Research Study

The Four Noble Truths


Why do we suffer ?. There is suffering around you-there is immense suffering. There are so many ways of suffering. Desire in its movement, in its action is a process of fulfillment or denial. There are various forms of fulfillment and various forms of denial, likewise each bringing about different kinds of sorrow. Without understanding sorrow there is no wisdom.....and is there an end to sorrow ?.

So what is the origin of desire ?. We live by sensation Right ? We live by sensation. If I observe the whole process of desire in myself I see there is always an object towards which my mind is directed for further sensation. There is perception, contact, sensation and desire and the mind becomes the mechanical instrument of all this process. So sensation becomes monstrously important and it's problems overwhelming and if we do not penetrate deeply and comprehend its processes our life will be shallow and utterly vain and misetable....and the habit of seeking further sensation....and is there an end to sorrow?.

Now I realise the state of my own mind. I see that - it is instrument of sensation and desire and that it is mechanically caught up in routine. Such a mind is incapable of ever receiving or feeling the new for the new must obviously be something beyond sensation-which is always the old. So this mechanical process with it's sensations has to come to an end, has it not? Karma is not an ever-enduring chain; it is a chain that can be broken at any time. What was done yesterday can be undone today; there's no permanent continuance of anything. Continuance can and must be dissipated through the understanding of its process. So when you SEE this process, when you are really aware of it without opposition, without a sense of temptation, without resistance, without justifying or judging it then you will discover that the mind is capable of receiving the new and that the new is never a sensation therefore it can never be recognized, re-experienced. It is a state of being in which creativeness comes without invitation, without memory and that is reality. That which is unnameable cannot be recognised. It is not a sensation.

Then you will find there comes love that is not sensation, intelligence that is not of time or of thought process and it is only that, that can resolve this immense and complex problem of sorrow.. ..and to have the capacity of freedom that can come upon that thing that is sacred and from there move to something that may be timeless.


IMPORTANT : Please refer to the K teachings on sensation, desire and the ending of desire as quoted in PART III.


The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths are the essence of the Buddha's teaching. In the Anguttara-nikaya the Buddha said:

Vediyamanassa kho panaham, bhikkhave,
dam dukkham ti pannapemi ayam
dukkha-samudayo ti pannapemi
ayam dukkha-nirodho ti pannapemi
ayam dukkha-nirodha-gamini-patipada
ti pannapemi.

To one who experiences sensations, meditators,
I teach the truth of suffering (1st noble truth),
I teach the truth of the arising of suffering (2nd noble truth),
I teach the truth of the cessation of suffering (3rd noble truth),
and I teach the truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering
(4th noble truth-the noble eight fold path).

In this passage the Buddha states unequivocally that the Four Noble Truths can be understoood, realized and practised only through the experience of vedana (sensation).

He further analysed the Noble Truths in the light of vedana by saying :
Yam kinci vedayitam, tam pi dukkhasmim. (2)

Whatever sensations one experiences, all are suffering.

Not only is dukkha vedana (unpleasant sensation) suffering, but sukha vedana (pleasant sensation) and adukkhamasukha vedana (neutral sensation) are also suffering, because of their impermanent nature. Arising and passing away, anicca (impermanence), is the characteristic of vedana. Every pleasant sensation has a seed of dukkha in it because it is bound to pass away. We are so bound by ignorance that when a pleasant sensation arises, without knowing its real nature of impermanence, we react to it by developing craving and clinging towards it. This leads to suffering: tanha dukkhassa sambhavam - craving is the origin of suffering (3)

In fact, craving is not only the origin of suffering but suffering itself. As craving arises, suffering arises. The Buddha elucidatcd the second of the Four Noble Truths not as tanha-paccaya dukkha but instead as dukkha-samudaya. In other words, craving is not merely the precondition of suffering; it is itself inseparable from suffering. The same emphasis is apparent in the statement tanha dukkhassa sambhavam.Verily tanha and dukkha are sahajata (conascent). As soon as tanha arises, one loses the balance of the mind, becoming agitated and tense. In other words, one experiences dukkha.

Similarly, when vedana arises and results in tanha, it is dukkha. Thus whenever the term vedana is used in Dhamma, it conveys the sense of dukkha. Even a neutral sensation is dukkha if its impermanent nature is ignored. Therefore, not only for dukkha vedana but for sukha vedana and adukkhamasukha vedana as well, the Buddha correctly used the word vedana as a synonym for dukkha.

Emphasizing this fact again in relation to the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha said in the Dyayatana-sutta of the Suttanipata:

Yam kinci dukkham sambhoti
sabbam vedanapaccaya ti-
Vedananam tveva asesaviraga-nirodha
natthi dukkhasssa sambhavo ti-
ayam dutiyanupassana.

Whatever suffering arises, it is because of sensation-this is the first anupassana (constant observation). With the complete cessation of sensation there is no further arising of suffering-this is the second anupassana.

The first anupassana is the constant observation of vedana as dukkha. The second anupassana consists of the reality which is beyond the field of vedana as well as beyond the field of phassa (contact) and of salayatana (the six sense doors). This is the stage of nirodha-samapatti of an arahant (fully liberated one), the experience of the state of nibbana. By this second anupassana, the meditator realizes the truth that in the field of nirodha-samapatti there is no dukkha, because there is no vedana. It is the field beyond the sphere of vedana.

The Buddha continues in the same sutta:

Sukham va yadi va dukkham,
adukkhamasukham saha
ajjhattam ca bahiddha ca,
yam kinci atthi veditam.
Etam dukkham ti natvana
mosadhammam palokinam
phussa phussa vayam passam,
evam tattha virajjati
Vedananam khaya bhikkhu,
nicchato parinibbuto.

Whatever sensations one experiences in the body, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, inside or outside, all are suffering, all are illusory, all are ephemeral. A meditator observes that wherever there is a contact in the body, sensations pass away (as soon as they arise). Realizing this truth with the extinction of sensation, the meditator is freed from craving, fully liberated.
A person well-established in this truth becomes liberated from the habit of craving and clinging towards sensation and reaches the state where there is no more vedana (vedana-khaya). (This is the stage of nibana reached in the second anupassana.) A meditator who has experienced this state of arahata-phala becomes nicchato (freed from all desires). Such a person becomes parinibbuta (totally liberated).

Therefore, to experience and understand dukkhasacca (suffering), samudaya-sacca (its arising), nirodha-sacca (its cessation) and dukkha-nirodhagamini-patipada-sacca (the path leading to the cessation of suffering), one has to work with sensations and realize the truth of vedana (vedana-sacca), the arising of vedana (vedana-samudaya-sacca), the cessation of vedana (vedana-nirodha-sacca) and the path leading to the cessation of vedana (vedana-nirodha-gamini-patipada-sacca).

This process is clearly described in the Samadhi-sutta of the Vedana-samyutta:

Samahito sampajano, sato Buddhassa savako
Vedana ca pajanati, vedananam ca
Yattha ceta nirujjhanti, maggam ca
Vedananam khaya, bhikkhu nicchato
parinibbuto ti.

A follower of the Buddha, with concentration, awareness and constant thorough understanding of impermanence, knows with wisdom the sensations, their arising, their cessation and the path leading to their end. A meditator who has reached the end of sensations is freed from craving, fully liberated.

The Buddha further says very emphatically that the ariyo atthangiko maggo (the Noble Eightfold Path) has the purpose of understanding vedana and reaching the state of vedana-nirodha (cessation of sensations) :

Tisso ima,
vedana. Katama tisso ? Sukha vedana, dukkha
vedana, adukkamasukha vedana. Ima kho,
bhikkhave, tisso vedana. Imasam kho,
bhikkhave, tissannam vedananam abhinnaya
parinnaya parikkhayaya pahanaya...ayam
ariyo atthangiko maggo bhavetabbo...

There are these three types of bodily sensations. What are the three? Pleasant sensation, unpleasant sensation and sensation which is neutral. Meditators, the Noble Eightfold Path should be practised for the complete knowledge, the full realization, the gradual eradication and the abandonment of these three bodily sensations.

Sensations (vedana) are the tools by which we can practise the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path; and by realizing the characteristic of anicca (impermanence) we free ourselves from the bonds of avijja and tanha and penetrate to the ultimate truth: nibbana, freedom from suffering, a state which is beyond the field of vedana beyond the field of nama-rupa (mind-matter).

1. Anguttara-nikaya I, Nal. 163, PTS 176.
2. Majjhima-nikaya III, Nal. 288, PTS 208.
3. Suttanipata, Nal. 383, PTS 140.
4. Ibid., Nal. 383, PTS 139.
5. Loc. cit.
6. Samyutta-nikaya IV, Nal. 183, PTS 204.
7.Ibid. V,Nal.56,PTS 57.
-VRI Research Article, Sayagyi U Ba Khin Journal
Pgs 249-251

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