Cause of Suffering

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Craving: The Origin of Suffering

War and SufferingThe Noble Truth of the Origin of Dukkha is stated as follows:

“What, now, is the Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering? It is craving, which gives rise to fresh rebirth, and, bound up with pleasure and lust, now here, now there, finds ever-fresh delight.” (Digha Nikāya 22)

This craving takes three forms:

Sensual Craving

Sensual craving is the desire for enjoyment through any of the sense doors. When we perceive a visual object, sound, odour, taste, or touch something, if it is deemed to be pleasant we approve of it, cherish it, and cling to it. When it passes, we lust after it, or regret its passing. When we perceive through the same senses something that is unpleasant, we are repelled and seek to get rid of the object, and avoid it in the future.

We also do this with mind objects: consciousness, perceptions, and feelings. Instead of accepting the true nature of these things, we either try to hold on to them and ‘own’ them – when their very nature ensures they are temporary, fleeting. Or, we try to avoid them, and wish them away – when instead we should see them as a part of our lives. Only when we cease to attach the labels of pleasant, unpleasant, or indifferent to the feelings that arise in relation to these objects will we cease the process of clinging.

Craving for Existence

Craving for existence is the desire for continued or eternal life. This is the delusive non-materialistic notion of an eternal Ego (or Self, or Soul) which persists independently of our body. Because we cling both to other objects, and to some notion that we are a permanent unchanging Soul, we act in ways that will cause suffering. By clinging to this notion of Self, we distort our relationship to others and to the process of becoming. It is through this craving that we fix ourselves in a process which results in future births with their attendant sorrows, pain, grief, and despair.

Craving for Self-annihilation

Craving for self-annihilation is the delusive materialistic notion of a real Ego that is annihilated at death (and which therefore has no causal relationship with the time before or after death).

If we choose to believe that everything ends with our death, again by our actions, we distort our relationship to others and the world. We are essentially shoring-up our own Ego by claiming that life has only the value that we determine it should have: our world-view is what is deemed to matter. We will be tempted to behave in ways that are selfish, arrogant, and hedonistic. Our actions will be determined by how much we like or dislike things, and we will therefore miss the opportunity to see these things for what they really are. In a real sense, we become the centre of the universe – a universe about which we care little about, it being a mere extension of our own finite Ego.

“Whatever kind of ‘feeling’ one experiences – pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral – if one approves of, and cherishes the feeling, and clings to it, then while doing so, lust springs up; but lust for feelings means ‘clinging’, and on clinging depends the ‘process of becoming’; on the process of becoming depends ‘birth’ and dependent on birth are ‘decay and death’, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. Thus arises the whole mass of suffering.” (Majjhima Nikāya 38)

Source: Notes taken and adapted from on an online meditation course taken entitled Vipassana Fellowship Meditation Course, which provides practical instruction in mindfulness meditation as found in the tranquillity (samatha) and insight (vipassana) traditions of early Buddhism (Theravada tradition) and has been hosted since 1997. The course is led by Andrew Quernmore, a meditation teacher for nearly 20 years and with a personal meditation practice of more than 30 years. Further details may be found at http://www.vipassana.com/course/

Photo Credit: Intellimon Ltd.

Defilements: The Cause of Suffering

Egret and CormorantThe second noble truth, of the origin or cause of suffering, implies the task of abandonment. A noble one is such because he has initiated the process of eliminating the defilements at the root of suffering, and we too, if we aspire to reach the plane of the noble ones, must be prepared to withstand the seductive lure of the defilements.

While the eradication of craving can come only with the supramundane realizations, even in the mundane course of our daily life we can learn to restrain the coarser manifestation of defilements, and by keen self-observation can gradually loosen their grip upon our hearts.

Source: “The Nobility of the Truths”, by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 5 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay_20.html