SUFFERING: THE TRADITIONAL FIRST TRUTH
The text of the traditional First Noble Truth is corrupt. This may seem heretical to some Buddhists, but maybe Buddha was a far greater teacher than you ever imagined.
Buddha found the truth about fulfillment in life – not just the truth about worldly suffering, clinging and craving.
The way in which the traditional First Truth presents Dukkha as worldly suffering, made Buddha's message easier to understand for people enduring worldly suffering.
This development was facilitated by the fact that Buddha's words were translated through a number of languages in the oral traditions, for around 450 years before they were written down.
However, the idea of worldly suffering diminishes the First Truth's universal application.
ReferencesThe Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna is the most detailed version of the Four Truths in the Pali literature.
This page uses the translation from the Pali Tipitaka www.tipitaka.org/stp-pali-eng-series#41. Please read the original text – all the translations in the references are similar.
The First Truth is incongruous with the Second and Third Truths. There is a clear difference in style and content.
The First Truth – Worldly Suffering
The Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna's First Truth is on a completely different level to the Second and Third Truths. It discusses many forms of worldly suffering, like illness, old age, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, wailing, misfortune and grief, etc. with only two short references to the Aggregates.
The First Truth has a laborious style with complex ideas; but look again, ultimately these are incredibly complex dictionary definitions of each specific type of suffering, there is even an emotional section – quite different to the incredibly long interconnecting logical detail in the Second and Third Truths.
The Second and Third Truths – The Origin and Cessation of DukkhaThe Second and Third Truths discuss all the steps in the origins and cessation of Dukkha, Though they are incredibly long winded and perhaps difficult to read, the Second and Third Truths are pure cognitive psychology, with a touch of philosophy. There is absolutely no mention of any worldly examples of suffering.
The Dukkha of Getting what one WantsThe most blatant difference between the First, and the Second and Third Truths, is the difference between suffering because you don't get what you want – and the suffering because you do get what you want.
The First Truth tells us "the association with something that one does not like is suffering, the disassociation with something that one does like is suffering". Everyone already knows that not getting what you want, and getting what you don't want is bad news. It is straight and simple direct displeasure... It hardly takes a Buddha to tell us this!
The Second Truth discusses the dukkha of why pleasure is bad news, why is it suffering. This is a far more difficult nut to crack.
The traditional understanding is that this is because pleasure leads to attachment or craving, and "craving leads to rebith". But ultimately, the first step of any sequence, and the universal law, as one translation suggests
Reference: The Second Truth - from English Translations, Ref 1: Pali Tipitaka
"And what, monks, is the Noble Truth of the Arising of Suffering?
It is this craving that occurs again and again..."
Pleasure and wanting lead to repetition. Repetition is the first step in the sequence which binds us to karma.
Why does The First Truth emphasise worldly suffering in such a banal way?
The Development of the First TruthI can well believe that later in his teaching, Buddha developed compassion for everyday worldly suffering, old age and illness. However the Four Noble Truths and The Middle Way are placed at the beginning of Buddha's teachings, immediately after his enlightenment.
It is firmly recorded that these teachings were first delivered to five ascetics who had already renounced all material ways, they would have had no need to hear about wordly suffering. These teachings were about something new and special: a way to spiritual freedom, nirvana, and the ultimate truth.
The main reason the original sense of the first truth would have been adapted, was because it didn't speak to the common suffering in the everyday lives of normal people.
Most people converting to religions do so when they actually feel suffering – they seek some hope, understanding, or at least a sense of identity with their own suffering – rather than seeking for truth.
Suffering, and all the other exaggerated terms used in Buddhism like 'clinging' and 'craving'; made the message more appealing and awesome.
If you believe that Buddha found the truth, then this truth was about fulfillment in life – not just the truth about worldly suffering, clinging and craving.
A good wheelwright would not only cure Dukka, he would make a wheel Sukkha.
The Story LineDuring the first 450 years as Buddhas's ideas were developed and translated before being written; early Buddhists and story tellers created legends about him. This is human, it would be unnatural not to do this.
One of the main justifications for the idea that dukkha refers to worldly suffering is found in the story of how Buddha started on his quest for enlightenment.
The story is that Buddha who certainly was a prince, after a sheltered life, one day when he was around 30 years old, asked to go outside his palace walls where he saw old-age, sickness and death for the first time. And so he left his home to seek the answer to this worldly suffering.
And so the obvious, logical conclusion to this story is for him to find the answer to worldly suffering.
This story is incredible. It is unexplainable behaviour for any youngster. Was Buddha so uninterested in normal life that he took 30 years till he went outside for the first time?
Then, it seems highly unlikely that an intelligent, rich and powerful person who was deeply concerned about other people's illness, old age and death, callously ignored this, and left his home without establishing hospitals and hospices.
As a prince, his teachers would have been Hindu priests who would have taught from religious ideas which discussed truth, life and death, and thus made him aware of these and most probably instilled a thirst for the truth in him.
I believe he left his home with the intention of following that most noble of all pursuits, finding the truth; without any consideration of worldly suffering. Even if Buddha left his home to find the answer to common worldly suffering, the answer he found was so much more.
This story line about worldly suffering is so limiting – i repeat yet again : what Buddha found was the truth. The truth about how to find fulfillment in life – not just the truth about suffering.
The simple truths have been obscured over with the years. This has confused countless generations of Buddhists.
The First Truth - The TextThe First Truth is corrupt. It is incongruous with the Second and Third Truths, and in itself it is irrational.
In the First Truth "What is Dukkha?" – "What is Suffering?", dukkha is defined as birth, death and a detailed list of examples of suffering – but then without any connecting logic, makes the conclusion, "in short, the clinging to the five aggregates is suffering."
This is a very impressive collection of unpleasant worldly things which can happen – with one short mention of the five aggregates.
O.K. i'd agree that illness is suffering, though usually only temporarily; and i find it questionable if birth, death and old age are always and inevitably suffering, but i will make no big point about it. On the other hand I must agree: sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and distress are suffering... suffering is suffering... not very bright – but reassuring if you are suffering...
Then note the incongruity of the Five Aggregates in this context "... in short, the clinging to the five aggregates is suffering.". All the other examples are so clearly about things in the manifest world... and then comes: in short, (the summary), something with real psychological depth, the Aggregates.
The Aggregates are only mentioned once more, at the end of the first truth – all the other manifest examples of suffering are developed in great detail.
The text reveals a number of different levels of thinking. Even a surface reading will reveal that this is the result of several early teachers and scribes who added their own interpretations and commentaries, rather than ideas of any depth
The Dictionary DefinitionsAfter the first introductory paragraph, the First Truth continues with a detailed description of all the examples of worldly suffering.
Was Buddha so boring that he sounded like a dictionary? These long-winded, laborious, dictionary definitions describe birth, old age, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and distress. The full text is indeed an excellent collection of misery.
Then follows the definitions of "being associated with what one does not like" and "being disassociated with what one does like". They are so complex and tedious that the reader tends to skip over them leaving the impression that it is probably a philosophical theory – but actually all it is, is the ever continuing dictionary definitions.
I cannot believe Buddha was so one-sided, and basically of little intelligence! The list completely lacks the usual logical Buddhist objective view. Everyone already knows that displeasure is suffering – why isn't there any discussion of the association with what one likes and getting what one desires?
Compare the above quote from the First Truth to the completely different level of thought in The Second Truth which discusses why pleasure and delight is suffering. The following passage is one of ten almost identical passages in the Second Truth, which examine the Aggregates and their relationship to the six sense bases in precise logical detail.
"The rolling in thoughts of visible objects in the world [of mind and matter] is enticing and pleasurable; there this craving arises and gets established. The rolling in thoughts of sounds … is enticing and pleasurable; there this craving arises and gets established. The rolling in thoughts of smells … is enticing and pleasurable; there this craving arises and gets established. The rolling in thoughts of tastes … is enticing and pleasurable; there this craving arises and gets established. The rolling in thoughts of touch … is enticing and pleasurable; there this craving arises and gets established. The rolling in thoughts of mind objects, mental contents in the world [of mind and matter] is enticing and pleasurable; there this craving arises and gets established."
But – the First Truth hasn't finished yet!Following the dictionary definitions, there is a section which attempts to give an emotional content:
And then so on, through all the instances of sickness, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and distress... it is suffering merely to read it !... until we get to THIS ONE BIT OF LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS:
"And how, monks, in short, is clinging to the five aggregates suffering? It is as follows – clinging to the aggregate of matter is suffering, clinging to the aggregate of sensation is suffering, clinging to the aggregate of perception is suffering, clinging to the aggregate of reaction is suffering, clinging to the aggregate of consciousness is suffering. This, monks, in short, is called suffering because of clinging to these five aggregates."
We would be lost without the aggregates... and even this section is COMPLETELY CONFUSING because the aggregates are presented only in the context of "the aggregates of clinging" and so the text is inextricably dominated by the idea of clinging.
As i discuss in Buddhism, Dukkha, and Repetitions
The Five Aggregates are defined only in terms of "the Five Aggregates of Clinging". 'Clinging' severely limits their interpretation and their potential as a universal theory.
Attachments, especially extreme attachments like clinging, are just one of the possible consequences of the repetitions.
Please see the Aggregates to clarify this new idea which Buddha had. The words for such phenomena didn't exist in those times.
In closing, it must be mentioned that mixed among all of the different forms of Buddhism, are Buddhists of great faith, treating others with something deeper than respect, satisfied to embrace the ancient texts as divine. And this faith alone can overcome many obstacles.