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  • Thong Tri Temple

The Second Noble Truth, Part I: The Cause of Suffering (Sameda Dukkha)

Updated: Feb 27

June 18, 2020 | Loving-kindness {Metta} | Dharma Lesson

In The First Noble Truth, the Buddha taught us that suffering exists and in order to end suffering, we need to end what causes suffering. For this reason, The Second Noble Truth is understanding the Cause of Suffering in order to eliminate it. After years of searching for Truth and attaining Supreme Enlightenment, the Buddha discovered that the causes of suffering are craving (greed, desire, attachment), ignorance (delusion), hatred, and destructive urges.

The following are the three forms of Craving:

  1. Sensual Craving (Kama Tanha) - craving for sense pleasures.

  2. Craving for Existence (Bhava Tanha) - craving for continued survival.

  3. Craving for Annihilation (Vibhava Tanha) - craving for non-existence.

Human beings crave sensual pleasures, material things, immortality, and the concept of escaping the challenges of being alive. Sensual pleasure is any pleasure that arises from any one of the six senses of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Craving for existence is the belief that there is a self and our fear that the self will cease to exist. The human being, for so many years, has continued to explore ways to prevent oneself from dying. We’ve had to overcome obstacles to survive, such as sickness, war, and natural disasters.

We also crave a sense of security about ourselves and the world around us. The Buddha teaches that this craving grows from ignorance of the self. We go through life grabbing one thing after another to get a sense of security about ourselves, and we get frustrated when the world behaves or treats us in a way that does not meet our expectations.

While we crave to exist, we also crave for non-existence, believing that there is an end. When we suffer physically and mentally, we crave to end life. The Buddha has said, “Everything that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing.”

Our cravings can be depicted as a big tree with many branches that continue to grow and strengthen when we allow them to. The various branches represent bad thoughts, anger, and greed. These mental states that sprout from the tree can cloud the mind and manifest into unwholesome actions. The fruits that grow from the tree represent suffering. As a result of succumbing to craving, the doer performs unwholesome actions that eventually result in suffering. Therefore craving leads to suffering. How does craving begin? The Buddha said that the tree of craving strengthened its deep roots from ignorance. When there is ignorance, the tree of craving begins to grow deeper and branch into unwholesome states. The seeds from the fruit can fall right below the tree and attach itself to the roots of ignorance whenever it finds an opportunity.

But what is ignorance according to Buddhist philosophy? Ignorance is the state of being misinformed. It is not necessarily the lack of intelligence, lack of education, or not knowing things. Ignorance in Buddhism is the inability to see things as they really are. It is the inability to see the truth in surrounding things recognizable by the senses. For instance, what is beauty, but solely a thing that can be seen by the naked eye. What is a tree, but solely a form produced by chemical reactions in the retina. What is a song, but solely a formation of sounds sensed by the ear. There are many truths about the world of which human beings are ignorant, because of the limitations of our understanding or not having the right view. We cannot distinguish between right and wrong under the delusion of “Self.” We continue to cling to things which are impermanent, changeable, and perishable.

During this time of the pandemic, there were many of us who have been clouded by misinformation, lack of understanding, and lack of preparedness for the spread of COVID-19. Because of overwhelming resources from television, internet, etc., it was difficult to identify what is fact and what is misinformation. Social media is so prevalent that people are misled by unverified information. This unnecessary chatter can lead people into the wrong direction creating repercussions and mismanagement of their own lives in the middle of the pandemic. Some people are forming protests on the street because of their desire to go back to work and get haircuts, while others are protesting for their rights to live with dignity against police brutality. In contrast, governors and senators are advising people to continue self-distancing and stay at home. As a result, anger and frustrations arise leading to undesirable results and misunderstandings. The craving is our dependence on social media, whether the information is true or false. We crave to be distracted by social media news and other internet noise, because we are not used to solitude and being stuck at home. We are not able to come to parties, the gym, the theatre, the mall, or the park. Our ignorance tells us that this craving will be satisfied if we continue to cling on and welcome the distractions. We are inclined to look at the negative results of this pandemic and not appreciate the positive results. We think that the only thing to do is follow social media and bombard ourselves with negatives from the outside world.

If human beings continue to remain ignorant about the world and live with illusions about life, fears, hopes, facts, and behaviors, they will continue to suffer from delusions and misunderstandings. To end suffering in life, we should understand the cause of suffering. Strengthening the human mind, which can be done through practicing meditation, can be a solution for our craving and our wrong views. If we acknowledge and learn the cause of our suffering, it allows us to understand the behaviors of our mind toward it, knowing that it is impermanent, like anything in this world.

Desire can be categorized into two groups - unhealthy and healthy desire. Unhealthy desires are those that manifest unwholesome thoughts or undermine psychological well-being leading to suffering. Healthy desires can lead to a peaceful and calm mind. Placing healthy and unhealthy desire on a spectrum can have positive and negative ends. On one end, we’re branching our motivations to perform bad actions; On the other end, to conduct some of the most noble actions in the world. One must truly understand which end of the spectrum you are on whether it is craving versus aspiration. In short, desire is important for human life. The Buddha encouraged his disciples to awaken fervent desire for enlightenment.

In essence, Buddha discovered that there is Truth to the End of suffering. It can happen to anybody, anywhere, here and now, and the key to ending all suffering is to remove all desire, ill will, and ignorance. Karma and rebirth are closely related to the Buddha’s teachings in The Second Noble Truth.

To be continued... (The Third Noble Truth)

May you all be free from suffering and all the causes of suffering!

Namo Shakyamuni Buddha.


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“Phật Học Phổ Thông,” Tác Giả Hòa Thượng Thích Thiện Hoa (Language in Vietnamese)

“The Seeker’s Glossary of BUDDHISM,” Edited by the Van Hien-Study Group, Sutra Translation Committee of the United States & Canada

“A Simple Path – Basic Buddhist Teachings,” by His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama

"The Agendas of Mindfulness," by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 5 June 2010,

"Ariyapariyesana Sutta: The Noble Search, MN 26 PTS: M i 160, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu"

“The Buddha and His Teachings,” by Venerable Narada Mahathera (Sri Lanka 1970), Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc.

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“Buddhism,” from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,

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