Truth of Suffering: Four Characteristics

Symbol of Suffering 

 

Four Characteristics of the Truth of Suffering

 

 

Impermanence

 

· Death is a sign of impermanence.

· Different levels of impermanence:

(1) Things come and go—come, stay, finish—due to causes and conditions. They are then extinguished.

(2) Things are "momentarily changing"—they do not stay the same for a moment.

(3) Things created have the seed of destructioncauses 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 suffering involved.

· Our present unenlightened existence is under the power of delusions (ignorance and afflictive emotions) and must therefore be dukkha (suffering).  

 

 

Suffering

 

· Having the five aggregates (form, feeling, perception, mental formations, consciousness) is suffering.

· This is because they are produced by ignorance and afflictive emotions, and therefore there is no way to have pure happiness.

· Attachment to the five contaminated aggregates is suffering—and this attachment should be abandoned.

· Wherever we are born in the three realms (desire, form, or formless realms), suffering is present.

· This is because we are still in cyclic existence, in samsara, and therefore subject to suffering.

 

 

Emptiness

 

· Empty of independent existence.

· E mpty of self as a permanent, unitary, indivisible reality.

· What 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.

· One 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 "subjects".

 

Wrong views (lasting being or entity):

(1) The self is completely independent of the five aggregates.

(2) Notion of a soul or self as something individual.

(3) Something within the ever-changing aggregates which is separate from either body or mind. That is, it is something unchanging which keeps the essence of "me".

(4) Always identifying with the "I", and associating the "I" with one of the five aggregates.

(5) 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.

 

 

 

Selflessness

 

· The lack of existence of any independent, substantially-existing person. Since that kind of self does not exist, it is called selflessness.

· No "I" separate from the aggregates. There is nothing which is a self-supporting person.

· Even within the five aggregates, there is no self-existing "I".

· Going 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.

 

Wrong views (a controlling, acting self):

(1) Instinctively feeling we are more than just the combination of physical and mental aggregates.

(2) Although the self is not completely independent of the five aggregates, we feel there is something which is a self-supporting person or identity.

(3) We feel there is a self which is a self-sufficient, substantial reality.

(4) The self is to be found within the five aggregates, and yet is still something self-sufficient or substantial.

(5) An 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.

 

 

Source : Adapted from Geshe Tashi Tsering, The Four Noble Truths (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2005), 29-56. (Chapter 2: The Truth of Suffering)

 

 

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