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The Third Noble Truth: The End of Suffering (Nirodha Dukkha)

Updated: Jan 26

November 30, 2021 | Tranquillity {Praśrabhi} | Dharma Lesson



I. The First Noble Truth


The First Noble Truth establishes that Suffering Exists. The Truth of Suffering (Dukkha) comes in many forms such as birth, aging, sickness, and death. Life is suffering and filled with the many miseries of old age, sickness, death, separation from loved ones, unhappiness and dissatisfaction due to the impermanence of life.



II. The Second Noble Truth


The Second Noble Truth explores the Cause of Suffering (Sameda Dukkha). After years of searching for Truth and attaining Supreme Enlightenment, the Buddha discovered that the causes of suffering are craving (attachment) and the need to control things, desire for fame, and unpleasant sensations such as fear, jealousy, anger, ignorance and delusion.




III. The Third Noble Truth


The Third Noble Truth illuminates the End of Suffering (Nirodha Dukkha). It follows logically from the Second Noble Truth that if the cause of suffering is craving, then the way to eliminate suffering is to eliminate craving. Suffering can be overcome and supreme happiness can be attained. When we remove and let go of our attachments such as craving, desire, ignorance, hatred, greed, and delusion and allow it to cease, then we can experience the results of relief, happiness, and peace. Through our own meditation, we can experience that relief, happiness, and peace, and we get an idea of a better way to exist. This Third Truth is Nirvana. Perhaps the Third Noble Truth is the most important of the Four Noble Truths, because here, the Buddha reassures us that true happiness and contentment is possible.


Faith and Doubt


When we begin to understand the Truth of the End of Suffering, the first obstacle we must overcome is the doubt that exists in our minds whether the end of suffering is possible. Is it really possible to end suffering? How do we end the suffering? What is Nirvana? Confidence or faith plays an important role in this context. In Buddhism, when we speak of Faith, we do not mean blindly accepting any particular doctrine. Instead, we speak of faith in the sense of recognizing the possibility of the end of suffering.


The Buddha as Physician

When we are sick, we go to the doctor. The doctor examines us, makes a diagnosis, prescribes medication, and gives us advice. We need to take the medicine, follow the advice, and follow up with the doctor to get well. Likewise, if a spiritual teacher prescribes us a practice and the development of wisdom to end our suffering, we need to follow the instructions and practice properly. Otherwise, there will be no effect. This leads us to the Fourth Noble Truth of the Eightfold Path (the actual medicine and therapy).


1) The Buddha is compared to a physician:

  • The Buddha taught on The Four Noble Truths.


2) The physician diagnoses patients (The First and Second Noble Truths):

  • The first truth tells us what the illness is - Suffering Exits (The reality of dissatisfaction)

  • The second truth tells us what causes the illness - The Cause of Suffering (Craving/Attachment, ignorance, and desire for that which is impermanent)


3) After the diagnosis the physician makes a prognosis (prediction).

  • The Third Noble Truth gives us hope for a cure. True happiness and contentment are possible.

  • The End of Suffering is the end of craving (attachment), desire, ignorance, hatred, greed, and delusion.


4) After the prognosis, the doctor would give us the prescription (medicine and therapy)

  • The Buddha taught us through diligent practice, we can put an end to craving.

  • The PATH leads us out of craving, (attachment), desire, ignorance, hatred, greed and delusion.

  • The Eightfold Path (Dharma Wheel) which divides into three ways of practice: Wisdom, Morality or Good Conduct, and Mental Development (Concentration).

    • Wisdom:

      • Right View (Understanding)

      • Right Thinking (Thought)

    • Morality or Good Conduct:

      • Right Speech

      • Right Action

      • Right Livelihood

    • Mental Development (Concentration):

      • Right Diligence (Effort)

      • Right Mindfulness

      • Right Concentration


The Five Clinging Aggregates


It is the mind and not the body that suffers when unpleasant things occur. The Buddha said that the five clinging-aggregates are suffering.


The Five Clinging Aggregates are:


1) Material Form – The Four Great elements (solidity, liquidity, air movement and heat) plus the Five Sense Organs (Note: Mental feelings or sensations is the Sixth Sense Organ and is non-material.)


2) Feeling – Basic feelings of pleasure, displeasure (pain) and apathy (indifference)


3) Perception – Recognizing of Forms and their qualities


4) Mental Formations – Develops the process of ego with the fourth Mental Formation and arises from the contact of all your concepts and thoughts.


5) Consciousness – Consciousness arises from the previous four aggregates; the awareness of something without recognition (Perception) or before recognition


Please refer to this link for more details about the Five Aggregates: https://www.thongtritemple.org/post/the-first-noble-truth-birth-aging-sickness-death


They create the feelings, ideas, thoughts, judgements, and attitudes that filter and form our experiences. They cause suffering, because they are not permanent, and they change from moment to moment. The heart of suffering is believing in the permanent.


The Three Marks of Existence


The Three Characteristics of Suffering are called the Three Marks of Existence. They can help Buddhists to achieve Nirvana and end suffering. Once we understand the true nature of suffering, we can end it. Realization can ease your suffering.


The Three Characteristics of Suffering are:


1) Transience (non permanence) - we suffer, because we are deluded into believing the permanence of worldly phenomena.


2) Subject to dissatisfaction (discontent) - we suffer, because we become disappointed, dissatisfied, and discontent.


3) Not recognizing “Non-Self” - we suffer, because we become attached to a “self” and “identity” that does not exist.


“As long as we believe a self belongs to us, we are each an example of egoism.” (H.H. Dalai Lama, 1995a).


All things are transient in this world, including change. Impermanence is the state of not being permanent; existing only for a short period of time and of changing continually. Everything in this life changes. Change is the only thing that remains. Impermanence should teach us to let go, and not be deluded by what arises and ceases; however, our habits, which have been ingrained in us through so many lives, are hard to let go. We need to let go of things that make us proud and happy, because we can never completely hold on to them. It is a delusion. “All that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing.”


We can slowly reduce suffering if we put in effort. We can put an end to suffering by practicing proper meditation. Follow and trust the Buddha’s teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the Middle Way, the path of moderation which avoids both the extreme of indulgence in pleasures of the senses and the extreme of self-mortification.


For example: A wave seems to move across the water – it seems to appear, rise, fall and disappear. It is pushed by forces, such as wind and other currents. When these forces occur, we see waves, when these forces diminish, the wave disappears (eventually). Likewise, when craving ceases, suffering also ceases.


Meditation


We can practice proper meditation by not analyzing ourselves and making judgements about why we suffer on a personal level. Sit back and observe your mind, breathe in and out naturally, or count your breathing. Follow this path until you have a deep understanding of the pattern of arising and ceasing. Occasionally, your mind will wander or you may notice discomfort in your leg, but these distractions will come and go. Don’t analyze; don’t judge. Soon, your mind becomes clear and your questions resolve.


Meditation is looking directly at the way things are. You will find your mind entering a calm state if you sit and endure patiently. That calmness comes because you are no longer trying to get rid of something or trying to be something. There is an inner peace or relaxation of the mind in which you stop chasing after the struggle to BE or to GET OUT of some unpleasant condition in which you have encountered. Once you are comfortable with the conditions, you begin to be comfortable with the pain, the restlessness, the mental suffering, etc. Then, you find that the mind will be very clear, very bright, very calm.


For example: When you have a cup of muddy water, shaking it will cause the water to be cloudy; but once you let it sit, the dirt will settle to the bottom and separate from the water. Then, the water will become clear.


The key to end all suffering is to remove all our attachments, such as craving, desire, ignorance, hatred, greed, and delusion from our mind. We learn to truly live and focus on the present (Here and Now), not longing for the past or fearing the future. “This is a Truth to be realized here and now.” If we understand and follow the Buddha’s Teachings and trust His teachings of the Four Noble Truths, then we can be freed from suffering and freed from the continuous cycles of life, death, and rebirth. We can experience a state of permanent mind that is free from negativity and filled with peace, absolute highest (supreme) happiness, immortality, and compassion that are beyond words. This state is called Nirvana.


Nirvana


“At present, we say that a person "reaches" nirvana or "enters" nirvana, implying that nibbana is a place where you can go. But nirvana is most emphatically not a place. It’s realized only when the mind stops defining itself in terms of place: of here, or there, or between the two.” ~Thanissaro Bhikkhu


Nirvana can be realized in this world while living. The Buddha was a living example and demonstrated through his own life that Nirvana can be realized in a human lifetime. We do not need to wait until our death to understand it. It is not a place to which we go after death. It is a state of existence. It is within us.


….The Buddha said: "Cessation of suffering, as a noble truth, is this: It is remainderless fading and ceasing, giving up, relinquishing, letting go and rejecting, of that same craving.” ~ (SN 56.11), translated from Pali by Nanamoli Thera


The Turtle and the Fish


You may be familiar with the old story about the turtle and the fish.


Once upon a time there was a fish. And just because it was a fish, it had lived all its life in the water and knew nothing whatsoever about anything else but water. One day as it swam about in the lake where all its days had been spent, it happened to meet a turtle of its acquaintance who had just come back from a little excursion on the land.


“Good day, Mr. Turtle!” said the fish. “I have not seen you for a long time. Where

have you been?”


“Oh,” said the turtle, “I have just been for a trip on dry land.”


"On dry land!” exclaimed the fish.


“What do you mean by dry land?” There is no dry land. I had never seen such a thing. Dry land is nothing…”


“Well,” said the turtle good-naturedly. “If you want to think so, of course you may; there is no one who can hinder you. But that is where I have been, all the same.”


“Oh, come,” said the fish. “Try to talk sense. Just tell me now, what is this land of yours? What is it like? Is it all wet?”


“No, it is not wet,” said the turtle.


“Is it nice and fresh and cool?” asked the fish.


“No, it is not nice and fresh and cool,” the turtle replied.


“Is it clear so that light can come through it?”


“No, it is not clear. Light cannot come through it.”


“Is it soft and yielding, so that I can move my fins about in it and push my nose through it?”


“No, it is not soft and yielding. You could not swim in it.”


“Does it move or flow in streams?”


“No, it neither moves nor flows in streams.”


“Does it ever rise up into waves then, with white foams in them?” asked the fish, impatiently at this string of NOs.


“No!” replied the turtle, truthfully, “It never rises up into waves that I have seen.”


“There now,” exclaimed the fish triumphantly. “Didn’t I tell you that this land of yours was just nothing? I have just asked, and you have answered me that it is neither wet nor cool, not clear nor soft and that it does not flow in streams nor rise up into waves. And if it isn’t a single one of these things what else is it but nothing? Don’t tell me.”


“Well, well,” said the turtle, “if you are determined to think that dry land is nothing, I suppose you must just go on thinking so. But anyone who knows what water is and what land is would say, you were just a silly fish, for you think that anything you have never known is nothing just because you have never known it.”


And having said that, the turtle turned away and leaving the fish behind in its little pond of water, set out on another excursion over the dry land that was nothing.


From “The Buddha and His Teachings” by Maha Thera Narada

“Quoted from Bhikkhu Silācāra's booklet, The Four Noble Truths.”


The turtle could not find any terms to explain to the fish about dry land, so the fish concluded that the turtle was lying, and the story wasn’t true. For the fish, dry land does not exist and neither do the fields, pleasant breezes nor happiness outside of water. The turtle was talking about something that existed, but it was beyond the fish’s knowledge. Since the fish had never been on land, it was impossible to understand and to comprehend.


The Buddha said “Nirvana is the highest happiness.” ~ Dhammapada 204


The word Nirvana is composed of “nir” and “vana,” meaning the end of craving. Nirvana means reaching enlightenment. It also means extinguishing - blowing out the three poisons, in the way a candle is blown out. The three poisons are greed, hatred, and delusion. If the three fires of the poisons continue to burn, then the individual is trapped in reincarnation (Samsara), round and round the wheel of rebirth, driven by one’s own craving for pleasurable experiences.


….The Buddha taught...

“There is, monks, an unborn–unbecome–unmade–unfabricated. If there were not that unborn–unbecome–unmade–unfabricated, there would not be the case that escape from the born–become–made–fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn–unbecome–unmade–unfabricated, escape from the born–become–made–fabricated is discerned.” ~ Ud 8:3 Unbinding (3) (Nibbāna Sutta), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu


Nirvana also means the Unborn, the Unconditioned, the Unbecoming, and Liberation from the cycle of life, death and rebirth. It is beyond time; there is no movement, no aging, no dying. Thus, Nirvana is eternal. It is beyond space. There is no causation, no boundary, and no concept of self and not-self. Nirvana is infinite. The state of Enlightenment is being awake to the true nature of reality and necessary for Nirvana to be attained. Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it. It must be experienced directly. For example, the experience of the taste of sugar, salt, or vinegar cannot be described exactly to one who has not tasted them.


There are the three steps to Nirvana:

  • First step of Nirvana: The moment of awakening, the event or process of the extinction of the “fires” of the three poisons (greed, hatred, and delusion).

  • Second step of Nirvana: Living without the three poisons, the body continues to exist afterwards. At death, you will continue to be reborn into the cycle of life, death, and rebirth (samara).

  • Third and Final step of Nirvana: The state or condition enjoyed by Buddhas and Arhats. Two attributes of Final Nirvana are total annihilation of the self and the eternal existence of a personal soul. At death, you will not be reborn into the cycle of life, death, and rebirth (samara).

Since Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it, this was the question that Buddha did not want to answer.


The Theravada scholar Thanissaro Bhikkhu said,

“…neither samsara nor nirvana is a place. Samsara is a process of creating places, even whole worlds, (this is called becoming) and then wandering through them (this is called birth). Nirvana is the end of this process.”


Divisions of Buddhism


Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism (Hinayana Buddhism) have different perspectives of enlightenment:

  • Mahayana Buddhists follow the path of the Bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas can attain Buddhahood by devoting their time and effort to help others. A Bodhisattva is an awakened being who has attained enlightenment but remains in the cycle of life, death and rebirth (samsara) until all other beings have been liberated from suffering. Compassion is very important to Mahayana Buddhists and must achieve the Six Perfection areas. These are: generosity, morality, patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom.


  • Theravada Buddhists (Hinayana Buddhists) follow the path of the Arhats. In it, there are two distinct vehicles: the vehicle of listeners (Sravakayana) and the vehicle of Solitary Buddhas (Prateykayana). Both can experience Nirvana like the Arhats, however, they practice different methods. An Arhat is a being who has attained enlightenment through perfect understanding and perfect compassion. At death, they will not be reborn into the cycle of life, death and rebirth (samsara), but will have achieved Nirvana.

If we change our perception and reduce our attachment to craving and desiring, suffering will also reduce. We can start to put an end to all suffering by removing and letting go of our attachments, such as craving, desire, ignorance, hatred, and greed from our mind. We must have an open mind to see the reality for what it is and accept the reality as it is! This is just the beginning of the End of Suffering (Nirodha Dukkha). So, what is the PATH (Magga) way leading to the End of Suffering? It is the Noble Eightfold Path! We will examine the Noble Eightfold Path in detail when discussing the Fourth Noble Truth.


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


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


Namo Shakyamuni Buddha.



References:


“Chơn Lý,” Tác Giả Đức Tổ Sư Minh Đăng Quang (Language in Vietnamese)

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

“Buddhism,” from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism.

"Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth" (SN 56.11), translated from the Pali by Ñanamoli Thera. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 13 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.nymo.html .

"Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (3)" (Ud 8.3), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 3 September 2012, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/ud/ud.8.03.than.html

“A Verb for Nirvana by The Theravada Scholar Thanissaro Bhikkhu 2005”



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