Kāma

Renderings

kāma: sensuous pleasure

kāma: sensuous yearning

kāma: want

kāma: yearning

kāmā: desiring

kāmā: sensuous

kāmeti: to yearn for

kāmaṃ: willingly

kāmabhoginā: devoted to sensuous pleasures

kāmabhoginā: non-celibate

kāma: sensuous plane of existence

Introduction

Five varieties of sensuous pleasure

The five varieties of sensuous pleasure (pañcakāmaguṇā) are visible objects, audible objects, smellable objects, tasteable objects, and tangible objects that are likeable, loveable, pleasing, agreeable, connected with sensuous pleasure, and charming (iṭṭhā kantā manāpā piyarūpā kāmūpasaṃhitā rajanīyā).

These pleasures are vile, coarse and ignoble(mīḷhasukhaṃ puthujjanasukhaṃ anariyasukhaṃ). They should not be pursued, developed or cultivated (na sevitabbaṃ na bhāvetabbaṃ na bahulīkātabbaṃ M.1.454).

The five varieties of sensuous pleasure (pañcakāmaguṇā) are sometimes euphemistically called ‘the music of the fivefold ensemble’ (pañcaṅgikena turiyena: S.1.131).

Kāma: sexual pleasure

Kāma strongly implies sexual pleasure (mānusake kāme: S.1.9). There is no other object which so overwhelms a man’s mind as a woman, or a woman’s mind, a man (cittaṃ pariyādāya tiṭṭhati: A.1.1).

Kāma: not just sex

But kāma is not just sex. After all, the attractiveness of women is more than their sexuality. It is their wealth, virtue, industriousness, and ability to beget children (S.4.238). And during the pregnancy of the Bodhisatta’s mother, the sensuous thoughts that arose in her mind did not involve men (na bodhisattamātu purisesu mānasaṃ uppajjati kāmaguṇūpasaṃhitaṃ) (D.2.13).

Likewise for men. When a group of young Licchavis discussed the ‘five treasures,’ the Buddha mocked them for their preoccupation with kāma (kāmaññeva ārabbha antarā kathā udapādi), explaining the five treasures as not just the Woman Treasure, but the Elephant, Horse, Jewel, and Steward Treasures (D.2.172).

Bhikkhus and sensuous pleasure

Bhikkhus are not allowed the five varieties of sensuous pleasure:

• He for whom the five varieties of sensuous pleasure are allowed, you can definitely conclude that this is not the practice of an ascetic, not the practice of a disciple of the Sakyans’ Son.
Yassa pañcakāmaguṇā kappanti ekaṃsenetaṃ gāmaṇi dhāreyyāsi assamaṇadhammo asakyaputtiyadhammo ti.

Such pleasure is only allowed to those for whom money is allowed:

• Those for whom gold and silver are allowed, the five varieties of sensuous pleasure are allowed.
☸ yassa kho gāmaṇi jātarūparajataṃ kappati pañcapi tassa kāmaguṇā kappanti
(S.4.326).

Bhikkhus should regard sensuous pleasure like a (red-hot) charcoal pit:

• So, too, when sensuous pleasures are seen by a bhikkhu as similar to a (red-hot) charcoal pit, then sensuous hankering, love, infatuation, and passion for sensuous pleasures do not lurk within him.
Evameva kho bhikkhave bhikkhuno aṅgārakāsūpamā kāmā diṭṭhā honti yathāssa kāme passato yo kāmesu kāmacchando kāmasneho kāmamucchā kāmapariḷāho so nānuseti (S.4.188).

Indeed, the undoing (upaddava) of a recluse is, once surrounded by laypeople, reverting to indulgence:

• Being visited by brahmans and householders from town and country, he becomes infatuated, falls in love, succumbs to greed, and reverts to luxury. This is called the teacher who is undone through the undoing of teachers.
So anvāvaṭṭantesu brāhmaṇagahapatikesu negamesu ceva jānapadesu ca mucchati nikāyamati gedhaṃ āpajjati āvaṭṭati bāhullāya. Ayaṃ vuccatānanda upaddavo ācariyo ācariyūpaddavena (M.3.116).

Objects of sensuous pleasure

Objects of sensuous pleasure include:

• fancy carriages, earrings (M.1.365)

• palaces and female musicians (M.1.504).

• fields, property and gold, cattle and horses, slaves, servants, and maids (Sn.v.769).

• Heavenly objects of sensuous pleasure includes the company of celestial nymphs (accharā) in the Nandana Grove (M.1.505).

• For Wheel-turning monarchs such objects include the seven Treasures (M.3.172).

Allowances in times of sickness

Some items are considered not sensuous pleasures in the case of sickness. For instance, vehicles, sunshades, and sandals are allowed to bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs when they are sick.

Kāma: sensuous yearning

Kāma can also mean ‘sensuous yearning’:

• There are five varieties of sensuous pleasure.
pañcime bhikkhave kāmaguṇā

Visible objects known via the visual sense… tangible objects known via the tactile sense, all of which are likeable, loveable, pleasing, agreeable, connected with sensuous pleasure, and charming
☸ cakkhuviññeyyā rūpā… kāyaviññeyyā phoṭṭhabbā iṭṭhā kantāmanāpā piyarūpā kāmupasaṃhitā rajaniyā.

These however are not sensuous yearnings.
Apica kho bhikkhave nete kāmā

In the (terminology of the) Noble One’s training system they are called the varieties of sensuous pleasure.
kāmaguṇā nāmete ariyassa vinaye vuccanti

The sensuous yearning of a man is his thoughts bound up with attachment.
Saṅkapparāgo purisassa kāmo

The world’s attractive things are not sensuous yearning
Nete kāmā yāni citrāni loke

The sensuous yearning of a man is his thoughts bound up with attachment.
Saṅkapparāgo purisassa kāmo

The world’s attractive things remain as they are
Tiṭṭhanti citrāni tatheva loke

The wise eliminate their hankering for them
Athettha dhīrā vinayanti chandan ti (A.3.411).

Comment:

We render saṅkapparāgo as ‘thoughts bound up with attachment’ in accordance with the term ‘thoughts bound up with attachment’ (saṅkappā rāganissitā, A.1.280; Th.v.760; Dh.v.339).

Kāmadhātu: the sensuous plane of existence

So because the low plane of existence is called kāmadhātu, should it be called the sensuous plane of existence? Or the plane of sensuous yearning? For example, Bodhi calls it ‘the sensory realm’ (A.1.223) whereas Woodward and Walshe call it the ‘world of sense-desire’ (A.1.223; D.2.57). We prefer Bodhi’s term for the following reason:

The Lokāyatika Brāhmaṇa Sutta (A.4.430) says that in the (terminology of the) Noble One’s training system, the five varieties of sensuous pleasure are called ‘the world (of sensuous pleasure)’ (pañcime brāhmaṇā kāmaguṇā ariyassa vinaye loko ti vuccati), and says that if a bhikkhu enters first jhāna, he is called a bhikkhu who has arrived at the end of the world (i.e. arrived at the end of the world (of sensuous pleasure), lokassa antaṃ āgamma).

But just as the jhānas transcend the five varieties of sensuous pleasure, so they are themselves transcended by the immaterial states of awareness, which are said to ‘transcend the refined material states of awareness’ (atikkamma rūpe) (M.1.34). Because the first of these spheres, the sphere of infinite space, is attained by ‘completely transcending refined material states of awareness’ (sabbaso rūpasaññānaṃ samatikkamā), it shows that the refined material states of awareness means the four jhānas.

Thus on attaining first jhāna, sensuous mental imagery is ended (paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ samāpannassa kāmasaññā niruddhā hoti, A.4.409), and in attaining the state of awareness of boundless space, the perception of the refined material states of awareness is ended (ākāsānañcāyatanaṃ samāpannassa rūpasaññā niruddhā hoti, A.4.409). Thus there are three levels of meditative attainment. These three levels correspond to the three states of individual existence (tayo bhavā), namely:

kāmabhavo: individual existence in the sensuous plane of existence (kāmadhātu)

rūpabhavo: individual existence in the refined material plane of existence (rūpadhātu)

arūpabhavo: individual existence in the immaterial plane of existence (arūpadhātu) (M.1.50).

The correspondence between the three levels of meditative attainment and the three states of individual existence is confirmed in connection to rebirth. Those practising first jhāna, which is the first of the refined material meditations, when they die, get reborn in the refined material plane of existence amongst the devas of the Brahmā group (brahmakāyikānaṃ devānaṃ sahavyataṃ upapajjati). Those who practise the state of awareness of boundless space, which is the first of the immaterial meditations, are reborn amongst the immaterial devas in the state of awareness of boundless space (ākāsānañcāyatanūpagānaṃ devānaṃ sahavyataṃ upapajjati).

Thus:

• the perception of the five varieties of sensuous pleasure corresponds to individual existence in the sensuous plane of existence (kāmadhātu)

• the refined material states of awareness correspond to the refined material plane of existence.

• immaterial states of awareness correspond to the immaterial plane of existence.

This shows that kāmadhātu means ‘the sensuous plane of existence,’ not ‘the plane of sensuous yearning.’

Sensuous, adjective

Kāmā is sometimes used as an adjective: ‘sensuous.’

• sensuous hankering for sensuous pleasure
kāmesu kāmacchando (M.1.433).

• I do not recall a sensuous thought having ever arisen in me.
☸ nābhijānāmi kāmavitakkaṃ uppannapubbaṃ (M.3.125).

Possessions suitable for laymen devoted to sensuous pleasures

When bhikkhus entered a village with their sandals on, people complained, muttered, and grumbled that the bhikkhus were like laymen devoted to sensuous pleasures (seyyathā pi gihī kāmabhogino ti Vin.1.194). This led to the Buddha forbidding bhikkhus entering the village with sandals on. Other similar events led to a many items being grouped as suitable for laymen devoted to sensuous pleasures (gihī kāmabhogino) but not bhikkhus. For example, animal hides (Vin.1.192), gold and silver ointment boxes (Vin.1.203), brightly coloured or beautiful robes (Vin.1.287, 306), jewellery (Vin.2.106), long hair (Vin.2.107), hair-dressing equipment (Vin.2.107), fleece clothes with the fleece outside (Vin.2.108); gold, silver and crystal bowls; ornamented bowl-stands; gold and silver knives (Vin.2.115); gold and silver thimbles (Vin.2.117); attractive waistbands (Vin.2.136); gold and silver buckles (Vin.2.136); large pillows (Vin.2.150).

Activities suitable for laymen devoted to sensuous pleasures, gihī kāmabhogino

Likewise there are activities suitable only for laymen devoted to sensuous pleasures, not bhikkhus: using mirrors (Vin.2.107), wearing make-up (Vin.2.107), singing (Vin.2.107), sharing dishes and cups (Vin.2.123); trimming one’s hair with scissors (Vin.2.134); removing grey hairs (Vin.2.134); learning and teaching metaphysics and worldy knowledge (Vin.2.139); going to see dancing, singing or music (Vin.2.107; Vin.4.267); bathing with perfume (Vin.4.341); using sunshades (Vin.4.337); using vehicles (Vin.4.338); sharing beds (Vin.4.288); going to art galleries, public parks and lakes (Vin.4.298); financial transactions (Vin.3.239); keeping animals (tiracchānagataṃ upaṭṭhāpenti) (Vin.2.267); keeping male and female slaves and servants (dāsaṃ… dāsiṃ… kammakāraṃ… kammakāriṃ upaṭṭhāpenti) (Vin.2.267); engaging in trade (Vin.2.267).

Gihī kāmabhogino: non-celibate laypeople

The Buddha’s lay disciples are divided into four groups, according to the sex and sexuality of their bodies. Here, we call kāmabhogino ‘non-celibate .’ All disciples are ‘clothed in white’ (odātavasanā).

• celibate men lay followers
upāsakā gihī odātavasanā brahmacārino

• non-celibate men lay followers
upāsakā gihī odātavasanā kāmabhogino

• celibate women lay followers,
upāsikā gihiniyo odātavasanā brahmacāriṇiyo

• non-celibate women lay followers
 upāsikā gihiniyo odātavasanā kāmabhoginiyo (M.1.493).

Food and ‘sensuous pleasure’

Although food is pleasant, if it was considered a ‘sensuous pleasure’ the ascetic life would be impossible. It is nonetheless surprising that there are no rules on luxurious foods because the Vatthūpama Sutta (M.1.38) shows that luxurious food is a spiritual obstruction for those with defiled mental states (cittassa upakkilesā) because it says that for the virtuous bhikkhu whose mind is collected (cittaṃ samādhiyati), even if he eats fine almsfood ‘the black grains removed, with various curries and vegetables, that will not be a spiritual obstruction for him’ (nevassa naṃ hoti antarāyāya, M.1.38). This implies that luxurious food is a spiritual obstruction for less accomplished bhikkhus.

Food: the training for bhikkhus

Regarding food, the training in restraint for bhikkhus does not concern the quality of the food but the timing, the quantity, and the bhikkhu’s attitude:

• bhikkhus should ideally eat just once a day.

• they should not eat after midday.

• they should eat in moderation

• they should eat without either cleaving to what is delicious (nājjhosāya bhuñje) or rejecting what is unpalatable (virodhamāsādusu nopadaṃsaye S.4.71; M.1.102; M.1.437).

Alcohol

Alcohol is not considered a sensuous pleasure even for Wheel-turning monarchs because, even by laypeople, it is not a pleasure to be enjoyed at all.

Illustrations

Illustration: kāma, sensuous pleasure

In the (terminology of the) Noble One’s training system these five varieties ofsensuous pleasure are called shackles and bondage (to individual existence).
☸ pañcime kāmaguṇā ariyassa vinaye andū ti pi vuccanti bandhanan ti pi vuccanti (D.1.245).

Illustration: kāme, sensuous pleasures

A man greedy for fields, for property and gold, cattle and horses, slaves and servants, maids and relatives, and many sensuous pleasures, is overpowered by what is weak.
☸ Khettaṃ vatthuṃ hiraññaṃ vā gavassaṃ dāsaporisaṃ
Thiyo bandhū puthu kāme yo naro anugijjhati
Abalā naṃ baliyanti
(Sn.v.769-770).

Illustration: kāmā, sensuous pleasures

Sensuous pleasures are unlasting, intrinsically unsatisfactory, and destined to change, and from their change and alteration there arises grief, lamentation, physical pain, psychological pain, and vexation.
☸ Kāmā hi bho aniccā dukkhā vipariṇāmadhammā tesaṃ vipariṇāmaññathābhāvā uppajjanti sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā (D.1.36).

Illustration: kāmehi, sensuous pleasures

Secluded from sensuous pleasures and spiritually unwholesome factors, he enters and abides in first jhāna, which is accompanied by thinking and pondering, and rapture and physical pleasure born of seclusion (from sensuous pleasures and spiritually unwholesome factors). For him the mental imagery of previous sensuous pleasure ceases.
☸ So vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati. Tassa yā purimā kāmasaññā sā nirujjhati (D.1.182).

Illustration: kāma, sensuous pleasure

Whatever physical and psychological pleasure arises from the five varieties of sensuous pleasure is the sweetness of sensuous pleasures.
☸ Yaṃ kho bhikkhave ime pañcakāmaguṇe paṭicca uppajjati sukhaṃ somanassaṃ ayaṃ kāmānaṃ assādo.

The elimination and abandonment of fondness and attachment regarding sensuous pleasures is the deliverance from sensuous pleasures.
☸ Yo kho bhikkhave kāmesu chandarāgavinayo chandarāgappahānaṃ idaṃ kāmānaṃ nissaraṇaṃ (M.1.87).

Illustration: kāmā, sensuous pleasures

Sensuous pleasures―attractive, sweet, and charming―distract the mind through their many different forms.
Kāmā hi citrā madhurā manoramā virūparūpena mathenti cittaṃ

Seeing danger in the varieties of sensuous pleasure, I went forth (into the ascetic life), O king.
Ādīnavaṃ kāmaguṇesu disvā tasmā ahaṃ pabbajitomhi rāja (M.2.74).

Illustration: kāma, sensuous pleasure

If a bhikkhu on reflection knows that his mind has some dealing with some aspect of the five varieties of sensuous pleasure, then he knows that he has undiscarded fondness and attachment regarding the five varieties of sensuous pleasure.
☸ atthi kho me imesu pañcasu kāmaguṇesu aññatarasmiṃ vā aññatarasmiṃ vā āyatane uppajjati cetaso samudācāro ti. Evaṃ santametaṃ ānanda bhikkhu evaṃ pajānāti yo kho imesu pañcasu kāmaguṇesu chandarāgo so me appahīno ti (M.3.114).

Illustration: kāmā, sensuous pleasures; kāma, sensuous

So, too, when sensuous pleasures are regarded by a bhikkhu as similar to a (red-hot) charcoal pit, sensuous hankering, love, infatuation, and passion for sensuous pleasures do not lurk within him.
☸ Evameva kho bhikkhave bhikkhuno aṅgārakāsūpamā kāmā diṭṭhā honti yathāssa kāme passato yo kāmesu kāmacchando kāmasneho kāmamucchā kāmapariḷāho so nānuseti (S.4.188).

Illustration: kāma, sensuous

Now, Udāyī, the physical and psychological pleasure that arises from the five varieties of sensuous pleasure is called sensuous pleasure.
☸ Yaṃ kho udāyi ime pañcakāmaguṇe paṭicca uppajjati sukhaṃ somanassaṃ idaṃ vuccati kāmasukhaṃ
(M.1.454).

Illustration: kāma, sensuous

Friend, in the eighty years since I went forth (into the ascetic life) I do not recall a sensuous mental image having ever arisen in me.
Asīti me āvuso kassapa vassāni pabbajitassa nābhijānāmi kāmasaññaṃ uppannapubbaṃ (M.3.125).

Illustration: kāmā, yearnings

Master Gotama, we have such yearnings, desires, and aspirations as these:
mayaṃ bho gotama evaṃ kāmā evañchandā evaṃ adhippāyā

‘May we dwell in a home crowded with children! May we enjoy Kāsian sandalwood! May we wear garlands, fragrances, and perfumes! May we receive gold and silver! With the demise of the body at death, may we be reborn in the realm of happiness, in the heavenly worlds!’
☸ puttasambādhasayanaṃ ajjhāvaseyyāma. Kāsikacandanaṃ paccanubhaveyyāma mālāgandhavilepanaṃ dhāreyyāma jātarūparajataṃ sādiyeyyāma. Kāyassa bhedā parammaraṇā sugatiṃ saggaṃ lokaṃ upapajjeyyāma (S.5.353).

Illustration: kāmayamānassa, yearning; kāmaṃ, sensuous pleasure

If, yearning for sensuous pleasure, it prospers for him, he’s ecstatic, yes, the mortal who gets what he wants.
Kāmaṃ kāmayamānassa tassa ce taṃ samijjhati
Addhā pītimano hoti laddhā macco yadicchati

But yearning and desirous, if that being’s pleasures diminish he is as wounded as if pierced by an arrow.
Tassa ce kāmayānassa chandajātassa jantuno
Te kāmā parihāyanti sallaviddhova ruppati
(Sn.v.766-7).

Illustration: kāmā, yearning

Bhikkhus, for the most part beings have such yearnings, desires, and aspirations
yebhuyyena bhikkhave sattā evaṃ kāmā evaṃ chandā evaṃ adhippāyā

‘If only unlikeable, unloveable, and displeasing things would diminish and likeable, loveable, and pleasing things would increase!’
aho vata aniṭṭhā akantā amanāpā dhammā parihāyeyyuṃ iṭṭhā kantā manāpā dhammā abhivaḍḍheyyunti (M.1.309).

Illustration: kāmemī, yearn for

I want and yearn for the most beautiful girl in this country
☸ ahaṃ yā imasmiṃ janapade janapadakalyāṇī taṃ icchāmi taṃ kāmemī ti (M.2.33).

Illustration: kāmo, yearning

A man would come along wanting to live, not die, yearning for pleasure and loathing pain.
Atha puriso āgaccheyya jīvitukāmo amaritukāmo sukhakāmo dukkhapaṭikkūlo (S.2.99-100).

Illustration: kāmaṃ, willingly

Willingly let just my skin, sinews and bone remain, and let the flesh and blood dry up on my body, but my right effort shall not be relaxed so long as I have not attained what can be attained by manly strength, by manly energy, by manly application (to the practice).
☸ kāmaṃ taco ca nahāru ca aṭṭhi ca avasissatu upasussatu sarīre maṃsalohitaṃ yaṃ taṃ purisatthāmena purisaviriyena purisaparakkamena pattabbaṃ na taṃ apāpuṇitvā viriyassa satthānaṃ bhavissatī ti (M.1.481).

Illustration: kāmā, want

‘Ambaṭṭha, this is a rightful question for you which you may not want to answer.’
ayaṃ kho pana te ambaṭṭha sahadhammiko pañho āgacchati akāmāpi vyākātabbo (D.1.94).

Illustration: kāmā, desiring

Once a certain bhikkhu had gone for his daytime abiding, he kept thinking unvirtuous, thoughts associated with the household life. Then the deva inhabiting that woodland grove, being tenderly concerned for that bhikkhu, desiring his spiritual well-being (atthakāmā), desiring to stir up in him an earnest attitude (to the practice) (saṃvejetukāmā), approached him and addressed him in verses (S.1.197).

Illustration: kāmā, desire

‘May those desiring gains acquire them; may those desiring merit do meritorious deeds!’
labhantu lābhakāmā puññakāmā karontu pana puññānī ti (S.2.198).

Illustration: kāmabhoginā, devoted to sensuous pleasures

This is hard for you to know, great king, a layman devoted to sensuous pleasures, living in a home crowded with children, using Kāsian sandalwood, wearing garlands, fragrances, and perfumes, accepting gold and silver.
Dujjānaṃ ko panetaṃ mahārāja tayā gihinā kāmabhoginā puttasambādhasayanaṃ ajjhāvasantena kāsikacandanaṃ paccanubhontena mālāgandhavilepanaṃ dhārayantena jātarūparajataṃ sādiyantena (Ud.65).

Illustration: kāmabhogino, devoted to sensuous pleasures

Bhikkhus examined a facial mark in a mirror and in a bowl of water. People complained, muttered, and grumbled that they were like laymen devoted to sensuous pleasures
ādāse pi udakapatte pi mukhanimittaṃ olokenti. Manussā ujjhāyanti khīyanti vipācenti seyyathā pi gihī kāmabhogino ti (Vin.2.107).