The 4 Noble Truths structure the whole mentor of the Buddha, including its many other concepts just as the elephant’s footprint consists of the footprints of all other animals.
The pivotal idea around which the facts revolve is that of dukkha, equated here as “suffering.” The Pali word originally meant simply pain and suffering, a meaning it retains in the texts when it is used as a quality of feeling: in these cases it has been rendered as “pain” or “unpleasant.”
As the first honorable fact, nevertheless, dukkha has a far larger significance, reflective of a thorough philosophical vision. While it draws its affective coloring from its connection with discomfort and suffering, and certainly includes these, it points beyond such limiting meanings to the inherent unsatisfactoriness of whatever conditioned. This unsatisfactoriness of the conditioned is because of its impermanence, its vulnerability to pain, and its failure to offer complete and long lasting complete satisfaction.
The notion of impermanence (anicca) forms the bedrock for the Buddha’s mentor, having actually been the initial insight that urged the Bodhisattva to leave the palace looking for a course to knowledge. Impermanence, in the Buddhist view, makes up the totality of conditioned existence, varying in scale from the cosmic to the tiny. At the far end of the spectrum the Buddha’s vision reveals a universe of immense measurements developing and breaking down in repetitive cycles throughout beginning-less time.
In the middle variety the mark of impermanence comes to symptom in our inescapable mortality, our condition of being bound to aging, sickness, and death, of possessing a body that is subject “to being worn and rubbed away, to dissolution and disintegration.” And at the close end of the spectrum, the Buddha’s mentor reveals the extreme impermanence discovered just by continual attention to experience in its living immediacy: the reality that all the constituents of our being, bodily and mental, are in continuous procedure, emerging and passing away in fast succession from moment to moment without any relentless underlying compound. In the very act of observation they are undergoing “damage, disappearing, fading away, and ceasing.”
This quality of impermanence that marks whatever conditioned leads directly to the recognition of the universality of dukkha or suffering. The Buddha highlights this all-pervasive element of dukkha when, in his explanation of the first noble reality, he states, “Simply put, the five aggregates impacted by clinging are suffering.” The 5 aggregates affected by clinging are a classificatory plan that the Buddha had actually devised for demonstrating the composite nature of personality.
The scheme comprises every possible type of conditioned state, which it distributes into five classifications– material kind, sensation, perception, psychological developments, and awareness. The aggregate of product kind (rupa) includes the physical body with its sense faculties in addition to external material objects. The aggregate of sensation (vedanda) is the affective aspect in experience, either enjoyable, painful, or neutral. Understanding (sanna), the third aggregate, is the factor accountable for keeping in mind the qualities of things and also accounts for recognition and memory.
Life in any world is unstable, it is swept away, it has no shelter and protector, absolutely nothing of its own.
The formations aggregate (sankhara) is an umbrella term that consists of all volitional, emotive, and intellective elements of mental life. And awareness (vinnana), the fifth aggregate, is the standard awareness of an item essential to all cognition. As the venerable Sariputta shows in his masterly analysis of the very first worthy fact, agents of all 5 aggregates are present on every event of experience, arising in connection with each of the six sense professors and their items.
The Buddha’s declaration that the 5 aggregates are dukkha therefore exposes that the really things we relate to and hold to as the basis for happiness, rightly seen, are the basis for the suffering that we fear. Even when we feel ourselves comfy and secure, the instability of the aggregates is itself a source of oppression and keeps us perpetually exposed to suffering in its more blatant types.
The entire scenario becomes multiplied even more to dimensions beyond calculation when we consider the Buddha’s disclosure of the reality of rebirth. All beings in whom lack of knowledge and craving remain present roam on in the cycle of repeated presence, samsara, in which each turn brings them the suffering of new birth, ageing, illness, and death. All states of existence within samsara, being necessarily temporal and subject to alter, are incapable of supplying long lasting security.
Life in any world is unstable, it is swept away, it has no shelter and protector, absolutely nothing of its own. Inextricably consolidated impermanence and suffering is a third principle intrinsic to all phenomena of presence. This is the attribute of non-self (anatta), and the 3 together are called the 3 marks or qualities (tilakkhana).
To get more information, have a look at Tricycle’s Buddhism for Beginners, a complimentary online resource, or register for our Four Noble Truths course.
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