Imagery in the Early Buddhist Texts

Taṇhā — Craving

This is part 2 of a course going systematically through Bhikkhu Analayo's Excursions series.

Illustration by Ayya Vimalayani aka "Ven Yodha"

Literally “thirst,” taṇhā is our addiction to worldly, sensual pleasures: the primary mental disease we are trying to overcome.

Part 1: From Craving to Liberation

With that background we’re now ready to dive into the meat of the course: the textbooks themselves.

If you haven’t already, now is a good time to read the Introduction to Hecker as well as Analayo’s From Craving as they set up the works we’ll be looking at for the remainder of the class.

We will follow Bhikkhu Analayo’s Excursions in order, but alongside reading each chapter, read a few suttas and some essays from Hecker.

As you go through the course, it might be a good idea to keep a notebook of the suttas that speak to you: a personal “medicine cabinet” of the Buddha’s words that you can return to for inspiration and guidance whenever you need it. It’s a good idea (if it helps you) to take notes on your own reflections, connections and ideas as you learn, but if you do I encourage you to keep those notes separate from your “anthology.”

Taṇhā — Craving

Chapter one of From Craving to Liberation is about, well, craving. Bhikkhu Analayo’s essay explores this term in depth. It can be read either before the suttas (as a primer) or after them (as an explainer).


  • What are the different types of craving?
  • In defining Right View, the Four Noble Truths and “Craving” are central.
  • Who is the “seamstress” of Saṃsāra?
  • A poem on our addiction to things of the world.


Next, read the introduction to Part 2 (not part 1) of Hecker, along with similes 16 (The Wheel of Existence) and 57 (Sensual Desire).


Having read the above, I noticed that craving figures prominantly in Buddhism’s central images: the wheel, the boat, the arrow… I also noticed that these images all have the feeling of laborious, man-made objects. I guess that the Buddha is encouraging us to look at craving and to see it as something tedious and artificial, which we have both the power and desire to stop.

What did you notice?