Introducing Buddhist Abhidhamma

Meditation and Concentration

by Kyaw Min, U | 1899 | 43,258 words

Abhidhamma is the 3rd and last part of the Buddhist Pāli Canon. This book is meant as an introduction to the various concepts presented in the seven books of the Abhidhamma....

Chapter 5 - The Four Noble Truths

1st Noble Truth

Suffering is an experience that is common to all sentient beings. There exists no experience which is equally universal. It is the fundamental thesis of a world embracing thought.

All sentient beings endure suffering because all are subject to old age, decay and death. It unites the human and the animal kingdoms and is the foundation of a universal brotherhood.

The opening verse of the tenth chapter of the Dhammapada runs as follows: - "All beings are afraid of dying, all beings are afraid of death".

Without fully understanding this axiomatic truth of suffering and the cause of suffering, one cannot really understand the other parts of his teaching. And Buddhism becomes easy when the Second Noble Truth regarding the cause of Suffering is really understood.

It was this experience of common suffering and the resolve to conquer the problem of birth and death that caused Prince Siddartha to renounce his kingdom.

Under the Bodhi Tree, he came to understand what the Mind was and its illusory nature. He conquered the delusions and perversions caused by the Mind, and, meditating on the ultimates, he achieved Enlightenment at the dawn of the next day.

After ruminating on his achievements for a few weeks, he thought that he would contact his former 5 companions. So he walked from Buddha-Gaya to Sarnath near Benares. When he reached his 5 colleagues, they would have nothing to do with him, as one who had gone back to normal life.

He told them that he had reached Enlightenment, that he had become the Buddha. They refused to believe him, but he eventually prevailed upon them to listen to him.

He expounded to them the law of Suffering, which had been expounded by all the Buddhas.

It was the usual formula. Take the case of hatred; it is:

  1. the arising of hatred;
  2. the cause of the arising of hatred;
  3. the cessation of hatred;
  4. the Path leading to the cessation of hatred.

In this case, it was the law of Dukkha or Suffering, usually termed the 4 Noble Truths of Suffering, viz.

  1. The Noble Truth of Suffering;
  2. The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering;
  3. The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering;
  4. The Noble Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of suffering which are the Eight Constituents or Factors of the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Pāli word is "dukkha". It is a very wide term and western authors have translated it usually as suffering; suffering is too strong a word for it. It means unsatisfactoriness, disappointment, ill, and many other synonyms.

The 5 companions were used to concepts in conventional language. Herewith, in the Dīgha-Nikāya (Sutta 22) is the description of Suffering in conventional terms:

"What, now, is the Noble Truth of Suffering. Birth is suffering; Decay is suffering; Death is suffering; Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain, Grief, and Despair are suffering; not to get what one desires is suffering; in short, the 5 Groups of Existence are suffering.

"What now is Birth? The Birth of beings belonging to this or that order of beings, their being born, their conception and springing into existence, the manifestation of the Groups of Existence, the arising of sense-activity: - this is called Birth.

"What is Decay? The decay of beings belonging to this or that order of beings; their getting aged, frail, grey, and wrinkled; the failing of their vital force, the wearing out of the senses:- this is called Decay.

"And what is Death? The departing and vanishing of beings out of this or that order of beings, their destruction, disappearance, death, the completion of their life-period, dissolution of the Groups of Existence, the discarding of the body: - this is called Death.

"And what is sorrow? The sorrow arising through this or that loss of misfortune which one encounters, the worrying oneself, the state of being alarmed, inward sorrow inward woe: - this is called Sorrow.

"And what is Lamentation? Whatsoever, through this or that loss of misfortune which befalls one, is wail and lament, wailing and lamenting the state of woe and lamentation: - this is called Lamentation.

"And what is Pain? The bodily pain and unpleasantness, the painful and unpleasant feeling produced by bodily impression: - this is called Pain.

"And what is Grief? The mental pain and unpleasantness, the painful and unpleasant feeling produced by mental impression: - this is called Grief.

"And what is Despair? Distress and despair arising through this or that loss or misfortune which one encounters, distressfulness, and desperation: - this is called Despair.

"And what is the suffering of not getting what one desires? To beings subject to birth there comes the desire: ’O, that we were not subject to birth! O, that no new birth was before us!’ Subject to decay, disease, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair, the desire comes to them: ’O, that we were not subject to these things! O, that these things were not before us!’ But this cannot be got by more desiring: and not to get what one desires, is suffering."

Also, being associated with these you do not like is suffering, and not being associated with these whom you want to be associated with is suffering.

However, the Buddha now talked to them in a different fashion for they now heard him talk of ultimates, namely, of ultimate realities in Body and ultimates in Mind.

He explained to them how the 5-khandhas arose. But when the idea "I" and mine and my body is injected into the 5-khandhas, they become the 5 upādāna khandhas. It is attachment to these 5 khandhas that is suffering.

The very first night the leader became a Stream-Winner or sotāpanna.

He carried on the discourse for four more nights, talking of ultimates, and it is said that at the end of each night, a new companion became a Sotāpanna, so that they had all become Sotāpannas by the end of the fifth night.

After that, he discoursed in detail on the Doctrine of Anattā. Of course, they all had realised that Anattā meant no soul, no substance and no control over life processes What he had previously thought were souls that transmigrated from existence to existence were discovered by him under the Bodhi Tree to be karmic-energies that were transmitted from existence to existence.

By the end of the Discourse, the 5 Vaggi had all become Arahants.


2nd Noble Truth

The Second Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering says that tanhā is the cause of Suffering. Tanhā is variously translated as craving, sensuous craving, thirst, wanting, etc.

Herewith is the exposition in conventional language of the Second Noble Truth as contained in the Thirteenth Sutta of the Majjhima-Nikāya:

"Truly, due to sensuous craving, conditioned through sensuous craving, entirely moved by sensuous craving, kings fight with kings, princes with princes, priests with priests, citizens with citizens, the mother quarrels with the son, the son with the father; brother quarrels with brother, brother with sister, sister with brother, friend with friend. Thus, given to dissension, quarrelling and fighting, they fall upon one another with fists, sticks, or weapons. And thereby they suffer death or deadly pain.

"And further, due to sensuous craving, conditioned through sensuous craving, impelled by sensuous craving, entirely moved by sensuous craving, people break into houses, rob, plunder, pillage whole houses, commit highway robbery, seduce the wives of others. Then, the rulers have such people caught, and inflict on them various forms of punishment. And thereby death or deadly pain. Now, this is the misery of sensuous craving, the heaping up of suffering in this present life, due to sensuous craving, conditioned through sensuous craving, caused by sensuous craving, entirely dependent on sensuous craving.

"And further, people take the evil way in deeds, the evil way in words, the evil way in thoughts; and by taking the evil way in deeds, words, and thoughts, at the dissolution of the body, after death, they fall into a downward state of existence, a state of suffering, into perdition, and the abyss of hell. But this is the misery of sensuous craving, the heaping up of suffering in the future life, due to sensuous craving, conditioned through sensuous craving, caused by sensuous craving, entirely dependent on sensuous craving."

There is the sensual craving (kamma-tanhā), the craving for (Eternal) Existence (bhava-tanhā), the craving for self-annihilation (vibhava-tanhā).

"Sensual-craving" (kamma-tanhā) is the desire for the enjoyment of the five sense objects.

"Craving for existence" (bhava-tanhā) is the desire for continued, or external life, referring, in particular, to those higher worlds called fine-material and Immaterial Existence. (rūpa and arūpa-bhava). It is closely connected with this so-called "Eternity Belief" (bhava- or sassata-ditthi), i.e. the belief in the absolute, eternal Ego-entity persisting independently of our body.

"Craving for Self-annihilation" (lit., for non-existence) (vibhava-tanhā) is the outcome of the belief in Annihilation, (vibhava, or uccheda-ditthi), i.e. the delusive materialistic notion of a more or less real Ego, which is annihilated at death, and which does not stand in any causal relation with the time before death, and the time after death.

The first two Truths are best explained through the Law of Dependent Origination, otherwise called Dependent Genesis (Paticca Samuppāda, p. 25). It has 12 Links or Nidanas, which are divided into 4 sections:


1. Ignorance (avijjā)

2. Karma Accumulations (sankhāras)



5 Causes: 1 ,2, 8, 9, 10


3. Rebirth-Linking consciousness


4. Corporeality-Mentality (nāma-rūpa)

5. Six Bases (āyatana)

6. Impression (phassa)

7. Feeling (vedanā)



5 Results: 3-7


8. Craving (tanhā)

9. Clinging (upādāna)

10. Process of Becoming (bhava)



5 Causes: 1, 2, 8, 9, 10


11. Rebirth (jāti)

12. Old Age and Death (jarā-marana)



(upapatti bhava)

5 Results: 3-7

From the above table, we see that

  1. Ignorance
  2. Karma Formations, or Karma Accumulations
  3. Craving
  4. Clinging
  5. Process of Becoming of the past existence


  1. Rebirth-Linking Consciousness
  2. Mentality and Corporeality
  3. Six Bases
  4. Impressions
  5. Feeling

in the present existence. They are also called Resultant mind and body (mentality and corporeality).

They are the 5 resultant-khandhas or Aggregates, and, being resultants, they do not produce results in future existences.

However, Craving, Clinging, Becoming, Ignorance and Karma-formations in the present existence cause the resultant-khandhas or Aggregates in the next existence. We have seen that these 5 Aggregates or khandhas arise in a flash and immediately, cease, and they keep on arising and ceasing without break.

But it must be remembered that each unit of mentality-corporeality, or the 5-khandhas, consist of consciousness, vedanā, saññā, and sankhāra aggregates. The consciousness aggregate can be different all the time; it may be the eye-consciousness, or the auditory consciousness, and so on. The eye-consciousness has its own mental factors, though, as you know, seven mental factors that were first enumerated are universal, meaning they come into the composition of every mind. Similarly, with ear-consciousness and nose-consciousness and so on; the 7 universal mental factors always come into being but the other mental factors will be different.

As we get lower down in the several links of the chain, we see that the 5-causes beget jāti (rebirth). Jāti is inevitably followed by old age and death.

Now, Jāti is suffering. This is a basic idea in Buddhism. Jāti is translated as arising, and all arising is suffering.

There are 2 types of suffering: normal suffering and abnormal suffering:

1. The arising of the 5-Aggregates is normal suffering. It is harmless suffering that even Arahants have to suffer; it has no moral force. It comprises all actions for the maintenance and preservation of the body and mind, such as, brushing one’s teeth, satisfying hunger, earning one’s livelihood, etc.

One cannot help the first kind of suffering, and one has to be resigned to it.

2. The arising of the 5 upādāna or Grasping Aggregates is abnormal suffering. We know how they arise, namely, by injecting the idea of "I" or, the arising of the āsavas, which are called Intoxicants, Cankers, Biases, which in the final analysis are forms of craving. They are also called the Clinging Aggregates, begotten by attachment to the ordinary 5-Aggregates.

This is extra suffering because it is extra to the normal suffering of the 5-Aggregates. It is of the mind’s own making. This extra suffering is called Causal suffering because it begets the harmless 5 Aggregates in a future existence. This begetting is called "Jāti", which we already know to be suffering.

This causal suffering leads to the continuation of rebirths. If causal suffering can he made to cease as shown by the Buddha in the 4th Noble Truth of Suffering, we have cut the chain of existence.

To repeat, we must distinguish between the 5-resultant Aggregates and the 5-causal Aggregates; the latter arise because of causes made on the resultant Aggregates. What are these causes? They are the mental disturbances that arise after the 5-resultant aggregates have disappeared. When we recall the resultant aggregates, we may have anxiety, worry, rear, anger, sorrow, lamentation, grief, disappointment, disgust, dissatisfaction. discontent, distress, and so on. These mental disturbances are also called mental corruptions, fetters, etc. We know that according to the 1st Noble Truth, everything is suffering and here we have causal suffering in this existence which will produce resultant suffering in the next existence.

We have seen that craving is the cause of suffering; when the object that is recalled is liked, it means that the craving for the object is satisfied; when the craving is not satisfied, there is dislike. Again there is this mental disturbance.

When we do not know what the resultant body and mind is, the mind goes on to cling to them or grasp them as "I" or a person. Thus the idea "I was born" arises and the further idea "I do not want to be born again as life is troublesome". The birth of such ideas is causal suffering which will produce results in a future existence.

Birth leads to decay and disease and death. With the clinging to the 5-Aggregates, there are such ideas as, "I do not want to grow old", "I have disgust at being sick", and with the fear that sickness will lead to death, there arise thoughts of "I do not want to die".

Also there are ideas that you do not want to be separated from your loved ones or you do not want to be associated with persons that are not dear to you. There arise dislike and disgust. There also arise fear and worry and anxiety and disappointment and frustration.

All this is causal suffering due to grasping and clinging to the 5-Aggregates. There is disturbance of the mind that "I" is going to get sick or die. The mind is disturbed, when actually the person, taken as the object of recall, is imaginary. Your imaginary object brings on fear and anxiety and envy and jealousy, etc.

These are the arising of fetters and cankers and hindrances.

All this is due to unwise thinking (a-yoniso-manasikāra) which is thinking not in accordance with the 4-Noble Truths.

The resultant aggregates arise and cease all the time, and it is only occasionally that we recall the resultant aggregates and have good or bad reactions, and it is these reactions that are the cause of suffering and will produce results in future existences.

It is all a question of needs versus wants. The human body needs to be looked after, you have to brush your teeth and keep the body clean and protect it from the weather; you have to eat to satisfy hunger, and take exercise, and take medicine in time of sickness, and earn sufficient money through work. These are some of the needs; it is the resultant body and mind that produce the needs.

On the other hand, the mind has the wants, the desires, the craving, for this and that. There arise the mental disturbances of which we have spoken earlier.

We have to understand that craving is the cause of all the suffering, and this craving is subjective. The mental reactions that arise on the satisfaction or non-satisfaction of the craving are in our own mind and it is not the fault of external happenings, etc.

We want to control other people, we want to control events, and we want to control things, and because our wants are not satisfied, there is causal suffering. The answer is to control our mental reactions. A few examples will make the point clear.

Decay and death inexorably follow birth. It is an inevitable process and cannot be prevented by any one or any agency. You don’t want decay and death; you do not want to die. Not wanting all this is the cause of causal suffering, which produces resultant suffering in the next existence. When there is decay and death, you get sorrow and lamentation and misery and grief and despair. If you accept decay and death with equanimity, you will not have your bad reactions. Your reactions are subjective and could be controlled. You are not, at peace.

You lose your watch, and you suspect someone. However it is of small value and you say to yourself that you have not lost anything of appreciable value. You have no bad reactions and you accept the loss with equanimity. But if the price of the watch is somewhat high, and you have tanhā (greed) arising, it will cause evil reactions towards the suspected thief. You cannot control your tanhā and you have ideas of revenge and similar bad reactions. If you can accept the loss with equanimity, you will have mental peace; otherwise your mental craving will cause you untold suffering.

It rains. You have, however, made arrangements to go out on a picnic. It doesn’t matter to you that the rain is very good for the farmers of the country-side. You want to enjoy yourself. Your sense of enjoyment has been frustrated; your craving, your thirst, your tanhā, is for your enjoyment. The mental reaction to the rain is one of anger, disappointment, and disgust. All these are mental disturbances; these disturbances are subjective. If you did not have these bad mental reactions, based on your selfish craving, there would be peace within you. It is not the event outside that is at fault; the fault is in your selfish mental reactions.

Dinner is served. You go to the table and find that you do not like the food. You call up the cook and scold him or her. Maybe you will fist him or her. You want to enjoy good food. Your mental reaction to the bad cooking is subjective. The external circumstance, namely, the cook is blamed. Actually it is your craving (tanhā); for good food or good enjoyment that has caused the mental reaction which has led to the scolding or the fisting of the cook. If you had not had this tanhā, your mental reactions would not have been bad. The fault lies with you and not with the cook. If you had not developed these, bad emotions, you would have been at peace.

You go to a Restaurant. There is a delicacy on the table. You like it. Your craving (tanhā) is satisfied for the moment, for you want to enjoy good food. Your mental reaction is that when you come to this restaurant the next time you must order this delicacy, for your mental reaction is satisfaction. But supposing that this delicacy had not been to your taste, though it might have pleased the rest of those with you, you have a mental reaction of disgust or anger or disappointment and you say to yourself that you will never come to this restaurant again. Regardless of how it strikes your relatives or friends, your craving (tanhā) has not been satisfied. If you had been able to prevent these bad reactions, your mind would have been at peace.

You hear that some one had made an ill remark about you. Your craving (tanhā) or wanting is that he should have made a good remark about you. You have thoughts of anger or may be even revenge against him. It is this non-fulfillment of your craving that causes all these bad reactions. Without these bad reactions you would be at peace. If he were a good friend or you considered him a good friend of yours, your reactions will be strong and you think of revenge and all that. So everything depends on your reactions to what you have heard. Without these reactions, which are subjective, you would be at peace.

You have a resultant body as the result of the actions of your past existences. You must expect some sort of pain sometime. Not wanting this pain produces causal suffering; you do not want this pain and you have evil reactions towards the matter. You cannot suffer the pain with equanimity, namely, without your bad reactions, which are subjective.


3rd Noble Truth

The 3rd Noble Truth says that the cessation of craving is the cessation of suffering. It is as simple as that.

The cessation of Craving is Peace. It is Nirvana.

The Buddha says that there is an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed. If there were not this Unborn, this Unoriginated, this Uncreated, this Unformed, escape from the world of the born, the originated, the created, the formed would not be possible.

But since there is an Unborn, Unorginated, Uncreated, Unformed, therefore is escape possible from the world of the born, the originated, the created, the formed.

Some authors have translated the above four words as: " Unborn, Unbecome, Unmade, Unconditioned." The main meaning is that everything, except Nirvana, is conditioned which means that the conditioned is created by mundane causes and therefore is not free from aging and death. It is only reachable by the Path, which is the 4th Noble Truth; it is reachable but not arousable for it exists from the very beginning.

A person who has no craving at all will certainly be at peace.

Let us study the following fraction:

If for example the denominator, namely, the sum total of desires, is 100, and the numerator, namely, the desires fulfilled, is 40, you have the fraction:


or 40 per cent fulfilled. You will still be unhappy because of desires that are not yet fulfilled.

If however you reduce the quantum of desires to 40, you get:


or 100 per cent fulfilled which is complete happiness.

Nirvana is sometimes described as the signless State. This can be illustrated by the idea of the clinical thermometer that is used to measure the temperature of the body when there is fever. This fever may be brought on by several causes, such as influenza, malaria, etc. We use the clinical thermometer when we have fever, but when the fever is absent, we normally are content to let things be.

Now, craving is mental fever. We have seen that these mental disturbances are causal suffering. Craving is the one and only cause that brings on mental fever, and the 4 Noble Truths are the only thermometer for measuring the temperature of the mind. Craving can be very subtle and refined when there will be only a slight mental fever, but when the craving is coarse there is an appreciable fever.

We are so used to taking objects that are external to ourselves. It is said that the mind inclines towards an object. Have we ever tried to recall the mind that sees these objects? Instead of recalling the object, we should recall the mind that saw the object.

If you look inwards at any moment, you will observe the subjective mind. At this very moment as you are reading this book, you are not disturbed by any craving and the mind is at peace. Actually, this peace has been there all the time. You have not caused it to happen but you have just noticed it. This is peace and you experience it when you look inwards.

Look inwards at any instant of time and you will experience Peace. Of course, during the day when you are awake and you go through the different experiences of the day and carry on the work of earning a living or meeting friends, and so on, it is not necessary for craving to arise. Whenever there is no craving, there is no mental fever and no mental corruption.

We know that the characteristic nature of the mind is to know or be aware of an object. The process of knowing a thing is an impersonal process. There is knowing of an object but no one who knows or owns that knowing. Something is known and that is all. Pay attention to the knowing of it.

One is so used to looking outwards but if we were to stop looking outwards and look inwards, the mind playing its own impersonal operations of knowing or calling up ideas, only then will we really come to know oneself.

We have to observe the subjective mental states. For example, while one is reading, try to look inwards. The words are taken as the object and let there be no criticism about the ideas made by the words. The mind is not thinking of external matters. Mental corruptions are absent which means craving is also absent, and when craving is absent, there is the signless, absolute, timeless and infinite Nirvana.

Nirodha sacca is another Truth. When there is no cause, there is no effect.

The 2nd Noble Truth says that craving is the cause of suffering and it is called samudaya sacca. Craving is the cause, and suffering is the effect; when there is the cause, there is the effect.

When there is no cause, there is no effect; this is also a Truth. It is the 3rd Noble Truth, called nirodha-sacca.

In Vipassanā Meditation, first it is the vipassanā citta. At the gotrabhu stage, there is the change of lineage when the mind of the worldling changes automatically to that of the Noble One. It changes from vipassanā citta to magga citta.

Vipassanā citta is accompanied by the ordinary cetasikas plus the 5 dominant ones: of paññā (wisdom) saddha (faith), viriya (diligence), sati (mindfulness), and samādhi (concentration). They are also called bala (Powers).

In the 8-fold Noble Path, they go by other names and other guises, but they are included.


4th Noble Truth

The 4th Noble Truth is the Noble 8-fold Path, sometimes called the Noble Eight Constituent Path.

It consists of the following 8 cetasikas:

They are mental accompaniments that accompany magga citta. They have been translated differently by different authors, and so it is best to learn the Pāli names, so that there is no mistake as to what is meant.

They are supramundane as Nirvana is taken as the object. When we use the expression that Nirvana is taken as the object, it means that this 3rd Noble Truth, which is Nirvana is taken as the object by the states of the 4th Noble Truth, the 8 mental states of the Noble Eightfold Path. The Mind does not take other external objects but it is looking inwards with Nirvana as the object, and there is Peace. This is the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path.

We know that craving is not caused by external sources but it is internal; craving is subjective. We have to see that it does not arise and we are then at peace.

Mindfulness is required to look inwards and that is the meaning of Right Mindfulness which is one of the factors of the Noble 8-fold Path.

We have seen that birth inevitably produces decay and death. You do not want to die, and there is sorrow and lamentation and suffering and grief and anguish, and this again produces ignorance and karma accumulations and once again the next round of existence.

This ignorance has been called the ignorance of the 4 Noble Truths. Once we really know and understand the 4 Noble Truths, as they should be known, we will prevent future births. It is therefore imperative that we practise the 4 Noble Truths, including the practice of the 8-fold Noble Path, in order to achieve our goal of stoppage of future births.

The Path is divided into adhi-sīla (morality), adhi-citta (concentration) and adhi-pañña (wisdom). It is usually translated as Higher Morality, Higher Mentality, and Higher Wisdom.

A smoker has the practice of smoking. He has his cigarettes and cigars and his pipe and his lighter and matches. The practice is apparent.

A non-smoker does not smoke. He has the practice of non-smoking. Similarly in the 8-fold Noble Path, he has the practice of non-craving.

This 4th Noble Truth is magga-sacca. Magga-wisdom comes in a flash. It knows all the 4 Noble Truths simultaneously.

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