Part A – Describe the Buddha’s teaching on the nature and ending of Dukkha.
The Four Noble Truths, Ariya-sacca, form the essence of the Buddha’s very first sermon which was delivered to the five ascetics in a deer park in Benares, after he had become enlightened. This sermon was called Dharmachakra Sutra which translates as “setting in motion the wheel of Dharma”, which were the Buddha’s teachings. The Four Noble Truths are called truths because, as well as being believed, they can be experienced and directly understood as part of our daily life too.
The Buddha recognised that all beings caught up in the cycle of existence are subject to Dukkha, the first noble truth. Dukkha is commonly translated as “suffering” but can also mean “pain”, “sorrow” and “misery”. The idea of the First Noble Truth relates to the extent of suffering and how it permeates our existence, affecting both the body and the mind. According to the Buddha, there are three kinds of suffering that exist in life. Dukkha-Dukkha, the first type, relates to the ordinary suffering we all experience throughout our existence such as birth, old age, sickness and death which are all obvious at first sight, just like the Buddha experienced with the Four Sights. The next type of suffering is Viparinama-Dukkha, the understanding of Dukkha being produced by change and referring to the impermanence of happy/pleasant feeling and conditions. When the Buddha first experienced suffering he had a moment of existential realisation, put forward by Professor Peter Harvey, as he soon understood that everything in life is subject to change, nothing will remain the same forever, recognising the impermanence (Annica). When the time comes for them to change, they may produce pain, suffering, unhappiness or disappointment. From this the Buddha understood that suffering is inherent in human nature and can be a result of conditioned states, which leads on to the last type of suffering which is known as Samkhara Dukkha. This explains how attachment to the ever-changing mental and physical forces apparent in an individual can lead to Dukkha. These forces or states are commonly known as the five aggregates or the five Skandhas – matter, sensations, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness. The Buddha put forward that there is nothing else such as a soul (Atman) contained within an individual. Once a human realises this then they will soon develop an understanding of Anatta, the doctrine that there is no fixed/eternal interdependent self. According to Buddhism, all phenomena (except Nirvana) are characterised by three basic facts, known as the three marks of existence (three lakshanas) – Dukkha, Anicca and Anatta, which are reasoned to be the inescapable factors underlying our world. The Parable of the Mustard Seed is a common example of how we believe life to be unsatisfactory and how we are incapable of overcoming suffering and moving on. Just like Kisagotami, we tend to live in the past most of the time, clinging to what we did have but don’t have any more. We must embrace the present moment and fully know/understand the meaning of life and show compassion and help others to overcome suffering in order for us to escape the cycle of existence, as will be discussed in the Third and Fourth Noble Truth.
However, ignorance (Avidya) of the meaning and implication of the Four Noble Truths as well as misunderstanding the nature of the self and reality will indefinitely contribute to the arising of Dukkha (see below). The lack of understanding the nature of reality leads to conditioned states of the mind or habits, repeated behaviour rooted in past habits as explained by the law of Karma. Deliberate or volitional actions lead to habits and conditions that soon lead to Dukkha which keeps one trapped in an endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth (Samsara), as explained by the principle of conditionality (Paticca-Samupadda, also known as dependent origination). From the Buddha’s...
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