July 14, 2021
Noble Truths – Deeper Aspect of Buddha Dhamma
1. Most Buddhists today follow the “superficial” or “mundane” version of the Buddha Dhamma, which is to live a moral life. “Secular Buddhists” –who don’t believe in rebirth — fall into this category.
- However, Buddha Dhamma is better rationalized within the rebirth process. As I have emphasized many times, Buddha Dhamma is about stopping future suffering in the rebirth process. Of course, one can live a moral life by following the basic precepts in Buddha Dhamma.
- Any suffering that we may experience now results from previous actions (kamma.) They may only be managed by seeking medical advice and managing the diet, exercise, etc. The “suffering” that the Buddha emphasized was that in the rebirth process, which can extend billions of years to the future.
- “Living a moral life” is certainly a good thing to do. But this human life (and access to Buddha Dhamma) is a rare occurrence. It would be a huge mistake not to try at least to understand the key message of the Buddha that there is unimaginable suffering in this rebirth process. See, “Introduction – What is Suffering?“
Three “Pillars” of Buddha Dhamma
2. As we discussed in the previous post, Buddha Dhamma stands on “three legs or pillars”: Four Noble Truths, Tilakkhana, and Paṭicca Samuppāda. See, “Buddha Dhamma – Noble Truths, Paṭicca Samuppāda, Tilakkhana.”
- In this post, I will try to provide further clarification of the interconnections among those three pillars.
- It is critical to understand those inter-relationships to understand the meanings of keywords like anicca and anatta and understand what is meant by Nibbāna.
- Before we start discussing the “three pillars,” we need to get the pronunciations right.
Pronunciation of Pāli Words – “Tipiṭaka English”
3. When the early Europeans started writing the Pāli Tipiṭaka using the English alphabet (which originated from the Latin alphabet), they realized the necessity to represent the original sounds in an “unambiguous and efficient” way.
- We will call the convention they adopted “Tipiṭaka English.”
- That “Tipiṭaka English” convention is DIFFERENT from “Standard English.” See, “Tipiṭaka English” Convention Adopted by Early European Scholars – Part 1“
- The following audio file provides pronunciation of Paṭicca Samuppāda, Tilakkhana, icca, iccha, nicca, niccha, anicca, aniccha, anatta, and anattha in that order.
- More pronunciations/definitions at “Pāli Glossary – (A-K)” and “Pāli Glossary – (L-Z).”
The First Noble Truth
4. With the famous verse — saṃkhittena pañca upādāna khandhā dukkhā — in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (DN 56.11), Buddha stated that future suffering arises due to our tendency to try to keep certain entities “close to us” (upādāna.) Those “entities” are rupa and any mental entity associated with those rupā, i.e., vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāṇa.
- Why do we have “upādāna” for certain rupa and associated mental entities? We do that because we like them and think that they will provide us with happiness. That liking/craving is “icca“/ “iccha.”
- Those 5 aggregates (pañcakkhandha) encompass “the whole world” as experienced by a given person. However, any person attaches (upādāna) only to a tiny fraction of It (pañca upādāna khandhā.)
- All three “pillars” explain that all our future suffering arises due to pañca upādāna khandhā. In the same verse, Buddha explained the connection to “icca“: “yam pi icchaṃ na labhati tampi dukkhāṃ” OR “If one does not get what one likes/craves, that is suffering.”
Connection to Tilakkhana
5. Anicca is the first of the Three Characteristics of Nature (Tilakkhana.) “The world is of anicca nature” means that “it is not possible to maintain those things that we like in the rebirth process. We may hold onto certain things all our lives, but we definitely will have to give them up when we die. The worst, and the deeper aspect, is that our efforts to “keep those things close to us” will lead to much more suffering in future lives.
- Of course, the things that we most like are the parts of our physical body. We take great care of the body and would like it to function well. However, as we get old, the body degrades, and the performance of all body parts, including the brain, will diminish. Eventually, we lose the whole physical body at death. That is why even any thought of death brings sadness and despair. This type of suffering comes under the category of “viparināma dukkha.”
- Let us discuss a simple extreme case that is easy to understand. A King in the old days was able to keep any woman that he desired in his harem. But as he got old, no matter how many women he had, he would not be able to “enjoy them.” Of course, he would have to leave them when he died. That is another example of “viparināma dukkha.” But the worst is that because of those actions, he would be reborn as an animal and would suffer for millions of years. That comes under “dukkha dukkha.”
- Think about anything that brings you happiness now. You would make every effort to keep them in good shape, whether a person or an inert material thing like a house or a car. The suffering associated with such efforts falls under the category of “saṅkhāra dukkha.”
6. Those three types of suffering are discussed in “Introduction -2 – The Three Categories of Suffering.”
- The point is that the root cause for all three types of suffering is our inability to maintain things to our liking. That is anicca nature. That is stated as “yam pi icchaṃ na labhati tampi dukkhāṃ” ( If one does not get what one likes, that is suffering.) in the First Noble Truth.
- The above verses are discussed in detail in “Essence of Buddhism – In the First Sutta.”
Iccha, Nicca, Anicca – Connection to the First Noble Truth
7. Note that the Pāli word for “like” is “icca” (sometimes written as “iccha” to emphasize “strong liking or craving.”)
“Icchā Sutta (SN 1.69)” states “Icchāya bajjhatī loko, icchāvinayāya muccati; Icchāya vippahānena, sabbaṁ chindati bandhanan”ti.
Translated: “Desire is what binds the world. By the removal of desire, one is freed from this world. With the giving up of craving, all bonds to this world are severed.” (Note that most translations don’t say it is to this world that one is bound!)
- Of course, that “desire/craving” cannot be removed just by willpower. It HAPPENS through the understanding of the broader worldview discerened by the Buddha. That worldview (and the associated logical analysis) is embedded in the Four Noble Truths, Tilakkhana, and Paṭicca Samuppāda.
- We desire worldly things because we think (or perceive) that worldly things are beneficial to us and will bring us everlasting happiness. If that is the case (i.e., if those things can be maintained to one’s satisfaction), that is expressed by “nicca” (or “niccha” to emphasize.)
- While it may be possible to keep such things to our satisfaction over short times, or even until we die, such cravings lead to suffering in the rebirth process. The key here is to understand what is involved in acquiring such things and in maintaining them. This is the hardest to understand.
- But the consequences are clear in cases where one needs to act with greed or anger. Such actions involve immoral deeds, and everyone should know that such immoral actions can lead to “bad rebirths.” But we will discuss this in more detail soon.
8. On the other hand, if it is NOT possible to maintain something to one’s satisfaction (i.e., it will eventually bring more suffering), then it is of “anicca” nature, the opposite of “nicca nature.”
- I hope now you can see why “anicca nature” expresses the same underlying fact as the First Noble Truth. This world of 31 realms is of anicca nature. Whatever things that we perceive to lead to happiness (and thus, we “upādāna” or “attach/keep close”) will only lead to long-term suffering, that suffering arises because “anicca nature” is a universal truth.
9. The ultimate goal of anyone is to stop any possibility of future suffering completely. In Pāli, “nicchāto” denotes that attainment, and that is Parinibbāna (even an Arahant will be subjected to physical suffering until the death of the physical body; that is Parinibbāna.)
- The verse “nicchāto parinibbuto” appears in many suttas; see, “31 results for nicchāto.”
- That verse means “an Arahant attains the status of niccha upon the death of the physical body .”
- Until then, any living being can be subjected to various types of suffering.
- Summary: This world of 31 realms is of anicca nature. Nibbāna is of nicca (or niccha) nature.
Connection to Paṭicca Samuppāda
10. Next, let us see how the same idea is embedded in Paṭicca Samuppāda.
- If we like something, we would like to “get possession of it.” Then we think about it, plan accordingly, and do bodily work as well. Those efforts are based on mano, vaci, and kāya saṅkhāra.
- It is critical to understand the meaning of “saṅkhāra” and not just say they are “mental formations.” See, “Saṅkhāra – What It Really Means” and “Correct Meaning of Vacī Sankhāra.”
- The point is that our minds generate saṅkhāra based on things that we crave/like. This is the connection of the First Noble Truth and Tilakkhana to Paṭicca Samuppāda.
- That is why the first step in Paṭicca Samuppāda is “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” Until the Noble Truths/Tilakkhana/Paṭicca Samuppāda are understood fully, there is the possibility to generate saṅkhāra with avijjā. Thus avijjā is the ignorance of Noble Truths/Tilakkhana/Paṭicca Samuppāda.
- Once we start generating saṅkhāra, a corresponding viññāṇa is established. That viññāṇa is a kamma viññāṇa and is MORE THAN just consciousness. That viññāṇa in PS has a “built-in expectation” or an “expected outcome” based on something that one craves!
11. It is easier to explain that with an example. Let us say person X meets a beautiful woman and likes her very much; this is “iccha,” and that leads to taṇhā and upādāna.
- He would keep thinking about her, talk about her, and tries to meet her as much as possible. All those involve the three types of saṅkhāra. A kamma viññāṇa then takes root in his mind to “have a relationship with her.”
- The more he engages in generating such saṅkhāra, the stronger that viññāṇa grows: “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇa.”
- Furthermore, because of that viññāṇa that has now taken root in X’s mind, he would often think about her, generating more saṅkhāra. Here PS steps go backward too, “viññāṇa paccayā saṅkhāra.”
- We have discussed such examples in more detail in the Paṭicca Samuppāda section. See, “Paṭicca Samuppāda in Plain English.”
- Now, if X finds out that the woman has a boyfriend, he would suffer immediately. If he tries to break them up, he will take “bad actions” based on “bad saṅkhāra.” Those would be akusala kamma, and thus, can lead to future suffering.
- Even if he can get his wish fulfilled and marry her, that will also lead to future suffering. This needs more discussion, but the following is clear. Both of them would be subjected to mental suffering at the death of the other.
12. There are “mind-pleasing things” in this world. When we get attached to them, with liking/craving (icca/iccha), we will make every effort to “own them” or at least to “enjoy them.”
- If such efforts involve harming others, they will lead to “bad kamma vipāka,” including “bad rebirths.” Even if those efforts (based on saṅkhāra) don’t harm others, they will still bound one to “this world of 31 realms.” We will discuss this in detail.
- What is wrong with “continue to live in this world of 31 realms”? The short answer is that most rebirths are in the suffering-filled flour lowest realms (apāyās.) See, “Introduction – What is Suffering?” This message is embedded in the First Noble Truth.
- The root cause of that suffering, its removal, and the way to remove those root causes are described in the remaining three Noble Truths.
- A systematic analysis of how that suffering arises via the generation of saṅkhāra is described by Paṭicca Samuppāda.
- This underlying message (unsatisfactory and dangerous nature of this world) is expressed by the Three Characteristics of Nature (anicca, dukkha, anatta.) Here we briefly discussed anicca. Next, we will discuss how anicca nature leads to dukkha and anatta.
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