Truth of Suffering: Four Characteristics
Characteristics of the Truth of Suffering
is a sign of impermanence.
levels of impermanence:
Things come and go—come, stay, finish—due to
causes and conditions. They are then extinguished.
Things are "momentarily changing"—they do not
stay the same for a moment.
Things created have the seed of
destruction—causes and conditions which produce
things, at the same moment, contain the
seeds of their own destruction.
Things come into being
by the power of other things.
A given thing itself
has no power to come into being by itself. Everything is "other-powered". Nothing is
really free in this context; everything relies on other powers to come into being – and
because we are under the control of other forces, there is, therefore, a subtle level of
unenlightened existence is under the power of delusions (ignorance and afflictive
emotions) and must therefore be dukkha (suffering).
the five aggregates (form, feeling,
perception, mental formations, consciousness) is suffering.
is because they are produced by ignorance and afflictive emotions, and therefore there is
no way to have pure happiness.
to the five contaminated aggregates is suffering—and this attachment should be
we are born in the three realms (desire, form, or formless realms), suffering is
is because we are still in cyclic existence, in samsara, and therefore subject to suffering.
of independent existence.
mpty of self as a
permanent, unitary, indivisible reality.
we call "being", or "an individual", or an
"I", is only a combination of ever-changing physical and mental forces (or energy), which
may be divided into the five aggregates.
recognizes that the "I" exists in dependence on the five aggregates, but that there is no
"I" who is possessor, "the king", controlling the five aggregates as
(lasting being or entity):
(1) The self is completely independent of the five
(2) Notion of a soul or self as
the ever-changing aggregates which is separate from either body or mind. That is, it is
something unchanging which keeps the essence of
(4) Always identifying with the "I",
and associating the "I" with one of the five aggregates.
Having a feeling of oneself as a controller, and the aggregates being under one's
control—following the traditional example of a king and his subjects. The king, in his
castle and totally different from his subjects, is totally in control of them. The self is
totally independent of the aggregates.
lack of existence of any independent,
substantially-existing person. Since that kind of self does not exist, it is called
No "I" separate from the aggregates. There is nothing which is a self-supporting person.
within the five aggregates, there is no
over the aggregates, one-by-one, helps us to understand our life more clearly, and shows
us not just our normal perception of things,
but how things really are.
(a controlling, acting self):
Instinctively feeling we are more than just the
combination of physical and mental aggregates.
Although the self is not completely independent of the five aggregates, we feel there is
something which is a self-supporting person or
feel there is a self which is a self-sufficient,
self is to be found within the five aggregates,
and yet is still something self-sufficient or substantial.
analogy is the business executive and his employees. He works in the office; he is part of
the business, but he is still in control.
from Geshe Tashi Tsering, The Four Noble Truths
(Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2005), 29-56. (Chapter 2: The Truth of
For a PDF copy of this table, please click on Four Characteristcs of the Truth of Suffering.
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