Is Suffering the Same as the First Noble Truth on Suffering?

The main goal of meditation before the Sotāpanna stage is to understand the message of the Buddha. Before following the Path, one needs to comprehend what it is about. It is better to get into satipattana bhavana after one fully understands what is going to be done in satipattana bhavana. Many people waste a lot of time doing what they perceive to be satipattana bhavana, and do not get much benefit.

I will have several posts here that one could use for contemplation in meditation. When the mind calms down some, one should think about validity of what is discussed; understanding itself lead to getting rid of defilements. One can even reach the Sotāpanna stage just via “dassanena pahatabba” or “removal via clear vision”.

1. Many people have misconceptions about the First Noble Truth on Suffering or Dukkha Sacca (pronounced “sachchä). In one of the internet forums, I was asked two questions that embody many of such misconceptions about Buddha’s message.

  • “I understand what the Buddha meant by suffering because I came down with this ailment. How do other people understand Buddha’s message and how do they find out about his message?”
  • Then there was this question from apparently by a young person, “With so many pleasurable things around us with the innovations from science and technology, why do people need to think about suffering? Isn’t Buddha’s message kind of outdated?”

2. Before discussing them, it is clear that they both have good and bad implications.

  • People at least search the internet and find out about Buddha Dhamma because of the first, and those who are “enjoying life to the fullest” may not even hear about Buddha Dhamma at all because of the second.
  • On the other hand, the assertion is wrong in the first question, and is correct in the second at least on the surface.

3. The Buddha never said that “there are no sense pleasures to be had in this world”. On the contrary, he said people are unable to SEE the hidden suffering BECAUSE of the apparent sense pleasures they are enjoying OR those that are within reach even if not available to one right away.

  • Even a poor person can see all the sense-fulfilling offers all around; even if he cannot access them at the moment, his thinking is “if I work hard, I can access all these pleasures at some point”. Thus whether rich or poor, all are “under the illusion of a sea of apparent pleasures” to be had.

4. Buddha Dhamma needs to be understood with wisdom. Wisdom (panna) is a mental factor (cetasika) that needs to be cultivated mostly by reading (or listening) about the Buddha’s world view first.

  • Most people just PERCEIVE suffering through the mental factor (cetasika) of feeling (vedana), like the person who asked the first question above. One can experience suffering, but that is NOT the Noble Truth ON suffering.
  • The second questioner had not EXPERIENCED much of suffering, and does not think he needs to pay any attention.
  • Both need to look at world with wisdom within the worldview of the Buddha to see the HIDDEN suffering. This CANNOT be done without understanding what the Buddha was saying about a more expansive and more complex world than what we experience with our six senses (of course one will not BELIEVE it unless one is convinced; the real conviction will come only if one gets familiar with the whole message).

5. In his first sermon, Dhamma Cakka Pavatta Sutta, the Buddha said this about his new message to the world: “pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu” or “a Dhamma that has never been known to the world”.

6. Everyone can and will experience suffering during this life; there in nothing NEW in that.

What is new in the message of the Buddha can be briefly stated as:

  • There is a wider world out there with many more beings living in 29 more realms than the human and animal realms that we experience, AND the real suffering is in the lower four realms.
  • This life is only a brief stop in our long journey through the cycle of rebirths called saṃsāra.
  • Even in this life, there is hidden suffering even when one seems to be enjoying life, AND there is real suffering at old age and death that is inevitable for everyone. This last part of course is apparent to anyone, but is not thought about much at all. As one gets old, when the real suffering starts the mind could be too weak to learn Dhamma.
  • MOST IMPORTANT part of the Buddha’s message is the one that is least heard about; That there is permanent happiness to be had, and that CAN be attained during this very life.

7. I have several posts on the “bigger worldview of the Buddha” and also on rebirth, nature of kamma, etc. Also, there are several posts on the niramisa sukha which is a happiness of permanent nature to be had during this very life by following the Path advised by the Buddha.

  • Let us take a brief look at the third point on the ‘hidden suffering” with a couple of examples next.

8. Example 1: When a fish bites the bait, it does not see the suffering hidden in that action. Looking from the ground we can see the whole picture and we know what is going to happen to the fish if it bites the bait. But the fish is unable to see that whole picture, and thus does not see the hidden suffering. It only sees a delicious bit of food.

  • In the same way, if we do not know about the wider world of 31 realms (with the suffering-laden four lowest realms), and that we have gone through unimaginable suffering in those realms in the past, we only focus on what is easily accessible to our six senses.

9. Example 2: Suppose someone makes you an offer. He says, “I will put you in one of the best resorts with all amenities paid for a month. But there is a catch. The food will taste great but will have traces of poison that will become effective in a few months and will lead to death within the year”.

Will anyone take the offer, knowing that it will lead to suffering and death? Of course not.

  • But if the host did not tell them, they would not know, and will have a good time, but will have the same consequences.
  • In the same way, we are enjoying the sense pleasures without knowing the consequences of them, especially if we did immoral things to get those pleasures.

10. Here is another thing to contemplate: We all have seen how a parent, a grandparent, or even an unrelated celebrity from past years transforms from a dynamic, self-confident, and sometimes imposing character to a feeble, helpless person in the latter years. Sometimes they die under pathetic conditions that would have been unimaginable for them when they were young. But this change is gradual, and even they do not realize it until it is too late.

  • When one becomes too old, it may be too late to start thinking about these facts; one needs to spend even a little time contemplating on these “facts of life” now. Not to get depressed about this inevitability, but to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT; this will enable one to enjoy the latter days of life with niramisa sukha, even if no stage of Nibbāna is attained.

11. Now, this DOES NOT MEAN one should get away from all sense pleasures even if one becomes convinced of the core message of the Buddha. Abandoning everything may have even worse consequences if it is not done with true understanding. And it takes time to digest the whole message. It has taken me several years to come to the stage where I am now. I have not given up anything with remorse; I do not “miss” anything that I have given up. The only things one may want to “forcefully give up” are things that directly hurt other beings like killing, stealing, etc which most people don’t do anyway.

  • Giving up sense pleasures comes gradually with understanding, when one sees the benefits of giving up.
  • There is no need to rush into taking drastic actions. The urgent task is to GET STARTED. Allocate a little time each each day to learn Dhamma, preferably when the mind is a bit calmer so that one can focus and contemplate. As the Buddha said, this Dhamma is really different from what we are used to.

12. As one begins to understand the message of the Buddha, the learning process will become easier. What I hope to do with this site is to basically present all the background material that I have gone through, so others do not have to repeat it all. Of course you may want to do additional research; each one may be looking at things a bit differently. I will be happy to address any issues that are not discussed on the site yet.

13. In summary, the First Noble Truth on suffering is NOT to be EXPERIENCED as a feeling (vedana), but needs to be UNDERSTOOD with wisdom (panna). Actually, when one is experiencing any form of suffering that makes it HARDER to grasp the meaning of the First Noble Truth. One needs a clear, calm, and healthy mind to grasp it.

A not-so-deep analysis of Dukkha Sacca is given in the post, “Does the First Noble Truth Describe only Suffering?

A deeper analysis of the Dukkha Sacca is given in the next post, The Incessant Distress (“Pīḷana”) – Key to Dukkha Sacca.


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