What is it that you want most in your life?
How much effort are you putting into achieving your biggest goals?
It’s good to have a clear direction and work hard to fulfill your dreams. But you often miss the point when striving for more becomes the end in itself.
You want to feel busy, preoccupied, doing something every moment of the day. And it’s hard to stop.
When something prevents you from being busy, you become anxious and feel guilty for taking a break.
In Buddhism, striving for more is the origin of suffering (Dukkha).
And while the First Noble Truth diagnoses our condition, the Second Noble Truth shows us the root of our unhappiness.
So what is the Second Noble Truth of Buddhism?
The Buddha defined the Second Noble Truth right after his enlightenment during his first sermon in Benares.
Here’s what he said about Tanha, the Second Noble Truth:
“The Noble Truth of the origin of suffering is this: It is this thirst (craving) which produces re-existence and re-becoming, bound up with passionate greed. It finds fresh delight now here and now there, namely, thirst for sense-pleasures; thirst for existence and becoming; and thirst for non-existence (self-annihilation).” 1
The first time I read that definition what jumped out at me were the last two aspects: the thirst for existence and thirst for non-existence.
While it was easy to imagine how we crave our own existence and “becoming” it was hard to think about how exactly we can crave “non-existence.”
Let’s look at all the aspects one by one.
The thirst for sense pleasures
The most obvious part of the Second Noble Truth is our desire for sense pleasures.
No one can deny that it’s an essential part of our life.
Can you picture a life where you can’t enjoy delicious food, the beauty of nature and other people around you?
But when we get caught up in all those things, we forget that they are fleeting and can’t satisfy us for long. So when they come to an end, it causes us pain and suffering.
To dull the pain, we search for more sense pleasures and then lose it again. This cycle continues on and on.
The thirst for existence and becoming
Would you agree if I said that our lives should have some kind of meaning?
That we should accomplish something significant and make a difference in this world?
Well, I agree. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have started this blog. It’s an outer manifestation of my own desire to “become.”
Do you have something similar in your life? Maybe it’s still a dream. Or you’ve already taken the first step towards making it a reality.
But according to Buddha, it’s all bound up becoming endless craving for more and more. It will never bring you any lasting satisfaction. Unless you recognize the craving inside you and learn to let go.
The thirst for non-existence
Sometimes we just want everything to stop. We get tired of all those expectations that our busy lives put on us.
When we are little, and our parents take care of us, everything seems so easy and straightforward. We don’t have the job we hate, huge credits that we need to pay off, the family we need to take care of.
But as we grow up our life slowly turns into this unending nightmare that we can’t escape. And so we want it to stop, we crave the non-existence.
I sometimes wake up in the morning and wish that I was 10 again. That I could just lie in bed all day, do nothing, and not worry about tomorrow.
Well, if you ever felt like that, then you have craved your own kind of “non-existence.”
How to Apply the Second Noble Truth in Your Life
The ancient Buddhists texts say that each noble truth has a particular task.
For example, the First Noble Truth Dukkha, the truth of suffering, is to be fully understood, and the Second Noble Truth, the truth of craving, is to be abandoned.
Abandon all craving? Easier said than done.
If you’ve read any of the original Buddhist texts, you might have noticed that each teaching starts with “Oh Bhikkhus…”.
Why is this important?
Because the term “bhikkhu” means a Buddhist monk, who renounced his former life and decided to dedicate himself to the pursuit of enlightenment.
So for a Buddhist monk, abandoning of all craving is not something out of the ordinary, it’s what they dedicate their life to.
But for us, who live our normal lives facing all the stresses of modern life abandoning craving is hardly achievable.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn and apply it partially in our own lives.
I think the foundation for limiting our craving is to understand that everything is impermanent. Whatever it is that you want so much, it will lose its appeal once you get it. And furthermore, the happiness will be fleeting and replaced with wanting more.
It sounds simple but becomes powerful if you apply that frame of mind to what you do. After a while, you’ll notice that everything is lighter, more enjoyable, and less stressful.