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I’m no expert on Buddhism.
But I practice mindfulness and I know my way around the subject, a little.
Recently, someone asked me if hope is the same as craving, from a Buddhist perspective. Or, does hope lead to craving? If not, why? And, if yes, how?
That’s quite a collection of questions for 6 a.m. on a Thursday morning, so I offered to think about it and get back to them.
The first thing to consider is what Buddhism says about craving. There are the four noble truths: there is suffering; there is the origin of suffering; there’s the cessation of suffering; and finally, there is the path out of suffering. Buddhism says that craving is part of the second noble truth, so could it be considered to be one of the origins of suffering?
In some respects, hope represents our wish for things to change, to be different than they are right now. We hope for a better future in which life will be fuller than it is right now.
One word for hope could be wanting. If we’re wanting something, it suggests a deficiency in our lives. Somehow, we lack something—be that material, emotional, or spiritual. It could mean we experience our current lives as imperfect or inadequate.
Our reality appears incomplete and we think that the thing we want will make us whole.
Another word that could be related to hope is desire. Desire is that powerful pull of wanting something we don’t have—but we believe that if we get it, life will be better. In the West, desire is often connected to the physical—but, much like hope, it relates to changes in our lives. If we get what we desire, we will be happy.
And Buddhists say that desire, much like craving, is part of the origin of suffering. We desire something to transpire, but that makes us dissatisfied with our lives right this second. It doesn’t matter on how small a scale, we suffer because we don’t accept our current reality. Life is never as the mind wants it to be.
So, is hope the same as craving?
They certainly have some similar characteristics, but the intensity is quite different. With craving, there is a strong yearning for something right now—be that to be with someone or to eat that last piece of chocolate cake.
We want that to scratch that itch in the near future and, until we do, we can’t get it off our minds. Often, when the distraction of the desire is over, we don’t feel too good about ourselves and we replace it with another set of cravings.
Hope has less power over us than craving. We may want something to happen for what we consider to be the better, but hope doesn’t take us over completely.
When we hope, it is often, but not always, about the longer term.
We may hope that our partner gets a promotion next year; that we’ll get on that training course we applied for; or that we finally pay the mortgage off when an investment we’ve made matures. In the short-term, we may hope that our boss is in a better mood today. We hope for changes that will improve our lives.
As hope is similar but not quite the same as craving, maybe the question should be: does hope generate suffering in the Buddhist sense? And the answer to whether it causes pain is dependent on how we relate to feelings of hope.
Hope is an emotion that occurs within us; it’s a condition of the mind. As with all conditions of the mind, we can choose to attach to the hope we feel, make it ours, and define ourselves by it. Alternatively, we can allow it to just be in our field of awareness without pushing it away or letting it overwhelm us.
Buddhists consider the final origin of suffering to be attachment. So, if we become attached to our hopes, wanting a specific outcome, then when life doesn’t unfold precisely as we wanted it to, we get upset. We will suffer and when we are suffering, it can lead us to crave an alternative reality or desire quick fixes. It generates further pain.
If, however, we see hope as something separate from us, we can respond to it without becoming attached to a particular result. We can still do the things we need to do to work toward our hopes and dreams. Then, when life—as it nearly always does—has different plans for us, we’ve not attached ourselves to a specific outcome.
Because we weren’t attached to a precise event, we can accept our lives as they are. With that acceptance comes an inner peace and a release from suffering.
Therefore, hope is not craving. However, if we’re not mindful and we attach to our hopes, then it can lead us to craving and, therefore, to suffering.
Our relationship with hope is key.
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