Buddhism, Wheels and Repetitions
Appendix D:

SUFFERING and DUKKHA: A DISCUSSION OF THE FIRST TRUTH

The extreme forms of Dukkha – suffering, clinging and craving – make Buddha's message concrete, but they diminish its universal application.

I believe this has confused countless generations of Buddhists.

Buddha found the truth about fulfillment in life – not just the truth about worldly suffering, clinging and craving.

The original meaning of Dukkha (not running smoothly or problematic) describes the origins of, and all the small steps in the development of spiritual suffering  – see Buddhism, Wheels, and Repetitions.

References

The 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 Second and Third Truths - The Origin and Cessation of Dukkha

The Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna's Second and Third Truth discuss all the small 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 subject matter in the Second and Third Truth, is exclusively a discussion of the Five Aggregates, expanded to a list of Ten Aggregates, and related to each of the six sense bases.

Worldly Suffering Comparison
However, the First Truth is the exception. It is on a completely different level to the Second and Third Truths. It discusses many forms of common suffering, like illness, old age, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and distress etc. lamentation, wailing, misfortune and grief, etc. with only two short references to the Aggregates. It has a laborious style of definition, even emotional at times – quite different to the incredibly long interconnecting logical detail in the Second and Third Truths.

General reasons for this incongruous development

The Four Noble Truths and The Middle Way are placed at the beginning of Buddha's teachings, immediately after his enlightenment.

I can well believe that later in his teaching, Buddha developed compassion for everyday worldly suffering, old age and illness.

However the main reason the original sense of Buddha's dukkha was adapted in the first truth, was because 'not running smoothly' or 'problematic' wasn't dramatic enough to catch the popular imagination. It didn't speak to the common suffering in the everyday lives of normal people.

Many 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 concrete and striking.

However, if you believe that Buddha found the truth. Then i think you must agree that he found truth about fulfillment in life – not just the truth about suffering, clinging and craving.

The Story Line

One of the main justifications for the idea that dukkha meant worldly suffering is found in the story line.

The story is that Buddha was a prince who, 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. So the obvious logical conclusion to this story is for him to find the answer to suffering.

This story is incredible. It is unexplainable behaviour for any enterprising youngster. Was Buddha so uninterested in normal life that he took 30 years till he went outside for the first time?

Other considerations are secondary. But as a prince among his teachers were Hindu priests who would have taught from religious texts, which discussed truth, life and death, and thus made him aware of these and instilled a thirst for the truth in him. And secondly it seems highly unlikely that an intelligent, rich and powerful person who was concerned about other people's illness, old age and death, callously ignored this, without establishing hospitals and hospices.

I believe he left his home with the intention of finding the truth without any consideration of other people's worldly suffering. Even if Buddha left his home to find the answer to common worldly suffering, illness, old age and death; 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.

Here is a dividing line.

The First Truth

The First Truth is corrupt. It is incongruous with the Second and Third Truths, and in itself it is illogical even irrational and unintelligent.

In the First Truth "What is Dukkha?" – "What is Suffering?", dukkha is defined as birth, death and a detailed list of examples of suffering such as "sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and distress are suffering," – but then the conclusion, without any connecting logic, is that "in short, the clinging to the five aggregates is suffering."

A detailed analysis of the text reveals a number of different levels of thinking. This indicates that early teachers and scribes added interpretations and commentaries.

"And what, monks, is the Noble Truth of Suffering?" (remember suffering is the translation for Dukkha).

"Birth is suffering, old age is suffering, (sickness is suffering), death is suffering, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and distress are suffering, the association with something that one does not like is suffering, the disassociation with something that one does like is suffering, not to get what one desires is suffering; 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 blatant and 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.

It is of great significance that The Second and Third Truths discuss the aggregates relationship to pleasure and wanting. They discuss the origins and cessation of Dukkha. The dukkha of getting what one wants.

This has almost no connection to the idea in the First Truth of "the association with something that one does not like is suffering, the disassociation with something that one does like is suffering". Everyone already know that not getting what you want, and getting what you don't want, is bad news. It hardly takes a Buddha to tell us this!

The Dictionary Definitions

After the first introductory paragraph, the First Truth continues with a detailed description of all the examples of worldly suffering.

"And what, monks, is sorrow? Whenever one, monks, is affected by various kinds of loss and misfortune, that are followed by this or that kind of painful state of mind, by sorrow, by mourning, by sorrowfulness, by inward grief, and by deep inward woe – this, monks, is called sorrow."

"And what, monks, is lamentation? Whenever one, monks, is affected by various kinds of loss and misfortune, that are followed by this or that kind of painful state of mind, by wailing and crying, by lamentation, by deep wailing, by deep lamentation, by the state of deep wailing and deep lamentation – this, monks, is called lamentation."

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". On the first look, this may appear to be an attempt at a general theory – but actually all it is, is the ever continuing dictionary definitions.

"And what, monks, is the suffering of being disassociated with what one does like? Wherever and whenever one finds pleasant, agreeable or liked objects of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or of the mind, or, whenever and wherever one finds that there are wishers of one’s own fortune, prosperity, comfort or of one’s own security, like mother and father, like brother and sister, like friends and colleagues or relatives; if one gets disassociated, one does not meet, one does not come into contact or does not get combined with them – this, monks, is called the suffering of being disassociated with what one does like."

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 to the completely different style of thought in The Second Truth which discusses why pleasure and delight is suffering. The following passage is one of ten in the Second Truth, which examine the Aggregates in precise mathematical and 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 what, monks, is not getting what one desires? In beings, monks, who are subject to birth the desire arises: "Oh, truly, that we were not subject to birth! Oh, truly, may there be no new birth for us!" But this cannot be obtained by mere desire; and not to get what one wants is suffering."

"In beings, monks, who are subject to old age the desire arises: "Oh, truly, that we were not subject to old age! Oh, truly, may we not be subject to old age!" But this cannot be obtained by mere desire; and not to get what one wants is suffering."

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 this idea of clinging.

AND THE PURITY OF THE ESSENTIAL PART "manifest form, sensation, perception, concepts ('reaction' in the above translation) and consciousness" IS ALMOST LOST

As i discuss in Buddhism and Wheels
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.

Their primary attribute is once set in motion, once the wheels start turning, they keep repeating. Attachments, especially extreme attachments like clinging, are just one of the possible consequences of the repetitions.

Here is a dividing line.

Method of Transmitting the Teaching

The Hindu tradition had perfected the memorising of texts, by repeatedly repeating the same wordings.

Maybe some monks had an almost photographic memory for some phrases, but it seems highly doubtful that any single genius could spontaneously remember for example, one entire Sutra. I believe the texts took a period of time till they found a form. And in the time it took to remember, texts were developed and arranged, labelled and sometimes numbered, so they could be easily remembered.

We have almost certainly some phrases which are Buddha's words – and then a mix from peoples memories of what they had understood. Once one person could remember a form with the same wordings every time – he could teach this to others.

And then came all the translations, which in an oral tradition were undoubtably more flexible than when written. For a clear example of this sort of 'flexibility' in a written text, see where in this very good translation, "sickness is suffering" has been interpolated in brackets, because it only exists in some texts.

And, from Wikipedia : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pāli_Canon
30 years after Buddhas death Ananda and Upali recited the texts to a group of Arhats (monks). ... The texts were then subject to several oral translations before they were committed to writing during the Fourth Buddhist Council in 29 B.C. – (in which language?)

Paper became easier to make starting around 100 B.C. in China (They didn't have papyrus as in Egypt). Following this everything started getting written down. Early paper was fragile would deteriorate and texts needed rewriting. There were further translations ... so that the earliest fragments of the Pali Cannon are in Chinese from 400 A.D. The Sri Lankan version is most complete from the 5th and 6th century B.C.

Please continue with Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna References

Back to Chapter Four : Buddhism and Wheels