Pali language contrasts with Sanskrit - dhamma/dharma, kamma/karma, nibbana/nirvana, bodhisatta/bodhisatva, sutta/sutra.
We are going to consider the four Noble Truths - all four are to be taken together, as aspects of the same whole. These truths illustrate the practical nature of the teaching, not speculative. We can verify them for ourselves on the basis of our own personal experience. The Buddha was non-dogmatic in his teaching. It is understanding the Dhamma, the teaching, which is important, regardless of who the teacher might be. This is well illustrated by the story of the Buddha's meeting with a young recluse called Pukkusati. It so happened that in the course of their separate travels they happened to share a potter's shed as shelter for a night. The Buddha, whose identity was unknown to Pukkusati, asked the latter whose teachings he followed. Pukkusati replied that he followed the teachings of the Buddha, even though he had never seen the Buddha and would not recognise him if he saw him. The Buddha then offered to teach the man the doctrine, still without revealing his own identity. He gave Pukkusati a remarkable discourse on Truth and it was only at the end of this that Pukkusati realised that it was the Buddha himself who was speaking to him.
In the last class we also looked at the story of Upali and his wish to become a follower of the Buddha.
After the Buddha attained enlightenment at Buddha Gaya, he spent the next seven weeks sitting under the Bodhi Tree, enjoying the bliss of emancipation. The Bodhi tree was the only tree in that area to have leaves at that time of the year (the month of May), and to this day this tree is held in great veneration by Buddhists.
He had achieved the enlightened state, so on a personal basis there was nothing else he needed to do with his life. He was tempted to remain in seclusion, simply enjoying the bliss of release from suffering. The Buddha contemplated the subtle nature of the Dhamma (what he had discovered) and he wondered if anyone would be able to understand it. It was, he said, "Against the stream" (M.N., I, 167-8) He gave careful thought to the question of whether he should teach it, but it is said that he was persuaded to do so after an appeal from Brahma Sahampatti, the king of the heavenly realm. He decided that he would begin by teaching his first two teachers - Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta, but they had died one week and one day before his enlightenment, so he went in search of the five companions with whom he had engaged in the extreme ascetic practices. He found them at Isipatana, which was then and is still today a place of great religious importance for Hindus, Muslims and Jains, in addition to Buddhists. Its present name is Sarnath and it is situated about 8 miles from Benares.
I have already said that the five ascetics had abandoned him because they felt he had betrayed their principles by taking moderate amounts of food. If you are dedicated to an ascetic way of life and then you see one of your companions eating some delicious food, you would naturally lose respect for him. Its almost like a sporting idol being found out taking drugs, or a health and fitness guru pigging out on Mars bars. So, when the Buddha approached them after his enlightenment, they were disinclined to welcome him as they felt he had been wrong to give up the ascetic practices. They did, however, greet him with the term "Avuso" which means "friend". But the Buddha told them not to address him by that name as he had now become a "Tathagata". This is a term which the Buddha always used to refer to himself. It has several meanings, but it is generally translated as "One who has found the Truth". He did what he preached; he preached what he did. Thus he came as previous Buddhas came, i.e. fulfilling the perfections; he went as previous Buddhas went, i.e. he preached the Dhamma and attained nibbana. There have been 24 previous Buddhas. He never called himself Buddha, and he never said he taught Buddhism. This was a term introduced later by his followers; he said simply that he taught "the Truth".
At first the five companions did not believe what the Buddha was saying to them, but he asked them if he had ever lied to them and they agreed he had not. The deer park at Isipatana is the place where the Buddha preached his first sermon, two months after his enlightenment. According to tradition, this was in the year 588 B.C. This sermon, which was addressed to his five former companions, is called the first Turning of the Wheel of Dhamma (Dhammacakka) and in it the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths, which summarise his teachings. All of his teachings are contained within these:
"As the footprint of every creature that walks the earth can be contained in an elephant's footprint, which is pre-eminent in size, so does this doctrine of the four Noble Truths embrace all skilful dhamma (the entire teaching of the Buddha)." (M.28)
The situation has been likened to that of a lonely man lost in a vast and terrible forest. In order to survive he had to learn a great deal about the forest, about what plants and fruits are edible or poisonous, which animals are dangerous, about which trees to climb in order to discover in which direction he should travel. But when he did at last manage to find a path out of the forest, he thought that it was a waste of time to teach the ways of the forest to others who are also lost. Similarly, the Buddha devoted all his time to teaching the path out of suffering to those who are lost in the samsara. He did not teach anything that is irrelevant to our emancipation.
What do we mean by Truth? There are two forms of truth - conventional truth, and ultimate truth. Conventional truth is based on agreed practice - for example, we talk about the sun rising in the morning, and setting in the evening. Actually what really happens is that it is the earth which moves, not the sun, but by convention we agree to talk about sunrise and sunset. Similarly, it is agreed that when we point to a piece of furniture like this, we call it a table. This is a convention and can be changed at any time if there is agreement to do so. There is no unchanging law that says we must always call this a table; we can call it a chair if we all agree to do so. Similarly, a cow or a car is simply made up of component parts. This form of truth is absolutely necessary for day-to-day living.
In contrast to this we have ultimate Truth, which is not the subject of convention and which is not subject to change. The Buddha's doctrine of the Four Noble Truths is ultimate Truth in that these truths have always existed and are not subject to change. Whether a Buddha arises or not, these truths exist, but it is a Buddha who reveals them to the world. They were discovered by the Buddha by dint of his own efforts, therefore there is no justification for saying that his teaching is an outgrowth from Hinduism - although there are some doctrines which are common to both religions.
The sermon starts with the words "Thus have I heard" which is Venerable Ananda's way of introducing each sermon which we reported to the First Council. The Buddha addresses his audience by the term "Bhikkhu". Usually in a Buddhist context this refers to an ordained monk, but at this time there we no ordained monks, so here it refers to any mendicant.
He started by saying that he had reached the conclusion that there are two extremes which are to be avoided. As a child he had enjoyed every possible luxury, but he had rejected this. Then he had practised the opposite extreme - that of self-mortification, and that too he had rejected. So in his first sermon, he says that based on his own personal experience, "These two extremes should not be followed by one who has gone forth from worldly life: sensual indulgence - low, coarse, vulgar, ignoble, unprofitable; and self-torture - painful, ignoble, unprofitable." So the Buddha advocates the Middle Way, the middle path (majjhima patipada), avoiding extremes of anything. He says, "The Middle Way, understood by the Tathagata, after he had avoided the extremes, produces vision, produces knowledge, and leads to calm, penetration, enlightenment, nibbana." It is this middle way which is one of the essential marks of the Buddha's teaching. The Buddha was not an extremist in anything. In detail it refers to the Noble Eightfold Path, which is something we shall look at when we come to the fourth Noble Truth.
The Buddha continued his first sermon by setting out his discovery of the Four Noble Truths. These truths are not something which were invented by the Buddha. Analogy - Newton did not invent gravity, but he discovered laws which had always existed. The Four Noble Truths have always existed, but it was the Buddha who discovered them and taught them to us. They were not invented by the Buddha, but they were discovered by him. Everything else is an elaboration or explanation of these four truths. All four must be considered together.
"He who sees dukkha, sees also the arising of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha, and the path leading to the cessation of dukkha." (S:V.437)
1. Dukkha ariya sacca (ariya sacca means noble truth)
2. Dukkha samudaya ariya sacca
3. Dukkha nirodha ariya sacca
4. Dukkha nirodha gamini patipada ariya sacca
This has been translated as:
1. The truth of the existence of dukkha
2. The truth of the cause of dukkha
3. The truth of the cessation of dukkha
4. The truth of the path leading to the cessation of dukkha
Now, I have deliberately not yet given a translation of the word "dukkha". This word has no direct equivalent in the English language, but it is so central to the teaching of the Buddha that we need to look at it in detail in order understand it properly. Because it has often been wrongly or mis-translated into English, this had led to various misconceptions about the Buddha's teachings. So we need to look carefully at the real meaning of the word dukkha.
There is no one English word which fully conveys the true meaning of dukkha. Dukkha has been often translated into English as "suffering", but it means more than this. The literal meaning of the word is DU (difficult) and KHA (endure), i.e. that which is difficult to endure. The English words which come close to the meaning are: suffering, imperfection, impermanence, insubstantiality, unsatisfactoriness, inadequacy, uncontrollability, incompleteness, separation, the desire to become something other than what one is.
There are three kinds of dukkha:
1. Dukkha dukkha, which means straightforward suffering as the word is generally understood, for example the suffering caused by birth, old age, sickness and death. It also means the more subtle discomfort we experience as a result of petty disagreements, fits of anger, jealousy and other negative mental states.
"Association with the unpleasant is suffering". This means being stuck in situations we do not enjoy, like being jammed into the tube during the rush hour, or caught by a very boring person at a party and and having to listen to all sorts of things which do not interest us.
"Dissociation from the pleasant is dukkha. Not to get what one wants is dukkha". If there is something which we want very much but cannot have, then we experience a feeling of unease or dissatisfaction - that is a form of dukkha. Even when we get something that we want very much, we may still feel a vague sense of incompleteness or that something is missing. We may want the perfect day never to end, and this vague form of dissatisfaction is dukkha. The feeling of wanting to hold onto something, not wanting to be separated from it.
We may be searching for a spiritual teacher, and when we eventually find someone we respect, then we want him or her to be perfect. If he turns out not to be perfect, then we feel dissatisfaction, even perhaps disillusionment.
2. Viparinama dukkha, which means the suffering caused by change. It is a fundamental principle of the Buddha's teaching that everything is impermanent. His last words were, "Impermanent are all conditioned things". There is nothing in this world which is permanent. Everything is subject to change - only the rate of change varies. The Pali word is A-nicca (= not permanent). Some things change quickly - a bubble bursts after only a few seconds; some things change slowly - rocks may take thousands of years to waste away, but there is nothing which lasts forever. However, it is the nature of the mind to seek after things which are permanent, and when we find that they are changing, this causes us to experience dukkha. (Yad aniccam tad dukkham - whatever is impermanent, that is dukkha). New possessions, such as new shoes, may give us pleasure to begin with, but after a while they deteriorate and we experience dissatisfaction. Our shiny new car will eventually rust away. Friendships may fade; our bodies will wear out. This fundamental condition of change is unavoidable, yet it causes us much dukkha. It is not the change itself, but our resistance to it which is the problem. In fact we should welcome change - otherwise we could not even boil an egg. This is a much more subtle form of dukkha; it is not the gross dukkha of old age, sickness and death.
The Buddha said we should understand three things with regard to the pleasures of life.
1. attraction (assada)
2. the evil consequence or unsatisfactoriness (adinava)
3. freedom or liberation (nissarana)
Enjoyment causes attachment, which is dangerous because it is subject to impermanence. If one can overcome attachment, that is relief.
For example, we may enjoy the company of a friend. We want to see that person as much as possible. This is assada. But there may come a time when this enjoyment is no longer possible; perhaps we cannot see that person or we think that the person's attractive qualities have changed. This is adinava. If, however, we can become free from attractions like this, then we have achieved detachment - nissarana.
The first two kinds of dukkha do not completely exclude the possibilities of happiness, e.g. association with the pleasant, and dissociation from the unpleasant, to get what one wants. But at the third level, suffering is a part of the fabric of existence. Even though we are more affluent today, still this kind of dukkha remains. Dukkha cannot be eradicated by increasing affluence, although some of the more straightforward kinds may be.
3. Samkhara dukkha, which means the suffering of conditioned states. What does this mean? We must look in detail at the Buddha's ideas of what constitutes a person. When we are speaking in terms of conventional truth, we talk about a being or a person, but in ultimate truth the Buddha defined an individual as 5 aggregates. He taught that we are no more than a temporary and ever-changing combination of physical and mental forces. He called these "aggregates" (khandas) and there are five of these:-
Rupa - matter
Vedana - feelings
Sanna - perception
Sankhara - mental formations, constructing activities
Vinnana - consciousness.
The first aggregate, matter or form, comprises the Four Great Elements (pathavi, apo, tejo, vayo; solidity/expansion, fluidity/cohesion, heat/temperature/maturity and motion/displacement; or earth, water, fire and air). In each case one element predominates, but the other three are also present to a lesser degree. This aggregate also comprises the Derivative Forms of the Great Elements, these are the 5 material sense organs (the faculties of eye, ear, nose, tongue and body) and their corresponding objects in the sense world (form, sound, odour, taste, tangible objects, and thoughts).
The second aggregate, feeling, includes all sensations, which may be classified as either bodily pleasant/unpleasant, mentally pleasant/unpleasant or neutral, and which are experienced as a result of contact between our five physical sense organs and the mind with the external world. All physical and mental sensations are included here.
The third aggregate, perception, is also of six kinds which are connected to the six internal faculties and their six external objects. Like feeling, perception is produced by the contact of our six faculties with the external world. It is perception which recognises whether an object is physical or mental. Sanna processes all sensory and mental objects; it classifies and labels them, for example as the colour yellow, or a dog or an abstract quality such as anger.
The fourth aggregate, mental formations, includes all volitional actions, i.e. all actions which are performed as a result of will or volition. It is these mental formations which initiate action and which shape character. It is actions of this kind which produce kamma. There are 52 cetasikas, mental concomitants; two of these are sensation and perception which are not volitional actions and do not produce kamma. The remaining 50 are included in this aggregate. Volitional actions include attention (manasikara), will (chanda), determination (adhimokkha), joy, faith (saddha), concentration (samadhi), wisdom (panna), energy (viriya), passion (raga), hatred, illwill (patigha), ignorance (avijja), conceit (mana), and self-view (sakkaya-ditthi).
The fifth aggregate, consciousness, is the receptacle for the 52 mental factors and is the result of contact between one of the six sense faculties (eye, ear, etc.) with one of the corresponding six external phenomena (visible form, sound, etc.) For example, contact between the eye and visible form gives rise to visual consciousness. Without this contact, no consciousness can arise. Very important point. Consciousness does not exist independently of this contact. There is no such thing as pure consciousness existing by itself. A good analogy is like fire. Fire cannot exist by itself; it can only exist as a wood fire, a coal fire, etc. Similarly consciousness can only exist as visual consciousness, auditory consciousness, etc. Sense objects cannot be experienced without the appropriate kind of consciousness. Consciousness has no independent existence - even thoughts and ideas depend on contact. "Have I not in many ways explained consciousness as arising out of conditions, that apart from conditions there is no arising of consciousness?" (M.38) The object, the sense organ and the consciousness depend on each other like sheaf of reeds lean on each other.
What we call a "being" or an "individual" is only a convenient label which we give to describe this combination of aggregates. The Buddha taught that there is no such thing as a solid being, but only these five aggregates. Individual like a burning fire or flowing stream, not a solid vessel for holding experience or an unmoving slate on which perceptions are written.
The Buddha said,
"It is just like a mountain river, flowing far and swift, taking everything along with it; there is no moment, no instant, no second when it stops flowing, but it goes on flowing and continuing. So is human life, like a mountain river." (Anguttara nikaya p.700)
This also means that there is no such things as a permanent soul or self which persists even after death. The doctrine of "no soul" will be examined in greater detail later.
These aggregates are constantly changing and are themselves dukkha; they are never the same even for two consecutive moments. Now, it is not the aggregates which experience dukkha, but they are by their very nature dukkha. At this level, dukkha is not a kind of optional extra, an occasional event which may cause us unhappiness. It is part of our very fabric of existence, part of our essential nature. The Buddha said very clearly, "The 5 aggregates of clinging are suffering", and in another place, "As the aggregates arise, decay and die, O monk, so from moment to moment you are born, decay and die." Samkhara dukkha is nothing but these five khandas; just the existence of the five khandas is dukkha.
According to Prof. Y. Karunadasa: "In the Buddhist definition of suffering it is not the five aggregates (pancakkhanda) but the five aggregates of grasping (panca upadanakkhanda) that are characterised as suffering. This shows that although the five aggregates in themselves are not suffering, they can be a source of suffering when they become objects of grasping (upadana). Thus there is a clear distinction between the five aggregates on the one hand and the five aggregates of grasping on the other. Strictly speaking, what Buddhism calls the individual is not the five aggregates, but the five aggregates when they are grasped or appropriated. This explains why in the Buddhist definition of suffering, the reference is made to the aggregates of grasping and not to the aggregates themselves. The 5 khandhas are not suffering, but when we grasp them, then dukkha arises. The so-called individual can thus be reduced to a causally conditioned process of grasping. And it is this process of grasping that Buddhism describes as suffering. Hence the Buddhist conclusion is that life, at its very bottom or core, is characterised by suffering."
By whom are the five aggregates grasped? Besides the process of grasping, there is no agent who performs the act of grasping. This may appear rather paradoxical, nevertheless it is understandable in the context of the Buddhist doctrine of anatta and the Buddhist doctrine of dependent origination. What both seek to show is that the individual is a conditioned process, without an agent either inside or outside the process. This process of grasping manifests itself in three ways/misconceptions: This is mine (etam mama); this I am (esoham asmi); and this is myself (eso me atta). This first is due to craving (tanha); the second is due to conceit (mana); and the third is due to the mistaken belief in a self-entity (ditthi). It is through this process of three-fold self-identification that the idea of "mine", "I am" and "my self" arises. If there is a thing called individuality in its samsaric dimension, it is entirely due to the superimposition on the five aggregates of these three ideas. The grasping is inherent in the khandhas, there is no one to do the grasping.
This act of self-identification is itself suffering. We are identifying with a process which is itself in constant flux. (Yad aniccam tam dukkham).
"What we call 'I' or 'being' is only a combination of physical and mental aggregates, which are working together interdependently in a flux of momentary change within the law of cause and effect, and there is nothing permanent, everlasting, unchanging and eternal in the whole of existence." Rahula, "What the Buddha Taught", p.66
So there are three forms of dukkha, which the Buddha summarised in his first sermon as follows, "Birth is dukkha, decay is dukkha, disease is dukkha, death is dukkha, to be united with the unpleasant is dukkha, to be separated from the pleasant is dukkha, not to get what one desires is dukkha. In brief the five aggregates of attachment are dukkha."
We can say that the entire fabric of human experience is filled with impermanence and unsatisfactoriness. Dukkha goes much deeper than just the first kind of dukkha, which we may experience only when we actually fall sick or lose our job. Dukkha is a dynamic process which is suffering by virtue of being uncontrollable, ever-changing, and therefore inadequate and unsatisfying. Dukkha is a subtle but unavoidable part of the human condition and it is very important that we try to understand this as it is so central to the Buddha's teachings. You may also appreciate why it is so difficult to translate this word into English and why to use the word "suffering" is rather misleading. That is why it is often left untranslated. Dukkha on an everyday level - failures, frustration, missed opportunity, irksome routine, petty irritations. It is all right to use "suffering" provided we know it is only shorthand for something wider and deeper.
There is only one problem in the world - that of dukkha. All other problems, known and unknown, are included in this one which is universal. "The world is established on dukkha, is founded on dukkha." (S.i.40) If anything becomes a problem, there is bound to be dukkha. We may give it different names - economic, social, political, psychological, religious, but they all come from dukkha.
These four noble truths are presented to us for reflection and contemplation. The Buddha does not start off his first sermon by proclaiming that he is an enlightened being and therefore we must listen to what he has to say. If he had done that, we would naturally start to wonder - is he really enlightened? Do we have to believe what he says? But the Buddha simply states these four truths. They are presented to us for reflection and examination. Can we look inside ourselves and see if these statements are true or not.
The first truth is that there is suffering. This is to be "understood". Can we confirm this on the basis of our own personal experience? Please note the way in which this truth is phrased - there is suffering; not "I am suffering". This avoids using "self" as a point of reference. If we were to reflect that "I am suffering", this would invite us only to look inwards and to see matters only from our own personal point of view. But Dukkha is the common experience of all mankind. It does not matter who we are - President Clinton, the Queen of Sheba, or a homeless beggar; the one thing which we all share is that we all suffer. If we can recognise this, then this is a powerful spur to the development of compassion within ourselves. The extent and degree of the dukkha does of course vary from person to person and from moment to moment, but there is no one who is entirely free from dukkha.
The universal nature of dukkha can be well illustrated by the story of Kisagotami, whom the Buddha sent to bring mustard seed from a house in which no one had died. We are all in the same boat together.
It is sometimes said that Buddhism overemphasises the negative side of life, that it is concerned only with suffering. The idea has arisen among some people, who have not properly understood the teachings, that Buddhism is a very pessimistic religion because is concentrates so much on suffering. This is a false idea. First of all, we can see that dukkha means very much more than just "suffering". Then the four Noble Truths should be considered together, as four aspects of the same proposition. If Buddhism is concerned with the problem of suffering it is because it is equally concerned with its solution.
We prefer to say that Buddhism is not so much pessimistic or optimistic, but realistic (yathabhutam). If you go to see the doctor and he tells you that you are sick - this is neither pessimistic or optimistic, but simply an honest statement of how you are. Some doctors might exaggerate the seriousness of your illness and this would be a pessimistic assessment; other doctors might reassure you that there is nothing at all wrong and this would be an optimistic assessment. But the Buddha tells us honestly how we are; he diagnoses our symptoms correctly and prescribes the course to be followed if we wish to be cured. The Buddha is sometimes referred to as bhaisajya guru, the wise doctor. His analysis of the human mind and our situation in the world is just as valid today as it was 2,500 years ago. Our external circumstances may have changed a lot during this time, but the workings of the human mind have not changed. We still experience the same kinds of problems and unhappiness as people did at the time of the Buddha, and the truths which the Buddha discovered as a valid today as they were then.
It is accepted that sensual gratification is a source of happiness. Buddhism recognises different levels of happiness which culminate in Nibbana. The fact that Nibbana is described as the highest form of happiness shows that, by implication, there are other forms of happiness lower than that.
The Buddha did not deny that there is temporary happiness in the world. What he did say, however, is that this mundane happiness is not lasting (Whatever is subject to origination is also subject to cessation). You cannot expect to find permanent happiness from impermanent causes. If you wish to find permanent happiness you must seek elsewhere; this is the subject of the third and fourth Noble Truths (see next lecture).
He did not ignore the question of economic welfare; a certain level of economic prosperity is vital for a happy, peaceful society, but this should not be an end in itself but a base on which to build spiritual development. In the Cakkavattisihanada sutta, the Buddha says that poverty (daliddiya) is the cause of immorality and crimes such as theft, falsehood, violence, hatred and cruelty.
On the subject of happiness, the Buddha said that for the layman there are four kinds of happiness:-
1. The bliss ownership (atthi sukha) justly and righteously acquired;
2. (bhoga sukha) the bliss of wealth spending liberally on family friends & meritorious deeds, no hoarding;
3. (anana sukha) the bliss of debtlessness;
4. (anavajja sukha) the bliss of blamelessness - in body, speech & mind.
1st three are not woorth one sixteenth of the happiness given by the 4th.
Vyagghapajja sutta: 4 conditions conducive to one's happiness and peace in this worldly existence.
1. utthana sampada (persistent, energetic, efficient, skilful effort);
2. arakkha sampada watchfulness in the protection of income righteously earned;
3. kalyana mitta having good friends, who are faithful, intelligent, help him along the path from evil;
4. samajivikata balanced livelihood, living within one's means.
Another point to remember is that the quality we call "joy" (piti) is very important in Buddhism and is one of the essential factors of spiritual progress. So it is not really correct to say that Buddhism is a pessimistic religion. In fact, many Buddhists have a great sense of humour and enjoy life immensely.
The Second Noble Truth
At that time there were four theories as to why man suffers (S.II,p.19):-
1. Sayamkata - self-caused, based on the view that there is a persisting self which acts and suffers its consequences.
2. Paramkata - external causation, eg. creator god (issara), destiny (niyati), nature (svabhava).
3. Sayamkatam ca paramkatam - both self-caused and caused by another.
4. Adhiccasamuppanna - chance, fortuitous circumstances.
The Buddha rejected all of these and explained suffering on the basis of paticcasamuppada. This formula explains not only the origin of suffering, but also its cessation.
So, why do we experience dukkha? This brings us to the second Noble Truth, the cause of dukkha. The immediate cause of dukkha is tanha. This is another word which is not easily translated into English, but it is often expressed as "craving, greed, desire, thirst, attachment, passion", lust, yearning, longing, inclination, affection. This is the driving force which keeps existence going. Life depends on desire. Like a fuel which keeps a fire burning.
There are three kinds of tanha:-
1. Kama tanha - the thirst for sense pleasures. (kama is not the same word as kamma) In Buddhism there are six senses - the usual five, plus the mind which is also regarded as a sense. Each sense seeks pleasurable experiences. The eye seeks pleasant sights, the ear seeks pleasant sounds, the nose pleasant smells, the tongue pleasant tastes, the body pleasant sensations and the mind pleasant thoughts. Here again, the validity of this truth is something we can check up for ourselves. When we eat something delicious, we experience the desire to eat some more. Don't just nod your head in agreement, but really try it out for yourself. Notice the next time you eating something you enjoy how the desire for more enjoyment arises in your mind. But, by their very nature, all sense desires are insatiable - they cannot be satisfied. No sooner have we had one pleasant experience than we start to seek after another pleasant experience. It is said that just like the ocean, sense desire is never fully satisfied. You can pour water into the ocean for as long as you like, but it will never say "stop" because it is satisfied. Similarly, our desire for sensual pleasures can never be satisfied. Even unhappy feelings cause craving - the craving to be rid of the unhappiness.
This kind of tanha also includes attachment to non-material things such as power and wealth, opinions, views, beliefs and theories. It is attachments such as these which cause all the disagreements in the world, from petty arguments to international wars.
There is a set of 18 thoughts which are based on tanha:-
1. I am [i.e. I exist, which is a desire, a conceit, a wrong view]
2. I am such a one [e.g.. I am a householder, I am a human being]
3. I am also what that is [comparing oneself to another and identifying, e.g. as he is a householder, so also am I a householder]
4. I am otherwise [comparing oneself to another and perceiving a difference, e.g. as he is an ascetic, I am not an ascetic in the same way]
5. I am eternal [i.e. I shall live forever, I am not subject to change]
6. I am not eternal [i.e. I shall be annihilated, I shall be destroyed, I shall not be]
7. I should be [similar to no.1]
8. I should be such a one [similar to no.2]
9. I should also be [similar to no.3]
10. I should be otherwise [similar to no.4]
11. Would that I may become [similar to no.1]
12. Would that I may become such a one [similar to no.2]
13. Would that I may become so [similar to no.3]
14. Would that I may become otherwise [similar to no.4]
15. I will be [similar to no.1]
16. I will be such a one [similar to no.2]
17. I will be so [similar to no.3]
18 I will be otherwise [similar to no.4] (A 1:212)
Thoughts 1-4 concern the present; thoughts 5 & 6 are speculative; thoughts 7-10 reflect doubt; thoughts 11-14 express desire; thoughts 15-18 concern the future.
2. Bhava tanha - the thirst for existence, to grow, to accumulate. Desire to become something other than what one already is or is already experiencing, the desire to change or improve. Bhava tanha is the desire to be liked or popular, to achieve a good reputation or success.
This also means the desire to continue to exist and not to die. Bhava is the driving force behind all life. No living thing wants to die and will go to extraordinary lengths in order to ensure its survival. Even a simple insect shows bhava - a spider trying to avoid being washed down the plughole. This desire is so strong that we want to continue to exist even after death, so this leads to the idea of immortality or attainment of an eternal state like heaven. We can also call this the desire for "becoming", which is the term we use to describe the process of rebirth. Also the wish to continue via our genes, which are passed onto the next generation. We may call bhava tanha "eternalism".
3. Vibhava tanha - the thirst for non-existence. This is the opposite of bhava tanha. The desire to get rid of something, e.g. I want to get rid of dukkha, I want to get rid of anger or anxiety. It is also the desire for non-existence, for annihilation. The hope that this life is the one and only existence; there is no further existence after this one. Eat, drink, be merry. Nothing survives after death.
Some people accused the Buddha of being an eternalist, some of being an annihilationist. In fact he was neither. "Both formerly and now also, Anuruddha, it is just suffering and the cessation of suffering that I proclaim." (S.IV,p.383)
Bhava tanha and vibhava tanha cannot exist together, but either of them may be combined with kama tanha. We can look at tanha (craving) as like a dynamo which is generating energy. It is this energy that drives forward all existence.
"All aspects of experience in the mind and body, in which clinging inheres, are suffering." (S V 421)
It is a dynamic process which is suffering by virtue of being uncontrollable, ever-changing, therefore inadequate and unsatisfying.
"From craving springs grief, from craving springs fear. For him who is wholly free from craving, there is no grief, much less fear." (Dhp 216)
We live in a sensuous world. There is nothing wrong in this or to be ashamed about, but we need to recognise how powerful this is. Life in sensuous world like a skinned cow, tied to a wall, crawling with flies and insects. Such are sense impressions. All enjoyment causes attachment and that is dangerous because the source of enjoyment is impermanent. If we can overcome this attachment, then that is relief. Craving is to be "abandoned". Now, we should not feel bad about having these desires. You cannot eliminate craving by wishing - that is must another form of craving. What we should do is simply to observe the validity of this truth within ourselves. Recognise it, contemplate it and accept it, but do not condemn it. Simply observe craving objectively; then we can also see that it is impermanent and we can begin to let go. We can begin to let go by not identifying with the desire - it is simply desire, not my desire, my craving.
The discussion of the first two Noble Truths may seem to you to be rather discouraging - all this talk of dukkha and tanha. However, there is better news to come! The third and fourth Noble Truths contain the good news that we can bring dukkha to an end and the way in which this can be done. That is the subject of the next lecture.
The main points to remember: the Middle Way, the first two Noble Truths, the three forms of dukkha, the three kinds of tanha which are the immediate cause of dukkha, and the five aggregates which show the ever-changing nature of the individual.