The Noble Liberation and the Noble Truths
Dr. Mehm Tin Mon
THE FOURTH NOBLE TRUTH - THE NOBLE TRUTH OF THE PATH LEADING TO THE CESSATION OF SUFFERING
What is the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering?
The Explanation of the Path Factors
(1) The Right Understanding (Sammaditthi)
(2) The Right Thought (Sammasankappa)
(3) The Right Speech (Sammavaca)
(4) The Right Action (Sammakammanta)
(5) The Right Livelihood (Samma-ajiva)
(6) The Right Effort (Sammvayama)
(7) The Right Mindfulness (Sammasati)
(8) The Right Concentration (Sammasamadhi)
The Noble Threefold Training
Threefold Wisdom on the Noble Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering
Enlightenment not yet Claimed
Venerable Kondanna realized the Truth
The joyful Exclamation of Celestial Beings
Although you are a free citizen, are you really free from the bondage of various kinds?
There is the bondage called the fetter of attachment (tanha) to your wife or husband, sons and daughters, wealth and property, sensuous objects and sensuality. This bondage ties you to your beloved persons and cherished things so that you cannot be free.
There is another bondage called the fetter of ill-will (anger) that bums or tortures you because you are not satisfied as you do not get what you want or you get what you don't want or someone ill treats you.
Again there is another bondage called the fetter of wrong view (ditthi) that makes you regard yourself as 'person, being, I', let you attach to 'I' and constantly attend to 'I' so as to make you feel well and happy.
Another bondage called the fetter of pride (mana) also binds you by making you very proud of the knowledge, the wealth, the official position and the prestige that you have acquired. It keeps you intoxicated with your pride and makes you very arrogant so that you cannot tolerate even a slight disagreement.
Another very subtle yet very wicked bondage called the fetter of ignorance (avijja) keeps you in delusion and in the dark by making you ignorant of the realities and the Noble Truths and drift endlessly and blindly in the round of rebirth named Samsara. Are you aware that you are being bound by these strong fetters?
Besides there are ten defilements (kilesas) that always torture you and influence you to be troubled, confused, angry, wicked, worried and miserable. They are ignorance (avijja) that deludes and intoxicates you to be ignorant of the realities and the Noble Truths; craving (tanha) that influences you to be never contented and always hungry and thirsty for sensual pleasure; anger (dosa) which causes you to be always worried, sad, depressed, lamenting and despairing; the wrong view (ditthi) that clings to the notion that person, being, I, soul and self really exist and causes you to behave selfishly only for the welfare of yourself and to be reborn in woeful abodes repeatedly; the pride (mana) which makes one to be disgustingly arrogant, to be intoxicated with pride, and to be born in a low or wicked existence; the sceptical doubt about the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Samgha and meritorious deeds (vicikiccha); the restlessness of the mind (uddhacca); sloth (thina) that makes the mind morbid and gloomy; moral shamelessness (ahirika) that urges one to perform immoral actions without shame; and moral fearlessness (anottappa) which urges one to perform immoral actions without dread.
The ten strong ropes or fetters bind you firmly to the wheel of Existence so that you cannot escape from the round of misery life after life. The ten defilements also constantly overwhelm you to be wicked and bad and torture you to be painful and miserable. So you are not really free but a prisoner under the bondage and influence of defilements and fetters which bind each individual to the wheel of existence.
The liberation from the entanglement of defilements and fetters is the noblest liberation. How can one achieve this noblest liberation? One can totally liberate oneself only when one can uproot and destroy all the fetters and defilements by the fourfold knowledge of the Path.
How can one achieve the fourfold knowledge of the Path? The knowledge of the Path is the knowledge which fully understands the four Noble Truths. So one must undertake the Eightfold Noble Practice to under stand the four Noble Truths fully.
The four Noble Truths are the most important universal truths for the full understanding of these truths will enlighten anyone to a noble person (ariya) who will never be reborn in woeful abodes and who can enjoy the supreme bliss of Nibbana for ever.
It's much better to be a noble person rather than to be a universal monarch or a celestial king who are not exempt from being cast down to woeful states.
The Buddha became fully enlightened only after discovering and fully understanding the four Noble Truths. He expounded these Noble Truths to the world in his first sermon as the message of liberation from universal suffering and the enjoyment of eternal peace and happiness. These truths are the essence of his teachings as well as the heart and core of Buddhism.
As to escape from woeful states and from universal suffering is the most important and urgent task for us to do, we must strive to understand the four Noble Truths first in theory and then in practice by undertaking insight meditation.
Since the four Noble Truths constitute an important subject of many lectures and many books, I have also delivered them several times in my dhamma lectures in Myamar, Malaysia, Japan and the United States of America. I now present them in a concise and comprehensible form that the readers can easily understand them well and will find satisfactory answers to such questions as:
What is suffering?
What is the origin of suffering?
Isn't sensual pleasure enjoyable?
Is there a way out of this suffering?
Is Buddhism pessimism or realism?
What is Nibbana?
Can we enjoy the supreme bliss of Nibbana in this very life?
What is the Noble Path that can bring about the Noble Liberation?
The enjoyment of Dhamma excels all enjoyments.
May the Dhamma be with you!
Dr. Mehm Tin Mon
A unique being, an extraordinary man arises in this world for the benefit of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit, and happiness of celestial and human beings.
Who is this unique being? He is the Tathagata, the Exalted and Fully Enlightened One.
(Anguttara Nikaya, 1.22)
Well expounded is the Dhamma by the Exalted One, to be self-realized, with immediate fruit, inviting investigation, worthy of being borne in mind and body,
to be comprehended by the wise (ariya), each for himself.
(Majjhima Nikaya., 1.37)
Thus has it been said by the Buddha, the Enlightened One: "It is through not understanding, not realizing four things, that I, bhikkhus, as well as you, had to wander so long through this round of rebirths. And what are these four things? They are:
"As long as the absolutely true knowledge and insight as regards these Four Noble Truths was not quite clear in me, so long was I not sure that I had won the supreme Enlightenment which is unsurpassed in all the world with its heavenly beings, evil spirits and gods, amongst all the hosts of ascetics and priests, heavenly beings and men."
"But as soon as the absolute true knowledge and insight as regards these four Noble Truths had become perfectly clear in me, there arose in me the assurance that I had won that supreme Enlightenment unsurpassed."
The Buddha made this remark about the world:—
"And I discovered that profound Truth to be so difficult to perceive, difficult to understand, peaceful, sacred and sublime. It is not to be gained by mere reasoning, and is only visible to the wise."
"The world, however, is given to pleasure, delighted with pleasure, enchanted with pleasure. Truly, such beings will hardly understand the law of conditionality, the Dependent Arising (Paticcasamuppada) of everything; incomprehensible to them will also be the end of all formations, the forsaking of every substratum of rebirth, the fading away of craving, detachment, extinction, Nibbana.
"Yet there are beings whose wisdom eyes are only a little covered with dust; they will understand the Truth."
Two months after his full enlightenment, in the cool evening of the full-moon day of July, at the time when the sun was just setting in the west and the moon was just rising in the east, the Buddha delivered his first discourse to the Five Ascetics known as Pancavaggis in the Deer Park (Migadaya Forest) near Varanasi, India.
This first sermon is known as "Dhammacakka pavattana Sutta", meaning "the Discourse on Turning the Wheel of Dhamma." In this discourse the Buddha presented the Essence of his Teachings and laid down the Foundation of all his later Teachings. That Foundation is the most important Universal Truths known as the "Four Noble Truths."
"Dve'me bhikkhave antapabbajitena na sevitabba"
"These two extremes, bhikkhus, should not be followed by one who has gone forth from worldly life."
So did the Buddha begin his sermon. Therein, his voice spread all over ten thousand world systems. Knowing that the Buddha had started preaching the Dhamma, millions of devas and brahmins from ten thousand worlds came to listen to this first discourse.
What are the two extremes? One extreme is indulgence in desirable sense pleasure, which is low, vulgar, unprofitable, practised by worldlings but not by noble persons. The other extreme is self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble and unprofitable.
The Bodhisatta had enjoyed the best sensual pleasure as a prince until he renounced the world at the age of 29. And he knew that indulgence in sense pleasure was low, vulgar, practised by many, and that it would never lead to higher knowledge.
He also practised the severest form of self mortification called "Dukkaracariya" for six long years. Again he discovered that this practice was just painful, ignoble, unprofitable and that it would not lead to higher knowledge.
"O bhikkhus, avoiding both these extremes, the Tathagata (Buddha) has realized the Middle Path. It produces vision, produces knowledge, leads to calm, to higher knowledge, to enlightenment to Nibbana. "And what is that Middle Path, O bhikkhus, that the Tathagata has realized? It is simply the Noble Eightfold Path, namely: Right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration."
By avoiding the two extremes and following the Middle Path, the Buddha gained vision and special knowledge; he could eradicate all defilements; he could understand the four Noble Truths Penetratively; he attained Arahatta Fruition and supreme Omniscience and became a Fully Enlightened Buddha.
(Patisambhidamagga DhammaCakkapavattana Sutta)
"This, O bhikkhus, is the Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha): Birth is suffering; ageing is suffering; sickness is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; association with the unloved or unpleasant condition is suffering; separation from the beloved or pleasant condition is suffering; not to get what one desires is suffering. In brief, the live aggregates of attachment are suffering."
The genesis of mental and physical entities in a new existence is called birth. The continuous arising of mental and physical entities inside the mother's womb or in an egg shell, the gradual development of organs and sense bases, being conceived and confined tightly in a narrow space and being delivered from the womb with great pain are also designated as birth.
The decay of beings their becoming aged, frail, grey, wrinkled; the failing of their vital force and physical strength; the wearing out of the senses — this is called ageing.
The departing and vanishing of beings; their destruction, the completion of their life-span, the cutting off of the vital force, the cutting off of mental and physical entities, the dissolution of the groups of existence, the discarding of the body — this is called death.
It is the worry or sorrow that arises from the concern for the safety of one's life, shelter and property or for the safety and comfort of one's wife, children and beloved ones. One worries that one's property, wealth, positions authority, beloved ones, etc., may be lost.
When one's cherished property, wealth, positions authority and beloved ones are lost, one is stricken by grief and one wails and laments. Wailing and the act of wailing, the state of woe and lamentation — this is called lamentation.
The bodily pain and the unpleasantness of the body such as stiffness, aches, soreness, feeling hot or cold, the painful and unpleasant feeling produced by bodily impression — this is called bodily pain.
The mental pain and mental unpleasantness such as dislike, depression, hate and fear, the painful and unpleasant feeling produced by mental impression — this is called grief.
When one encounters great loss or misfortune (byasana) such as loss of relatives, loss of property, loss of health, loss of morality and loss of right view, distress and despair arise in one's mind. This distressfulness or desperation produced by excessive mental agony is called despair.
In this world when one comes into contact, meet, associate and mix with the unloved and undesirable visible forms, sounds, smells, tastes, bodily contacts and mind objects, and also when one comes into contact, meet, associate and mix with persons who desires for one's ruin, downfall, pain and danger, one experiences suffering. This is called the suffering of association with the undesirable and the unloved.
In this world when one fails to come into contact, meet, associate and mix with the loved and desirable visible forms, sounds, smells, tastes, bodily contacts and mind objects, and also when one is separated from one's parents, brothers, sisters, friends and relatives who wish one to gain benefits, to be prosperous , to be free from pain and danger, one experiences suffering. This is called the suffering of separation from the desirable and the loved.
To beings subject to birth there comes the desire: "How nice will it be if we were not subject to birth, and birth were not before us!" Inspite of this desire, we cannot stop birth from coming to us. This is the suffering of not getting what one desires.
Similarly to beings subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair, there comes the desire: "How nice will it be if we were not subject to these things and these things were not before us!" But this cannot be got by mere desiring. This is the suffering of not getting what one desires.
Not to get the things that we want daily and to see that our wishes are not fulfilled are also suffering.
The five aggregates of attachment are the corporeality group, the feeling group, the perception group, the group of mental formations and the group of consciousness that are attached by craving (tanha) and the wrong view (ditthi).
Each being is made up of these five groups of attachment. All that really exist in the thirty-one planes of existence are just these five aggregates of attachment. These five aggregates arise dependent on conditions and dissolve very rapidly and incessantly. Since these five aggregates are impermanent, arising and dissolving very rapidly, they are really suffering.
(Digha Nikaya, Mahavagga Pali, Mahasatipatthana Sutta)
All living beings are subject to birth, ageing and death. No one can escape from the suffering of birth,
While they are alive, they encounter occasionally or frequently worry or sorrow, lamentation, bodily pain, mental pain or grief and despair. They also have to associate with the unloved and the undesirable and to separate from the loved and the desirable. There are also many occasions when their desires and wishes are not fulfilled. So it is undeniable that they are also subject to these types of suffering.
Now the mental and physical entities that makeup the five aggregates of attachment which in turn represent a being are arising and dissolving at every moment. These phenomena can be observed by the well concentrated mind in insight meditation. Thus to be tortured constantly by the rapid dissolution of the cherished aggregates of attachment really amounts to suffering.
So we cannot deny the twelve types of suffering enumerated by the Buddha. But, while we are alive, we also have the chances to separate from the unloved and the undesirable, to associate with the loved and the desirable, to get what we desire, and to enjoy sensual pleasure. Aren't these enjoyments pleasant and joyful? Shouldn't they be designated as happiness (sukha) in stead of suffering (dukkha)?
The meaning of the Pali word 'dukkha' is profound. It cannot be translated adequately into an English word or into an equivalent word of any other language. In Sanskrit, it is called 'du-kha' meaning literally 'hard to bear'.
In ordinary usage 'dukkha' means 'suffering, pain, sorrow, grief, misery'. These are the opposites of the meanings such as 'happiness, pleasantness, pleasure, ease, comfort' for 'sukha'.
The word 'dukkha' as it appears in the first Noble Truth represents a broader meaning than 'suffering' as it describes broadly the Buddha's perspective of life and the world. In addition to the meaning 'suffering', it also includes such meanings as 'unsatisfactoriness, impermanence, imperfection, emptiness, lack of essence, and insubstantiality'.
(Dr. Rewata Dhamma: The First Discourse of the Buddha, 56)
When the Buddha preached a sermon, he always examined the state of perfection, the aptitude for understanding his discourse and the inclination of his listeners. In expounding the Dhammacakka Sutta to the Five Ascetics (Panca Vaggi), the Buddha described the four Noble Truths just briefly, because the listeners were quite advanced in fulfilling the ten perfections.
Later on, he reexpounded the four Noble Truths in many occasions in Sutta Patheyya and other Suttas, he elaborated dukkha into three kinds.
1. Dukkha dukkha — The obvious type of ordinary suffering.
The eleven types of suffering, starting from the suffering of birth to the suffering of not getting what one desires, expounded in Dhammacakka Sutta, are all the obvious types of suffering known as dukkha dukkha.
All forms of physical and mental suffering, which are universally accepted as suffering, belong to dukkha dukkha.
2. Viparnama dukkha — the suffering due to change.
A happy feeling, a happy condition in life, is not permanent, not everlasting. it changes sooner or later. When it changes, it produces pain and suffering.
What people think to be happiness generated from association with the beloved and the desirable, separation from the unbeloved and undesirable, getting what one desires and enjoying sensual pleasure does not last long. It turns to mental suffering as soon as conditions change. So it belongs to viparinama dukkha.
3. Sankhara dukkha — the suffering due to conditioning.
It is the type of suffering associated with constant effort to relieve discomfort, pain, sickness, hunger, thirst, sense desires, etc. We have to take care and exert constant effort to protect ourselves from heat and cold, from insect bites, etc.
Hunger and thirst are the greatest diseases that can never be cured throughout our life. Sabbe sankhara dukkha
'All conditioned things are suffering."
All conditioned things are nothing but physical and mental entities. They constitute the five aggregates of attachment, being attached by craving and wrong view. These five aggregates arise and dissolve constantly. Conditions or causes condition the five aggregates to arise. The five aggregates exist only while the causes exist. They cease to exist when the causes dissolve. To be constantly conditioned by causes is suffering. The dissolution of aggregates is also suffering. Having to be alive with the impermanent five aggregates is very worrisome arid dreadful like living in a collapsing old building.
Worldlings are very much fond of and attached to sense enjoyment, thinking that such enjoyment gives them real happiness. All animate and inanimate sense objects, if we took at them analytically, are by nature disgusting and loathsome.
However, the ignorance (avijja— a mental factor) blinds over vision not to see their true nature and deceives us to think they are persons, objects, beautiful and desirable. Ditthi (wrong view — another mental factor) takes these to be true and believes that they really exist and are desirable. So craving (tanhaor lobha — another mental factor) likes them and craves for them.
When we come into contact with these sense objects, pleasant feeling arises and we enjoy this feeling with joy (piti), attachment (lobha), wrong vision (moha) and wrong view (ditthi) because we make the unwise reflection that the sense objects are beautiful and desirable. If we make wise reflection that the sense objects are in reality not beautiful and not permanent, unwholesome mental states (moha, ditthi, lobha) will not arise.
Again the pleasant sensation, joy and enjoyment last just for a short moment. Then they dissolve and disappear. Since we become attached to them and crave for them, we exert constant effort to enjoy them again and again.
Now to exert constant effort to enjoy sensual pleasure again and again is suffering; the dissolution of the pleasant sensation and joy is suffering; to be burnt with the fire of greed (lobha) and the fire of ignorance (moha) while we enjoy the - sensual pleasure is suffering, to be burnt with the fire of anger (dosa) and the fire of ignorance (moha) when our sense desires are not gratified inspite of our constant effort is also suffering.
Therefore, if we reflect carefully with the knowledge of the Dhamma, sense enjoyment is really suffering.
The Delightfulness of Sensuality
The Buddha looked at everything realistically and objectively He said in Mahadukkhakkhandha Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya, MuIapannasa) with regard to enjoying the senses in daily life, that we should clearly understand three things:
1. the delightfulness of sensuality or sense enjoyment (assada),
2. the evil consequences of sensuality (adinava),
3. the freedom or liberation from sensuality (nissarana).
Sensuality refers to the five senses—visible object, sound, smell, taste and tangible object. The pleasant sensation, joy and happiness that arise from contact with these sense objects represent the delightfulness of sensuality.
To enjoy sense pleasure, money is needed. To get money, one has to acquire an education or skill and has to work or find ways and means to earn money. Inspite of his effort, if he fails to realize his expectation or fails to get enough wealth and property, he is stricken with sorrow, grief, fatigue, and suffering.
If, because of his effort and hard work, he acquires some wealth and property, he has to be concerned with their safety and has to guard them against five enemies — viz, water, fire, ruler, thief and unbeloved ones. This gives rise to fatigue and suffering. If, inspite of his effort, his property is lost, he experiences great sorrow, lamentation, despair and suffering.
Again on account of sensuality, one has to argue and quarrel with others; some resort to stealing and robbing; some even wage wars causing many to die.
And after death, many are cast into woeful abodes because of sensuality.
This mass of the present suffering and the suffering after death are the evil consequences of sensuality that arise on account of sensuality.
If one can abandon the desire for sensuality and eradicate that desire, one shall gain liberation from sensuality. To eradicate craving completely, we must walk along the Middle Path and undertake insight meditation.
The freedom from the entanglement of craving — tanha means the freedom from all suffering and the enjoyment of peace and happiness.
When a handsome young man meets a beautiful maiden, they like each other and they make the effort to see each other again and again. When they fall in love to each other, they think that the world is a very splendid thing. This is the delightfulness of sensuality.
But the worldly conditions are not stable. Because of a change in conditions, if they cannot meet each other again, they will be very sad and stricken with grief. If they cannot control their minds, they might commit grievous actions.
In a play written by William Shakespeare, the world-famous play- writer, Romeo and Juliet met and fell in love with each other. They thought that their lives were very pleasant and joyful when they were together. But their parents separated them and they were stricken with grief and lamentation. As they could not stand against the vicissitudes of life, both of them committed suicide.
If they had understood about the evil consequences of sensuality and the vicissitudes of life and tried to suppress the craving for and attachment to each other by doing some beneficial work while waiting for a favourable condition, they could have relieved their grief and misery. That would be a temporary escape from sensuality and the entanglement of craving.
Alexander the Great, the Greek king of Macedon and one of the greatest generals of all time, conquered many lands and established a great empire in 324 B.C. But he died of a fever the next year at the young age of 33.
Julius Caesar, one of the most renowned military commanders in world history and Roman Statesman, while exercising dictatorial powers, was murdered in 44 B.C. by a conspiracy group.
Mark Antony, a Roman political, leader and general, won the love of Cleopatra, the Egyptian Queen and one of the most beautiful women in the world and ruled from Alexandria in great luxury. But, not long after, his army was defeated by the Roman army led by Octavian and both he and Cleopatra committed suicide in 30 B.C.
Thus dominion over the whole world will not produce happiness lasting for long. Death may strike at any moment. Thus Shakespeare is correct when he says: "The head that wears the crown is uneasy."
Three puppies were playing and wrestling joyfully in front of our apartment building. A speeding car soon ran over them, killing them tragically.
A grandfather and a grandson were walking home from school along the platform of Prome Road in front of the Medical Institute where I worked. A speeding saloon car got out of control, ran over the platform and killed the grandfather and the grandson on the spot.
While I was on duty at the international Buddha Sasana Meditation Centre at Thanlyin, Yangon, a counsellor from American Embassy and his wife came to the centre. The counsellor went to the Dhamma Hall to meditate while his beautiful wife sat waiting for him at the office parlour, smoking a cigarette,
"Madam, while you are here, won't you like to meditate? " I tried to persuade her.
"Oh, only people with trouble need meditation. I have everything I want and, indeed, I'm very happy. I don't think I need meditation. My son is also attending the New York University happily," said the lady eloquently.
Just at that moment, the telephone rang. I went to answer the phone. Then I came back to her with a sad face and said:
"Madam, I'm sorry to tell you. The American Embassy has just informed us that your son had a car collision in New York and he was seriously hurt. He was now in the hospital. The Embassy will ring us again as soon as they get further information.
Before I finished speaking the lady broke down and was very much shaken. She suddenly asked me, "What did you say? What happened to my son... Is he unconscious? Oh, it's miserable... I have to tell his father..."
Then I tried to be cheerful and said solemnly, "I beg your pardon, Madam. What I said was not true. I just said what can happen at any time. If you have undertaken meditation, when a frightening incident like the one I mentioned arises, you can handle it calmly and correctly."
"All right. I'll do meditation next time."
"I am glad, Madam."
Family happiness can be enjoyed only while favourable conditions exist; it turns to grief and despair when the conditions change to the worst.
Though sankhara dukkha is hard to see and hard to understand, if we examine analytically, we shall see that sankhara dukkha is the most important key factor of the first Noble Truth.
According to the Buddha's philosophy, a being or a man is a combination of five aggregates. The five aggregates are made up of ultimate physical and mental entities. These ultimate physical and mental entities arise incessantly dependent on the corresponding conditions and dissolve incessantly. These physical and mental entities are both conditioned and conditioning.
Because the physical and mental entities have to be conditioned constantly by the corresponding causes, they are called 'sankhara' As 'sankhara' arises and dissolves incessantly, the five aggregates also arise and dissolve incessantly. None of them are self-existing. There is nothing which does not dissolve. As these aggregates incessantly arise and dissolve and keep changing, there is none to be designated as 'person, being, I'.
The absence of 'person, being, I', the absence of any substantial entity to be called 'atta or soul', the incessant arising and dissolving in conformity with their intrinsic nature without complying to one's wishes or commands, and the nature of not being controlled by anyone constitute the very important philosophical aspect called 'anatta or non-self'.
Therefore, the Buddha described the First Noble Truth in Dhammacakka Sutta as
This is equivalent to saying that all forms of existences whatsoever are nothing but suffering.
Because of the statement "all existences are nothing but suffering", some people would like to designate Buddhism as 'Pessimism'. Pessimism is the practice of not looking on the bright and good side but on the dark and bad side of things. It expects misfortune or the worst outcome in any circumstance. It is the belief that the evil in life outweighs the good and that evil will always triumph over good.
Buddhism is neither 'Pessimism' nor 'Optimism'. It is 'Realism' for it takes a realistic view of life and of the world. It looks at all things objectively. It does not falsely lull you into living in a fool's paradise, nor does it frighten and torture you with all kinds of imaginary fears and sins. It tells you exactly and correctly what you are and what the world around you is. Then it shows you the way to perfect freedom, tranquility, peace and happiness.
In diagnosing the illness of a patient, one physician exaggerates it to be very serious and gives the impression that there is no hope for curing it. Another physician, being ignorant of the illness, says: "There is no illness, no medical treatment is required." So he deceives the patient with false consolation. The first physician may be called a pessimist and the second physician, an optimist. But both of them are ignorant.
The third physician diagnoses the symptom of the disease correctly and tells the truth about the disease and its cause. Then he prescribes the right medicine and the patient is cured and happy. The Buddha is like the third physician. He knows the universal disease of the world together with its cause. He is a wise and scientific doctor (bhisakka) for the ills of the world. He is truly benevolent and compassionate, and he really wants beings to be free from suffering.
The Buddhists, who understand the true nature of life and of the world, accept the real worst condition of life and, therefore, they are not frightened and shaken by the normal vicissitudes of life. They can serenely and calmly solve the problem of life and live happily without any worry and anxiety.
Just as a man, who has been drifted in the wide ocean for more than thirty days without food and water, can calmly face any situation of life calmly, so too Buddhists can confront bad situations in life serenely. The noble persons who have fully understood the four Noble Truths are the happiest persons in the world.
"O bhikkhus, this is the Noble Truth of suffering. Thus, concerning the Noble Truths not heard before, there arose in me the vision that sees the truth of suffering, the knowledge that knows the truth of suffering, the wisdom that clearly discerns the various forms of suffering, the insight that penetratively sees the truth of suffering, and the light of wisdom which destroys the darkness of ignorance shielding the truth of suffering."
"O bhikkhus, this is the Noble Truth of suffering which should be fully understood. Thus, concerning the Noble Truths not heard before, there arose in me the vision that sees the truth of suffering, the knowledge that knows the truth of suffering, the wisdom that clearly discerns the various forms of suffering, the insight that penetratively sees the truth of suffering, and the light of wisdom which destroys the darkness of ignorance shielding the truth of suffering."
"O bhikkhus, this is the Noble Truth of Suffering which has been fully understood. Thus, concerning the Noble Truths not heard before, there arose in me the vision that sees the truth of suffering, the knowledge that knows the truth of suffering, the wisdom that clearly discerns the various forms of suffering, the insight that penetratively sees the truth of suffering, and the light of wisdom which destroys the darkness of ignorance shielding the truth of suffering." (Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta)
The three aspects of wisdom mentioned above are called saccanana, kiccananaand katanana, respectively.
It is very important to understand the First Noble Truth clearly, because "he who sees dukkha sees also the origin of dukkha, sees also the cessation of dukkha, and sees also the path leading to the cessation of dukkha." (SV, 457) In fact, the Buddha says that he who sees any one of the four Noble Truths sees the other three as well. These four Noble Truths are interrelated.
"This, O bhikkhus, is the Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering. It is craving (tanha) which gives rise to fresh rebirth together with pleasure and attachment. It finds great delight in this and that objects of the new existence. That craving is of three kinds:
1. Craving for sense pleasure (kamatanha),
2. Craving for existence or becoming (bhava-tanha) ,
3. Craving for non-existence or self-annihilation (vibhavatanhd)."
Craving for sense desire is the desire for the enjoyment of five kinds of sense objects: visible object, sound, smell, taste and touch.
Craving for existence is the desire for continuous existence or eternal life, referring in particular to the life in those higher Brahma worlds called fine material existences and immaterial existences. It is closely connected with so-called "belief in eternalism" (Sassata ditthi).
Craving for non-existence is closely connected with the "belief in annihilation" (Uccheda-ditthi). This is the delusive, materialistic notion of the existence of an 'Ego' which is annihilated at death.
When this craving (tanha) arises, where does it arise? When it takes root, where does it take root?
Wherever in this world, there are delightful and pleasurable things, there this craving arises and takes root. The eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body and the mind, through which we know delightful and pleasurable things: there this craving arises and takes root.
In this world visual objects, sounds, smells, tastes, bodily impressions, and mind objects are delightful and pleasurable: there this craving arises and takes root.
In this world the consciousness which is aware of the sense object, the contact between the consciousness and the sense object, the feeling born of the contact or get the sense object, the sense desire that craves for the sense object, the vitakka that thinks about the object, and the vicara that reflects on the object are delightful and pleasurable: there this craving arises and takes root. (Digha Nikaya Mahavagga, Mahasatipatthana Sutta)
In Buddhism there is no arbitrary creator who controls human destinies. Suffering and the cause of suffering are not attributable to any external agency.
They can be explained by the process of life itself.
According to the Noble Truth of Suffering, life is suffering and suffering is life. Here 'life' means the 'five aggregates of attachment' and refers to a 'being'.
According to the Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering, craving (tanha) is taken as the main cause of suffering. Tanha and raga refers to the mental factor of 'lobha'. Lobha has characteristics: 'craving' and attachment'. As an ultimate reality, it never relinquishes these characteristics.
Craving (tanha) craves for and attaches to gold, money, wealth, property, luxury, official position, authority, sense objects, mind objects, ideology. etc. of hard struggle, people fail to get them, they are stricken with sorrow and grief. If they succeed in acquiring them, they have to worry for the safety of these things and guard them. This is also suffering. If, inspite of their effort to guard their possessions, these things are lost, they are in great despair.
The desire of greed (lohba) or craving (tanha) can never be satisfied. The more it gets, the more it wants. It is like drinking salty sea water: the more we drink, the more thirsty we feel. As the flame grows bigger when we put more fuel into it, so too the sense desire grows stronger as we enjoy more sense pleasure. To be always hungry and thirsty for sensuality is real suffering.
The Bodhisatta, in the existence of the universal monarch Mandhatu, had the ability to rain down gold coins and silver coins for poor people. But he noticed that he could never satisfy the desires of the people. So he remarked: "Even the whole wealth on earth cannot satisfy a man's greed."
"The world is enough for everyone's need, but not enough for one man's greed," said Mahatama Gandhi.
I once read an interesting story in "Readers' Digest". A wearied traveller was crossing a desert under the scorching noon sun. He lost all tracks because of sand storms and he was so tired that he could hardly lift his legs.
At that moment two guardian angels passed over him. One angel took pity on this wearied traveller and would like to help him. The other angel cautioned him, saying: "This short-eared human being will never be satisfied however much you may help him."
Anyway, the good-natured angel created an oasis with green grass and a pond full of clear water with date palms surrounding the pond.
On seeing the oasis the traveller was overjoyed. He drank water and ate the dates to his heart's content. Then he lied down on the green grass, enjoying great bliss as if he was in heaven. But he thought: "I have travelled on this desert several times. I have never seen an oasis. This oasis must have been created by an angel. I'll ask for one more thing from this good-natured angel.
So he called out: "My dear friend angel, I thank you heartily for creating this oasis for me. But now I feel that I need one more thing. Will you please send me a female angel to be my companion?"
Thereupon, the second angel reminded his friend, "Didn't I say that these short-eared human beings are never satisfied however much they get?"
"You are right," said the first angel and revoked his power. The oasis disappeared and the traveller had to walk wearily again on the desert under the scorching sun.
Thus worldlings are never satisfied however much they have as they are under the influence of craving. Philosophers agree that a dissatisfied person can never be truly happy.
Because of dissatisfaction and selfish desire, people commit theft, robbery, rape, quarrel and even wage world wars to cause many unpleasant things in the world. Thus greed or craving causes much suffering in the present life.
The second characteristic of greed or craving (lobha), that is attachment, also causes a lot of suffering. The nature of attachment of greed is described in Abhidhamma with the example of the monkey-catching glue or birdlime.
A hunter wanted to catch a monkey which lived on a tall tree. He heated several types of gum together to make a very sticky glue. He applied the glue on tree trunks with a stick. When the sun rises and the sun rays fall on the gum, multicolours are radiated from the gum.
The very inquisitive monkey came down from the tall tree and touched the gum. One hand of the monkey got stuck to the gum. The monkey pushed with the other hand and that hand also got stuck. The monkey kicked with its two legs in struggling to get loose and the legs also got stuck. Then the hunter came and caught the monkey easily.
People are firmly attached to their wives, husbands, sons and daughters, houses and cars, etc., with craving. So they are bound to these things with the ropes or fetters of craving. They cannot escape from this bondage. Because of this strong bondage, they cannot go to meditation centres to meditate for a long time. So they cannot escape from the round of rebirth and have to drift along in samsara.
When one of our beloved ones falls seriously ill or suffers great pain, we also feel very worried and sad. If that person dies, we inconsolably weep, lament and grieve over the death of that person. This great suffering obviously arises out of attachment to that person for we feel indifferent when we hear the illness and death of unknown people.
Visakha of Savatthi, who was a stream winner (sotapanna), had 20 sons and daughters, 4000 grand children and 8000 great grand children. One day she came to the Buddha at noon with her hair and clothes wet with water. She said that she came back from the cemetery for the funeral of one of her beloved grand children and that she could not console herself for the great loss.
When the Buddha asked her if she knew the reason for her great despair, she admitted that she did not know. The Buddha pointed out that it was due to the attachment to her dead grand child.
Then the Buddha asked Visakha if she would like to have more beloved grand children, as much as the population of Savatthi; she replied "Yes".
Again the Buddha asked: 'How many people die daily in Savatthi?" Visakha replied that many died every day.
'If your grand children died as many as that daily, will you have the chance to stop crying?" asked the Buddha.
Now Visakha understood that she wouldn't have the chance to stop weeping. So she said that she would not take any more grand children. Craving or greed is as terrible as that.
While I was studying at high school, I learned a poem with the title "The forsaken merman." It describes a man who fell in love with a mermaid and who was waiting for her return with great expectation. He had been waiting for so long that days and months had passed and the winter had started to set in. All the leaves had fallen from trees; all the grass had withered, and no birds sang any more. The cold Winter wind kept him trembling. The mermaid did not return, yet the man could not depart from that place. He was certainly going to die because of his strong attachment to the mermaid.
In the world many heart-broken lovers are laid in bed without any appetite to eat or drink. Some commit suicide. Some people who are financially ruined also commit suicide. How great is the suffering caused by the attachment due to greed or craving in this very life!
From craving springs grief, from craving springs fear, For him who is wholly free from craving, there is no grief much less fear. (Dhammapada 216)
Craving and attachment (tanha) is the most powerful force causing not only various forms of suffering in this very life, but also the continuation of existence. It builds and rebuilds new existences over and over again. Life depends on the desire and craving for life.
it is easy to understand how craving (tanha ) causes various forms of suffering in the present life. But it is not so easy to understand how craving conditions a new existence to arise. Only when it is explained by means of the Doctrine of Dependent Arising (Paticcasamuppada) can it be understood reasonably and rationally.
In the famous Doctrine of Dependent Arising, the Buddha describes eleven cause-effect relations to explain the round of rebirth process of all beings in the universe.
According to the Doctrine of Dependent Arising:
Dependent on ignorance arise kamma formations;
Dependent on kamma formations arises resultant consciousness;
Dependent on resultant consciousness arise mind-and-matter;
Dependent on mind-and-matter arise six internal bases;
Dependent on six internal bases arises contact with six kinds of sense objects;
Dependent on contact (phassa) arises feeling (vedana )
Dependent on feeling (vedana) arises craving (tanha);
Dependent on craving (tanha) arises clinging (upadana);
Dependent on clinging, arise kamma formations and rebirth process;
Dependent on kamma formations arises birth (in future existence);
Dependent on birth arise ageing-and-death, worry, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair.
Thus arises the whole mass of suffering.
Avijja is the mental factor 'moha' which shields the mind so that we do not know the true nature of life and of the world. It also covers the ultimate realities which are the most basic natural entities that really exist in nature. It also makes us ignorant of the nature of impermanence (anicca), the nature of suffering (dukkha), the nature of non-self (anatta ) and the nature of loathsomeness (asubha) of the ultimate realities. It also shields the causal relations of Dependent Arising and the Law of Kamma and its effect.
Avijjanot only shields the mind to be ignorant of the true nature of life and of the world but also deceives the mind to have the wrong vision. It deceives the mind to see 'non-self (anatta) as 'self, person, I' (atta); to look at impermanence (anicca) as permanence (nicca); to regard suffering (dukkha) as happiness (sukkha); and to see what is disgusting (asubha) to be beautiful (subha).
As avijja deceives the mind in this way, greed (tanha) craves for sensuous objects and continuous existence. The mental factor 'ditthi' (wrong view) regards this combination of physical and mental entities as 'I', 'you', 'person'. The mental factor 'mana' (conceit) looks on this self- person as 'I'm the best, I know most, I'm the prettiest'. The mental factor 'ahirika' (moral shamelessness) urges a person not to be ashamed of committing immoral actions, and the mental factor anottappa' (moral fearlessness) urges one not to be afraid of committing immoral actions. So ignorance (moha) is the leader of immoral mental factors.
In the past existence, living beings perform both wholesome deeds and unwholesome deeds under the influence of ignorance (avijja When wholesome deeds are performed, wholesome minds arise by many billions and when they dissolve, they leave behind billions of wholesome kamma in the mental stream. When unwholesome deeds are performed, unwholesome minds arise by many billions and when they dissolve, they leave behind billions of unwholesome kamma in the mental stream. Thus dependent on ignorance (avijja), billions of kamma called sankhara arise.
When a person dies in the past existence, of the many kammas called sankhara, one wholesome kamma or unwholesome kamma has the chance to bear results. So it gives rise to resultant consciousness (the result of kamma). The first resultant consciousness initiates the rebirth process and consequently it is called rebirth consciousness. The successive resultant consciousnesses perform the life continuum process, and so they are known as life continuum (bhavanga cittas). This process explains how kamma formations produce resultant consciousness.
Table 1: Causal Relations between three successive Existences
When resultant consciousness arises, the mental factors (nama or mental entities) that associate with the consciousness and kamma-born corporeality (kammaja rupa) also arise simultaneously. Since the Buddha described one effect arising from one cause in the Doctrine of Dependent Arising, he expounded that dependent on sankhara (kamma), resultant consciousness arises; and dependent on resultant consciousness, mind-and-matter (nama-rupa) arises.
When all mental and physical entities arise, the six sense bases (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind) also arise. This cause-effect relation is described as "mind-and-matter causes six internal bases to arise."
Now when the six sense bases, also known as the six sense-doors, arise, the six sense objects, which always exist externally, will strike and appear in the corresponding sense doors. Then eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue- consciousness, body-consciousness, and mind-consciousness arise together with the contact ~phassa) between the mind and the sense object, and the feeling (vedana) that arises on account of the contact. Thus the Buddha describes: "Dependent on six internal bases arises contact" and "Dependent on contact arises feeling."
When a pleasant sense object strikes a sense door, pleasant feeling arises and craving (tanha) takes delight in it. When an unpleasant sense object strikes a sense door, unpleasant feeling arises and again craving longs for pleasant feeling. So the Buddha said, "Dependent on feeling arises craving."
When one experiences the pleasant feeling again and again, one develops clinging (upadana) to the pleasant feeling. In order to enjoy that pleasant feeling more and more, one performs new actions developing kamma formations which will again condition rebirth process to arise in the future.
When rebirth process takes place, it begins with birth (jati). When birth arises, ageing (jara), death (marana). worry (soka), lamentation (parideva), bodily pain (dukkha). grief (domanassa), and despair (upayasa) follow suit. Thus arises the whole mass of suffering.
Although the Buddha described by eleven cause-effect relations the relationship of only three successive existences — namely, the immediate past existence, the present existence and the future existence, the relationship can be extended to infinity both forward and backward. Therefore, we can understand that all beings are drifting life after life in samsara from time immemorial to an indefinite time in the future. The beginning of each being cannot be known, neither can the end of each being be foreseen.
Craving (tanha) forms an important link among the causal relations of the Doctrine of Dependent Arising which conditions the arising of new existence and the mass of suffering repeatedly. Dependent on craving arises clinging (upadana), dependent on clinging arises kamma formations which condition the new existence and the mass of suffering to arise again. Therefore, the Buddha's statement that craving gives rise to fresh rebirth and the mass of suffering is correct.
As the causal relations of .the Doctrine of Dependent Arising explain in detail the repeated arising of the new existence together with the mass of suffering, they can be also regarded as a detailed explanation of the Second Noble Truth.
Inconceivable is the beginning of this samsara; not to be discovered is any first beginning of beings, who obstructed by ignorance, and ensnared by craving, are hurrying and hastening through this round of rebirths. (S.XV.3)
There will come a time when the mighty ocean will dry up, vanish, and be no more. There will come a time when the mighty earth will be devoured by fire, perish, and be no more. But yet there will be no end to the suffering of beings, who, obstructed by ignorance, and ensnared by craving, are hurrying and hastening through this round of rebirths. (S.XXII.99)
Which do you think is more: the flood of tears, which weeping and wailing you have shed upon this long way — hurrying and hastening through this round of rebirths, united with the undesired, separated from the desired — this, or the waters of the four oceans?
Long have you suffered the death of father and mother, of sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters. And whilst you were thus suffering, you have indeed shed more tears upon this long way than there is water in the four oceans.
Which do you think is more: the streams of blood that, through your being beheaded, have flowed upon this long way, these, or the waters of the four oceans?
Long have you been caught as robbers, or highway men or adulterers; and through your being beheaded, verily more blood had flowed upon this long way than there is water in the four oceans.
But how is this possible?
Inconceivable is the beginning of this samsara,;not to be discovered is any first beginning of beings, who, obstructed by ignorance and ensnared by craving, are hurrying and hastening through this round of rebirth. (S. XV.13)
And thus have you long undergone suffering, undergone torment, undergone misfortune, and filled the graveyards full; truly, long enough to be dissatisfied with all the forms of existence, long enough to turn away and free yourself from them all. (S.XV.1)
Craving builds a new existence again and again and whatever existence it has built, whether the existence of an animal or the existence of a human or celestial being, if always takes delight in it. Because craving takes delight in the new existence and in sense objects, new existences are formed continuously.
Once King Assaka ruled Patali City in Kasi country. His chief queen, Upari Devi, was very beautiful, and so she was very much loved and adored by the king. However, she was ill and she died while still young. As the king loved and adored her very much, he had her corpse immersed in oil in a glass coffin and gazed at the corpse constantly.
A hermit who possessed supernormal power arrived at the royal garden of the king. He asked the gardener to inform the king that he could tell where the dead queen was reborn. The king went to the garden with his entourage.
The hermit told the king that his dead chief queen was reborn as a cow-dung beetle in that garden. The king would not believe it, saying that his intelligent queen must have been reborn in a celestial abode.
The hermit, by his supernormal power, asked the beetle to come out of the big stone-slab where the king and his former chief queen had sat together on several occasions. The female beetle came out following a male beetle.
The female beetle said that she was the chief queen of king Assaka in her past existence; but now she had died from that existence and become a female beetle, so she and the king were in different existences and they did not belong to each other any more. She added that she was very happy to be with her new husband, the male beetle, and that, as she loved and adored him so much that, if possible, she would like to feed the blood from king Assaka's throat to her new beloved husband.
The king was convinced that the female beetle was indeed the new existence of his dead chief queen. He was also very angry at the female beetle's words and so he gave order to burn the queen's corpse immediately. On his return to the palace, he chose a new chief queen and lived happily.
Thus craving gives rise to fresh rebirth, and bound up with pleasure and lust, now here, now there, finds ever fresh delight.
Again craving (tanha) or greed (lobha) is a defilement (kilesa) and it works in unison with other defilements. A defilement is an immoral mental factor which defiles, debases, inflicts and burns the mind. There are ten defilements.
Lobha (tanha, raga) - desire, craving, attachment
Dosa (patigha)- anger, hatred, ill will
Moha (Avijja) - ignorance of the ultimate realities, delusion
Mana - pride, conceit
Ditthi - wrong view
Vicikiccha- sceptical doubt
Thina - sloth
Uddhacca - restlessness of the mind
Ahirika - moral shamelessness
Anottapa - moral fearlessness
The Buddha also referred to these defilements as the cause of suffering.
Lobha, dosa and moha are the worst worldly fires.
Lobha is called 'tanha' in the sense of desire or attachment and 'raga' in the sense of craving or taint or defilement. The Buddha said:
"Natthi raga samo aggi"
"There is no fire as hot as raga."
Craving is indeed the hottest fire that is burning all worldlings.
"O bhikkhus, this is the Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering. Thus, concerning the Noble Truths not heard before, there arose in me the vision that sees the truth of the origin of suffering, the knowledge that knows the truth of the origin of suffering, the wisdom that clearly discerns the various aspects of the origin of suffering, the insight that penetratively sees the truth of the origin of suffering, and the light of wisdom which destroys the darkness of ignorance shielding the truth of the origin of suffering."
"O bhikkhus, this is the Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering, which should be abandoned. Thus, concerning the Noble Truths not heard before, there arose in me the vision that sees the truth of the origin of suffering, the knowledge that knows the truth of the origin of suffering, the wisdom that clearly discerns the various aspects of the origin of suffering, the insight that penetratively sees the truth of the origin of suffering, and the light of wisdom which destroys the darkness of ignorance shielding the truth of the origin of suffering."
"O bhikkhus, this is the Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering, which has been abandoned. Thus concerning the Noble Truths not heard before, there arose in me the vision that sees the truth of the origin of suffering, the knowledge that knows the truth of the origin of suffering, the wisdom that clearly discerns the various aspects of the origin of suffering, the insight that penetratively sees the truth of the origin of suffering, and the light of wisdom which destroys the darkness of ignorance shielding the truth of the origin of suffering." (Patisambhidamagga Pali, Dhammacakkapavattana Vara)
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