The First Noble Truth: The existence of suffering.
The root of suffering is attachment.
We all know what suffering is, be it unhappiness, heartbreak, pain, or stress, which arises in our everyday life. So why did the Buddha bother to explain it? Because he knew how to transform it! When we talk about the truth of suffering we are generally talking about the world, the environment, and the beings within it. However, when we talk about the feeling of suffering, the experience of suffering, we are talking about living beings. The external experience of the world is the result of the collective contaminated karma of beings. There is also karma as individual experience due to the five aggregates: form (the body), sensation (feelings), perceptions (the ability to see, hear or become aware of something through the senses), mental formations (thoughts), and consciousness (an awareness of things).
There are six realms of existence, three higher realms, and three lower realms. Beings in the lower realms and the world around them are conditioned by these five aggregates because they perceive them as being truly existent. These delusions are the contaminated causes of their existence.
WHAT ARE THE SIX REALMS?
The six realms are different forms of existence in which we can take rebirth. They can also be thought of as psychological states we experience in our current life in the human realm.
- God realm: A blissful, ethereal state in which one is supremely contented but oblivious to the suffering of others.
- Demigod realm: Fuelled by ego and aggression, jealous or warring gods (asuras) are always striving to rise in power and position.
- Human realm: Passionate and perceptive, human beings experience many states of mind and have the most opportunity to free themselves from the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara).
- Animal realm: A life of ignorant complacency and dullness, in which one doesn’t look beyond avoiding pain and seeking comfort.
- Hungry ghost realm: Incalculably frustrated by desires they cannot fulfill, hungry ghosts (Pretas) are depicted with big bellies and tiny mouths.
- Hell realm: A claustrophobic place of extreme hot or cold in which you can’t escape the torment of your own intense anger and hate.
Note that each of these realms has a resident Buddha, through which its inhabitants can hear the dharma—this may reflect the Mahayana Buddhist notion that the ultimate Buddha-nature pervades the entire universe.
THERE ARE THREE TYPES OF SUFFERING:
- The suffering of suffering (manifested suffering).
- The suffering of change (dissatisfactory state caused by changes).
- The all-pervasive suffering (fundamental dissatisfactory state).
The suffering of suffering.
When it is present, it is painful, when it is not it is pleasure.
This suffering is composed of obvious, manifest phenomena like getting what we don’t want and not getting what we want. This suffering brings anger, disappointment, and pain. It is the very manifest kind of suffering directly experienced by us all.
- The hell-beings suffer mainly from extreme heat and cold.
- The pretas (hungry ghosts) of thirst and hunger.
- The animals of being used by other beings.
- The humans of birth, disease, aging, and death.
- The assures or demi-gods suffer as a result of fights and war.- The gods of dying, losing their capacities, and being reborn in lower realms.
The suffering of change.
All compounded phenomena (or contaminated phenomena) are impermanent.
We speak here of contaminated happiness or pleasures, that are of the nature of suffering, by grasping at happiness we meet with suffering. Uncontaminated happiness and pleasure are the ultimate happiness, because they will never transform into suffering. They are not of the same nature, pleasure and suffering are compounded phenomena, and are subject to change. So happiness, being a contaminated phenomenon will be the cause of suffering when it is over, passed, or changed, like youth or health. By recognising the pleasurable states as contaminated, we avoid getting attached to them and thus avoid the suffering of their disappearance. The Buddha taught about the recognition of contaminated happiness as the cause of suffering, in order to stop this attachment and the suffering that it induces.
The all-pervading suffering or fundamental dissatisfactory state.
.When there is no grasping and something unpleasant occurs, we do not suffer.
This is the basis of the two previous types of suffering. There is coarse impermanence, like when somebody dies, this coarse impermanence of being stops to be (like a broken vase). And subtle impermanence that happens moment by moment, change is subtle impermanence. Impermanence is the characteristic of samsara and because we are governed by this process we are under conditioned suffering. All that is produced is impermanent: it is arising, abiding, and ceasing. Everything changes moment by moment, when a second moment arises the first one is already past and the second moment is the new one. Each moment is newly produced, and these changes appear as a continuum, with the three times of past, present, and future. The first moment of today is the past of tomorrow. Because of these changes, each moment brings us closer to death. So the suffering of death is bought about by the all-pervasive suffering. This suffering with its causes and conditions are contaminated karma and delusions are always there, and are experienced by all beings in samsara. This is why it is called all-pervasive suffering. Impermanent aggregates are the conditions to produce future suffering like a seed is the condition to produce a sprout. Because we are changing moment by moment, at each moment we are creating more causes that produce suffering, and thus we remain in samsara. All beings in samsara experience at least one type of suffering that is why it is said that all samsara is of the nature of suffering. When we have the wish to be liberated from samsara, we can find ways to achieve this goal.
Each one of The Four Noble Truths is divided into four aspects, giving 16 aspects altogether.
The four characteristics of impermanence, suffering, emptiness, and selflessness are respective antidotes to the wrong perception of samsara as permanent, pleasant, having true existence, and having a self. According to the different schools, there are different understandings of these 4 antidotes. For example, Hinayana recognises emptiness of self but not phenomena.
There are four logical approaches: These first three ways of logic are also used by scientists, but the 4th one is characteristic of the Buddhist dialectic.
- Observe the effect and look for the cause.
- Look at the cause and check what will be the effect.
- Investigate the actual existence of something, its nature.
- Proving specific statements, like in debate: why a particular description is true (direct cognition, hidden phenomena, slightly hidden phenomena).
We have to know the first two truths of suffering and the origin of suffering in order to find a method to eliminate it at its source, at its root. If we are only aware of the suffering, but not of its causes we remain in that suffering.
Thank you for reading my concise understanding of the First Noble Truth- The existence of suffering. In my next article, I will explain the Second Noble Truth -The origin of suffering.