Psychology of Desire, Craving, and Action: A Buddhist Perspective

Psychology of Desire, Craving, and Action: A Buddhist Perspective


The early Buddhist sutras–scriptures attributed to the Buddha–speak of how attachment or craving constitute a primary source of our suffering, and how true freedom from suffering emerges through letting go of attachment or craving. Underlying these statements is an important psychological insight that draws an intimate connection between our perceptions of the world and the experience they give rise to on the one hand, and the arising of craving and how this leads us to act in a particular way on the other. This understanding is characteristically formulated in the early texts as the following: “Conditioned by contact there is feeling (experience); conditioned by feeling there is craving; conditioned by craving there is grasping; conditioned by grasping there is becoming.” In this presentation, Jinpa briefly outlines a standard Buddhist account of the causal and dynamic interconnections between the key elements that are part of the psychology of craving as formulated in the above quotation, namely: contact, experience, craving, grasping, and action. From the Buddhist psychology point of view, Jinpa argues how desire, craving, and addiction may be understood in terms of a spectrum rather than as categorically distinct states. Finally, Jinpa identifies specific insights we might draw from this classical Buddhist understanding of the psychology of craving and bring them to bear upon two topics: our current scientific understanding of the pathology of addiction, and the possible development of non-pharmaceutical interventions for its treatment.

  • Dialogue 27
    11 sessions
  • October 29, 2013
    Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India
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Thupten Jinpa

Thupten Jinpa, PhD, was trained as a monk at the Shartse College of Ganden Monastic University, South India, where he received the Geshe Lharam degree. In addition, Jinpa holds a bachelor’s honors degree in philosophy and a PhD in religious studies, both from Cambridge University. He taught at Ganden monastery and worked as a research fellow in Eastern religions at Girton College, Cambridge University. Jinpa has been the principal English translator to His Holiness the Dalai Lama since 1985 and has translated and edited numerous books by the Dalai Lama, including the New York Times best-sellers Ethics for the New Millennium and The Art of Happiness, as well as Beyond Religion, Universe in a Single Atom, and Transforming the Mind. His own publications include, in addition to numerous Tibetan works, Essential Mind Training; Wisdom of the Kadam Masters; Self, Reality, and Reason in Tibetan Philosophy: Tsongkhapa’s Quest for the Middle View; as well as translations of major Tibetan works featured in The Library of Tibetan Classics series. He is the main author of Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT), an eight-week formal program developed at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University. Jinpa is an adjunct professor on the faculty of religious studies at McGill University, Montreal; the founder and president of the Institute of Tibetan Classics, Montreal; and the general series editor of The Library of Tibetan Classics series. He has been a core member of the Mind & Life Institute from its inception. Jinpa lives in Montreal and is married with two daughters.