If you happen to read Buddha’s teachings, you will find many scriptures time and again bring forth The Four Noble Truths. Apparently, the topic we discuss today is inspired from the very First Noble Truth as expounded by the Buddha back in Benaras centuries ago.
We have all wondered at one point or another what the real nature of this life is. If there is a huge purpose to our existence? Since the day you come to this earth, you hear from various different sources how to live life, what to do, what is considered good and what is considered bad, all these tagging is handed to you bit by bit before you can tell yours from those that are passed to you. But today, I’d ask you to silence all those thoughts for a few minutes as we attempt to pass down the First Noble Truth of life as experienced by The Buddha.
The First Noble Truth: Dukkha
The first noble truth translates to mean that life, according to the Buddha, is nothing but suffering. Yes, Life’s innate nature is of Suffering. Wait what? Yes, the exact Pali language translation of Dukkha is indeed suffering, but it is misleading and barely touches the surface of the real meaning of Dukkha. Have you come across those language translations that lose its meaning after translation. Well, this is something like that. So what is Dukkha, or the innate nature of life?
Describing the innate nature of life- Dukkha
They say pessimism is dangerous, I’d like to believe that pessimism and optimism both are equally dangerous. If I have to undergo surgery I’d like my physician to be a realist. I’d be scared if they exaggerate my diagnosis and give up. Similarly, saying I’m completely fine to send me home happily isn’t doing me any good either. Here’s what I want- Someone to diagnose the symptoms appropriately, understand the cause and effect of the illness, figure out how to cure it, and walk in the path of administering the right treatment. That is the correct path, isn’t it? Well, Buddha’s diagnosis about our life was such. Buddha saw the nature of life as objectively and practically as it is. Sitting under a tree, the Buddha experienced the nature of life as it is, de-tangling human suffering knot-by-knot.
Dukkha is not just in the obvious sadness of life like- distress, detachment, anger, insecurity, disappointment, and such. Dukkha is also in the not-so-obvious emotions of life like happiness, security, sensual pleasures and such. If that surprises you, what follows next will blow your mind- Even the ultimate calm, peace and love that flows into a meditator that has achieved true equanimity of mind, one who experiences what we call as “unmixed happiness”, also falls in Dukkha!
So, what does Dukkha comprise of? And does it mean everything in my life is sad?
Let’s break down all the forms of Dukkhas in three broad categories and elaborate them as we go. This will tie everything together:
- Dukkha as in the commonly known, ordinarily detectable suffering
- Dukkha as in the suffering caused by impermanence
- Dukkha as in the suffering caused due to conditioning
The first one here is quite easy to understand- every suffering caused in life right from birth — old age, sickness, emotional suffering, separation from loved ones, death- all such forms of physical and mental suffering is all around the world accepted as the suffering as we know it. This is Dukkha as the ordinary suffering.
Remember Law of Impermanence? To explain you the second one, this cycle of change will come in handy. For the sake of our readers, I’d remind that Law of Impermanence states that Change is the only constant. Right from our breaths, our emotions, our very existence, everything is coming and passing at a much minute level than we notice. Underneath all the finals is a process of constant rising and passing. This is where all the things that feel great- like happiness, love, kindness, security, comfort- all of these good feelings that in most cases bring attachments, end up causing suffering. This is the Dukkha caused by Change.
Until these two, you may have grasped how our being is susceptible to suffering if we live in ignorance. The third one, though, needs you to remember the 5 elements that make the “I”. I’d urge you to have a look at our “4 doors of the Human mind” if not familiar with already. This form of Dukkha is probably the most important aspect of the First Noble Truth.
Buddha said that the five elements that we refer to as the “I”- Matter and Mind (Consciousness, perception, sensation, and reaction), together create conditioning of the mind. For the benefit of the readers, I’d like to revise that what we call as the “I” is not a final finished product but a continuous process of becoming. Even on the physical level, subtle particles within us rise and die more frequently than we even know it. We are, therefore, what this moment is- nothing more, nothing less.
These five elements/aggregates of life together are the last and final form of Dukkha. They give a separate identity to the “I” and soon things start affecting us as we develop an attachment to the “I”. To give an example- Notice how every day thousands die as we don’t notice but it is only when there is someone related to this “I” that passes away that causes sadness. The phenomenon was the same. It was the attachment to the “I” that created the suffering. This attachment to the “I” that causes conditioning of the mind is why there is suffering. If there was no I, suffering caused by attachments or detachments would be zero. In Vipassana, I remember them saying something like- When there is no “I”, you will attain true peace. What’s inside will be outside. If there is light shining upon you, there would be only light and no you, you will be so immersed in this moment.
I’d like to add two lines from the Buddhaghosa here:
“Mere suffering exists, but no sufferer is found;
The deeds are, but no doer is found.”
So, does this mean everything in our lives is melancholic?
Absolutely not. The whole idea of showing us our frames of references is to enable us to change it. How will you change something that you can’t see in the first place? This identifying of “what causes suffering” is our starting point of the ultimate peace we all deserve. I request our readers to not confuse the truths with a pessimistic view. Try to see how these are observations with clear actionable for us all to ultimately lead us on a mindful path of love and peace.
In fact, going into the technique of Vipassana- joy is one of the seven factors of enlightenment that move together towards the ultimate state of happiness and peace- Nibanna. And speaking from personal experience, I remember when I entered the Vipassana center in Sikkim for the first time, I felt a humbling warmth from everyone, something I always like to describe as the feeling I get at my grandparents’ house- just unconditional love and peace. Every single person I met there was joyful and elated, most of them serving for nothing in return at all :) I just knew I could anchor there right then, and that gave me the most powerful 10 days of my life, something I intend to cover someday soon. Stay tuned :)