The First Noble Truth Dharma Discussion

Created: Friday, 31 August 2018

Last Saturday David began our exploration of the First Noble Truth, the truth of suffering or dukkha.

The core teaching is: "Now this, monks, is the Noble Truth of dukkha: Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are dukkha; association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha."

In the afternoon, we focused on the 3 Types of Suffering and the 3 Marks of Existence in the dharma discussion.

The three basic types of suffering we encounter in life are:

1. The suffering of suffering: classically thought of as the pain of sickness, aging, and death - those inevitable pains that everyone who is born experiences at some level.

2. The suffering of change: this suffering stems from the disappointment we have (from a sigh to profound grief or rage) when we experience change. No pleasant experience lasts forever. No object lasts forever. This kind of suffering often pulls us into the past (with regret or nostalgia) or the future (with anxiety or greed).

3. The suffering of conditions: as we wrestle with the impermanence we experience in the first two types, another kind of suffering may arise. It is the unsettled experience of understanding what the suffering of suffering and the suffering of change demonstrate about the nature of our existence. The suffering of conditions may arise as we generalize from those specific experiences of loss and perceive the instability of all conditioned phenomena.

This leads us to the 3 Marks of Existence, the Tilakkhana:

1. Anicca (impermanence/inconstancy): As we've noted already, every thing that begins will end. All conditioned things are in process, constantly changing. Even things that look like they remain the same are changing - sometimes the pace of change is very slow, or a lot of work is being done to maintain a certain state. But maintenance is not the same as permanence.

2. Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness): Because of impermanence, no conditioned thing can be the basis of permanent well-being. All things are ultimately unsatisfactory, not because they are somehow inherently evil, but because they are impermanent. Trying to fashion a permanent happiness out of impermanent conditions is a recipe for suffering.

3. Anatta (not-self): This insight grows out of the understanding of impermanence. As we perceive that everything is in process, changing, we begin to understand that what we have called the self is also a process. The Buddha spoke about the five skandhas, or aggregates, as a helpful way for us to gain insight into how the experience of the self arises, and how we can work more skillfully with our experiences, without getting caught up so much with identifying with forms, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.

So what do we do with these teachings? The practice is to use these concepts to begin to recognize how and when we suffer. Practically speaking, when you notice you are suffering, you can pause and ask:

You might also notice a mix of experiences, and that is also helpful. Suffering is also impermanent!

We'll keep practicing with and developing these insights in the weeks ahead. Becoming more familiar with our own experience of suffering will then prepare us well for practicing with the Second Noble Truth, understanding how desire/clinging/attachment give rise to suffering.