In Theravada teachings, “becoming”—or bhava in Pali—is a key concept. It’s perhaps best known as a factor of dependent co-arising and is among the three deeply seated defilements (asava) whose destruction marks full awakening. But bhava doesn’t get the attention it deserves and is easily misunderstood. With this book, Ajaan Thanissaro gives bhava its due.
So what is becoming? The answer is not simple and takes up much of the book. In brief, Ven. Thanissaro says, becoming refers to the process whereby we define and inhabit our inner and outer worlds (which are constantly in flux) based on our desires and on whatever form of self-identity we’ve taken up at the moment. This process occurs with alarming frequency. The problem is that becoming, being rooted in desire, is always dukkha, or suffering. “Thus to put an end to suffering, it’s necessary to put an end to becoming.” But doing so entails a desire to end becoming, and that desire produces a new state of becoming. That’s the paradox from which the book gets its name. The text culminates in Ven. Thanissaro’s step-by-step description of a strategy by which that paradox is dissolved and becoming stops for good.
At every turn Ven. Thanissaro provides generous and numerous excerpts from the Pali discourses (translated by the author). His interweaving of the discourses and the text is masterful. The Paradox of Becoming is an estimable work. Although challenging, often dense and not for beginners, it allows one to gaze into the highest region of meditative endeavor, if only from afar.