The Second Noble Truth of Buddhism

Buddha, the Founder of Buddhism

by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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"And this, monks is the noble truth of the origination of dukkha: the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming." — Samyutta Nikaya LVI.11

The Buddha's approach to the problem of suffering was quite methodical. He was not interested in finding speculative theories to solve the ubiquitous problem of human suffering. He was well aware of the temporary escapes, which people invent, under self-induced illusions, in order to escape from the problem of suffering. He therefore looked for the original or the root cause, the evil of the evils, by finding which one would arrive at a permanent solution.

And he arrived at it rightly. The Buddha found craving to be the root cause of all all suffering. He found craving as the central evil that reduced life into a bundle of painful despair. Craving leads to suffering and suffering continues because craving does not cease. The being is a captive in the hands of craving, which forces him to want some thing or the other always. Even a negative desire, such as not wanting something, or wishing to stay away from something leads to suffering only. The Dhammapada (335-336) reads:

"If this sticky, uncouth craving overcomes you in the world, your sorrows grow like wild grass after rain. If, in the world, you overcome this uncouth craving, hard to escape, sorrows roll off you, like water beads off a lotus."

Unless dealt with and removed, this craving persists and survives ones death. It survives a person's death, because his very consciousness is built and shaped by its very movements. Death, separates the character of the being from its body, but does not separate the craving from the consciousness, which it propels and modifies even beyond. In the wheel of existence, they remain together till one finds a permanent solution.

"If its root remains undamaged & strong, a tree, even if cut, will grow back. So too if latent craving is not rooted out, this suffering returns again & again." - (Dhammapada 338)

Death is a temporary cessation of the physical form, a brief interlude, a form of change, during which the becoming does not cease, but continues in a different manner. After the death the personality of the being continues its existence in a different mode. By virtue of its past actions and merits, it takes birth again and continues its journey of continuous becoming. The craving gathers strength by finding fresh excuse for delight every time and by joining with pleasures here and there.

The Buddha declared that as long as there were delightful and pleasurable things, the craving would persist. It arises and takes root in the senses, in the eye, in the ear, in the nose, in the tongue, in the body, and in the mind. It takes root in things like visual objects, sounds, smells, tastes, bodily impressions, and mind-objects, and in the consciousness, sense impression, feelings born of sense impressions, perception, will, craving, thinking, and reflecting.

When an object is perceived to be pleasant one is attracted to it. But if it is found unpleasant one is repelled from it. Thus arise attraction for and repulsion towards the objects that we come into contact with. Out of the feelings of attraction, repulsion or indifference, one develops preferences and attachment for things in life.

In this process lust springs up. This feeling of lust, which is but clinging, leads to the process of becoming (the effects of karma) and out of the process of becoming is shaped the future birth of a person. The birth causes decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair. Thus comes into existence the whole mass of suffering.

The sensuous craving causes accumulation of both the present suffering and the future suffering. Present suffering accumulates when people indulge in sensuous craving that lead to various forms of conflicts and quarrels or wicked acts like stealing, robbery or seducing the wives of others which results either in deadly pain or in death.

The accumulation of future suffering arises when, after falling into various evil ways due to sensuous craving, beings die and at the dissolution of the body, descend downward into the abyss of hell or into an intense state of suffering and perdition.

Closely associated with the Noble Truth of Suffering is the law of karma. According to this law, all beings are owners (cause) as well as heirs (effect) of their deeds. Whether good or bad, they are the originators of all their actions. When these deeds ripen they will earn the fruit of their actions either in this life or in the next life or in any other future life. Thus beings who give birth to their actions, also eventually are born out of their own actions later on. As long as the beings are subjected to sensuous craving, this cycle of birth and rebirth and suffering from birth to birth goes on till the end of the world. This is called the Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering.


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Suggestions for Further Reading

Source: A Study Guide prepared by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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