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The First Noble Truth

When Siddhattha Gotama had realised the supreme liberation that we call Enlightenment, he was for a while at a loss to convey such inexpressible truth. Fortunately for us, he was persuaded that there were those with "but a little dust in their eyes" who might appreciate his teaching. Thus the Tathagata was encouraged to start spreading the Buddha Dharma ...

That was over 2,500 years ago - very recent indeed when considered against the Buddhist duration of an era - an asamkheya-kappa, computed to be greater than 10100 years in duration!

This was the first formal article I wrote for an organisation - I produced it whilst I was working for the Mining Company (General Internet). Below I invite you to examine with me The First Noble Truth, one of the Four Truths expounded by the Buddha in his first sermon with some personal impressions.

So what is the First Noble Truth?

the First Noble Truth is Dukkha

Dukkha is often translated as suffering and unsatisfactoriness.

Does that sound pessimistic? Imagine many millions of monks and lay people around the world holding this as their central realization! How can a religion be so popular with such a first statement?! What's more, the Buddha stated further that there are three kinds of suffering:

    dukkha-dukkha ordinary suffering
    viparinama-dukkha suffering produced by change
    samkhara-dukkha suffering produced by conditioned states.

Dukkha-dukkha may be associated with painful and unpleasant experience such as receiving a knock or having a sore tooth.

Viparinama-dukkha can arise due to an inflexible attitude to change: just when you were settled, or had planned something, the 'unexpected' cropped up; or, the happiness you thought you had faded away. Examine daily experience - moving house is said to be one of the most traumatic experiences people have; and consider, did the pleasure from that chocolate bar or holiday last ...?

Samkhara-dukkha, the most subtle, and perhaps most significant - is the habitual states of existence - The Five Aggregates; the mental constructs that make up what we perceive as "ourselves" (the ego). Its the attachment to these that the Buddha actually identified as synonymous with suffering..

Attachment is the chain that causes all suffering - letting go is thus the key to happiness. Many people have fears when visiting the dentist, because they cling to preconceptions, but these are professional people who are dedicated to help ease suffering so that we become healthier.  So if we experience pain when having a filling, we should just observe the sensations - just observe and note the feelings.  Afterwards our teeth should be in better condition.

When forced to accept an unexpected change of circumstance, accept it and don't worry. Finally, when any part of you causes distress, just step back gently from 'yourself' and do not judge...

Further links on the First Noble Truth

Your own experience will be the first point of contact, of course, but if you need further prompting, then please consult some of the sources below. Since NT1 is part of a whole, some of the links below may be part of a more general discussion.

  • For a traditional discussion based on the Pali Canon, the reference for Theravadins please look at Access to Insight's guide to NT1 which provides a straight definition, what it means in terms of the senses, and a characterisation in terms of fire.
  • Basic Buddhist Concepts
    Part of an Australian site that is the result of a fruitful co-operation between a university and Dhamma centre, this page provides a useful perspective on all the Four Noble Truths.
  • A note about Dukkha from a meticulous eye at Access to Insight - in case you need more clues about the elusive meaning.
  • Suffering
    This is a discussion of the Four Noble Truths that is well grounded in the Buddha's teachings. It comes from the Triple Gem Press, which is based in Thailand.
  • Finally,

  • 'The First Noble Truth of Cyberspace" by Mitchell Kapor. Although not to be identified with NT1, this article, which appeared in the Tricycle Buddhist Review does provide some positive suggestions as to how the 4NT's can be applied to cyberspace.

Don't be discouraged - if you carry on reading through the Buddha's teachings you will get to see the other Noble Truths - to know the cause of the suffering (Second Noble Truth); to see that there can be a way out (the Third Noble Truth); and to discover the route to achieve this is (the Fourth Noble Truth).

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- Paul Trafford
revised: 5 January 2001