The Second Noble Truth: The causes of suffering.
To be free from suffering we have to abandon its causes.
There are two ways of looking at the true origin of suffering: One is that our karma brings us suffering. and the other is we act under the influence of our delusions and the result of these actions is an accumulation of karma that brings us suffering.
Because suffering is the effect of our karma we can’t stop it directly, but we can purify it. This is a monumental task, but Buddhists believe it can be attained through meditation and dedication to awakening. The aim is to purify your mind stream so that all moral and character defilements and defects (kleśas such as anger, ignorance, and lust) are wiped away and nirvana can be obtained. Imagine if we wanted to remove a tree, it’s not enough to cut its branches, we need to cut its roots. In Uttaratantra there is an analogy between suffering and disease: knowing the cause of suffering is like recognising what kind of disease we have (wind, bile, and phlegm) and taking the correct medicine. The disease of samsara is the poison of ignorance which brings about the additional poisons of desire and hatred. The medicine is understanding how things truly exist, and their actual nature.
Nagarjuna, who was credited with founding the Madhyamaka school of Mahāyāna Buddhism, said:
“That in the first place one sees himself as having a true existence (due to ignorance). Second due to attachment to this view, the ‘I’ arises. Third the distinction between ‘I’ and other occurs. Finally, the aversion and attachment towards others follow.”
This is like the dream perceptions taken as reality, where the experienced ‘I’, our attachment, aversions, etc. seem truly existent while dreaming. Because of this mistaken view created by our mind in the dream, we experience difficulties and suffering. This is exactly the same in this life, from our ignorance springs attachment and aversions. These three poisons are the origins of all delusions which in turn become the causes for negative karma.
The Three Poisons are personified as a rooster or fowl (greed), a pig or boar (ignorance), and a snake (hatred,) chasing one another around and around. They symbolize the forces that keep people caught up in the samsaric round of existence. These delusions are the causes of all the negative actions we engage in classified in 10 non-virtues that will create negative karma.
- Body – Killing, Stealing, Sexual Misconduct.
- Speech – Lying, Divisive Speech, Harsh Speech, Pointless Gossip.
- Mind – Greed/Covetousness, Harmful Intent, Wrong View (denial of cause and effect).
These 10 non-virtues are the main cause for taking rebirth in a lower realm, where the suffering of suffering is the strongest. There is also positive karma arising by accumulating virtues that lead to rebirth in a higher realm where pleasure can be experienced. But this is still contaminated karma, uncontaminated karma comes from the wisdom realising emptiness.
One can accumulate positive karma even with a low external motivation, such as praying for a higher rebirth or a healthy and wealthy life. But this is short-term. You need to be fully dissatisfied with samsara and want to try and achieve liberation through mental stabilization. This will accumulate unfluctuating, or unwavering karma that will produce rebirth in the 3rd or 4th level of the formless realm. Focusing on equanimity also achieves unfluctuating karma which produces rebirth in the 4th level of the formless realm (peak of existence). These remain all contaminated karmas belonging to the worldly path and will result in rebirth in samsara.
Any actions based on the three poisons will eventually lead to suffering while any action not created under the influence of these poisons leads to ultimate happiness. This uncontaminated karma releases us from samsara (I’ll touch on that in the 4th noble truth.) Because we have obtained our human life, we can achieve happiness by paying attention to the law of karma – cause, and effect, and by taking responsibility for our actions.
Whatever is accumulated will eventually ripen.
A new body takes birth by the coming together of the subtle consciousness that passes from one life to the next and the father and mother drops (sperm and egg). Although, when we see a dead body we might doubt the actuality of reincarnation since we don’t see the subtle consciousness leaving the body or passing from life to life.
Past and present scientists assume that consciousness originates from the brain and so didn’t accept past and future lives. Because after the moment of clinical death the sense consciousness, the subtle consciousness and body parts stop. But the subtlest consciousness that can’t be seen by scientists or ordinary beings, leaves the body and goes through the intermediate state between death and birth. This state is called the bardo of reality (when the clear light nature of the mind appears.) and only the beings in the bardo can perceive it because their consciousness is also very subtle.
Mind and body are different entities that don’t have the same basis. The body is matter, made of flesh, bone, and so on, with the sensory object that comes out of the five elements (earth, water, fire, wind, and space). Mind or consciousness does not. A moment of consciousness is the result of the previous moment of consciousness, and past and future lives have the same reasoning. The form aggregate has its origin of the form aggregate of the father and mother, but the consciousness comes from the previous consciousness moment in the bardo, that comes from a previous moment of consciousness in the past life. The last moment of consciousness of your life is the cause of the first moment of consciousness in your next life. The law of cause and effect is applicable for the consciousness passing from life to life. At death, the consciousness leaves the body, but we can not see it, we only see the dead body, and not what is going on in the dead person’s consciousness. But what we can’t see is not necessarily non-existent. This is like when we see somebody ‘peacefully’ asleep: despite this peaceful appearance he might be experiencing a frightful dream. By analogy, even if we don’t remember our previous lives, we can still believe in reincarnation by using this analysis.
The truth of suffering comes from contaminated karma. There is personal karma, giving rise to personal situations, and common (collective) karma giving rise to things everybody agrees with such as the world around us. All that appears are the consequences of previous actions and the causes for future ones, possibly of more suffering.
THERE ARE THREE TYPES OF KARMA:
- Prarabdha karma is experienced through the present body, in which it has also been accumulated.
- Sanchita karma is the sum of one’s past karmas – all actions, good and bad, from one’s past lives, follow through to the next life.
- Agami karma is the result of current decisions and actions, that are experienced in a later life (time not defined).
Karma ripens depending on the power accumulated when intending the action: (listed according to decreasing strength).
- One had the idea, the intention, and acts,
- One has the intention but doesn’t act
- One doesn’t have the intention but does act.
THERE ARE FOUR TYPES OF KARMIC RESULTS:
- Fully ripen result: rebirth in a lower or upper realm.
- Result similar to the action: for example, a thief will have the tendency to steal in his next life and a Tulku (reincarnation of a highly realised teacher) will have an innate tendency to meditate.
- Experience similar to the action: if one kills, one will be killed in his next life.
- Controlled result: the effect ripens on the next life’s environment. For example, if someone kills he will be reborn in an environment endangering his/her life.
WHERE IS OUR KARMA STORED?
It is stored as imprints in the mental continuum of our consciousness (in our awareness) and needs the right conditions to ripen. For example, somebody’s anger could result in experiencing a bad dream. Here, the condition is the dream and the ripened effect is a bad feeling experienced.
THERE ARE FOUR KINDS OF WRONG VIEWS ABOUT THE CAUSE OF SUFFERING:
- Suffering has no cause.
- All suffering comes from the same single cause.
- Even if they accept that suffering has a cause, they don’t believe that cause is karma but that it is imposed by some god.
- Others think there is permanent suffering but it isn’t experienced during our present life.
To counter these views, the Buddha taught 16 antidotes.
FOR THE 4 WRONG VIEWS ON CAUSES, THERE ARE 4 ANTIDOTES:
- Suffering has causes: delusions and karma.
- Different types of suffering are generated by different types of causes (cause and effect should correspond, like seed and crop).
- Strong production. For example among the 12 links, the first three (ignorance, craving, and grasping) create the strong production of suffering. This counters the view of an external god imposing suffering.
- Condition. If something is permanent, unchangeable, it cannot depend on specific conditions. We can see that the conditions are needed for suffering to appear, thus the suffering can’t be of a permanent origin.
These are the true origins, the cause of suffering which have to be abandoned in order to be free from suffering.
Thank you for reading my concise understanding of the Second Noble Truth. I’ll be back with The Third Noble Truth -The cessation of suffering soon.