By Richard Daley
Together we will be exploring the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the man who later became known as the Buddha.
There are over 10,000 suttas within the Sutta Pitaka, which is the earliest known textual record of the discourses given by the Buddha and his contemporary disciples. These teachings are referred to as the Dhamma, and they are accessible by anybody, regardless of any individually defining characteristic. Siddhartha Gautama—the Buddha—was a human being just like you and I; therefore the path he walked is accessible to all.
Part 2: Stress, Dissatisfaction and Their Origin
We will now dive into what stress and dissatisfaction is in the Buddhist sense, and what the origin of it is. The first discourse we will look to for reference is the Dukkha Sutta—literally the Stress Sutta—which was delivered by Sariputta, one of the Buddha’s chief disciples.
This discourse begins with a wandering seeker of truth named Jambukhadaka coming to Sariputta with a question. His question is a question that many people ask frequently regarding Buddhism: what exactly is this stress and suffering the Buddha speaks of?
Jambukhadaka asks a straightforward question: “”Stress, stress,’ it is said, my friend Sariputta. Which type of stress (are they referring to)?”
Sariputta answers! Let’s look directly at the sutta.
“There are these three forms of stressfulness, my friend: the stressfulness of pain, the stressfulness of fabrication, the stressfulness of change. These are the three forms of stressfulness.”
Now, this may leave one even more confused. What exactly is meant by pain? About fabrication? About change? To answer this question we will look at the first teaching given by the Buddha himself, the sutta entitled, Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion or the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.
In this sutta the Buddha gets a bit more specific.
“Now this, monks, is the noble truth of stress: Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.”
In this sutta the Buddha gets quite specific, and I think from this we can make sense of it. All of these things listed are things we will absolutely encounter in our lives. Will we feel sorrow? Of course. Will we feel pain and distress? Of course. We will lose people we love whether it is death that separates us, the loss of a relationship, a dear friend moving far away, or many other possible factors.
There are things we want that either we will never get, or that we will get, and once obtained will find them to be hollow or empty of the ability to bring us the happiness that we thought they would.
We will discuss the five-clinging aggregates more in detail in the future but for now just imagine them as the analysis of personal experience. It is essentially the view on cognition from a Buddhist perspective. The aggregates, or khandas in Pali, are essentially the “self” as a convenient term we use everyday for the physical and mental experiences we have. This includes our feelings, ideas, thoughts, attitudes, personality, habits, etc. So yes, our personal experience includes this stress and dissatisfaction as a truth. This is an existing reality that only through practice can we come to terms with, or overcome.
Let’s go back to Sariputta, when he mentions the stress of fabrication.
Fabrications are the thoughts that we put together based on data we get from the world. These fabrications in one way or another cause stress, especially when they are ignorant of the Four Noble Truths—more on this later.
We think about leaving our job to follow our passion, or talking to a loved one about difficult topics. We look at the state of the world, and draw conclusions about it; it is bad, it is good, it is neutral. The things we constantly mull over in our mind, even with positive intentions often bring on this stress. Even something that is supposed to be positive we may eventually come down from and be upset about. This is due to the fact that all things are impermanent and we failed to accept that.
Most of us understand, even if we don’t know how to articulate it or accept it at this point in our practice, that the environment around us (people, ideas, objects, etc) in general is ever-changing. There is a pervasiveness of stress within this environment we inhabit.
So what causes this stress to arise?
Stress is created by clinging, craving, desire and aversion (aversion is sometimes referred to as hatred). For example, hoping or praying for people in your life to be different is the desire or craving for something that causes stress. Wishing the events of your life went differently is cut of the same cloth, it causes stress.
The attachment we feel for people, events, or even objects and the hope they remain with us is clinging and causes us stress. We try to avoid things we do not like because they make us uncomfortable, or avoid people we dislike; this is aversion. These views or behaviors leave us ignorant of the teachings found in the Four Noble Truths—the truth of stress and dissatisfaction, the truth of its cause, the truth of its end, and the truth that there is a path that leads to the end of it.
These views and behaviors leave us unable to accept that all things are impermanent and dynamic, and in turn we fail to accept the only thing we can truly change and hold onto, albeit temporarily, ourselves.
When we begin to observe these actions rooted in clinging, craving, desire, and aversion we begin to take the first steps in understanding our own personality at a deeper level, and the truth of the world around us. We will begin to see the cracks in the path of our current behaviors that create this suffering and dissatisfaction.
We can then look to these ancient teachings for a better path—a path that as we travel becomes less and less littered with cracks, and provides us the bounty of a secure base to walk upon.
Editor: Dana Gornall