Upādāna is a Sanskrit and Pali word that means "fuel, material cause, substrate that is the source and means for keeping an active process energized".[1][2] It is also an important Buddhist concept referring to "attachment, clinging, grasping".[3] It is considered to be the result of taṇhā (craving), and is part of the dukkha (dissatisfaction, suffering, pain) doctrine in Buddhism.

Translations of
Englishclinging, grasping, attachment or fuel, material cause
Sanskritउपादान, (upadana)
(MLCTS: ṵ pà dàɰ̃)
(Pinyin: )
(Rōmaji: shu)
Korean取 (취)
(RR: chui)
(Wylie: len.pa)
Tagalogᜀᜉᜀᜇᜀᜈᜀ (apadana)
(RTGS: upathan)
Vietnamese取 (thủ)
Glossary of Buddhism


Upādāna is the Sanskrit and Pāli word for "clinging", "attachment" or "grasping", although the literal meaning is "fuel".[4] Upādāna and taṇhā (Skt. tṛṣṇā) are seen as the two primary causes of suffering. The cessation of clinging leads to Nirvana.[5]

Types of clingingEdit

In the Sutta Pitaka,[6] the Buddha states that there are four types of clinging:

  • sense-pleasure clinging (kamupadana)
  • all views clinging (ditthupadana)
  • rites-and-rituals clinging (silabbatupadana)
  • self-doctrine clinging (attavadupadana).

The Buddha once stated that, while other sects might provide an appropriate analysis of the first three types of clinging, he alone fully elucidated clinging to the "self" and its resultant suffering.[7]

The Abhidhamma[8] and its commentaries[9] provide the following definitions for these four clinging types:

  1. sense-pleasure clinging: repeated craving of worldly things.
  2. view clinging: such as eternalism (e.g., "The world and self are eternal") or nihilism.[10]
  3. rites-and-rituals clinging: believing that rites alone could directly lead to liberation, typified in the texts by the rites and rituals of "ox practice" and "dog practice."[11]
  4. self-doctrine clinging: self-identification with self-less entities (e.g., illustrated by MN 44,[12] and further discussed in the skandha and anatta articles).

According to Buddhaghosa,[13] the above ordering of the four types of clinging is in terms of decreasing grossness, that is, from the most obvious (grossest) type of clinging (sense-pleasure clinging) to the subtlest (self-doctrine clinging).

Interdependence of clinging typesEdit


Buddhaghosa further identifies that these four clinging types are causally interconnected as follows:[14]

  1. self-doctrine clinging: first, one assumes that one has a permanent "self."
  2. wrong-view clinging: then, one assumes that one is either somehow eternal or to be annihilated after this life.
  3. resultant behavioral manifestations:
    1. rites-and-rituals clinging: if one assumes that one is eternal, then one clings to rituals to achieve self-purification.
    2. sense-pleasure clinging: if one assumes that one will completely disappear after this life, then one disregards the next world and clings to sense desires.

This hierarchy of clinging types is represented diagrammatically to the right.

Thus, based on Buddhaghosa's analysis, clinging is more fundamentally an erroneous core belief (self-doctrine clinging) than a habitualized affective experience (sense-pleasure clinging).

Manifestations of clingingEdit

In terms of consciously knowable mental experiences, the Abhidhamma identifies sense-pleasure clinging with the mental factor of "greed" (lobha) and the other three types of clinging (self-doctrine, wrong-view and rites-and-rituals clinging) with the mental factor of "wrong view" (ditthi).[15] Thus, experientially, clinging can be known through the Abhidhamma's fourfold definitions of these mental factors as indicated in the following table:[16]

characteristic function manifestation proximate cause
greed (lobha) grasping an object sticks, like hot-pan meat not giving up enjoying things of bondage
wrong view (ditthi) unwise interpreting presumes wrong belief not hearing the Dhamma

To distinguish craving from clinging, Buddhaghosa uses the following metaphor:[17]

"Craving is the aspiring to an object that one has not yet reached, like a thief's stretching out his hand in the dark; clinging is the grasping of an object that one has reached, like the thief's grasping his objective.... [T]hey are the roots of the suffering due to seeking and guarding."

Thus, for instance, when the Buddha talks about the "aggregates of clinging," he is referring to our grasping and guarding physical, mental and conscious experiences that we falsely believe we are or possess.

  The 12 Nidānas:  
Name & Form
Six Sense Bases
Old Age & Death

As part of the causal chain of sufferingEdit

In the Four Noble Truths, the First Noble Truth identifies clinging (upādāna, in terms of "the aggregates of clinging") as one of the core experiences of suffering. The Second Noble Truth identifies craving (tanha) as the basis for suffering. In this manner a causal relationship between craving and clinging is found in the Buddha's most fundamental teaching.[18]

In the twelve-linked chain of Dependent Origination (Pratītyasamutpāda, also see Twelve Nidanas), clinging (upādāna) is the ninth causal link:[19]

  • Upādāna (Clinging) is dependent on Taṇhā (Craving) as a condition before it can exist.
"With Craving as condition, Clinging arises".
  • Upādāna (Clinging) is also the prevailing condition for the next condition in the chain, Becoming (Bhava).
"With Clinging as condition, Becoming arises."

According to Buddhaghosa,[20] it is sense-pleasure clinging that arises from craving and that conditions becoming.

Upādāna as fuelEdit

Professor Richard F. Gombrich has pointed out in several publications, and in his recent[when?] Numata Visiting Professor Lectures at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), that the literal meaning of upādāna is "fuel". He uses this to link the term to the Buddha's use of fire as a metaphor. In the so-called Fire Sermon (Āditta-pariyāya) (Vin I, 34-5; SN 35.28) the Buddha tells the bhikkhus that everything is on fire. By everything he tells them he means the five senses plus the mind, their objects, and the operations and feelings they give rise to — i.e. everything means the totality of experience. All these are burning with the fires of greed, hatred and delusion.

In the nidana chain, then, craving creates fuel for continued burning or becoming (bhava). The mind like fire, seeks out more fuel to sustain it, in the case of the mind this is sense experience, hence the emphasis the Buddha places on "guarding the gates of the senses". By not being caught up in the senses (appamāda) we can be liberated from greed, hatred and delusion. This liberation is also expressed using the fire metaphor when it is termed nibbāna (Sanskrit: Nirvāṇa) which means to "go out", or literally to "blow out the flames of defilement". (Regarding the word Nirvāṇa, the verb is intransitive so no agent is required.)

Probably by the time the canon was written down (1st Century BCE), and certainly when Buddhaghosa was writing his commentaries (4th Century CE) the sense of the metaphor appears to have been lost, and upādāna comes to mean simply "clinging" as above. By the time of the Mahayana the term fire was dropped altogether and greed, hatred and delusion are known as the "three poisons".


The term Upādāna appears in the sense of "material cause" in ancient Vedic and medieval Hindu texts.[21] For medieval era Vaishnavism scholar Ramanuja, the metaphysical Hindu concept of Brahman (as Vishnu) is the upadana-karana (material cause) of the universe.[22] However, other Hindu traditions such as the Advaita Vedanta disagree and assert alternate theories on the nature of metaphysical Brahman and the universe while using the term upadana in the sense of "substrate, fuel".[23][24]

More generally, the realist Hindu philosophies such as Samkhya and Nyaya have asserted that Brahman is the Upādāna of the phenomenal world.[25] The philosophies within the Buddhist schools have denied Brahman, asserted impermanence and that the notion of anything real is untenable from a metaphysical sense.[25] The Hindu traditions such as those influenced by Advaita Vedanta have asserted the position that everything (Atman, Brahman, Prakriti) is ultimately one identical reality.[25] The concept Upādāna also appears with other sense of meanings, in Vedanta philosophies, such as "taking in".[26]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Thomas William Rhys Davids; William Stede (1921). Pali-English Dictionary. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 149. ISBN 978-81-208-1144-7.
  2. ^ Monier Monier-Williams (1872). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. p. 171.
  3. ^ Paul Williams; Anthony Tribe; Alexander Wynne (2002). Buddhist Thought. Routledge. pp. 45, 67. ISBN 978-1-134-62324-2.
  4. ^ See, for example, Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 149; and, Gombrich (2005).
  5. ^ Below are some excerpts from the Pali Canon indicative of the statement that clinging's cessation leads to Nirvana:
    "For the sake of what, then, my friend, is the holy life lived under the Blessed One?"
    "The holy life is lived under the Blessed One, my friend, for the sake of total Unbinding [nibbana] through lack of clinging."
    — from "Relay Chariots" (Ratha-vinita Sutta MN 24) (Thanissaro, 1999).
    "Bhikkhus, when ignorance is abandoned and true knowledge has arisen in a bhikkhu, then with the fading away of ignorance and the arising of true knowledge he no longer clings to sensual pleasures, no longer clings to views, no longer clings to rules and observances, no longer clings to a doctrine of self. When he does not cling, he is not agitated. When he is not agitated, he personally attains Nibbana. He understands: 'Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being.'"
    — from "The Shorter Discourse on the Lion's Roar" (Cula-sihanada Sutta MN 11) (Ñanamoli & Bodhi, 1993).
    "Now during this utterance, the hearts of the bhikkhus of the group of five were liberated from taints through clinging no more."
    — from "The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic" (Anatta-lakkhana Sutta SN 22.59) (Ñāṇamoli, 1981).
    "...From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging, illness & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of suffering & stress."
    — from "Clinging" (Upadana Sutta SN 12.52) (Thanissaro, 1998b).
    "And having drunk
    "The medicine of the Dhamma,
    "You'll be untouched by age and death.
    "Having meditated and seen —
    "(You'll be) healed by ceasing to cling."
    — from "The Healing Medicine of the Dhamma" (Miln 5 [verse 335]) (Olendzki, 2005).
  6. ^ Examples of references to upādāna in the Sutta Pitaka can be found in the "Culasihanada Sutta" ("Shorter Discourse on the Lion's Roar", MN 11) (see Nanamoli & Bodhi, 2001, p. 161) and the "Nidanasamyutta" ("Connected Discourses on Causation", SN 12) (see Bodhi, 2000b, p. 535).
  7. ^ Cula-sihanada Sutta ("Shorter Discourse on the Lion's Roar", MN 11) (Ñanamoli & Bodhi, 1993).
  8. ^ In the Abhidhamma, the Dhammasangani §§ 1213-17 (Rhys Davids, 1900, pp. 323-5) contains definitions of the four types of clinging.
  9. ^ Abhidhamma commentaries related to the four types of clining can be found, for example, in the Abhidhammattha-sangaha (see Bodhi, 2000b, p. 726 n. 5) and the Visuddhimagga (Buddhaghosa, 1999, pp. 585-7).
  10. ^ It is worth noting that, in reference to "wrong view" (Pali: miccha ditthi) as used in various suttas in the Anguttara Nikaya's first chapter, Bodhi (2005), p. 437, n. 10, states that wrong views "deny the foundations of morality, especially those views that reject a principal of moral causation or the efficacy of volitional effort."
  11. ^ See, for instance, Buddhaghosa (1999), p. 587. For a reference to these particular ascetic practices in the Sutta Pitaka, see MN 57, Kukkuravatika Sutta ("The Dog-Duty Ascetic," translated in: Nanamoli & Khantipalo, 1993; and, Nanamoli & Bodhi, 2001, pp. 493-97).
  12. ^ "Culavedalla Sutta: The Shorter Set of Questions-and-Answers". www.accesstoinsight.org.
  13. ^ Buddhaghosa (1999), pp. 586-7.
  14. ^ Buddhaghosa (1999), p. 587.
  15. ^ Bodhi (2000a), p. 267.
  16. ^ Bodhi (2000a), pp. 83-4, 371 n. 13.
  17. ^ Buddhaghosa (1999), p. 586.
  18. ^ The idea that the Four Noble Truths identifies craving as the proximate cause of clinging is mentioned, for instance, in Thanissaro (2000).
  19. ^ See, for example, SN 12.2 as translated by Thanissaro (1997a).
  20. ^ Buddhaghosa (1999), pp. 586, 593.
  21. ^ Wendy Doniger (1999). Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions. Merriam-Webster. p. 1129. ISBN 978-0-87779-044-0.
  22. ^ J. E. Llewellyn (2005). Defining Hinduism: A Reader. Routledge. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-415-97449-3.
  23. ^ Andrew J. Nicholson (2010). Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History. Columbia University Press. pp. 62–63. ISBN 978-0-231-52642-5.
  24. ^ Allen Thrasher (1993). The Advaita Vedānta of Brahma-siddhi. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 56–57. ISBN 978-81-208-0982-6.
  25. ^ a b c James G. Lochtefeld (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: N-Z. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 720–721. ISBN 978-0-8239-3180-4.
  26. ^ Hajime Nakamura (1983). A History of Early Vedānta Philosophy. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 505. ISBN 978-81-208-0651-1.


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Succeeded by