The ‘Double Dukkha’ of Craving and Addiction

By Buddhistdoor International Sangeeta Bansal
Buddhistdoor Global | 2014-06-03 |
Addiction is a modern blight that destroys lives. From Mashable.Addiction is a modern blight that destroys lives. From Mashable.
Sangeeta Bansal Ph.D, a researcher and writer, is also the founder of a non-profit called Mindside, which aims to make the benefits of mindfulness meditation available to all. Mindside offers an eight-week curriculum that teaches mindfulness practices which have shown to bring about transformative change, from stress reduction, pain management, freedom from addiction and more. The program is offered to all age groups and all religious backgrounds. She can be reached at mindside08@gmail.com.

Craving in Modern Society

The Buddha never taught his disciples about the pitfalls of consumerism, addiction to alcohol, drugs, internet, fancy cars or junk food. But he did talk in length about the “thirst of craving” (known as trishna in Sanskrit and tanha in Pali) as a doorway to the path of suffering (dukkha), which is the chief subject dealt with in the first two Noble Truths. Extreme craving (or addiction) brings extreme suffering.
When a person walking across the desert craves water, that does not qualify as an unhealthy craving. Similarly, wanting good food, a decent home, and a loving family all constitute healthy desires. But there is a basic tendency to exceed healthy doses of whatever life offers, to take just a little bit more than required. It gives pleasure, so we want to have second helpings. And thirds.
This behavior has deep evolutionary roots in our psyche. Arising from basic insecurity that promotes fear and greed, human beings tend to hoard, and find themselves unwittingly stuck in the quicksand of unrelenting addiction. Feelings of emptiness are camouflaged with sensory pleasures that eventually turn toxic. This compounded misery may be called “double dukkha” – in order to find relief from one dukkha, the ignorant person attaches another one on to himself.
The objects of addiction are ubiquitous. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex and compulsive behavior all fall under the gamut of addictions but often, this tendency to acquire objects of acquisition is not perceived to be addictive, much less a source of suffering. We applaud people with the most lavish lifestyles and material possessions. This creates a positive aura around something that can be a source of immense suffering – mostly for the person who thinks he (or she) has been so lucky.
Culture Creates and Camouflages Craving
Craving, desire and addiction are intrinsic to the human condition and very often camouflaged by a culture that may not have yet seen the danger signs. People who are addicted to a certain lifestyle, to particular thought patterns or destructive habits, or to negative emotions such as fear or anger, are in tremendous suffering. The outer trappings may look very normal and even desirable to others. These people seem very “cool” and “fun” as they drink, smoke and eat junk food. “Let’s meet up for a drink”, is the most normal social interchange in our culture, and “let’s get wasted” may even be the primary agenda of many young adults’ social gatherings.
Our culture criminalizes the addicts with drug and alcohol problems but celebrates those who accumulate clothes and shoes beyond their needs. We are bombarded with advertisements for junk food or cigarettes, but are quick to chastise the obese or the lung cancer patient. The tabloids condemn actors who have sex or shopping addictions, but idolize them for the roles they play in movies. Societal double standards, and a lack of understanding of the potential harm of living with excess in our lives, contribute to this problem of craving.
As Matthieu Ricard quoted his teacher as saying, “Most of the things you want for your happiness are the things we (the monks) usually associate with suffering.” Ricard added, “When you go down to the deep root of suffering you realize that it doesn’t look like suffering.” And in that sense, we are all (sometimes unknowingly) addicts of something or other. It is the human condition.
What the Buddha said about Craving
In Buddhist texts the process of addiction is laid out quite clearly. First comes the contact  between the sense organ  and the object (or a feeling of recognition); then comes the classification (as “desirable” and “happiness producing”). Ignorance distorts reality and attributes the object with intrinsic features that it does not really have. Then comes the fantasizing and imagining that gives the feeling a lot of value; this is followed by the action to experience this object. The actual sensation is the reward that reinforces the cycle of wanting the same experience again. This culminates in the absorption of the trait: becoming an addict.
“Conditioned by contact, feeling arises.
Conditioned by feeling, craving arises.
Conditioned by craving, grasping arises.
Conditioned by grasping, becoming arises.” 
(Quoted from Mind and Life XXVII, 2013; as mentioned in Buddhist texts such as the Salistambhasutra)
This cycle is applicable to all material acquisitions, sensory pleasures and even negative emotions. Sadness, anger, or grief can also be addictive as the mind clings to a certain story or narrative. Even when the actual circumstances have changed, the mind can evoke the same narrative again and again. Thus addiction and craving is not always pleasure inducing – the mind itself can become a slave to a thought.
“He who constantly grieves
In him arises ever more grief
And just as the love of sleeping
Leads to excessive (need for) sleep
Know this to be true too of attachment and craving”
(Quoted from Mind and Life XXVII, 2013; attributed to Buddha)
The Origin of Craving
According to the teachings, the origin of craving (and hence misery) may be the initial perception of separation from the object, followed by a superimposition of characteristics to the object (deeming it desirable or not) that leads to either attachment or aversion. Then comes the wish to acquire the desirable object in an attempt to gain happiness. Or, if we superimpose aversion to the object or experience, we try to avoid it to alleviate our sense of suffering If deemed desirable, then follows a clinging and self-identification with the object or experience, followed by actions that try to grasp the object or experience repeatedly. The separation (or fear of separation) from this object is what causes suffering.
We may feel a separation from a feeling of happiness, fulfillment and satisfaction – forgetting that happiness lies within. In our attempt to create those conditions in our lives, we assign qualities to other objects that “simulate” these feelings of happiness. A few drinks, a few words of praise, a new car, a shopping expedition, or a new relationship – all are examples of things that can give a short-term high while leaving the longer term dissatisfaction intact. Satisfaction of the craving becomes the most important part of one’s life. 
“I loved the way drink made me feel, and I loved its special power of deflection, its ability to shift my focus away from my own awareness of self and onto something else, something less painful that my own feelings”  (Drinking: A love story by Caroline Knapp: p.15).
Similarly Marc Lewis, a former drug and alcohol addict turned neuroscientist and bestselling author writes,
 “…The key to getting high is a simple equation: brain change = mood change. The whole science of addiction starts here, where molecules from outside the body find communion with the cells we’re made of. The brain that’s nestling in its self made cave of unhappiness, gets a wake up call from a team of molecules born in a vat in Scotland” (Lewis, p. 24).
After the pattern is set, then the fear of separation from any object of addiction causes suffering.
Brain Science on the Cycle of Repetitive Craving
Craving, hatred and other passions are enemies without hands or feet,
They are neither brave nor intelligent,
How have I become their slave?
Entrenched in my head, they strike me at will,
Enough of such ridiculous patience!”

                                             – Shantideva
Although addicts may feel a lack of willpower and a sense of moral inadequacy once they are addicted, brain science shows that their battle is genuinely hard. They are truly caught in the cycles of chemical interactions happening in their brain, and have virtually no self-control once the chemicals take over. The brain is enslaved:
“The truth being revealed by modern neuroscience is that cravings and addictions are produced by brain dysfunctions, not moral weakness… Compelling evidence indicates that imbalances in the reward and stress related neurotransmitters, dopamine and endorphins, are responsible for most of our cravings and addictions. A variety of factors are responsible for these neurochemical imbalances including genetics, chronic stress, drugs and alcohol, as well as excessive consumption of certain foods, including sugar, gluten, and other processed foods and chemicals. As a result of these neurochemical imbalances, we crave substances and are driven to behaviors that trigger the release of these pleasure-producing neurotransmitters in our brains, often despite our best intentions to avoid these compulsions.”
In summary, what starts off as a quick fix for an underlying perceived misery (or dukkha) fast becomes a misery itself, the process compounded by hidden processes in the brain. The process of “double dukkha” is set in motion – in order to find relief from one dukkha, the ignorant person attaches another one on to himself.
Can an understanding of neuroscience combined with the Buddha’s insights into the mind’s workings help retrain the brain? Let’s find out in the next article.

Craving (Part 2): Mindfully Ending Addiction
Knapp, Caroline 1999. Drinking: A Love Story.
Lewis, Marc 2012. Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist examines his former life of Drugs
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