Buddha's teachings are known as "The Way," "The Path" or the “Middle Way.” The Buddhist "Path" consists of three directions” morality, meditation and wisdom — all of which are pursued simultaneously. The "Middle Way" refers to a life is halfway between a life of self-torture and asceticism and a life of self-indulgence in the material world.

The Buddha urged the world to relinquish the extremes of sensuality and self-mortification and follow the enlightened Middle Way. The focus was on man, not gods; the assumption was that life was pain or suffering, which was a consequence of craving, and that suffering could end only if desire ceased. The end of suffering was the achievement of nirvana (in Theravada Buddhist scriptures, nibbana), often defined negatively as the absence of craving and therefore of suffering, sometimes as enlightenment or bliss. [Source: Library of Congress]

According to the Middle Way one must: 1) live their life “fully but not care what happens; " 2) avoid putting too much emphasis on material success because "it soon turns to dust in our hands;" 3) don’t get “obsessed with the dust, convinced that nothing matters”; and 4) recognize the Four Noble Truths.

After his enlightenment, The Buddha decided to teach others what he had learned, encouraging people to follow a path he called "The Middle Way," which is one of balance rather than extremism. He gave his first sermon (Buddha's First Sermon at Sarnath, 1980.527.4) in a deer park in Sarnath, on the outskirts of present-day Varanasi. The Middle Path (Majjhima Patipada') rejects the extremes of 'attakilamatanuyoga' (self-mortification) and 'kamasukkhallikanuyoga' (self-indulgence).

The first sermon by The Buddha at Sarnath began with an explanation of the Middle Way. The Buddha said: “These two extremes, O monks, are not to be practiced by one who has gone forth from the world. What are the two? That conjoined with passions, low, vulgar, common, ignoble, and useless, and that conjoined with self-torture, painful, ignoble, and useless. Avoiding these two extremes, [the enlightened one] has gained the knowledge of the Middle Way, which gives sight and knowledge, and tends to calm, to insight, enlightenment, nirvana. [Source: Quoted in Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, eds., A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, Princeton University Press, 1957, p. 274.)

On one hand the "Middle way" means not to complain about life, but it also means not to waste or escape from life by living in a constant state of ascetism. In “How to practise Buddhism”, Yat-Biu Ching wrote: “The "Middle way" recommends the use of the vision of wisdom to remove life's fears, anguishes and misunderstanding, to recognize the truth about life and to control one's destiny. Fame and fortune are temporary. We didn't bring them with us when we came to this world, and we cannot take them with us when we leave. Buddhism cautions man not to be too obsessed with desires and greed. It advises us to be compassionate, charitable and kind. We must not be handcuffed by the desire for fame and fortune. Wealth cannot provide us with spiritual fulfilment. Only by having good conduct and pure minds, can we achieve peace, contentment and true happiness in life.”

According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “The term "Middle Way" here does not mean the avoidance of extremes. Instead, it indicates the Buddhist idea of non-duality, i.e., the principle of reality that lies beyond existence and non-existence. More concretely, the "Middle Way" gradually liberates a person from the sense of "I" as an individuated self. See the discussion of the Five Heaps below for more on this point. [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org ~]

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Religious Tolerance Page religioustolerance.org/buddhism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion ; Buddhist Centre thebuddhistcentre.com; A sketch of the Buddha's Life accesstoinsight.org ; What Was The Buddha Like? by Ven S. Dhammika buddhanet.net ; Jataka Tales (Stories About Buddha) sacred-texts.com ; Illustrated Jataka Tales and Buddhist stories ignca.nic.in/jatak ; Buddhist Tales buddhanet.net ; Arahants, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas by Bhikkhu Bodhi accesstoinsight.org ; Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index

Buddha’s First Sermon: The Middle Way and the Eightfold Path

First Sermon

One famous Buddhist scripture on the First Sermon goes: “On seeing their old teacher approach, the five bhikkhus agreed among themselves not to salute him, nor to address him as a master, but by his name only. "For," so they said, "he has broken his vow and has abandoned holiness. He is no bhikkhu but Gotama, and Gotama has become a man who lives in abundance and indulges in the pleasures of worldliness." But when the Blessed One approached in a dignified manner, they involuntarily rose from their seats and greeted him in spite of their resolution. Still they called him by his name and addressed him as "friend Gotama." [Source: Ephanius Wilson, Sacred Books of the East, rev. ed. (London: The Colonial Press, 1900), pp. 158, 160-61, 171-72, repr. In Mark A. Kishlansky, ed., Sources of World History, Volume I, (New York: HarperCollins CollegePublishers, 1995), pp. 67-71, Brooklyn College website]

“When they had thus received the Blessed One, he said: "Do not call the Tathagata by his name nor address him as 'friend,' for he is the Buddha, the Holy One. The Buddha looks with a kind heart equally on all living beings, and they therefore call him 'Father.' To disrespect a father is wrong; to despise him, is wicked. "The Tathagata," the Buddha continued, "does not seek salvation in austerities, but neither does he for that reason indulge in worldly pleasures, nor live in abundance. The Tathagata has found the middle path.

"There are two extremes, O bhikkhus, which the man who has given up the world ought not to follow-the habitual practice, on the one hand, of self-indulgence which is unworthy, vain and fit only for the worldly-minded and the habitual practice, on the other hand, of self-mortification, which is painful, useless and unprofitable. "Neither abstinence from fish or flesh, nor going naked, nor shaving the head, nor wearing matted hair, nor dressing in a rough garment, nor covering oneself with dirt, nor sacrificing to Agni, will cleanse a man who is not free from delusions.

"Reading the Vedas, making offerings to priests, or sacrifices to the gods, self-mortification by heat or cold, and many such penances performed for the sake of immortality, these do not cleanse the man who is not free from delusions. "Anger, drunkenness, obstinacy, bigotry, deception, envy, self-praise, disparaging others, superciliousness and evil intentions constitute uncleanness; not verily the eating of flesh. "

A middle path, O bhikkhus, avoiding the two extremes, has been discovered by the Tathagata-a path which opens the eyes, and bestows understanding, which leads to peace of mind, to the higher wisdom, to full enlightenment, to Nirvana! "What is that middle path, O bhikkhus, avoiding these two extremes, discovered by the Tathagata - that path which opens the eyes, and bestows understanding, which leads to peace of mind, to the higher wisdom, to full enlightenment, to Nirvana?

"Let me teach you, O bhikkhus, the middle path, which keeps aloof from both extremes. By suffering, the emaciated devotee produces confusion and sickly thoughts in his mind. Mortification is not conducive even to worldly knowledge; how much less to a triumph over the senses ! "He who fills his lamp with water will not dispel the darkness, and he who tries to light a fire with rotten wood will fail. And how can anyone be free from self by leading a wretched life, if he does not succeed in quenching the fires of lust, if he still hankers after either worldly or heavenly- pleasures. But he in whom self has become extinct is free from lust: he will desire neither worldly nor heavenly pleasures, and the satisfaction of his natural wants will not defile him. However, let him be moderate, let him eat and drink according to the needs of the body.

"Sensuality is enervating: the "self-indulgent" man is a slave to pleasure to his passions, and pleasure-seek. ing is degrading and vulgar. "But to satisfy the necessities of life is not evil. To keep the body in good health is a duty for otherwise we shall not be able to trim the lamp of wisdom, and keep our mind strong and clear. Water surrounds the lotus-flower, but does not wet its petals. "This is the middle path, O bhikkhus. that keeps aloof from both extremes. And the Blessed One spoke kindly to his disciples, pitying them for their errors, and pointing out the uselessness of their endeavors, and the ice of ill-will that chilled their hearts melted away under the gentle warmth of the Master's persuasion.

Eightfold Path

The "Eightfold Path," which Buddhists are supposed to follow is comprised of: 1) right understanding (the realization that is full of suffering and suffering is caused by desire); 2) right thought (conditioning the mind to be free of desire and ill thoughts towards others); 3) right speech (refraining from lies, abuse and deceit); 4) right bodily action (refraining from violence); 5) right livelihood (avoiding self-indulgence); 6) right moral effort (showing kindness and controlling passions); 7) right mindedness (developing virtues); and 8) right concentration (practicing meditation).

Buddha hood – can be attained by following the Noble Eightfold Path, which constitutes a middle way between sensuality and ascetism. Enlightenment consists of knowing these truths. The average layperson cannot hope for nirvana after the end of this life, but can by complying, as best he or she is able to, with the doctrine's rules of moral conduct-hope to improve his or her karma and thereby better his condition in the next incarnation. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The "Eightfold Path” is not only seen as a code conduct but also as means of achieving nirvana by overcoming the senses and consciousness in a step-by-step way progressing through the Three Pillars of the Eightfold Path: 1) wisdom (“panna” , which embraces one and two in the Eightfold Path; 2) morality (“sila”, which embraces three, four and five); and 3) concentration (“samadhi” , which embraces six, seven and eight).

Description of the Eightfold Path

Gregory Smits of Penn State University wrote: "1) Right views is to know suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path that leads to the cessation of suffering. The first step, in other words, is to know and accept the Four Noble Truths. This may sound easy, but how many of you reading this now genuinely accept the assertion that life is suffering as a fundamental truth? Even for those living in a cultural environment influenced by Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths are difficult for many to accept as truths. Indeed, in all religions, there are often many who mouth the official doctrine, but far fewer who genuinely take it to heart. One aspect of the Four Noble Truths that we have not stressed sufficiently thus far is impermanence. The phenomena of this world are transient and fleeting, here today gone tomorrow. So, too, are we. The world we can perceive is temporary, yet people strive and strain in a futile effort to make it permanent. Most people live their lives as if they will never die — an absurd delusion according to Buddhist teaching. [Source: Indian Philosophy, pp. 277-78, but with minor modifications by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org ~]

2) "Right resolve is the resolve to renounce the world and to do no hurt or harm. Once a person accepts the Four Noble Truths as truths, the next step toward enlightenment is to resolve to act on that realization. Renouncing the world is to reject what sense of self has created. Doing so, however, is easier said than done. An initial step in the right direction is to do no additional harm to self or others. Take some simple, concrete steps. Stop eating meat, for example, cancel those subscriptions to Playboy and Playgirl, and refrain from anger the next time an obnoxious driver nearly runs you off the road. Do not make the suffering of life any worse for anyone. ~

3) "Right speech is to abstain from lies and slander, from reviling, and from gossip. Because the act of talking is so influential in defining the human world, it should receive attention early on. Step three is a more specific case of step two: do not increase the suffering of anyone, including yourself, by what you say. Is this possible? Could a person completely refrain from gossip, for example? Although rare, we could find someone whose speech does no harm. Step number three, while difficult, is still within the realm of the possible without going through any special or extraordinary training. ~

4) "Right action is to abstain from taking life, from stealing, and from lechery. This one seems straightforward. Regarding the first item, hunters should certainly find something better to do, and we should not go out and commit murder--but there is more. Have you ever consumed the flesh of a once-living creature? How many insects have you killed, accidentally or otherwise? And what about that mousetrap in the garage and the fly swatter on the windowsill? When measured against strict Buddhist standards, most of us would appear to be mass murderers. To what extent might we also be thieves and lechers? ~

5) "Right livelihood is that by which the disciple of the Noble One supports himself, to the exclusion of wrong modes of livelihood. Notice that this step pertains to "the disciple of the Noble One." The phrase probably refers to one who has taken formal Buddhist vows, though not at the level of a monk. Such a person lives in the community but has dedicated his life to the pursuit of the Buddhist path. Naturally, such a person must engage in the proper means of making a living, namely, doing work of benefit to others. Were the Buddha transported across time and placed into today's world, which occupations might be acceptable and which ones not? By what criteria would he decide (hint: think of the Four Noble Truths)? Which present-day occupation would be most opposed to the Buddha's basic teachings? ~

6) "Right endeavor is when a monk brings his will to bear, puts forth endeavor and energy, struggles and strives with all his heart to stop bad and wrong qualities that have not yet arisen from ever arising, to renounce those that have already arisen, and, finally, to establish, clarify, multiply, enlarge, develop, and perfect those good qualities already present. This portion of the path explains the initial goal of meditation for monks. A monk is one who lives apart from the broader community in austere conditions to pursue the quest for enlightenment full time. Stage six, therefore, indicates a major step up in commitment and seriousness. There is no explicit mention of meditation here, but for the Buddha's audience, that meditation was the primary technique for attaining enlightenment would have been obvious. ~

7) "Right mindfulness is when, realizing what the body is — what feelings are — what the heart is — and what the mental states are — a monk dwells ardent, alert, and mindful, in freedom from the wants and discontents attendant on any of these things. This stage builds upon the previous one. Notice that in number six, a monk actively strives and makes effort. That effort having had its effect, in stage seven, a monk ceases to strive. He has realized the truth about his own mental states, feelings, etcetera, and they no longer have any hold on him. His body may have gone without food for a long time, for example, and the monk knows that the feeling of hunger is present, but this feeling no longer causes him to desire to eat. A person at this stage is no longer a slave to the desires of his or her body and mind. ~

8) "Right [rapture of] concentration is when, divested of lusts and divested of wrong dispositions, a monk develops and dwells in the first ecstasy with all its zest and satisfaction, a state bred of aloofness and not divorced from observation and reflection. By laying to rest observation and reflection, he develops and dwells in inward serenity, in [the] focusing of heart, in the zest and satisfaction of the second ecstasy, which is divorced from observation and reflection and is bred of concentration — passing thence to the third and fourth ecstasies." ~

Four Holy Truths

The Buddha preached his view of life and suffering in a formula known as the Four Noble Truths, the most basic doctrine of Buddhism. The Four Holy Truths of Buddhism are: 1) “dukka,” the belief that human life is an exercise in suffering replete with evil, disease, imperfection and unhappiness; 2) “samodaya” , the concept that suffering is caused by craving and desire, which can not satisfy the spirit; 3) “nirodha” , freedom offered by renouncement of desire, which is rooted in ignorance; and 4) “magga” , the cessation of desire which culminates in nirvana by following the Eightfold Path. These principals were introduced in the First Sermon at Sarnath.

The fundamentals of Buddhist doctrine are the Four Noble Truths: suffering exists; craving (or desire) is the cause of suffering; release from suffering can be achieved by stopping all desire; and enlightenment — buddhahood — can be attained by following the Noble Eightfold Path (right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration), which constitutes a middle way between sensuality and ascetism. Enlightenment consists of knowing these truths. The average layperson cannot hope for nirvana after the end of this life, but can — by complying, as best he or she is able to, with the doctrine's rules of moral conduct — hope to improve his or her karma and thereby better his condition in the next incarnation. *

Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “These truths tell us, 1) that life in samsara is suffering; 2) that this has a cause..our longing for illusory things; 3) that this suffering may be ended by following the path of the Buddha; 4) what that path is. The first two truths comprise the basic worldview of Buddhist thought. The final two truths point towards the practical core of Buddhism: its path towards salvation through self-cultivation in the manner of the Buddha's own struggle to enlightenment.” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

The Four Noble Truths are often expressed in terms of Dukka as follows: 1)The truth of Dukkha; 2) The truth of the origin of Dukkha; 3) The truth of the cessation of Dukkha; and 4) The truth of the path, the way to liberation from Dukkha. The Theravada Buddhist scholar Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote: “The word 'Dukkha' has often been translated as suffering, pain and misery. But 'Dukkha' as used by the Buddha has a much wider and a deeper meaning. It suggests a basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all existence, all forms of life, due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. The term, dukkha, indicates a lack of perfection, a condition that never measures up to our standards and expectations.” ***

Bhikkhu Bodhi goes on to say: “The recorded teachings of the Buddha are numerous. But all these diverse teachings fit together into a single unifying frame, the teaching of the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha compared the Four Noble Truths to the footprints of an elephant. Just as the footprint of an elephant can contain the footprints of any other animal, the footprints of tigers, lions, dogs, cats, etc. So all the different teachings of the Buddha fit into the single framework of the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha makes it clear that the realization of the Four Noble Truths coincides with the attainment of enlightenment itself. He says that when a Buddha appears in the world there is a teaching of the Four Noble Truths. So the special purpose of the Dhamma is to make known the Four Noble Truths and the special aim of those treading the path to enlightenment is to see for themselves the Four Noble Truths...The function to be performed in respect of each Noble Truth is as follows: 1) The First Truth has to be understood. 2) The Second Truth has to be abandoned. 3) The Third Truth has to be realized. 4) The Fourth Truth has to be developed.” ***

Barbara O’Brien, a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, wrote: “The Forth Noble Truth is truth of the path that frees us from suffering. Here the Buddha as physician prescribes the treatment for our illness: The Eightfold Path. Unlike in many other religions, in Buddhism there is no particular benefit to merely believing in a doctrine. Instead, the emphasis is on living the doctrine and walking the path.” [Source: buddhism.about.com]

Buddha’s First Sermon: on the Four Noble Truths

In the First Sermon, The Buddha talked about the Four Noble Truth: “Now the Blessed One set the wheel of the most excellent law rolling, and he began to preach to the five bhikkhus, opening to them the gate of immortality, and showing them the bliss of Nirvana. The Buddha said: "The spokes of the wheel are the rules of pure conduct: justice is the uniformity of their length, wisdom is the tire; modesty and thoughtfulness are the hub in which the immovable axle of truth is fixed. "He who recognizes the existence of suffering, its cause, its remedy, and its cessation has fathomed the four noble truths. He will walk in the right path. "Right views will be the torch to light his way. Right aspirations will be his guide. Right speech will be his dwelling-place on the road. flis gait will be straight, for it is right behavior. His refreshments will be the right way of earning his livelihood. right efforts will be his steps right thoughts his breath; and right contemplation will give him the peace that follows in his footprints. [Source: Ephanius Wilson, Sacred Books of the East, rev. ed. (London: The Colonial Press, 1900), pp. 158, 160-61, 171-72, repr. In Mark A. Kishlansky, ed., Sources of World History, Volume I, (New York: HarperCollins CollegePublishers, 1995), pp. 67-71, Brooklyn College website]

Siddhartha witnessing suffering

"Now, this, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning suffering: "Birth is attended with pain, decay is painful, disease is painful, death is painful. Union. with the unpleasant is painful, painful is separation from the pleasant, and any craving that is unsatisfied, that too is painful. In brief, bodily conditions which spring from attachment are painful. "This, then, O bhikkus, is the noble truth concerning suffering. "Now this, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the origin of suffering: "Verily, it is that craving which causes the renewal of existence, accompanied by sensual delight, seeking satisfaction now here, now there, the craving for the gratification of the passions, the craving for a future life, and the craving for happiness in this life. "This, then, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the origin of suffering-

"Now this, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the destruction of suffering: "Verily, it is the destruction, in which no passion remains, of this very thirst; it is the laying aside of, the being free from, the dwelling no longer upon this thirst."This then, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the destruction of suffering- 'Now this, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the way which leads to the destruction of sorrow. Verily! it is this noble eightfold path: that is to say: "Right views; right aspirations; right speech; right behavior; right livelihood, right effort; right thoughts; and right contemplation. "This, then, O bhikkhus, is the noble truth concerning the destruction of sorrow. "By the practice of lovingkindness I have attained liberation of heart, and thus I am assured that I shall never return in renewed births. I have even now attained Nirvana."

Buddha’s Explanation of the Four Noble Truths

In his first sermon after his enlightenment, at Sarnath, The Buddha said: “This, O monks is the Middle Way:..1) Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of pain: birth is painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful, death is painful, sorrow, lamentation, dejection, and despair are painful. Contact with unpleasant things is painful, not getting what one wishes is painful. In short the five skandhas of grasping [form, sensation, conception, volition, and consciousness] are painful. [Source: “A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy,” pp. 274-75]

Buddha teaching

“2) Now this, O monks is the noble truth of the cause of pain: that craving which leads to rebirth [note the discussion of karma above], combined with pleasure and lust, finding pleasure here and there, namely, the craving for passion, the craving for existence, the craving for non-existence.

“3) Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of pain: the cessation without a remainder of that craving, [namely,] abandonment, forsaking, release, non-attachment. 4) Now this, O monks, is the noble truth of the way that leads to the cessation of pain: this is the noble Eightfold Path, namely, right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right endeavor, right mindfulness, right concentration...Knowledge arose in me; insight arose that the release of my mind is unshakable; this is my last existence; now there is no rebirth.

According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “Recall the context of the Buddha's first sermon, at least according to legend. After his former companions begged him to communicate his enlightenment experience, the Buddha did so, or at least attempted to do so, out of compassion for their suffering. He called his teaching the "Middle Way." The audience to whom the Buddha preached consisted of religious seekers, and most English translations of the first sermon refer to them as "monks."[Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org ~]

First Noble Truth: Dukkha and Suffering

Barbara O’Brien wrote: “The First Noble Truth often is translated as "Life is suffering” but its translated from the Pali word dukkha, which has a broader meaning than this, referring to anything that is temporary, conditional, or compounded of other things. Even something precious and enjoyable is dukkha, because it will end. Related to the nature of life is the nature of self. Are we not also temporary, conditional and compounded of many parts? We can understand that life is impermanent but are we, also, impermanent? The Buddha taught that before we can understand life and death we must understand the self.” [Source: Barbara, O’Brien, buddhism.about.com]

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote: The Buddha explains this truth by simply listing the various types of Dukkha. 1) Birth: Birth in a general sense means the entire period of gestation from the time of conception to exit from the womb. Birth in itself, when it takes place becomes a painful experience. Being thrust out from the womb, being thrown out into the world without a choice, without any understanding is a traumatic experience. Birth is dukkha also since this is the first point for all other forms of Dukkha that will follow during the course of life. After birth growth takes place, which also has its share of pain. ***

Siddhartha witnessing more suffering

2) “Ageing: When the maximum point of growth is reached, ageing sets in. The skin wrinkles, the teeth begin to fall out, sense faculties loose their sharpness, hair turns grey, memory fades and vitality declines. 3) Disease: Sickness whether physical or mental is suffering. 4) Death At the end comes death. The break up of the body, the extinguishing of the life force is suffering. 5) Sorrow, lamentation, pain , grief and despair: Sorrow is intense woe because of some deprivation. Lamentation is crying and weeping. Pain is bodily pain. Grief is any kind of mental unhappiness. Despair is the lowest point of mental anguish, when all hope is given up. ***

6) “Union with the unpleasant: Facing the various unpleasant situations and disagreeable people we don't want to face is suffering, when we are thrown into them against our will. 7) Separation from the pleasant: There are pleasant and agreeable situations or people we would like to meet with and hope will last, or we want to cling or hold to or relationships we want to endure. Facing separation from these pleasant situations or people is suffering. *) Not to get what we desire Generally we desire pleasure, wealth, fame and praise, but instead one meet with pain, poverty, dishonour and blame. When we want to remain young, we grow old, when we want to be healthy we fall sick. All this is suffering. ***

“Then the Buddha sums up: "In brief the five aggregates of clinging are dukkha". With this statement the Buddha indicates that all our experience is included in dukkha. The five aggregates are the basic components of our experience, which is of five types. They are material form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. The material form covers the physical body with its sense faculties and the other four are the mental side. The reason they are all included in Dukkha is that they are all impermanent, changing from moment to moment. In fact they are only momentary events without any inner core. What we call "my self" is just a combination of aggregates changing from moment to moment. It is the aggregates that are born, that grow old and finally die.” ***

Why Dukka Is More Than Just Suffering

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote; “To make it clear that Dukkha means more than ordinary suffering: The Buddha divides Dukkha into three types, depending on the depth: 1) Dukkha as ordinary suffering, as bodily or mental pain. 2) Dukkha due to change. This is a step remote from felt suffering. At this level we see that all pleasant experiences are Dukkha because they are subject to change. This does not mean that suffering arises due to the change of pleasure, rather it means that the pleasant experiences themselves and the things that give pleasure are already Dukkha, even while we are enjoying them. Health can be undermined by disease and therefore even when we are healthy, the state of health is dukkha. Youth has to give way to old age. Therefore our youthfulness is still Dukkha, unsatisfactory. 3) The Dukkha of Conditioned Formations. This is what Buddha intends when he declares that the five aggregates of clinging are dukkha. Our individuality is simply a combination of conditioned phenomena and all conditioned phenomena are impermanent and undergo constant transformation. As a result we have no mastery over them, we have no control over them, they go their way. For one with wisdom they are experienced as dukkha.***

Siddhartha meeting ascetic

“The teaching given by Buddha in the First Noble Truth often tends to arouse a certain degree of emotional resistance. This has given rise to false charges that Buddha is a pessimist, a negativist. However, we have to understand the intention of the Buddha in teaching the First Noble Truth. The Buddha's whole aim is to lead us to liberation out of this Dukkha. This calls for effort and causes some amount of internal friction. We set up emotional screens around us so that we can see and understand things in ways that are governed by our desires. But the Dhamma goes against our ordinary inclinations . Since the Dhamma is truth we have to be prepared to look at existence as it is. For it is only by seeing and seeing rightly, that we can win freedom. For this we have to stop seeing what we want to see and look at things objectively. ***

“The Buddha says that in order to gain a complete view we have to look at things from three angles: 1) From the angle of enjoyment or satisfaction; 2) From the angle of danger or unsatisfactoriness; 3) From the angle of release or escape. Buddha points out that life involves pleasure and enjoyment. He says that if there were no pleasures or enjoyments in our world, belongings, relationships etc. people wouldn't become attached to the world. It is precisely because there is enjoyment that we become attached to this world, and not all of these enjoyments are unwholesome. Happiness of a good family, true love, aesthetic pleasure, religious life can be truly gratifying. However, when you look at life from the second angle, you will see that since all this is impermanent it is unsatisfactory. Therefore we have to put away attachment and desire and examine whether these enjoyment can give us complete satisfaction. ***

“When we examine our lives in the light of the Buddha's teachings it becomes clear that real happiness can not be found in the realm of birth and death. However the Buddha also shows us the way out of this Dukkha, that is Nibbana and the path to Nibbana. He assures us that it can be attained by any one of us just as he attained it. Hence the path laid down by Buddha becomes the most optimistic and the hopeful. However in order to free ourselves from suffering we have to find the causes for our bondage. This brings us to the Second Noble Truth.” ***

Second Noble Truth: Desire and Craving

Buddha's battle with Mara

Barbara O’Brien wrote: The Second Noble Truth— truth of the cause of suffering— teaches that the cause of suffering is craving or thirst (tanha). We continually search for something outside ourselves to make us happy. But no matter how successful we are, we never remain satisfied. The Buddha taught that this thirst grows from ignorance of the self. We go through life grabbing one thing after another to get a sense of security about ourselves. We attach not only to physical things, but also to ideas and opinions about ourselves and the world around us. Then we grow frustrated when the world doesn't behave the way we think it should and our lives don't conform to our expectations. The Buddha's teachings on karma and rebirth are closely related to the Second Noble Truth. [Source: Barbara, O’Brien, buddhism.about.com]

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote: “This aims at showing us the cause of suffering. The different philosophies and religions give us different answers to the question why we are subject to suffering. Some say that it comes through mere chance, or by fate or destiny, some attribute it to the will of an Almighty God. Buddha dismisses these as fanciful products of belief and imagination. They all lead to two results, either they encourage a passive acceptance of suffering or else get us involved in treating the symptoms. ***

“The Buddha's approach is to trace the problem to its cause, to its root. Buddha declares that the origin of Dukkha is craving, in Pali 'Tanha'. The Buddha recognizes that there are three types of craving. There can be wholesome desires such as desire to practise the Dhamma, the desire to give, etc. There are also neutral desires, the desire to take a walk, the desire to sleep, etc. And there are unwholesome desires. Tanha means the unwholesome desire - the desire grounded in ignorance, the drive for personal gratification. Although desire is singled out as the cause of dukkha, it is not the only factor involved in the origination of suffering. However, it is the chief factor. But craving always works within a complex of factors. It is conditioned by ignorance, by the psycho-physical organism and it requires objects. ***

“Three Forms of Craving: 1) Sensual craving - kama tanha: The craving for sense pleasures. Craving for pleasant sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch sensations, and for enjoyable ideas. 2) Craving for existence - bhava tanha: The craving for continued survival. The drive to go on existing and to take on special forms, to become prominent, famous and wealthy, for immortality, etc. 3) Craving for anihilation - vibhava tanha: Craving for non-existence, the wish for self-annihilation. The most evident manifestation is suicide and it also includes other self-destructive behaviour. ***

Tibetan tantric padmasambhava yam-yum

“Now we have to see how craving originates Dukkha. The causal role of craving can be seen at two levels - a psychological level and a universal or cosmic level. Psychological level: We find that craving is the underlying root of unhappiness, sorrow, grief, fear, worry, and disapointment. Craving gives rise to sorrow when we are separated from the persons or things we are attached to. Also it gives rise to fear, we become afraid of losing what we have obtained, we are afraid that people might reject us or that circumstances might separate us. ***

“There are several stages in the psychological process by which craving leads to Dukkha. They are as follows: a) The very moment craving arises it brings along with it a feeling of dissatisfaction. This arises due to the contrast between one's present state of lack-of oneself without the object-and the possibility of fulfilling oneself by possession of the object. This is the Dukkha of striving and seeking. b) In the enjoyment of the object The enjoyment of the object is accompanied by the suffering of protection. Once we get an object we have to protect it. c) Loss of the object: With the break up of an object or loss of a loved one there is suffering of deprivation. If we examine our mind carefully we find that simply yielding to desire brings us only temporary satisfaction, which actually fuels the force of craving. Craving arises more strongly in the future. We need more money, more pleasure, more power. Thus it brings a stronger inner dissatisfaction. This is the way craving becomes the origin of suffering at the psychologicl level. ***

“Cosmic level, At a deeper level, craving is the force which fuels the round of rebirth, samsara. Craving uses the body as a means of finding delight. At death the body can no longer support consciousness, but the craving remains. Therefore, It latches onto a new body as the physical form and brings about rebirth, and the new existence provides the base of craving. In this way it originates Dukkha over and over again.” ***

Desire in the Buddhist Context

“"As rain pours through poorly thatched roofs, so does desire overwhelm the undeveloped mind." — Buddha from the Dhammapada According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “Recall the context of the Buddha's first sermon, at least according to legend. After his former companions begged him to communicate his enlightenment experience, the Buddha did so, or at least attempted to do so, out of compassion for their suffering. He called his teaching the "Middle Way." The audience to whom the Buddha preached consisted of religious seekers, and most English translations of the first sermon refer to them as "monks."[Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org ~]

“All around us are things we do not have. Most of us, for example, do not have a Rolls Royce car, and yet few suffer because of this lack. Not having something, in other words, does not itself cause us to suffer. It is the desire to have what we do not that causes us to suffer. The Buddha concluded not that life contains suffering (which would hardly have been insightful), but that suffering is so integral to human life that for all practical purposes, life is suffering. To put an end to the suffering, we must put an end to desires. If we succeed in eliminating all desires, then we also eliminate life as we know it. The result is a state called nirvana, in which one loses all sense of self and merges with the cosmos. Entering nirvana is the ultimate goal of most forms of Buddhism.~

“Some would object to the Buddha's formulation by suggesting that people simply satisfy our desires, which would prevent the suffering associated with them. This "solution," however only makes things worse in the long run. Lesser desires, when apparently satisfied, actually produce greater desires — the starting assumption of economics. The person without any car at all might be delighted with an old, used one. Soon, however, the car loses its appeal and the desire for a new one wells up. Having saved and sacrificed for the new car, the desire for a better model rears its ugly head. It is such a person who would eventually suffer by lacking a Rolls Royce. Vain attempts to eliminate suffering by "satisfying" desires only creates stronger desires and thus worse suffering. The Buddha preached his sermon to persons who already possessed sophisticated religious knowledge and experience. He and his audience shared many common assumptions. Therefore, prior to examining the Eightfold path, we should survey the most important of these assumptions.” ~

Battle with Mara

Third Noble Truth: Overcoming Suffering and Desire

The Third Noble Truth offers the possibility a cure to the disease of suffering and its cause, desire. The Buddha taught that craving can be overcome through diligent practice, with the aim or the light at the end of the tunnel being enlightenment (bodhi, "awakened") and nirvana (the enlightened state of being). [Source: Barbara, O’Brien, buddhism.about.com]

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote: “Suffering can be totally overcome!” That is “the great affirmation of the Buddha. The Buddha announces that this process of becoming does not have to continue indefinitely. He announces the Truth of the Cessation of Dukkha. This truth shatters the charge of pessimism. It reveals the great affirmation of the Buddha, the affirmation that suffering can be totally overcome, that a state of perfect peace is open and available by way by of eliminating craving. ***

“The cessation of Dukkha which comes with the end of craving can be understood at two levels, the psychological and metaphysical levels. At the psychological level, when craving is cut off, all mental unhappiness comes to an end. The mind is inwardly released from sorrow, worry, fear, grief and distress. Corresponding to the end of Dukkha, there comes a great peace, supreme happiness, complete joy. The Arahant, the liberated one lives, in perfect peace, always content, always serene and happy. Physical pain, old age, sickness and other visisititudes of life cause no disturbance to his mind because he is released from all clinging. At death the process of becoming comes to an end. Since there is no craving there is no seed for new existence. Samsara draws to a close with the break up of his body. He passes from the world of becoming to a state which is inconceivable, immeasurable, which is beyond the range of concepts and words. It is the reality designated as Nibbana. ***

Fourth Noble Truth: The Path to Enlightenment

Barbara, O’Brien wrote: The Forth Noble Truth is truth of the path that frees us from suffering. Here the Buddha as physician prescribes the treatment for our illness: The Eightfold Path. Unlike in many other religions, in Buddhism there is no particular benefit to merely believing in a doctrine. Instead, the emphasis is on living the doctrine and walking the path. [Source: Barbara, O’Brien, buddhism.about.com]

Buddha's enlightenment, 2nd or 3rd century from Gandhara

The path leading to the cessation of Dukkha is The Noble Eightfold Path.: 1) Right View; 2) Right Intention; 3) Right Speech; 4) Right Action; 5) Right Livelihood; 6) Right Effort; 7) Right Mindfulness; 8) Right Concentration.

According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “The Eightfold Path is often symbolized by the eight spokes of a wheel. Its ultimate goal is to lead to a person to enlightenment. While it may be possible for someone to accomplish all eight steps in one lifetime, most people will make slow progress over many lifetimes. In this scenario, the improved karmic state in each round leads to a better rebirth, which sets the stage for further progress. (The Buddha himself, according to legend, went through numerous past lives before his attainment of nirvana. Stories of events in these past lives — especially the Jataka Tales — serve as Buddhist parables to teach good behavior and the proper outlook on life.) The Eightfold Path is not something that one can normally accomplish quickly or easily.” [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org ~]

The “final stage is subdivided in to four "ecstasies," the last two of which are so profound that words cannot describe them. In the first ecstasy, a monk is entirely aloof from his former mental states and modes of perception, though he is still able to observe and reflect on them. Here, observation and reflection are his last link with the "ordinary" world. Finally, he abandons even these, which sets in motion a process that ends in enlightenment. ~

“Notice several important characteristics of this Eightfold Path. First, it is a stepwise progression, starting with relatively easy (if still difficult) tasks that become increasingly more demanding. Second, this is an arduous path, even in its early stages. Third, following the Eightfold Path is a personal quest. There is no superior being on whom to rely or to provide guidance, and there are no deities (deities come into Buddhism after it developed into a formal religion). The locus of the power to find enlightenment is within each person.” ~

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Kalachakranet.org (shambala), Julie Chao (Yawning monks) and Joho (debating monks)

Text Sources: East Asia History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu , “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org, Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia, Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org , “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 5 East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1993); “ National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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