The Second Noble Truth – Origin of Suffering (Dukkha Samudayam Ariyasaccam)

How suffering arises. Buddha taught through The Second Noble Truth, that suffering stems from a root cause—a basic and fundamental delusion arising from ignorance and misunderstanding of the foundational truths about the nature of reality. Ignorance and delusion manifest as the mind state that does not recognize Anattā (non-self), which is explored in a further detailed description and commentary in the article on Anatta. Essentially, there is a misconception of separateness, with the mind becoming fixated and stuck on the notion of a wholly independent, separate ‘self’ existing and abiding in the world. This self seeks attachment, confirmation and validation of being, seeking connection to life and experiences through the senses. We are driven and desire to feel and reaffirm this independent self, wanting and chasing after being in the world free from perceived inadequacies and discontentment. Across various cultural, societal and family contexts, the mind and life can naturally become conditioned into perceiving itself encapsulated and absorbed in this seemingly isolated experience of self. Viewing ourselves as separate, isolated entities or solitary agents and incessantly chasing our desires are the root causes of our sufferings. Together, the view of a separate self and chasing the desires of this seemingly separate ‘self’ intertwine, entangling us and causing a cycle of suffering that is difficult to unravel. This entanglement in our own perceptions and projections gives rise to inner and outer conflicts, the pushing, pulling, and overlooking of reality that feeds and fuels aversion, aggression and detrimental states of indifference.

Comprehending Anattā involves the development of a healthy sense of self, including our personal identity, our relationship with ourselves, others, our community and our environment, and becoming societally, culturally and globally aware. Knowledge of Anattā involves knowing oneself in the world. It is a healthy state of mind that is free from the fixation on a personal self and can reorientate awareness to include others and the world, supporting a well and happy life. The mind, entrapped exclusively within a solely separate ‘self’ perspective, is the cause of significant personal and collective suffering. Through dedicated practice and mind training, we can expand our awareness beyond the limitations of this individual state of self. It is important to clarify that awareness, in the context of mindfulness and meditation, does not simply refer to being observant. Instead, it signifies the mind becoming increasingly open, wakeful and receptive to the intelligence of natural law and lore of nature. From our misinterpretations of these essential bare laws of existence, various reactive states (Kilesas) emerge as we cling and grasp, trying to maintain and solidify this state of separateness, seeking to control every aspect of our lives, relentlessly chasing, wanting, and desiring things (Tanha) to be favourable, comfortable and beneficial for ourselves only, or only extending to include our close circles, those we associate or identify with. Often, these circles have a limited scope and are exclusive. It is of great importance to know ourselves and be aware of the causes of our personal sufferings. It is imperative that we expand our awareness to include the suffering of others, how the world suffers, all our sameness, and the relational aspects and interdependencies involved.

The universalist approach to the teachings does take as problematic the existence of an individual sense of self; instead, it recognizes that suffering is instigated at the initial point of self-referencing. When we predominately operate from a self-referencing orientation, everything revolves around the preservation, continuation and prioritization of “I” ness, consolidating “I” centric-ness. Consequently, we can easily forget or forgo the importance and benefits of reframing our perspective to include the lives of others and the broader world, which skews and limits us to a narrower view and limited understanding of reality.

The central idea of practice here is that once there is a willingness to stop, see and acknowledge the truth that suffering exists, now that our ground has been shaken and suffering has come into view, we can look within and all around, expanding our awareness to include the truth of suffering, looking into and contemplating the uncertainties of being, and the evident and subtle habitual patterns that cause and perpetuate suffering, seeing into the source and the causes in accordance with Buddhas teaching on The Second Noble Truth.

Suffering arises predominately from small, subtle shifts of mind, moments of confused intentions, undisciplined attention, indulgence in unrealistic fantasies, non-realities, and wanderings of the mind, which can trigger cascades of habituated thoughts and emotions that build and layer up, expanding and conflating into unhelpful reactive patterns. Through right mindfulness and meditation practice, we can come to observe these unhelpful patterns unfolding as thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, activities and their resultant imprints and influences play out and investigate to find their sources within. Yes, whilst external factors can be sources of suffering, we can choose to restrain and refrain from engaging with some of these external sources. But only so much as within our limited field of control. We do not want to reinforce avoidance and aversions, so we learn how to skillfully navigate and manage both our inner workings and external environments.

All the patterns that cause us suffering are inherent, innate aspects of us all, of our existence. They do not belong to us, not ours alone; they belong to life. Life has endowed us with a capacity to be consciously aware of our uniqueness, individuality, sameness and differences, forming a distinct concept of an individual self. Life has instilled in us a desire, a sense of wanting to feel secure and abiding, a sense of permanence and the everlastingness of things. Life has provided us with the ability to cultivate beliefs that guide activity towards any opportunities for safety and security, and equally crucial to remaining open to new perspectives, fostering adaptability and resilience.

Life has gifted us with the capacity to relate and connect to one another, to nature, the planet, the universe and the cosmos, combined with a sense of knowing that it all has finality and is an awe-inspiring mystery. Life has equipped us with the means to experience the world through our senses, utilizing biological and psychological faculties to do what comes naturally to us, to navigate, share in, and experience our lives and environment. We have an innate freedom to explore creatively, with a passion for life and the foundations of life on earth and beyond. Life has endowed us with a capacity for aggression, to safeguard, defend and protect, and to keep safe that which we love and care for. Additionally, life has granted us a capacity for ignorance, providing shelter when we become overwhelmed by truth and cannot contain the vast knowing that is the reality of impermanence, uncertainty and unobtainable resolution.

We practice becoming increasingly aware and mindfully alive and wholesomely involved in the world, including at the personal level of experience, within the broader human family, and as a living, breathing aspect of the interrelated, interdependent body of life. As we come to know of and understand these origins of suffering and learn how to calm the mind-body energies and regulate our responses, we can transform our inner patterns of thought, emotional experiences, feelings and actions. We can learn to relate to suffering incrementally, coming to see with clarity beyond the illusory refuge of superficial ignorance and connect and relate with the fundamental evolutionary nature of suffering, embracing a truer Refuge that comes with liberation from suffering, despair, lost love and care.

Through The Second Noble Truth we can acknowledging that our suffering stems directly from our inaccurate and inadequate dependencies and continual attempts to produce certainty and security at the demise of our own and others’ actual Refuge and security is direct insight into the cause of suffering. The five dhamma Precepts are the first training for compassion amidst the truth of suffering and its causes, redirecting mind and life activity towards patterns of Refuge, wholesome thought and action that plants the seeds for future Refuge.

Contemplation and understanding on The Second Noble Truth and the origin of suffering is linked directly to exploring and understanding the Kilesas/Kleshas (obstacles and hindrances to Refuge) and Kamma/Karma (cause and effect, consideration of the implications of our actions and way of life) which are described in our other blog articles on these topics.

Genyen – Ian Hackett

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