but my imagination is limited.

  2. How extensible is the insight? I sometimes want to eat a bowl of ice cream, though I understand that I should not want to eat anything for its taste, right? Why can’t I be straightforwardly uninterested in tastes, in the same way that I am straightforwardly uninterested in getting drunk?


#3

That’s an interesting question.

I’d say a common experience is that meditators begin to find their delight in ever subtler experiences. As a consequence, former - usually fairly coarse - sources of pleasure loose their attraction.

The knock-on effects of this are not insignificant: as one of my old meditation teachers likes to say “walking this path, you will loose friends”.

If nothing else, practicing mindfulness diligently allows us to see the arising of craving and affords us some breathing space to decide: do I indulge this craving or say “not this time, Mara” ?


#4

It’s that you can’t engage with them on those things like alcohol or clubbing. You won’t enjoy these ‘coarse’ pleasures when finer, less costly, spiritual pleasures are available!

I think this is important. If we can’t see we’re in it’s grip:

When a bhikkhu dwells thus, forms overwhelm him; he does not overwhelm forms. Sounds overwhelm him, he does not overwhelm sounds. SuttaCentral


#5

‘Removal of distracting thoughts’, MN20, is my favourite sutta for removal of arisen craving. The series of techniques to remove craving reflects the intensity of the thought of craving:.

Here, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu is giving attention to some sign, and owing to that sign there arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, and with delusion, then he should give attention to some other sign connected with what is wholesome… SuttaCentral

The final method is preserved for those ‘murderous’ impulses. :face_with_hand_over_mouth:


#6

The feeling I get for some of my cravings is that it’s held in abeyance. Keeping the precepts for example is at least for me, all about the damage it causes vs any enjoyment. The latter being slight. In this the ‘pleasures; drawbacks and release’ scenarios work best as an explanation, for me. We are aware of the pleasures and in consideration of ALL the down-sides, not only those that apply to oneself; even the ‘holistic’ negatives must be taken into consideration:

Sensual pleasures have been compared to a skeleton by the Blessed One; they provide much suffering and much despair, while the danger in them is great.’ Having seen this thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, he avoids the equanimity that is diversified, based on diversity, and develops the equanimity that is unified, based on unity, where clinging to the material things of the world utterly ceases without remainder. SuttaCentral

MN54 has all the different similes for the drawbacks of sensuality, and make good materials to think about :thought_balloon: :thinking:.


#7

I have that feeling too sometimes. I find there is a wide range of different relationships that one might have to cravings. Here are some examples from my own life, though others’ perceptions of each will obviously vary:

Killing – Ugh. No effort is needed. Killing is gross. I don’t think I’ve ever craved it. Even killing ants makes me feel queasy. I’ve done this sometimes in the past, but not since my practice got serious.

Alcohol – I beat this craving, I think, through right effort. It’s like a palm stump, as far as I can tell. But… I could always be wrong.

Cravings for pleasant tastes – I’m afraid I’m going to be stuck with these for a while yet. Perhaps when my family isn’t around I should deliberately make extremely bland or distasteful foods for myself?


#8

We have given up a lot growing up and so it cannot be that hard st least in some cases. If our actions lead to pain for others our compassion stops the cravings. Psychpaths might not have this method of responding.

I found that performing foulness of the body meditation my craving reduced specifically for the body but more generally for other craving as well. But it would seem that each one needs to worked with separately.


#9

Over the decades, I gradually lost interest in music and shows. It was very strange and I used to feel that something was wrong with me. I once loved classical music and played piano and guitar. Now, preferring silence, I simply do not want to attend to music or shows any more. A few years ago, when my wife and I went to a once-in-a-lifetime show in London, I had to leave mid-performance and find a quiet place. It was so peculiar, this gradual loss of interest.

I never really shared this odd experience with anyone–it got me weird looks. So I just kept quiet and wondered why delights were fading. I was confused about this gradual loss of delight and used to tell people, “cherish your delights now because when you get older, you won’t delight in them.” Thank goodness folks thought me nuts for saying that! :rofl:

I didn’t really understand what was going on until I read the suttas.
And then I read MN1.
And then I went…:open_mouth: :cloud_with_lightning: :white_check_mark:

I guess all that practice did something after all…but it sort of snuck up on me.
Very i n c r e m e n t a l l y.


#10

Doubt signifies that the craving is still a problem; it exerts a pressure on you through the possibility that it might arise again, but that possibility is it’s arising, it gains access to you through doubt.

You might still give in if external circumstances pressure you too much in unimaginable ways. There is a doubt.
One must uproot the root of the problem, because the problem is not alcohol or social circumstances,it is the desire for the ‘wanting of pleasure’.
If that desire and lust is not wanted, if the prospect of bodily pleasure is not wanted, then nothing secondary to that can pressure you in anyway. No sight,sound,taste, touch,smell or thought can exert any pressure because one has given up the ‘desire and lust’ in regards to the possibility of pleasure from them.
You wouldn’t have to try give up all the various things in the world that one has craving for ,because they all exert pressure on you only because you WANT or welcome the ‘desire and lust’ in regard to the possibility of getting pleasure from them, which is actually not possible.

Stop wanting the wanting, and you will have uprooted even possibility of craving, let alone secondary addictions.

There is a difference in no longer delighting in a thing because one simple gets bored with it and no longer delighting out of wisdom;
When one desire ends, yet is replaced by another, the delighting in the possibility of sense pleasure is still present, it just changes its content i.e one might no longer desire alcohol because the pleasure was not found there any more,but still one seeks a sense pleasure elsewhere.

Like, for example , as a child you like certain music and then, as you grow up your interests change, music becomes less important, or more refined(proliferated), one no longer finds the pleasure there as one use to.
This is not a sign of wisdom or the result of practice, but instead it’s the sign of being unsatisfied, being bored, and a sign that one’s desire and lust is now proliferating into other more complex particular desires. One craves now here and now there.

The loss of interest in one particular sense object, does not mean craving is diminishing, it just means its moving onto something else.
The loss of interest in the desire and lust in regards to the possibility of accessing the pleasure desired by the senses, that is a sign that one is headed in the right direction.


#11

SN1.34

"The Blessed One:

“They are not sense pleasures, the world’s attractive things:
Man’s sensuality is the intention/thought of lust.
The attractive things remain as they are in the world
But the wise remove the desire for them."

And what is the ‘desire for them’, it is the ‘intentional thought of lusting’ i.e the wanting-intention of wanting pleasure.
One removes the wanting of ‘desiring pleasure assumed to be gained from the attractive things’.

The problem is not in taste, or in the food.

One thinks " I want pleasure from the senses", that thought needs to be recognised and then not wanted(not pushed away),one practises that.
If you no longer welcome or entertain the thought “I want such and such pleasure”,then the act of trying to even get that sense pleasure becomes pointless.
After awhile, the significance of a ‘lustful thought’ that arises will have changed, it will signify your not wanting of it and thus one cannot return again to sensuality.
The thought ‘i want this’ = the thought ’ I don’t want the thought ‘i want this’.

There might be an agreeable taste but since one does not delight in the thought of welcoming pleasure, then the agreeable taste is just that.

If one tries to overcome craving for tastes by changing the tastes, this is a sign that ‘craving for tastes’ is still there, making you run around on account of being touched by its present pressure in the first place. The fact that one has to do something on account of that craving means that one is affected by it, one suffers.

The pressure, the craving is there,…and that’s what you must not entertain, welcome, delight in,or give in to. One must relinquish that wanting of craving, that assumption that I can access and have that pleasure of the senses.

“Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it.”


#12

Or overeat the ‘tasty’ food past the point you see that tastiness is a function, also, of the amount we eat. This helps to modify the impression of tastiness of some foods IMO :shallow_pan_of_food: . Assumptions (or ignorance) underpins our impressions. The sight of :snail: on as food … good for some and not for others! Sorting out what’s the raw material (rupa) from our impression of it (nama) is an important first step (namarupa-paricceda).

However when one has changed the idea of the ‘tastiness’ of the food, a degree of restraint is necessary and possible, afterwards. Otherwise the brain simply runs on its habitual patterns, regardless of the new impressions as mentioned in the Dvedavitakka sutta:.

8Whatever a mendicant frequently thinks about and considers becomes their heart’s inclination. If they often think about and consider thoughts of renunciation, they’ve given up sensual thought to cultivate the thought of renunciation. Their mind inclines to thoughts of renunciation. If they often think about and consider thoughts of good will … their mind inclines to thoughts of good will. If they often think about and consider thoughts of harmlessness … their mind inclines to thoughts of harmlessness. 12Suppose it’s the last month of summer, when all the crops have been gathered into the neighborhood of a village, and a cowherd must take care of the cattle. While at the root of a tree or in the open he need only be mindful that the cattle are there. In the same way I needed only to be mindful that those things were there. MN19


#13

I think the best way to deal with craving is by using the following two methods simultaneously:

1- Contemplating the drawbacks of craving for sensuality, that it does not lead to peace or well-being and leads to more unwholesome mental states. This often takes the form of craving for “not being”, or replacing bad habits with good habits, or cleansing the mind …etc
2- Acknowledging the limitations of the above approach by seeing craving as natural and inevitable outcome of a larger structure of being in the world. The form/object of craving might change, but at the end, craving will always be there unless a major change in the structure of our being takes place.

Why the two approaches are necessary and complement each other? relying on the first approach alone can turn the destruction of craving into another obsession overlooking the root cause of the problem. Also the development of new “wholesome” habits can turn into suffering in the future, such as one who developed the habit of enjoying solitude and quietude facing the situation of being in a noisy and crowded place.
Relying on the second approach alone might involve overlooking necessary distinctions. If the root cause of craving is still there, then all types of craving are equally harmful, which is a wrong view according to my understanding.


#14

This article may help - https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/obr.12340. (or it might at least help in directing mindfulness during eating).

Taste, along with appearance, aromas, texture, etc., have a functional effect on the digestive process and beyond.

Maybe try an ora or nasogastric feeding tube? :wink: Remember not to look at or smell the food first! :slight_smile: … Seriously, it’s important to get your digestive juices going for a healthy digestive system. Eat things that are mouthwatering, but learn to understand the underlying mechanisms.


#15

Often when discussing removing craving fears can arise - how can I survive without food, TV, music etc.


#16

Indeed


#17

But the body (rather than “I”) can’t survive without food right? So this is a valid concern. Although a few days fasting is really not so much of a problem. Food differs from music and TV in that there are some actual benefits in food because it maintains a healthy body which is useful for spiritual exercises.

A few of side question occur, if it’s ok @Mat:

Do Arahants eat out of compassion, so they can teach? What about paccekabuddhas? Why do they still eat if they are not teaching?

Should we trust overweight mendicants as suitable teachers? No names, but I’m sure that you know one or two. Why is it that they don’t seem to be able to maintain a healthy body weight? Might we suggest that something other than craving is responsible for these manifestations, or is it old fashioned hypocrisy or something else?


#18

It is more easy to work on the aversions. I have diligently worked on the 120 flavors of fears/aversions/ill-will and as result of that have implicitely worked on the associated desires/cravings (the other side of the coins).
I then worked on some desires that don’t have a direct aversion to deal with such as food and attraction to beauty (including sex).
I’m now working on the latent tendencies.


#19

This may be true, and yet doubt may be very difficult indeed to uproot. How can I know every corner of my mind, such that I can say with certainty that the craving is gone? I search and search, and I find no trace of the craving. But the mind is a very tricky thing, and the human capacity for self-deception is hard to see through.


#20

My Roshi was wider and wiser than I.

And the aversions can also be used to work on delights. For example go to the ice cream store and order half of your favorite and half of your least favorite flavor. At some point they will taste the same. Cold fat and sugar.

It’s that old “palm stump” will it grow back? :rofl:

I have been thinking much the same as what you posted, in regard to my disinterest in shows. This morning I asked myself why the disinterest. And the answer that arose was that the shows are about how to continue suffering. They all focus on cherishing delights.