BUDDHISM, WHEELS, and REPETITIONS

Please read the Short Summary Version first

Pleasure and wanting lead to repetitions

In Buddha's time, the new invention of the spoked wooden cart wheel, was causing a cultural revolution. Buddha saw the connections: desire is self-perpetuating, and once the wheels of desire start turning, then they turn with their own karmic momentum.

Here is a dividing line.

Buddha's central teachings are the Four Noble Truths. The Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna (1) is the most detailed version of the Four Noble Truths in the Pali scriptures. My ideas are based on this text.

The first Three Truths are about Dukkha, its beginnings, and endings. The Fourth Truth is a list of instructions. In the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna the first of these instructions is specifically: "The Right Understanding of Dukkha". This understanding is central to Buddhism. These days, Dukkha is understood as 'suffering'.

Here is a dividing line.

The First Truth

In Buddha's time, the word Dukkha was used to describe when a wheel was not turning smoothly on its axle.
ancient wooden spoked wheel
The new invention of continuous rotary motion – the potter's wheel and the spoked wooden cartwheel – dates from around 2,000 B.C. By Buddha's time in 500 B.C., the spoked cartwheel had led to a cultural revolution.

The wheel has various symbolic uses in Buddhism. The wheel is firstly a circle, this satisfies perfection in our abstract understanding. It enabled a new form of movement, motion, and mobility. And it was the epitome of repetition and self-perpetuating motion, with the possibility of momentum.

But ancient wooden wheels often squeaked, snagged, grinded and wobbled, and the hub needed constant maintenance in order to run smoothly. Dukkha described when the turning of a wheel was problematic.

Modern suggestions for the interpretation of Dukkha are : suffering, anxiety, distress, unsatisfactory, frustration, unease, stress (2); – but all these are the results of Dukkha, and in the first place they all were caused by things not running smoothly, not turning well, of there being a problem.

There is another symbolism to the old-fashioned cartwheel which would have been obvious to anyone living in those days : the hard wheels on the soft dirt roads made tracks, habitual ruts, karmic ruts.

But for Buddha, this was not a question of semantics and the literal meaning of the word Dukkha. In those days everyone knew what Dukkha meant. Buddha's question was what is the problem with life's wheel? What is not running smoothly?

In many texts, it is written that the Five Aggregates are Dukkha. The Aggregates are five umbrella terms which explain how we experience the world. They describe the process: manifest form, sensation, perception, concepts and consciousness. The Aggregates apply to all of our senses. 

The way we sense life, our sensory apparatus is Dukkha, it's not running smoothly.

In Buddhism, where thoughts are considered as manifest forms or 'mind-objects', the Aggregates also apply to how the mind senses its own thoughts. In other words, the mind sensing its thoughts, functions in the same way as the eye sees a sight, or the ear hears a sound.

So, to be exact, the First Truth tells us: Our sensory apparatus – the six senses of touch, taste, smell, sound, sight, and thought – is problematic, it's not running smoothly.

Here is a dividing line.

The Second Truth

The Second Truth discusses the cause of Dukkha. Our sensory apparatus is not running smoothly because it is influenced by pleasure and wanting. This is the prime cause of Dukkha. And i agree with this, but then my understanding of Buddhism differs from the usual or traditional view.

The traditional view is that pleasure and wanting lead to attachment. (And, due to impermanence and change, any hope of fulfilment, wholeness, or security through attachments is illusory.)

However the first step in the process leading to attachment, is that pleasure and wanting lead to repetitions; and repetition means habits or attachments.

If something is pleasurable, we want to repeat it. Even the smallest want we have, will lead to some form of repetition of the idea, and probably an actual repetition, or something similar.

The everyday sense of: "that craving which gives rise to fresh rebirth"(3); is "that wanting which leads to fresh repetition".

Pleasure and wanting lead to repetition. Pleasure defines our pre-set mindset.

Repetitions always involve us in a timeline. They are not conducive to being now, and, once the repetitions start, once the wheels start turning; then they turn with their own karmic momentum.

It may well be that extreme forms of wanting like craving, lead to extreme forms of repetition like rebirth; but it is obvious that even the smallest want we have, will lead to some form of repetition, either mental or actual – and this is the prime, basic and universal truth.

Attachment, clinging, and craving, - cycles, routines, habits, and karma - and also greed and closed mindedness - are all possible consequences of the repetitions.

Freedom from karma, i.e. freedom from habitual pre-set repetitions, is the aim of Buddhism.

Suffering is an extreme state of monotonous repetition where the wheels are stuck in the mud, or grinding with friction. But Buddha's teaching also adresses the origin of the suffering – all the small steps in the development of the spiritual dissociation ... and how this starts because pleasure and wanting lead to repetition.

The First and Second Truth speak of the separation from true Dharma, or spiritual suffering.

Many forms of common suffering are also generated by repetitions. If you miss one meal it is of little consequence, it is when it repeats that it can lead to famine; and one bad experience is usually of no importance, but if it keeps repeating it becomes traumatic.

The Third and Fourth Truth, and also The Middle Way, show the way to the allieviation of suffering.

Please continue with the long version of The Connections Between The Middle Way and the Third Truth

Here is a dividing line.

Discussion of The Traditional View

The traditional view is that attachment is the central problem. And this was clearly written (more than 400 years after Buddha spoke), in even the most trustworthy texts, where "The Five Aggregates" are almost always described as "The Five Aggregates of Clinging".

'Clinging' limits the Five Aggregates and their universal application. Attachments, especially extreme attachments like clinging, are only one possible consequence of the repetitions.

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

Buddha found the truth. The truth about how to find fulfillment in life – not just the truth about suffering.

Buddha's message does not only apply to extreme and traumatic suffering, it also applies to all the little things which aren't running smoothly. "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" (4). .

References
Ref. 1, Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutra, Introduction and Collected Translations (English, French, German).
Ref. 2, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dukkha (2019, 2020, 2021,).
Ref. 3, Nyanaponika Thera, "The Heart of Buddhist Meditation" (page 142) Rider & Co. London (1962).
Ref. 4, Lao Tzu, Dao de Jing, Chapter 64.

Back to Chapter Four : Buddhism and Wheels