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Paticca Samuppada - Tanha-Upadana

cute enough
on first meeting
So, you saw 'it' (or smelt, touched, heard, tasted, thought) and there was this feeling. Ever so nice it was - pleasant - and it had a little jingle: "pick me, buy me, take me home and I promise I will make you happy." Welcome to the ninth link of paticca samupadda [P.S.] - craving. Its in the shopping cart but you haven't reached the check out yet. A little voice debates as you wheel around the aisles. Part of it knows you don't need it, can't afford it, it won't go with the furnishings, your partner will complain. But the other part.... well, it is on special (limited time only), I do deserve 'something' for all my efforts, my friends will think its cool, it cuts, it dices, it slices, it will take out the garbage - and, platinum trim! Yes !
Welcome to the tenth link of P.S. - grasping. And the two mind movements are almost as one, such is the power of feeling.

First a review of tanha. It literally means 'drought, thirst' and figuratively 'the fever of unsatisfied longing.' It is well established as the second Noble Truth [  ] - the primary cause of dukkha. In the context of P.S. it is that point beyond which there is no turning back. Once the mind has been infected by craving it is not impossible to 'say no' but it is very difficult. There is a lot about life that is difficult. We regularly experience unpleasant feeling. It is perfectly natural, and healthy, to incline away from the unpleasant toward the pleasant. So where is the problem? It is an unreflective tension between need and greed, between wisdom and desire, between being and becoming. And what fogs our mirror is tanha.
"If this sticky, uncouth craving overcomes you in the world,
your sorrows grow like wild grass after rain." Dhammapada 335

More often than not when we are working with our bad habits, our addictions, our cravings, it is not within the actual craving where we find release. Having set up the intention, to maybe quit smoking, there is contact (sight, smell, thought) with resultant (habitual, pleasant) feeling - and craving. The pattern has been repeatedly established: contact - feeling - craving - upadana - bhava - (re)birth as a smoker. Puff puff. Heroin addiction is sometimes talked about as 'having a monkey on your back' - it wants (regular) feeding. It gets hungry - it digs in its claws. Try and shake it off - it digs in its claws. You can't run - you can't hide. You can only let it die. Wean it off to a degree but ultimately the only solution is starvation.

We can't beat craving so what we need to do - somewhere along the chain - is cut off the conditions that lead to its arising. Several possible access points have been discussed but the most workable is vedana. The preceding chain-links of our 'momentary arising' or 'unfolding experience' are quite subtle and barely within the scope of awareness but feeling is formed, or conscious enough so that we can catch it - if we try. As a practice, it is sufficient to begin with, just noticing the attraction toward pleasant feeling (want more) and the repulsion around unpleasant feeling (want less). As this ability develops it becomes increasingly possible to just 'sit' with the feeling and not go to craving. Or, we can change the conditions, redirect attention. In effect this is substitution or distraction - a valid strategy until until right view matures. This is the critical point - developing right view (insight, wisdom, knowledge, vijja) into the workings of the whole P.S. mechanism. This 'right-view' arises through wise attention; manasikara [see: nama-rupa].

So, see through the feeling from a perspective of vijja (not a-vijja) or just abide with the feeling or change the associative conditions. Either way, there is some conscious, intentional action and fuel is removed from the fire of craving. Do this often enough and the fire will go out - the monkey will die. This is the path toward realising the third Noble Truth: cessation of craving.

like a butterfly
let it land
rest in the palm
of your hand
to take flight
elegant in the light
of generosity
and love
Upadana literally means: "the basis on which an active process is kept alive or going; fuel; supply; provisions." And what is this 'active process' that we are trying to keep going? It is ME. I wander my life gathering all the material and psychological provisions that I imagine will supply me with (a sense of) constant well-being - pleasant feeling. I gather them - and I grasp them.
       The most unpleasant feeling, one that we constantly face, is death. Our grasping is superficially related to pleasant feeling but essentially it is grasping life. In the 3-life model of P.S. birth, life and death are considered literally but within the this-life experiential model we look more to perceptual birth and life, to "a sense of being." And we have to be... something. Must be a somebody - if we are to be alive. Can't be a nobody - 'tis the same as death. So, the main problem of grasping is grasping various ideas of being. Being rich, being well-liked, being successful, being a failure, etc. Conditions may exist to confirm these perceptions but conditions are, well, just conditions. They are fickle. They are what you can observe - not what you are. All this pivots around the basic presumption that 'I am' - something. [see: anatta   ].
Four kinds of upadana are traditionally considered:
sensuous clinging
clinging to views (around kamma)
clinging to rules and rituals (leading to freedom)
clinging to personality-belief
The first relates to the body. The other three relate more to the self-identity issue. We each have a variety of views and opinions which directs: what to do, how to do it, and why (kamma). We have ideological positions regarding rules and due process (rituals) and we all hold to the idea that 'I am' - that this personality, this collection of conditions is me. For every day life - travel, work, family etc. - we do need a degree of discrimination and part of that faculty involves views and opinions. The problem arises when we absolutise the personal. When my personal "this is my opinion" extends to become "this is how it is" (for all) and, I cling to that postition and, I identify myself with that position. I am... a person who thinks this, does this, believes this - and... it is all solid, real, true, fixed. It is so - and I am this. There is some security in this assertive way of viewing life but it is very dependant and quite empty.

There is a paradox in relation to upadana. We need a certain amount of pleasure (joy, happiness, etc.) in our spiritual life for it to be sustainable - so we can eventually go beyond sensuality. We need views (devoloping 'right' views) to overcome our grasping of views. We need a framework of rules, rituals and precepts to support our practice - so that we can eventually transcend rules and rituals. We need a degree of personal stability and self-responsibility to overcome attachment to our doctrines of the self. We can have these things, and make use of them but need not grasp them. Finding the point of balance is part of the challenge we face.
"When seen & heard, people are called by this name or that,
but, after death, only the name remains to be pointed to.
Those greedy for objects of attachment do not let go sorrow, grief and avarice,
but sages, letting go of possessions, live in full security." Khuddaka IV.6

The suggestion in relation to grasping is letting go. And what do I let go of? Absolutely, completely everything - grasp at nothing.
       But, won't I just... disappear? If I hold nothing then won't I be nothing?
       Consider that, try as you might, you can't hold anything any way. Conditions change. We are all, in some respects, playing the game of life. Why not play to win? Sure, but the more we grasp at outcomes the more we will suffer. Even if the outcome arrives according to our craving it can be so wrapped up in anxiety and tension that we are often not able to fully enjoy it. Sometimes we win, sometimes not - don't attach to either gaining or losing - just move on.