Four Noble Truths


The teaching of the Four Noble Truths encompasses the Buddhist teachings in their entirety. The entire subject matter discussed in Buddhadhamma is encapsulated in the Four Noble Truths, and therefore this teaching acts as the summary and conclusion to this book. There are some important points to understand in reference to the Four Noble Truths:

Role and Significance of the Four Noble Truths

Friends, just as the footprint of any animal that walks can be placed within an elephant’s footprint, and so the elephant’s footprint is declared the chief of them because of its great size; so too, all wholesome states can be included in the Four Noble Truths.

M. I. 184-5.

So long, monks, as my knowledge and vision of these Four Noble Truths as they really are in their three phases and twelve aspects was not thoroughly purified in this way, I did not claim to have awakened to the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment….

Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Vin. I. 11; S. V. 422-3.

Monks, it is through not understanding, not penetrating the Four Noble Truths that I as well as you have for a long time run on and wandered round [the cycle of birthand-death].

D. II. 90.

Then the Blessed One gave the householder Upāli a gradual instruction, that is, talk on giving, talk on virtue, talk on the heavens; he explained the danger, degradation, and defilement in sensual pleasures and the blessing of renunciation. When he knew that the householder Upāli’s mind was ready, receptive, free from hindrances, delighted, and confident, he expounded to him the teaching special to the Buddhas: suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path.1

M. I. 379-80.

A person lives the holy life under the Blessed One in order to know, to see, to realize, to experience for himself, to attain that which is not yet known, seen, realized, experienced, and attained, [that is]: this is suffering, this is the origin of suffering, this is the end of suffering, this is the path leading to the end of suffering. {847}

A. IV. 384-5.

One of the unique characteristics of Buddhism is that it only teaches those truths which can be applied to benefit one’s life. The Four Noble Truths are of direct benefit to people’s lives. Buddhism does not concern itself with abstract truths that have no practical value. For this reason, the Buddha did not concern himself and waste time with metaphysical debates:

If anyone should say thus: ’I will not lead the holy life under the Blessed One until the Blessed One declares to me “the world is eternal or not eternal, the world is finite or the world is infinite, the life principle and the body are the same or the life principle is one thing and the body another, a being exists after death or does not exist, a being both exists and does not exist after death, or a being neither exists nor does not exist after death” ’ that would still remain undeclared by the Tathāgata and meanwhile that person would die.

Suppose, a man were wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends and companions, his kinsmen and relatives brought a skilled surgeon to treat him. The man would say: ’I will not let the surgeon pull out this arrow until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble or a brahmin or a merchant or a labourer; until I know the name and clan of the man who wounded me, whether he was tall or short or of middling height; whether he was dark, fair-skinned, or swarthy; and whether he lives in such a village or town or city. I will not let the surgeon pull out this arrow until I know whether the bow that wounded me was a long bow or a crossbow; whether the bowstring that wounded me was made with fibre or bamboo or sinew or hemp or bark; whether the shaft that wounded me was wild or cultivated; until I know with what kind of feathers the shaft that wounded me was fitted – whether those of a vulture or an adjutant stork or a hawk or a peacock or a sithilahanu bird; until I know with what kind of sinew the shaft that wounded me was bound – whether that of an ox or a buffalo or a langur or a monkey; and until I know what kind of arrowhead it was that wounded me.’ Before being able to know all of this that man would surely die. So too, if anyone should say thus: ’I will not lead the holy life’ … meanwhile that person would die.

Māluṅkyaputta, if there is the view ’the world is eternal’, the holy life cannot be lived; and if there is the view ’the world is not eternal’, the holy life cannot be lived. Whether there is the view ’the world is eternal’ or the view ’the world is not eternal’, there is still birth, there is still aging, there is still death, there are still sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair; it is the destruction of these [forms of suffering] I prescribe here and now….

Therefore, remember what I have left undeclared as undeclared, and remember what I have declared as declared. And what have I left undeclared? ’The world is eternal’, ’the world is not eternal’…. Why have I left that undeclared? Because it is unbeneficial, it does not belong to the fundamentals of the holy life, it does not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna. That is why I have left it undeclared.

And what have I declared? I have declared: ’This is suffering’, ’this is the origin of suffering’, ’this is the cessation of suffering’, ’this is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’ And why have I declared that? Because it is beneficial, it belongs to the fundamentals of the holy life, it leads to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna. That is why I have declared it. {848}

M. I. 428-31.

On another occasion the Buddha said that the things he has realized are numerous, but the things he has taught are few. This is because he only teaches those things that are of benefit and can be used to solve problems. Specifically, these beneficial things are the Four Noble Truths:

The Buddha was once staying in the Siṁsapā grove near the city of Kosambī. At that time he picked up a small handful of Narra tree leaves and said to the monks:

’What do you estimate, monks, which is more numerous: these few narra leaves that I hold in my hand or those in the Siṁsapā grove overhead?’

’Venerable sir, the few narra leaves that the Blessed One holds in his hand are of a small amount, while those in the Siṁsapā grove overhead are much more numerous.’

’So too, monks, the things I have directly known but have not taught you are numerous, while the things I have taught you are few. And why, monks, have I not taught those many things? Because they are unbeneficial, irrelevant to the fundamentals of the holy life, and do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.

’And what, monks, have I taught? I have taught: “This is suffering”; I have taught: “This is the origin of suffering”; I have taught: “This is the cessation of suffering”; I have taught: “This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.” And why have I taught this? Because it is beneficial, relevant to the fundamentals of the holy life, and leads to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna. Therefore I have taught this.

’Therefore, monks, you should make effort in order to understand according to the truth: “This is suffering, this is the origin of suffering, this is the cessation of suffering, this is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.” ’2

S. V. 437-8.

The Four Noble Truths are a vital teaching for both renunciants and laypeople. The Buddha therefore urged the monks to give teachings to the laypeople so that they understand these truths:

Monks, those to whom you ought to give assistance or those who are receptive to the teachings – whether friends or colleagues, relatives or kinsmen – these you should encourage and exhort to be settled and established in a realization of the Four Noble Truths as they really are.

S. V. 434-5.

The Meaning of the Four Noble Truths

These Four Noble Truths, monks, are actual, unerring, and constant. Therefore they are called noble truths….

S. V. 435.

Monks, the Tathāgata is the Noble One in this world with its devas, Māra, and Brahma, in this generation with its ascetics and brahmins, its devas and humans. Therefore they are called noble truths (because they are realized and revealed by the Buddha, the Noble One).3 {849}

S. V. 435.

Monks, it is because he has fully awakened to these Four Noble Truths as they really are that the Tathāgata, the Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One, is called the Noble One.4

S. V. 433.

Referring to passages in the Pali Canon, the Visuddhimagga presents four definitions for the Four Noble Truths (See Note Noble Truths):

Noble Truths

Vism. 495. For the first definition the Visuddhimagga quotes the following passage: ’Monks, because the “noble ones” (i.e. the enlightened ones) penetrate these truths, they are called noble truths’, but I am unable to find this passage in the Tipiṭaka as it remains today. As for the fourth definition, the term ariya is normally translated as ’noble’ or ’excellent’, and thus ariya-sacca is translated as ’noble truth’, but the commentators here interpret ariya according to the passage quoted above, as ’actual’ or ’sure’.

  1. Truths realized by the ’noble ones’ (see preceding footnote).

  2. Truths belonging to the Noble One (Pali definition B, above).

  3. Truths leading to the state of being a Noble One (Pali definition C, above).

  4. Truths that are actual and certain (Pali definition A, above).

The canonical explanations for the four truths are as follows:

Now this, monks, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; encounters with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.

Now this, monks, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there; that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for annihilation.

Now this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless elimination and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonattachment to it.

Now this, monks, is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is this Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.5

Further explanations are as follows:

  1. Dukkha: suffering; conditions that are difficult to endure; human predicaments. On a more profound level, this truth refers to the state of all conditioned things, which are subject to the natural laws of impermanence, dukkha, and nonself. Conditioned phenomena are accompanied by pressure, stress, conflict, and obstruction. They are inherently flawed and imperfect; they lack true substance and stability; they are unable to provide lasting satisfaction and contentment; they are constantly prone to cause problems and to create suffering for someone who attaches to them with clinging (upādāna). {850}

  2. Dukkha-samudaya (abbreviated as samudaya): the origin or source of suffering; i.e. craving (taṇhā), which seizes onto a belief in ’self’, establishing an ’I’, which is presumed to experience and acquire, exist and cease to exist in different circumstances. Attaching to this sense of self subjects a person to continual agitation, anxiety, yearning, possessiveness, hatred, fear, suspicion, boredom, and other forms of mental affliction. One is thus unable to truly feel at ease, free, and joyous; one does not know happiness that is immaculate and secure.

  3. Dukkha-nirodha (abbreviated as nirodha): the cessation of suffering; the state reached when one completely eliminates ignorance and craving, when one is not influenced or compelled by craving, and when one is not oppressed by anxiety, boredom, or any other form of mental affliction. One is liberated, peaceful, bright and at ease; one experiences pure happiness. In short, nirodha is equivalent to Nibbāna.

  4. Dukkhanirodhagāminī-paṭipadā (abbreviated as magga: the Path): the path leading to the cessation of suffering or the mode of practice for reaching the end of suffering, i.e. the Noble Eightfold Path (ariya-aṭṭhaṅgikamagga; the supreme path consisting of eight factors), i.e. right view … right concentration. This path is known as the Middle Way (majjhimā-paṭipadā) because it proceeds in a balanced way to the end of suffering, without getting stuck at or veering towards either of the two extremes: indulgence in sensual pleasures (kāmasukhallikānuyoga) or self-mortification (attakilamathānuyoga; practices of self-torment).

The Four Noble Truths and Dependent Origination

Dependent Origination and the Four Noble Truths are both central Buddhist teachings.

In answer to the question, ’What did the Buddha realize at his enlightenment?’ it is equally accurate to say that he realized Dependent Origination and that he realized the Four Noble Truths. There are passages in the Pali Canon to substantiate both of these claims.

This is because these two teachings are essentially the same and point to the same truths: Dependent Origination is an essential element of the Four Noble Truths, and the Four Noble Truths incorporates Dependent Origination. Let us look at the scriptural evidence for this assertion:

The Vinaya Piṭaka describes the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment, beginning with the time immediately after his enlightenment, when for an entire week he experienced the bliss of liberation and contemplated Dependent Origination, both the forward sequence (the arising of suffering) and the reverse sequence (the cessation of suffering).6 After seven weeks of experiencing the bliss of liberation, the Buddha considered proclaiming the Dhamma to others and he had this thought:

’This Dhamma that I have attained is profound, difficult to see, difficult to realize…. [It is difficult] for such a generation delighting in attachment to see this truth, namely, specific conditionality, Dependent Origination. And it is hard to see this truth, namely … Nibbāna. {851}

Vin. I. 1-5.

The Sutta Piṭaka presents a similar description of the Buddha’s life story, beginning with the thoughts that led him to go forth and leave the palace, followed by accounts of his going forth as a renunciant, studying with the ascetics Āḷāra and Uddaka, undertaking and relinquishing the practices of extreme asceticism, resuming eating food, and then attaining the jhānas and realizing the three forms of knowledge at the time of his awakening:

Now when I had eaten solid food and regained my strength, then quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhāna … the second jhāna … the third jhāna … the fourth jhāna, which has neither pleasure nor pain and purity of mindfulness due to equanimity….

When my mind was concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, malleable, wieldy, steady, and imperturbable, I directed it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives (pubbenivāsānussati-ñāṇa; the first knowledge – vijjā). I recollected my manifold past lives…. I directed it to knowledge of the passing away and reappearance of beings … I saw beings passing away and reappearing (cutūpapāta-ñāṇa; the second knowledge)…. I directed it to knowledge of the destruction of the taints (āsavakkhaya-ñāṇa; the third knowledge). I directly knew as it actually is: ’This is suffering’, ’this is the origin of suffering’, ’this is the cessation of suffering’, ’this is the way leading to the cessation of suffering’; I directly knew as it actually is: ’These are the taints’, ’this is the origin of the taints’, ’this is the cessation of the taints’, ’this is the way leading to the cessation of the taints.’ When I knew and saw thus, my mind was liberated from the taint of sensual desire, from the taint of becoming, and from the taint of ignorance.

M. I. 163-73, 240-49; M. II. 93, 211-12.

Following these passages is a description of the Buddha’s considerations on proclaiming the Dhamma, identical to the passage in the Vinaya Piṭaka quoted above.

The Vinaya Piṭaka describes the period immediately following the Buddha’s awakening, when the Buddha experienced the bliss of liberation (which the commentaries say lasted for seven weeks). The description begins with the Buddha’s review of Dependent Origination and ends with the Buddha’s thoughts on refraining from teaching the Dhamma due to the complexity and profundity of Dependent Origination and of Nibbāna. The Sutta Piṭaka describes the circumstances leading up to the Buddha’s awakening until he realizes the three forms of knowledge (vijjā). It passes over the period of experiencing the bliss of liberation and goes directly to the Buddha’s inclination to refrain from teaching.

Those people who focus on the passages in the Vinaya in which the Buddha contemplates Dependent Origination, and the passages in both the Vinaya and the suttas in which the Buddha considers teaching the Dhamma, will claim that the Buddha realized Dependent Origination. Those people, on the other hand, who focus on the sutta passages, especially those describing the realization of the three forms of knowledge, and who consider primarily the third knowledge, which is the true essence of awakening (the first two forms of knowledge cannot be considered equivalent to awakening and are not essential for realizing Nibbāna), will claim that the Buddha realized the Four Noble Truths, resulting in liberation from the taints.

Although these two answers are both correct, the two teachings have different features and a varying scope of application, and thus should be recognized as distinct from one another.

In regard to the similarity between these two teachings, let us review the two distinct cycles of Dependent Origination and then compare these to the Four Noble Truths:

  1. Cycle of origination (samudaya-vāra): ignorance arises → volitional formations arise → … birth arises → aging and death, sorrow, lamentation … despair arise.

  2. Cycle of cessation (nirodha-vāra): ignorance ceases → volitional formations cease → … birth ceases → aging and death, sorrow, lamentation … despair cease. {852}

  • A. The origination cycle of Dependent Origination is equivalent to the first and the second noble truths: suffering (dukkha) and suffering’s origin (samudaya). In the Four Noble Truths, the final section of Dependent Origination (birth, aging, death, sorrow, lamentation, etc.), which is the result of craving and clinging, is designated as the first noble truth: it refers to the problems that people encounter and that must be rectified. The teaching then returns to the preceding factors (ignorance to becoming) and designate them as the second noble truth: the source of human problems.

  • B. The cessation cycle of Dependent Origination is equivalent to the third noble truth (nirodha). It reveals how problems, when they are properly solved at their root, cease according to the law of cause and effect. Although the cessation cycle is directly associated with the third noble truth, it also includes the fourth noble truth, because the eradication of problems refers indirectly to the conduct or practice involved in solving these problems; it points to the particular actions required to resolve problems.

It is thus possible to condense the Four Noble Truths, resulting in two truths: the existence of suffering (truths 1 and 2) and the end of suffering (truths 3 and 4).

In some suttas, these two cycles of Dependent Origination are used as definitions for the second and third noble truths: the origination cycle is a definition for the second truth, and the cessation cycle is a definition for the third.7

In these definitions, however, only craving (taṇhā) is revealed as the cause for suffering (samudaya); and similarly, the end of craving is the definition for cessation (nirodha). This is because craving is the most obvious defilement; it plays a dominant role and is thus highlighted for investigation. Despite this abbreviated presentation, the entire process of Dependent Origination is implied.

The teachings on Dependent Origination and on the Four Noble Truths are distinct from each other in the following ways:

These two teachings reveal the same truth, but in different ways and with different objectives. Dependent Origination describes an automatic, natural process. The Four Noble Truths, on the other hand, presents a model for wise inquiry and investigation, leading to practical results.

The Four Noble Truths corresponds to the Buddha’s own search for truth, beginning with his encounters with suffering and his consequent search for its cause. He discovered that this search is not in vain; there is indeed a solution. He thus determined the specific points which need to be attended to and set himself a clear goal. Finally, he carried out the necessary measures to solve the problem until he reached his desired goal. The Four Noble Truths is thus used as a systematized teaching for generating understanding, profiting both the person who presents the teaching and the person who receives it. {853}

Dependent Origination is the essential dynamic inherent in the Four Noble Truths which the Buddha contemplated immediately after his awakening. It is the key teaching which a person must study in order to understand the gist of the Four Noble Truths.

The main distinction between these teachings is found in relation to the cessation cycle of Dependent Origination which corresponds to the third and fourth noble truth. When one compares the cessation cycle with the third noble truth (nirodha), one sees that it focuses primarily on the process leading to cessation rather than on the state of cessation – Nibbāna – itself. For this reason, following the Buddha’s awakening, while he was considering whether to teach the Dhamma, he distinguished the two truths that he had realized. His first consideration was:

This Dhamma that I have attained is profound, difficult to see, difficult to realize…. [It is difficult] for such a generation delighting in attachment to see this truth, namely, specific conditionality, Dependent Origination.

This was followed by a second consideration:

And it is hard to see this truth, namely, the stilling of all formations, the abandonment of all foundations for suffering, the end of craving, dispassion, cessation, Nibbāna.

The third noble truth, on the other hand, refers principally to the state of cessation, although the process leading to cessation is inherent in it.

The cessation cycle of Dependent Origination incorporates the fourth noble truth (magga), but it does not clearly mark out a path of practice. It does not clearly specify the details or methods of practical application: what needs to be done for the process to reach completion. This is similar to a doctor who knows how to treat an illness but neither prescribes medicine nor sets down a treatment plan.

In the Four Noble Truths, however, the Buddha specifically distinguished the fourth truth for the purpose of practical application: it is a way of practice that has been tested and proved, and leads with certainty to the goal of complete and utter freedom.

The fourth noble truth (magga) describes spiritual practice in a detailed, balanced, and comprehensive way; it comprises the entire Buddhist system of practice. It is called the ’middle way of practice’ or the ’Middle Way’, which is to be undertaken by people in order to generate results within themselves. Dependent Origination, on the other hand, is referred to as an ’impartial teaching of truth’ (majjhena dhammaṃ deseti), or a ’middle teaching’, which accords with the inherent laws of nature. It encompasses the first three noble truths. Because the Middle Way (magga) has distinctive features it is important to distinguish it as a unique teaching. {854}

In sum, the Buddha made a distinction between the truths that he realized at the time of his awakening: on the one hand there is Dependent Origination and Nibbāna, and on the other hand the Four Noble Truths. All of these truths are essentially the same, but viewed from different perspectives.

The Buddha referred to Dependent Origination and Nibbāna when he was considering whether to teach the Dhamma, acknowledging how profound these things are and how difficult it is for beings to understand them. Nibbāna and Dependent Origination are the essential qualities realized by the Buddha at the time of his enlightenment; they are the true and pure essence of the Dhamma, extremely difficult to realize. And they lie at the heart of the teaching on the Four Noble Truths.

The Buddha referred to the Four Noble Truths when he described his own practice culminating in his awakening and when he gave teachings to others, beginning with the First Sermon, on setting the wheel of Dhamma in motion. The Four Noble Truths comprise the entire range of truths realized by the Buddha. They are organized into a gradual system of coherent and effective teachings, which take into account people’s ability to understand these truths and apply them to their lives.

Nibbāna and Dependent Origination are pure, natural phenomena. The Four Noble Truths are those matters directly pertaining to human beings; they are presented in a way that is conducive to understanding and to practical application. The Four Noble Truths embody the entirety of the truth (Dhamma), whereas the essential (and the most difficult to realize) qualities of the truth are Nibbāna and Dependent Origination. A person who truly understands Nibbāna and Dependent Origination understands Buddha-Dhamma in its entirety, including the Four Noble Truths.

Actions to Be Performed in Relation to the Four Noble Truths

It is crucial that one understands and performs the necessary duties in relation to each of the Four Noble Truths. A correct presentation and correct practice of the Four Noble Truths relies on an accurate linking up between each distinct truth and its corresponding responsibility or action. A failure to do this results in misunderstandings and incorrect practice. A lack of understanding about the duties connected to each of the Four Noble Truths also leads to misunderstanding about Buddhism in general, for example the belief that Buddhism is a pessimistic teaching.

The four duties in respect to the Four Noble Truths are as follows:8

  1. Suffering should be fully understood
    (dukkhaṃ ariyasaccaṃ pariññeyyaṃ).

  2. The cause of suffering should be abandoned
    (dukkhasamudayo ariyasaccaṃ pahātabbaṃ).

  3. The cessation of suffering should be realized
    (dukkhanirodho ariyasaccaṃ sacchikātabbaṃ).

  4. The way leading to the cessation of suffering should be developed
    (dukkhanirodhagāminīpaṭipadā ariyasaccaṃ bhāvetabbaṃ). {855}

  • A. Thorough knowledge (pariññā): the duty in respect to suffering is thorough understanding: one should investigate and understanding suffering as it truly is; one should clearly understand relevant problems and determine the extent of these problems. This is a fundamental stage of spiritual practice enabling one to progress to subsequent stages and to understand the heart of the human predicament.

  • B. Abandonment (pahāna): the duty in respect to the causes for suffering is to eliminate them – to bring the causes for suffering to an end; one should remove the source of suffering.

  • C. Realization (sacchikiriyā): the duty in respect to the cessation of suffering is to realize or attain such cessation: to reach a state in which the essential problems have been solved, where one is completely free from these problems and has reached the goal of spiritual practice.

  • D. Cultivation (bhāvanā): the duty in respect to the Path is to literally ’bring into existence’ – to generate and to increase – i.e.: to train oneself according to the factors of the Path; to undertake the practice of the Path, which eliminates the source of suffering; to follow the methods which lead to the goal; to set down the details of spiritual practice and to apply these in order to solve problems.

It is necessary to attend to and accomplish these duties correctly, matching each duty with its appropriate truth. To perform these duties correctly requires knowledge (ñāṇa); the knowledge of these duties in Pali is referred to as kicca-ñāṇa. Applying this knowledge to link each noble truth with its matching duty corresponds to different stages of spiritual practice, and it can be used for solving every kind of human problem:

  1. Knowledge of the duty in relation to dukkha: to know that suffering needs to be thoroughly understood; to understand the nature of suffering, the basis of suffering, and the locus of suffering. This understanding accords with reality, which differs from understanding things according to how we want them to be or according to aversion, for instance. As a particular stage of practice, this refers to the stage of describing or assessing problems, which must be defined and understood.

  2. Knowledge of the duty in relation to samudaya: to know that the cause of suffering needs to be abandoned; to understand the causes of suffering, which should be eliminated. This is the stage of inquiry and analysis, of diagnosing the source of suffering, which must be completely eradicated.

  3. Knowledge of the duty in relation to nirodha: to know that the cessation of suffering needs to be realized; to understand the cessation of suffering, which should be realized. This is the stage of focusing on the end of suffering – the goal of spiritual practice – by recognizing that solving the human predicament is possible, worthy, and something that should be accomplished. Moreover, one knows how to reach this goal.

  4. Knowledge of the duty in relation to magga: to know that the Path needs to be cultivated; to understand the Path or the way of practice leading to the end of suffering, which should be developed and brought to completion. This is the stage of setting down or acknowledging the methods, stages, and details of practice used for eliminating the source of suffering which need to be applied and undertaken.

In sum, we know what our problems are – we know the nature of our suffering, we know the source of that suffering, we know what to aspire to (or what achievement is truly desirable), and we know what must be done – we know how to proceed.

The knowledge of duties (kicca-ñāṇa) is one of three kinds of knowledge connected to the Four Noble Truths, which are used as criteria for determining enlightenment: when a person truly knows the Four Noble Truths with these three kinds of knowledge (comprising twelve factors), he or she is said to be awakened. {856}

These three kinds of knowledge are referred to collectively as ’knowledge and vision’ (ñāṇa-dassana). This knowledge and vision is comprised of three cycles or rounds (parivaṭṭa), constituting the three kinds of knowledge:9

  1. Knowledge of the truths (sacca-ñāṇa): knowledge of the Four Noble Truths as they really are: ’this is suffering’, ’this is the source of suffering’, ’this is the end of suffering’, ’this is the way leading to the end of suffering’; ’suffering is like this’, ’the source of suffering is like this’, ’the end of suffering is like this’, ’the way leading to the end of suffering is like this’. This knowledge completes the first round (parivaṭṭa).

  2. Knowledge of duties (kicca-ñāṇa): knowledge of the required duties apropos of each of the Four Noble Truths: dukkha should be fully understood, the cause of suffering should be abandoned, etc., as described above. This knowledge completes the second ’round’.

  3. Knowledge of what has been done (kata-ñāṇa): knowledge of having accomplished the duties in respect to the Four Noble Truths. One knows: ’Suffering, which should be fully understood, has been fully understood’; ’The cause, which should be abandoned, has been abandoned’; ’Cessation, which should be realized, has been realized’; ’The Path, which should be developed, has been developed.’ This knowledge completes the third ’round’.

These three rounds occur in relation to each of the four truths, resulting in twelve factors (ākāra) of knowledge and vision. Knowledge and vision (ñāṇa-dassana) thus has three cycles (parivaṭṭa), containing twelve factors.

The Buddha possessed knowledge and vision of the Four Noble Truths in their three rounds – he realized the twelve factors – and therefore he declared that he had achieved the unsurpassed supreme enlightenment.

Knowledge and vision containing these twelve factors is used as a criterion for verifying all forms of spiritual accomplishment. This knowledge with its rounds and factors can outlined as seen below, and on Table Three Kinds of Knowledge.

  1. Suffering is like this – it should be fully understood – it has been fully understood.

  2. The cause is like this – it should be abandoned – it has been abandoned.

  3. Cessation is like this – it should be realized – it has been realized.

  4. The Path is like this – it should be developed – it has been developed. {857}

Three Kinds of Knowledge image

Note also the following points: {858}

  1. Dukkha is paired with the duty of clear understanding (pariññā) in the sense that suffering should be clearly understood. Therefore, suffering and all things that are classified as problems are collectively referred to as ’things which should be clearly understood’ (pariññeyya-dhamma).

  2. Samudaya is paired with the duty of relinquishment (pahāna) in the sense that the causes for suffering should be abandoned or eliminated. Therefore, craving and all things classified as causes for suffering, e.g.: ignorance, greed, hatred, and grasping, are collectively referred to as things to be relinquished (pahātabba-dhamma).

  3. Nirodha is paired with the duty of realization (sacchikiriyā) in the sense that the cessation of suffering should be realized. Therefore, Nibbāna and things related to the goal are called ’things to be realized’ (sacchikātabba-dhamma).

  4. Magga is paired with the duty of cultivation (bhāvanā) in the sense that the Path should be developed. The Eightfold Path and all practices and methods for reaching the goal are called ’things to be cultivated’ (bhāvetabba-dhamma).

Everything that exists, without exception, can be classified as and incorporated into one of these four groups.

On the Path leading to the end of suffering – from rudimentary stages to the refined, and from relating to external things to realizing profound phenomena in the mind – it is always possible to associate the things which one experiences with one of these four groups. For example, at the highest level of practice, of contemplating the essence of truth, the Buddha described these four qualities as follows:10

  1. Dukkha: things to be understood (pariññeyya-dhamma) = the five aggregates of clinging.

  2. Samudaya: things to be abandoned (pahātabba-dhamma) = ignorance (avijjā) and craving for existence (bhava-taṇhā).

  3. Nirodha: things to be realized (sacchikātabba-dhamma) = true knowledge (vijjā) and liberation (vimutti).

  4. Magga: things to be developed (bhāvetabba-dhamma) = tranquility (samatha) and insight (vipassanā).

Summary of the Four Noble Truths

The commentaries offer some interesting analogies for the Four Noble Truths:11

  1. An illness:

    • Dukkha is similar to an illness.

    • Samudaya is similar to the cause of illness.

    • Nirodha is similar to the freedom from illness.

    • Magga is similar to the medicine for curing the illness.

  2. Famine:

    • Dukkha is similar to a famine.

    • Samudaya is similar to an absence of rain.

    • Nirodha is similar to abundance and plenitude.

    • Magga is similar to a good rainfall.

  3. Danger:

    • Dukkha is similar to danger.

    • Samudaya is similar to the cause of the danger.

    • Nirodha is similar to an escape from the danger.

    • Magga is similar to the means for escaping the danger.

  4. Burden, a heavy load:

    • Dukkha is similar to a heavy load.

    • Samudaya is similar to carrying the heavy load.

    • Nirodha is similar to putting down the heavy load.

    • Magga is similar to the procedures for putting down the heavy load. {859}

The Visuddhimagga, the Sammohavinodanī, and the Saddhammapakāsinī offer brief and cogent explanations for why the Buddha arranged the Four Noble Truths in the order that he did:12


The Focus Commences on Suffering in order to Apply Wisdom

Suffering is oppressive and affects all human beings. Whenever suffering arises, it is arresting and kindles concern. Even if one looks beyond one’s own personal experience, one sees the various afflictions and difficulties that continually beset human beings as the normal state of affairs. Suffering is apparent to all people – it manifests clearly. It impels interest and is thus suitable as a regular subject for contemplation, in particular as the starting point for teaching the Dhamma.

Moreover, suffering is considered displeasing and frightening for most people; although it is unavoidable, they do not want to think about it. If one makes people aware of how they are currently experiencing suffering or generating problems, they may be shaken from their state of complacency. The Buddha taught people about suffering in order for them to begin to contemplate and solve their problems.

By teaching the Four Noble Truths beginning with suffering, one commences with the problems at hand, with things that are clearly evident, with things that are arresting, and most importantly, with things that have a direct relevance to people. One does not begin with abstract ideas, fanciful notions, or mere rhetoric. When teaching an individual, one speaks on a subject pertinent to him or her; and when teaching objectively, one speaks on a subject relevant to all people.

The Buddha taught about suffering not to promote suffering, but to act as the starting point for ending suffering. He knew that suffering can be brought to cessation – it is not a compulsory and permanent condition. Life is frustrating when it is still disturbed by suffering. If one is able to bring an end to suffering, or if one becomes skilled at solving problems, then life becomes peaceful and truly happy.

Solving problems is not achieved by avoiding or turning a blind eye to suffering. Just the opposite: it is achieved by acknowledging and facing suffering. This does not mean simply enduring suffering or generating more suffering, but rather it means to gain insight into suffering in order to be able to be free of it. Instead of accumulating suffering, one attends to it with wisdom.

Gaining insight is equivalent to performing the correct duty vis-à-vis suffering, that is, comprehensive understanding (pariññā). One understands the nature of suffering, where it arises, and the extent of the problems. Often people avoid suffering and run away from problems; even though they know that problems exist, they only have a vague or confused understanding about them. By understanding suffering, one’s responsibility in this area is accomplished. This is similar to a doctor who diagnoses the symptoms of an illness and understands its nature, thus fulfilling one stage in the process of curing it. {860}

It is not our responsibility to eliminate or abandon suffering, because cessation is not found at suffering itself – one must dispel it at its causes. Trying to abandon suffering itself is like treating an illness only at its symptoms, say by taking medicine in order to alleviate the pain. The illness has not been cured and one must continue to search for its causes.

Just as a doctor studying the nature of illness must also study about the human body, which is the home of illness, so too, a practitioner, who studies the nature of suffering in order to bring about its end, must study all aspects of human life which constitute the basis of suffering, along with the nature of conditioned phenomena which play a participatory role.

The gist of the first Noble Truth is to recognize suffering as it truly is and to discern the true nature of human life and the world around us.

Samudaya: the Source of Suffering

Searching for the True Causes of Suffering Rather than Attributing Blame

If one wishes for the cessation of suffering, one must eliminate its causes. When one recognizes the nature of one’s suffering – how and where it manifests – it is time to investigate further for its causes, in order to accomplish the duty of abandonment or elimination (pahāna).

In many cases, however, when searching for the source of suffering, people flee from the truth. They tend to look outside of themselves or focus on events removed from what is happening in the present moment. They therefore look for an external agent on whom to lay blame or try to distance themselves from the problem so as to feel that they are not responsible.

Laying blame on external factors leads to three false doctrines:13

  1. Doctrine of past karma (pubbekata-vāda): the belief that all present happiness and suffering results from past actions; the claim that all happiness and suffering is connected to past actions.

  2. Doctrine of a supreme God (issaranimmāna-vāda): the belief that all present happiness and suffering is created by a supreme God; whether one is escaping ill-fortune or seeking good fortune, one thus relies on the providence of divine beings.

  3. Doctrine of fate (ahetu-vāda): the belief that all present happiness and suffering is random and pointless, without cause and condition. One believes that neither positive nor negative events can be altered; when their destined time arrives, they will occur automatically.

Buddha-Dhamma rejects these doctrines because they oppose the natural law of causality. The Buddhist teachings encourage people to search for the causes of suffering in conformity with this law of nature, beginning with those causes existing within an individual, i.e. volitional actions (kamma) of thoughts, words, and deeds, both good and bad: those already performed, those presently being performed, and those stored up as character traits. And they have people examine their behaviour in relation to things around them, to check if their actions are proper or improper in regard to various environmental factors.

On a deeper level, the Buddha described craving (taṇhā) as the source of human suffering. Craving causes one to act, express oneself, and relate to the world incorrectly. One does not act with a knowledge of the truth, but rather one acts influenced by pleasure and aversion, by likes and dislikes, or by shielding oneself with such defilements as fear, conceit, envy, and distrust, which are a consequence of craving. {861}

There are three forms of craving: craving for sensual pleasures (kāma-taṇhā) – the wish to obtain, to acquire, to consume; craving for existence (bhava-taṇhā) – the wish to become, to endure, to have eternal life; and the craving for annihilation (vibhava-taṇhā) – the wish to cease existing, the wish for extinction. And on an even deeper level the Buddha described the process of Dependent Origination, in which ignorance acts as the root of craving, the source from which all suffering flows.

When one eliminates ignorance and craving – the causes for suffering – and one is not subject to the obstructive power of defilements, one is able to relate to the world – to other people, to other creatures, and to nature – with wisdom. One has an understanding of the conditionality of all things which enables one to solve problems in the optimal way available to human intelligence.

Although some minor suffering remains, it is merely the dukkha inherent in nature and is incapable of overpowering one’s mind. When one is free from the internal subjugation of craving, the only remaining responsibility is to reflect on the circumstances with which one is engaged, and to respond with wisdom for the happiness and wellbeing of others.

On the contrary, as long as people are still oppressed by corrupting and distorting defilements, they have no chance to truly solve problems or to dispel suffering, both within themselves and outward in society. In most cases, when people try to solve problems, they tend to make matters worse, either by increasing the problem at hand or by creating new ones. When they experience suffering, rather than bringing it to an end or reducing it by way of wisdom, they are coerced by craving to compensate for this situation by increasing the original suffering or by venting the suffering outwards and harming other people and society.

Human suffering arises and exists in this way, subject to the dictates of craving and with the support of ignorance, without end.

Nirodha: the Cessation of Suffering

Wisdom Leads to Unrestricted Happiness and Compassion

Once the Buddha had described suffering and its causes, which are matters of adversity and dissatisfaction, he assuaged the minds of those disciples receptive to his teachings and gave them hope, by teaching the third noble truth of cessation, revealing that the oppression by suffering can cease – the basic problems of life can be solved. A desirable way out exists, because the cause of suffering can be eliminated and brought to an end.

Suffering exists dependent on causes; when these causes are removed, the result of suffering likewise ceases. When suffering ceases, the state of ’no suffering’ – a freedom from suffering – arises automatically. Mental disturbance is transformed into a state of freedom, clarity, purity, and ease. For this reason cessation is presented as the third noble truth, both because of the natural sequence of events, and because of its aptness as a teaching method, which kindles interest, promotes understanding, and encourages practice leading to true realization.

When one eliminates craving along with its companion defilements, which tyrannize and seduce the mind, one is no longer harassed by agitation, yearning, anxiety, fear, animosity, loneliness and boredom. One does not need to rely on the temporary happiness of fleeing from these disturbing mind states, of trying to bury them or replace them with something else, or of venting one’s frustration outwards. {862}

By attending to suffering at its causes, the mind is now liberated, independent, peaceful, and possessed of a pure happiness; it is not assaulted by lingering doubts and fears. The normal, constant state of the mind is one of joy, clarity and ease. One has reached spiritual perfection and fulfilled the act of realization (sacchikiriyā).

Similarly, when the mind is liberated from mental defilements and entanglements, when it is free and bright, ignorance no longer has any manipulative power. As a consequence, wisdom is also purified and freed from the deceptive and corrupting influence of the defilements. One is able to reflect on things correctly and in harmony with the truth, and discern things according to cause and effect.

When ignorance and craving are not present to cause misunderstanding, wisdom is the principal agent to guide behaviour. One then acts, expresses oneself, and relates to the world with a thorough knowledge of the ways of nature. Apart from being the bedrock of internal purity and freedom, outwardly, wisdom helps for applying one’s personal knowledge and capabilities to solve other people’s problems and to generate true wellbeing. A person’s intelligence is used to its fullest extent without impediment or distortion, and it is used only for wholesome purposes. This is to live one’s life guided by wisdom.

Moreover, when a person is free, steady, and naturally happy – not self-obsessed, not looking for things to consume, not trying to protect or reinforce the burden of self-importance – the mind becomes expansive and the feeling of freedom pervades outwards. One becomes receptive to the happiness and suffering of fellow creatures and one wishes to provide assistance. Wisdom is then provided with the power of compassion which helps to guide one’s behaviour; one then lives fully for the wellbeing and happiness of others. When one is free from grasping and selfish attachment, one is able to perform virtuous and kindly deeds in a one-pointed, resolute, and devoted way.

Inwardly, one is free, happy, and pure; personal wellbeing has been brought to perfection (attahita-sampatti). Outwardly, one acts to support other people (parahita-paṭipatti). Together they complete the attributes of one who has realized cessation.

A person who walks the noble path does not need to wait to experience the blessings and benefits of realizing Nibbāna – the heart of cessation. Even while walking correctly along the Path one is able to constantly witness the increasing fruits of practice, both in regard to personal benefits and in regard to those blessings one can bestow on others.

In ascending order, cessation (nirodha) is outlined by five stages:14

  1. Vikkhambhana-nirodha: cessation of suffering and defilement through suppression: to use concentration in order to make the mind tranquil, relaxed, free from dullness and anxiety. In particular, this means applying concentration on the level of jhāna. During the entire period that one dwells in jhāna the defilements are stilled and one experiences happiness independent of sensual desires (nirāmisa-sukha).

  2. Tadaṅga-nirodha: cessation of suffering and defilement by way of opposing or opposite qualities. Most importantly, this refers to an ability to reflect wisely, to understand the truth of phenomena – that they exist according to the law of causality and must be attended to by bearing in mind their causes and conditions. They are not subject to people’s desires and attachments. With such wisdom a person acts correctly and relates to things with understanding, goodwill, and an inner freedom. {863} Wisdom that clearly discerns things according to the truth is called ’insight wisdom’ (vipassanā-paññā). Mental impurity and suffering is extinguished as long as this wisdom functions: the mind is calm, pure, bright, and joyous. It leads to mental refinement and generates deeper levels of wisdom.

  3. Samuccheda-nirodha: cessation of suffering and defilement through severance. One realizes transcendent stages of the Path, beginning with the path of stream-entry. Defilements and suffering cease completely and irrevocably, according to the specific stage of the Path.

  4. Paṭipassaddhi-nirodha: cessation of suffering and defilement through stilling. One realizes transcendent ’fruit’ (phala); one is a noble being, from stream-enterer upwards. Defilements cease and the mind is pure and free according to the specific stage of being a noble person (ariya-puggala).

  5. Nissaraṇa-nirodha: cessation of defilements through relinquishment; the state of true and perfect deliverance: Nibbāna.

Magga: the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering

Arrival at the Triple Gem Dispels a Dependence on Fate and Supernatural Powers

When one knows suffering and its origin, and one recognizes the goal which is the cessation of the suffering, it is then time to engage in practice.

When one sees clearly the goal to be reached – its attributes and its attainability – one practises to realize that goal accordingly. If one does not know what the goal is and in which direction to go, one will not know how to proceed. For this reason, in terms of the relationship between the four truths, it is appropriate for the Path to be put at the end.

Also, in regard to teaching, spiritual practice generally requires a lot of strength and energy; if practitioners do not recognize the value of the goal, they will lack will-power. And if they are convinced the practice is arduous, they may have a loss of heart or even refuse to proceed. Even if they engage with the practice they will do so as if coerced, against their will, or listlessly, and their progress will probably be fruitless.

On the contrary, if one sees the value of the goal one will be happy to put forth effort. The greater is the goal and the desire to reach it, the stronger is the motivation for practice. When a person sincerely desires the goal, he or she will fight to achieve it no matter how difficult the practice is to reach it.

This is another reason why the Buddha mentioned cessation before the Path: so that the listener sees the value of and develops a wish for cessation, generating an enthusiasm to learn the methods of practice and to apply them. When the Buddha revealed how cessation is truly a worthy goal, the listeners were determined to hear of the Path and committed to applying it to practice. They resolved to follow the Path and welcomed the hardships required to do so.

When people search for the cause of suffering, they tend to attribute blame outwardly or look for things that are as far from their own sphere of responsibility as possible. Similarly, when people look for a remedy for suffering, they tend to look for things externally, to find some protection in order to release them from responsibility or to remove suffering on their behalf.

In both cases people are hiding from the truth, not daring to look at suffering, and avoiding responsibility. This is similar to a person who flees from danger and looks for a place to bury his head in the sand and hide his face; he thinks he has escaped the danger even though he is still surrounded by it. {864}

This behaviour gives rise to a dependence on external things, say by beseeching what is considered holy, making propitiatory offerings, waiting for divine acts of power, or simply leaving things up to fate. Buddhism teaches that depending on such things, or such a resignation to fate, is not the way to security and safety, and it does not lead to a true deliverance from suffering.

The correct way of dealing with suffering is to have firm confidence in the merits of the Triple Gem, to make the mind peaceful and strong, and to apply wisdom by looking at problems objectively: to see them as they truly are and to solve them at their root causes.

In other words, with confidence in the Triple Gem, one knows how to solve problems according to the Four Noble Truths: to know suffering accurately, to investigate and discover its causes, to recognize the end of suffering which should be realized, and to develop the appropriate methods of dealing with suffering directly at its source which lead to the realization of the goal. In sum, one develops the Eightfold Path. Practising in this way leads to the true end of suffering, as confirmed by the Buddha:

People in large numbers threatened by danger seek refuge in mountains, forests and sacred groves and trees. But no such refuge is safe, no such refuge is supreme. Not by resorting to such a refuge is one freed from all misery.

One who goes for refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha; who sees clearly with wisdom the Four Noble Truths: suffering, the origin of suffering, the transcendence of suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path leading to the end of suffering. This, indeed, is a safe refuge; this, indeed, is the refuge supreme. By reaching such a refuge, one is freed from all misery.15

Dh. verses 188-92.

A recollection of the Buddha provides us with the confidence that every person is endowed with an intelligence and capability which can be trained or developed to perfection. We are all able to realize the truth, to arrive at the utter freedom from suffering, to transcend mundane phenomena, and to possess supreme virtues which even the devas and Brahma gods revere. In this respect, the Great Teacher, the Buddha, acted as guide and forerunner.

If those people who depend on the supernatural know how to train themselves well, they will see that there is nothing which the gods or sacred forces are able to do which equals the virtuous deeds stemming from a well-cultivated human mind.

A recollection of the Dhamma provides us with the confidence that the truth is a naturally existing phenomenon and that all things exist according to causes and conditions. If one is able to discern things as they truly are, to apply this understanding in a beneficial way, to relate to things with insight, and to deal with them at their source, then one can solve problems in the best possible way. One will realize the truth and live an excellent life.

A recollection of the Sangha provides us with the confidence that a virtuous community is founded on truth and is comprised of members who are free from suffering. Although they have arrived at varying degrees of spiritual accomplishment, they are united and equal in the face of Dhamma. Every person participates in building this community by understanding and practising in accord with the Dhamma. {865}

If one lacks confidence in the Triple Gem then one must depend on external things, like petitioning sacred forces and praying to divine beings. But if one has confidence in the Triple Gem then one studies the way of bringing suffering to an end through insight into causes and conditions outlined in the Four Noble Truths and one practises spiritual cultivation in accord with the Buddhist path.

Path of the Noble Ones: Self-Mastery and Mutual Assistance

For people with strong faith, who have complete confidence in the Triple Gem, neither external opinions nor the general vicissitudes of life, colloquially referred to as twists of fate, can make them waver.

Their state of mind is similar to a person in good health and with a strong body: they are self-reliant at all times. (See Note Self Reliance) They need not depend on external forces. They look to results from kamma: from deliberate effort in line with causes and conditions. They have developed wisdom, clearly understanding the principle of solving problems according to the Four Noble Truths, and they steadfastly follow the Noble Eightfold Path.

Self Reliance

Admittedly, according to the Buddhist way of practice, until a person is a stream-enterer (sotāpanna), it is extremely difficult for him or her to be mentally self-reliant at all times. Therefore, the Buddha encouraged people who still depend on sacred and divine forces, and on fate or fortune, to change course and steer towards the truth, by using new methods for solving problems.

Instead of performing ceremonies to avert catastrophe or remove bad luck, or of praying to some external power, the Buddha had people find release in a new way, through acts of wholesome self-surrender and self-sacrifice, for example by acts of public charity and by dedicating one’s time and effort to promote the public good.

Even fortune tellers who have faith in Buddhism advise people to improve their fortunes by offering gifts, making merit, keeping moral precepts, and observing the uposatha day precepts. Sometimes they recognize that the devas – especially those in Thailand – who are being petitioned and prayed to, have been devoted to Buddhism (most of them are Buddhists ever since they lived as human beings). These devas are delighted to see people do wholesome and beneficial actions, instead of worthless, foolish ones.

Such people are said to have entered the stream of bringing suffering to an end; they have been trained and go in the direction of true liberation. They become members of the community of the noble ones, having reached the first stage of noble beings. Such persons are called stream-enterers (sotāpanna).

On the contrary, the minds of those people who are still captivated – who spin around in the deluge of worldly currents, who are shaken by the winds of fortune, whose faith is still unsteady, and whose self-confidence is not grounded in the merits of the Triple Gem – resemble a person who is physically sick and ailing: they are not able to help themselves and must constantly rely on others.

They feel strong when life is calm, but once a tempest sets in they cannot support themselves. They then choose between enduring the mental anguish or else seek out some form of intense pleasure like indulging in an intoxicating substance. Alternatively, they rely on sacred objects, seek help from divine powers, or expect results from auspicious ceremonies or from fate, in order to escape their suffering or to derive some comfort and reassurance. They do not know the correct escape from suffering and they do not possess the wisdom which perceives things as they really are; they are unable to transcend the worldly currents.

When they conduct their lives, they fall into one extreme or another: if they don’t veer towards the extreme of sensual indulgence and infatuation, they naively follow an oppressively austere way of life; they do not walk straight on the Middle Way.

In Pali the name for such a person is puthujjana: an unawakened person. And if someone is devoid of wholesome qualities, is truly blind, is unable to distinguish between good and evil, lives simply by responding to craving, does not reflect on his actions, and is prepared to exploit others for selfish gain, he is referred to as a ’blind and foolish worldling’ (andhabāla-puthujjana). {866}

If, however, a person recognizes wholesome qualities, hears the subtle call of the noble ones, begins to live a virtuous life, maintains moral standards consisting of the ten wholesome courses of action (kusala-kammapatha), or at least keeps the essential five precepts, he or she is referred to as a ’virtuous, unawakened person’ (kalyāṇa-puthujjana) or ’one who has heard the teachings of the noble ones’ (sutavanta-ariyasāvaka). This person is ready to commence the noble path.

The practice for eliminating the causes of suffering is called the Path, because it resembles a road leading to the goal, and although this Path is a single track, it consists of eight factors. In order to reach the goal these eight factors must be mutually supportive and balanced; they must act in unison.

To practise correctly and walk unerringly towards the goal relies on wisdom, which discerns things accurately and acts both to reveal and to guide. For this reason the first factor of the Path is right view (sammā-diṭṭhi).

Because the Path is balanced and leads straight to the goal, it is referred to as the Middle Way (majjhimā-paṭipadā). It does not deviate towards the two extremes: those persons walking this Path are neither obsessed with seeking things for personal gratification – infatuated with sensuality – nor do they err in the opposite direction, by undertaking severe austerities and deliberately increasing suffering, due to disillusionment or self-hatred.

For practice in line with the Path to commence and develop effectively, it relies on two causes or supports, which are referred to as the conditions for right view.

First, is the external or social factor of having good instruction by others (paratoghosa): wholesome opinions, encouragement, and influence by others. In particular this refers to ’virtuous friends’ (kalyāṇamitta) – for instance parents, teachers, monks, and honourable people who have achieved success through honest means – who have attributes worthy of emulation and respect, both those who live nearby and those who live far away. These individuals are able to teach, offer advice, and inspire people to develop an enthusiasm for goodness. By using faith and devotion as a medium they foster correct understanding in people. Moreover, they urge and guide people to reflect on things according to the truth independently of others.

The second is the internal factor of wise reflection (yoniso-manasikāra): to be able to think and reflect skilfully, effectively, and methodically; to analyze things in conformity with how they actually exist and in line with their causes and conditions.

When these two factors exist to summon and support right view, one can expect with confidence that one’s spiritual practice will proceed correctly. Other Path factors will develop along with wisdom for one’s own wellbeing and that of others, and one will advance towards the goal of Buddha-Dhamma.

Firm confidence in the Triple Gem, a knowledge of the Four Noble Truths, and practice in accord with the Middle Way – the Eightfold Path – prevents, or at least mitigates, all kinds of incorrect responses to suffering or inappropriate means to solve problems.

These incorrect responses take many forms: one may be deluded and muddled, resigning oneself to suffering and succumbing to despair and grief; one may use a strategy of evasion and self-deception, trying to forget suffering by immersing oneself ever deeper in sensual pleasures; one may depend on supernatural forces, pray for divine intervention, or resign oneself to fate; one may engage in immoral behaviour; one may vent frustration outwards by violating and disturbing others; or one may oppress or chastise oneself due to self-loathing and disillusionment. {867}

By walking the Path, supported by correct faith and established in probity, one acts favourably, in a way that is beneficial to oneself and others. One responds to circumstances with fortitude and inner peace. One solves problems with clear awareness, intelligence, and effort, dealing with them in line with causes and conditions.

And even in one’s most unsteady moments, when one is not able to help oneself, one knows how to find virtuous friends, who can encourage one’s wholesome qualities, and who can give advice to foster an understanding of causality so that one can address problems correctly.

Although the responsibility vis-à-vis the Path is bhāvanā – cultivation, development, training, bringing into being, undertaking – defining the Path (magga) as ’practice’ or ’Dhamma practice’ can lead to an overly narrow understanding, or even to a misunderstanding of this term.

In fact, the term magga encompasses the entire practical dimension of Buddhism; it is equivalent to the term cariya-dhamma (’practical application’) or it comprises the entire system of virtuous conduct. Another synonym for magga is the term brahmacariya, which is translated as the ’holy life’ or ’sublime life’.

The eight factors of the Path can be separated, elaborated on, and given a new shape depending on one’s point of emphasis and consonant with the level of spiritual practice being addressed. Examples of this are the ten wholesome ways of conduct (kusala-kammapatha), which are suitable for laypeople and emphasize external actions more than internal matters, and the seven stages of purity (visuddhi), which focus on the highest goal of Buddhism and emphasize insight wisdom (vipassanā-paññā).

Confidence in the Triple Gem Leads to the Threefold Training

Of all the groups, classifications, or systems of practice that are derived from the eight Path factors, the one that is considered the most basic or all-inclusive, and which is used as a standard for spiritual practice, is the system of the threefold training (tisso sikkhā).

The threefold training is derived from the Path, and in essence they are the same. The Path is a system for living a virtuous life; one can say that it is equivalent to the essence of a virtuous life. The threefold training is a system of study or training for developing people in virtue and for fostering a virtuous life.

These two teachings are connected, because spiritual training and discipline gives rise to a virtuous life. When one practises according to the threefold training, the Path arises; when people develop themselves by the threefold training, their lives are in harmony with the Path. In other words, one practises the threefold training in order to give rise to the Path.

The gist of these two teachings is the same; by practising one, the other prospers. Spiritual training, which is identical to spiritual development, is an integral part of living a virtuous life; a virtuous life springs from spiritual training.

When one has gained confidence in the Triple Gem, possessing faith corresponding to right view, and one is no longer caught up in a reliance on external conditions, the mind is intent on studying the principle of bringing suffering to cessation by way of insight into causes and conditions outlined in the Four Noble Truths. One then undertakes the practice of the Eightfold Path, which is equivalent to undertaking the threefold training. {868}

Faith in the Triple Gem assists in progressing in the threefold training. One then develops the factors of the Path until one reaches the goal.

The threefold training is comprised of the training in higher morality (adhisīla-sikkhā), the training in higher mind (adhicitta-sikkhā), and the training in higher wisdom (adhipaññā-sikkhā). For simplicity and convenience, these factors are normally referred to as moral conduct (sīla), concentration (samādhi), and wisdom (paññā).

Training in higher morality: virtuous physical actions, speech, and livelihood, i.e. to develop the Path factors of right speech, right action, and right livelihood. In essence, this refers to behaving well in relation to society, honouring a moral code, and fulfilling one’s social responsibilities. One relates to society in a beneficial way and safeguards one’s environment – especially the social environment – so that it is conducive for every person to live a virtuous life and practise according to the Path. (See Note Morality as Proper Relationships)

Sīla is the most basic form of training. It has a very wide range of application and can be separated into many levels, encompassing all outward behaviour, all acts of restraint in relation to other people, and all relationships one maintains to one’s environment, both social and natural. The most fundamental level of moral conduct is to refrain from harming other people (including not harming oneself) and from damaging a social environment conducive to virtue and the practice of the Path.

From this stage one can train in forms of moral discipline that foster higher virtues. If possible, one then engages in activities that help other people, creates an environment that prevents evil, and increases the opportunity for people to live and practise in order to generate increasing degrees of goodness.

Training in higher mind: to cultivate the quality and capability of the mind; to develop the Path factors of right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Essentially, this means making the mind strong, steady and stable, maintaining self-restraint, and being concentrated and highly motivated. The mind becomes peaceful, bright, joyous, pure, and free from agitation or defilement. It is in the most optimum state for work, especially for the application of profound wisdom.

Morality as Proper Relationships

It is very unfortunate that people tend to view morality (sīla) as something exclusively negative – as a set of prohibitions or as a form of restraint, for example by refraining from transgressing the five precepts.

People do not see the wider meaning of this term as described in the scriptures. For example, in reference to the monastic sangha, sīla encompasses the correct relationship between teachers and disciples, as described in the Mahākhandhaka and other sections of the Vinaya Piṭaka.

In reference to the laity, sīla includes the proper relationship between parents and children, husbands and wives, friends with friends, etc, and includes the bases of social solidarity (saṅgaha-vatthu) according to the householder’s discipline in the Siṅgālaka Sutta.

Training in higher wisdom: to cultivate wisdom in order to generate an understanding of things as they truly are, culminating in liberation, at which time the mind is perfectly free, bright, and happy; to develop the Path factors of right view and right thought. In essence, this refers to cultivating pure wisdom, which clearly understands the truth. It is not the kind of knowledge or intelligence that is warped, impaired, stained, deceived, or confused by the power of defilements, most notably ignorance and craving.

As a basis, developing this higher wisdom requires the training in cleansing and brightening the mind. At the same time, however, when pure wisdom arises, the mind becomes decidedly more tranquil, stable, pure, and bright. Most importantly, wisdom leads to liberation. Wisdom also has an overall effect on one’s life, in that one relates to things correctly. One applies this pure, unbiased wisdom, which is unimpaired by covert defilements, to solve problems and to act for the true welfare and happiness of oneself and others. {869}

Using the terminology of contemporary scholars or of Western academics, the trainings in higher morality, mind, and wisdom comprise social development, emotional or mental development, and intellectual development, respectively. These definitions differ only in the range of application, although it should be stated here that the objective of the threefold training is specific to the context of Buddha-Dhamma.

These definitions are basically consistent in that it is necessary to train people to be disciplined (including to have a sense of social responsibility and to have a positive relationship to society), to cultivate their state of mind (to empower and refine the mind), and to develop awakened intelligence and wisdom – buddhi-paññā – beginning with the ability to reason.

Modern theories of human development agree that these three levels of training are interrelated and mutually supportive, confirming for instance that reasoned intelligence assists the development of one’s overall state of mind, strengthens one’s sense of discipline, and increases a sense of social responsibility. These three trainings, or the three forms of human development, must therefore be practised in unison. (See Note Physical Development)

Note that the Buddhist teaching on the four kinds of development (bhāvanā) contains the extra factor of physical development (kāya-bhāvanā).16 The term ’physical development’ in this context, however, differs from how it is used in modern parlance. In Buddhism, this term refers to developing one’s relationship to one’s environment by way of one’s physical body, giving rise to favourable results. It does not refer to actually developing or improving the body. Moreover, this concept is used to evaluate people’s spiritual progress. In the context of practical application, physical development is classified as part of the training in higher morality (adhisīla-sikkhā).

In sum, the threefold training is a gradual system whereby one focuses first on external, coarse, and relatively easy factors, and then turns one’s attention to internal, refined, and difficult or profound qualities.

The beginning stages of training require at least a small trace or seed of correct understanding, which is referred to as right view (sammā-diṭṭhi), enough to know where to commence and where one is heading, and to recognize the Path. The basic meaning of right view is to understand the nature of one’s problems and to discern phenomena in accord with truth.

The common, external training on the level of moral conduct acts as a basis for refined, internal practice, preparing people for effective training on the levels of the mind and wisdom.

And conversely, when one has trained at these refined levels, the fruits of this practice help a person’s life in the external world, e.g.: honest, upright behaviour becomes more stable; virtuous conduct becomes automatic and natural – one need not force oneself to keep moral principles; and one reflects on and addresses problems with pure wisdom.

As described earlier, when one fulfils the threefold training, one’s entire way of life is consistent with the Path, and all the factors – both those focusing on external things and those focusing on spiritual qualities – function in harmony. {870}

Physical Development

Note that physical development in the context of Buddhist training is not described as a separate factor, for it is assigned to the stage of moral conduct (sīla). A Buddhist way of life is not in conflict with or alienated from nature, but is rather in a healthy, harmonious relationship to it. Furthermore, in the principle of morality consisting in restraint of the senses (indriyasaṁvara-sīla) the Buddha emphasizes the link between the body and one’s external environment; moreover, he emphasizes the connection between a person’s inner or spiritual life and his or her consumption of material things, as described in the teaching on virtue called conduct related to the four requisites (paccayasannissita-sīla), the teaching on consuming things in moderation (bhojane-mattaññutā), and the teachings on favourable conditions (sappāya).

Buddhism does not separate the development of the body from general virtuous conduct, because on its own developing a strong and healthy body does not comprise an essential training. Moreover, physical training usually inclines towards providing craving with a means for pursuing and indulging in sense pleasures, which is an opposite pursuit to spiritual training. Although physical development is not specified in the Three Trainings, it is part of the Four Cultivations (bhāvanā): cf.: A. III. 105-6.

Buddhist Way of Solving Problems

Some people understand that Buddhism teaches that every kind of problem, including economic and social problems, should be solved exclusively in the mind. They claim that such an attempt to solve problems is unlikely to be adequate or truly effective.

To address this claim, one should focus on two separate issues: key Buddhist principles for solving problems and those teachings on problem-solving which are given emphasis or prominence.

Key principles: there are two important attributes to the Buddhist way of solving problems: to solve problems at their source and to solve problems through human ingenuity. Combining these, people are encouraged to solve problems by themselves, by dealing directly with the causes and conditions for these problems.

Dealing directly with the causes and conditions is non-specific; it refers to both internal and external causes. In light of personal responsibility, the Buddha encouraged people to first focus on themselves when encountering a problem. They should not focus on external causes or solutions, by say focusing on celestial forces or on fate. Rather than depend on praying to a higher power or marking time waiting for destiny, people should actively engage with the causes and conditions lying behind their difficulties.

Prominent teachings: Buddhism teaches to solve both internal and external problems, both social and spiritual problems. The teachings on the level of moral conduct address external matters, while those on the levels of mental development and wisdom address internal matters.

According to the main emphasis of the teachings, or the amount of subject material in the scriptures, it is evident that more attention is given to addressing internal or spiritual problems than to external or social problems.

This is normal and appropriate for the following reasons:

The constancy of human nature

For the most part, internal or spiritual problems are matters connected to human nature. In other words, the basic features of mental problems are identical for people in every place and at every time period. Regardless of different cultures and different eras, the nature of the human mind remains the same. Human beings universally possess greed, hatred, and delusion; moreover, they cherish happiness and are averse to suffering.

In terms of external or social problems, some aspects of these are tied up with human nature – as long as one is human certain kinds of social problems are inevitable. Many kinds of social problems, however, are dependent on environmental factors, the details of which vary greatly according to time and place.

It is for this reason that the Buddha primarily taught about solving internal, spiritual problems. As for teachings on moral conduct – on solving external problems – the Buddha taught general principles that are linked to human nature, e.g.: to abstain from verbally or physically injuring others, and to abstain from violating others’ possessions or cherished objects; and to offer mutual assistance and support. Further details of these problems are dependent on various environmental, regional, and temporal factors. It is up to people who understand the general principles of solving problems to then establish moral codes and methods for addressing specific situations, according to attendant causes and conditions. In these cases, is not a matter of laying down fixed rules applicable to all people. {871}

An example of addressing specific circumstances is the Buddha’s express system of dealing with social issues in the context of the bhikkhu sangha, which he had established himself. The Buddha laid down the monastic discipline (Vinaya), which is an intricate system of attending to social issues, consistent with the unique aims of the monastic community and suitable for its stability amidst the surrounding conditions at that time.

Contemporary Buddhist scholars tend to overlook the Vinaya. If one comprehends the gist of the Vinaya, however, one will understand the Buddhist notion of attending to social issues. Indeed, if one does not study the Vinaya Piṭaka (especially the subject material distinct from the Pāṭimokkha), it is not possible to properly understand the Buddhist outlook on society.

It is unreasonable to expect the Buddha to have established a comprehensive code of conduct for the general public, disregarding the fluctuations and changes that occur according to time and place. Those people who understand the essential Buddhist teachings on outward conduct are able to establish a system by themselves for dealing with their particular social questions and problems.

For example, when King Asoka wished to consolidate the Dhammavinaya in his empire, he did not need to meddle with the Buddhist teachings on internal, spiritual matters; he simply propagated the true teachings on these matters in a way suitable to that time period. In relation to external, social matters, however, he drew upon general Buddhist principles and then set down new standards and customs of rulership and enterprise that were effective and appropriate for his time.

Similarly, in Thailand, in relation to traditions of royal governance, general Buddhist teachings on the responsibilities of the monarchy have been determined as the essential principles, and their meaning interpreted to suit the contemporary era. Examples for such teachings include the ten royal virtues (rāja-dhamma), the twelve duties of a great ruler (cakkavatti-vatta), the four royal acts of service (rāja-saṅgahavatthu), and the five strengths (bala) of a king. Likewise, systems of government administration have been formed and established appropriate to the specific time and place.

Prioritization and unique understanding

The solving of external, social problems is generally seen as a priority by academics and by various scholarly institutions. On the contrary, spiritual matters and the development of human wisdom gets relatively little attention by scholars, who often do not appreciate its significance.

Buddhism considers spiritual matters to be of vital importance. The more these matters are neglected by general scholarly circles, the more attention they deserve. Moreover, Buddhism offers a unique insight into these matters.

Profundity, complexity, and true importance

Spiritual matters are profound, refined, and much more difficult to comprehend than external problems. In comparison to social issues, it may take ten times longer to explain spiritual matters, which need to be repeatedly underscored. For this reason it is normal that the scriptures contain more teachings on spiritual matters.

Furthermore, the Buddha considered spiritual wellbeing to be the true purpose of human life. Having been born as a human being, one should try and reach this state of wellbeing and not live one’s life in vain. People generally do not recognize the importance and subtleties of spirituality and thus its details need to be reiterated and emphasized. {872}

Moreover, people are already keenly engaged in seeking external or material wellbeing; even if one does not stress this form of wellbeing, it will still be sought after.

The interconnectedness of all facets of life

All human problems, both internal and external, have an impact on each other, and when solving these problems all areas of a person’s life must be taken into account and be in tune with one another.

An understanding of this is especially valuable when one recognizes that a person’s spiritual life is of chief and fundamental importance and plays a crucial role in solving external problems. If the mind is infatuated with something, for example, one does not see associated problems accurately. When thinking is dominated by ignorance and craving, or when it is distorted by conceit and fixed opinions, one is unable to reflect on problems correctly. Besides solving problems in a wrong manner, one may intensify them or create new problems.

For this reason, cleansing the mind and purifying wisdom – clearing up distortion and prejudice – is necessary for solving all kinds of problems, internal and external, irrespective of time and place.

If people are unable to address internal, spiritual problems, they will be unable to effectively solve external, social problems. But if they can resolve fundamental spiritual problems, the task of dealing with external problems will be greatly simplified. Their skill and readiness to address all kinds of problems will be enhanced.

Different levels of conducting one’s life

Buddhism recognizes that human society consists of people at different stages of spiritual development. Moreover, it recognizes distinctions in how people live, for example the difference between the lay community and the monastic sangha, which provides an opportunity for certain individuals to voluntarily live a unique way of life.

The life of a layperson emphasizes social relationships and earning a livelihood; the monastic life emphasizes spiritual practice. Although the Vinaya provides methods for addressing social issues, the monastic life gives relatively more emphasis to a person’s internal life. For this reason, it would be inappropriate to use the teachings addressed to monks as a measuring stick for the universal Buddhist outlook on dealing with problems.

The nature of all sentient beings

One tenet of Buddhism is that human beings rely on spiritual cultivation. At any one time, it is natural that different individuals are at varying levels of development, in terms of physical development, interpersonal development, mental development, and wisdom development. Different people thus have different needs, both in terms of material needs and spiritual needs; they also have different requirements in relation to happiness.

It is important that one acknowledges the differences between people and recognizes how people exist at varying stages of spiritual development. It is unrealistic and unhelpful to expect people to all be the same.

Individuals in positions of leadership and responsibility should see to the material, social, and intellectual needs of people in their communities, in a way that is fair and just. In this way, all individuals, who are naturally at different stages of development, will abide in peace and happiness. {873}

And vitally, one needs to satisfy the shared need of all human beings – of the need for spiritual development. One needs to establish social frameworks, even on a global scale, that are conducive and favourable to the spiritual development of all people, so that they have the opportunity to realize the highest goals of the spiritual life, even to the point of cultivating perfect wisdom.

If one fulfils these requirements, one is in harmony with the principles of Buddhism.


In sum, Buddhism teaches people to solve problems by themselves, by dealing directly with their causes and conditions. And this injunction is non-specific: it covers both internal and external problems, according to the circumstances.

Generally speaking, the formal study of the arts and sciences and other academic pursuits focus solely on solving external problems; they almost completely neglect spiritual matters, which results in incomplete or defective solutions for human dilemmas.

One can say that the Buddhist way of solving problems does not exclusively deal with either internal or external matters, but that it begins its focus inwardly and then moves outward. One must solve all problems – both internal and external – and solve them at their root causes.

Outstanding Benefits of the Four Noble Truths

Besides incorporating the entire spectrum of Buddhist teachings, both theoretical and practical, the teaching of the Four Noble Truths provides many other benefits, which can be summarized as follows:

  • It is a way of wisdom; it promotes the solving of problems according to a systematic and reasoned procedure; it is a classic model: any effective, rational, and practical method for solving problems must proceed consistent with the Four Noble Truths.

  • It is a method for people to solve problems and manage their life by way of their own wisdom, by applying and benefiting from truths inherent in nature. One need not depend on divine, sacred or supernatural powers.

  • They are truths relevant to everyone; no matter how broadly or extensively people engage with things, if they wish to have dignity and to relate to things effectively, they need to embrace and benefit from these truths.

  • They are universal, timeless truths directly connected to human life; no matter what forms of technical knowledge or enterprises people create in order to solve problems and improve their lives, and no matter to what extent these forms of knowledge and activities prosper, decline, pass away, or are replaced by newer forms, the Four Noble Truths endure, are up-to-date, and can be applied to benefit one’s life at all times. {874}

Distilling Buddhadhamma into The Four Noble Truths

Although it may appear that in many aspects the content and structure of Buddhadhamma differs from other scriptures and texts, in fact it accords with the original system of the Four Noble Truths taught by the Buddha; it does not diverge in any way. The chapters and sections of Buddhadhamma can be classified in accord with the Four Noble Truths, as follows:17

Part I: Middle Teaching (majjhena-dhammadesanā)


Section I: Nature of Human Life
Chapter 1: Five Aggregates
Chapter 2: Six Sense Spheres

Section II: Attributes of Life
Chapter 3: Three Characteristics


Section III: Process of Life
Chapter 4: Dependent Origination
Chapter 5: Kamma


Section IV: Goal of Life
Chapter 6: Nibbāna: the Supreme Peace
Chapter 7: Awakened Beings
Chapter 8: Calm and Insight

Supplementary Material:

Section V: A Noble Life (ariyadhamma-vīthi)
Chapter 9: The Supernatural and the Divine
Chapter 10: Buddhist Teachings on Desire
Chapter 11: Happiness

Part II: Middle Way (majjhimā-paṭipadā)


Section VI: A Worthy Life
Chapter 12: Introduction to the Middle Way
Chapter 13: Virtuous Friendship
Chapter 14: Faith and Confidence
Chapter 15: Wise Reflection
Chapter 16: Path Factors of Wisdom
Chapter 17: Path Factors of Virtuous Conduct
Chapter 18: Path Factors of Concentration
Chapter 19: Conclusion: Four Noble Truths {875}

Some of the material in Buddhadhamma may seem unusual, especially passages explaining unfamiliar terms like external instruction (paratoghosa), virtuous friends (kalyāṇamitta), and wise reflection (yoniso-manasikāra), or explanations of unique and unfamiliar aspects of common teachings, which are generally not found in other Dhamma books.

These special terms and aspects, however, are frequently mentioned in the Tipiṭaka; it simply happens that in some time periods Buddhist scholars and teachers have no need or reason to emphasize them, and they therefore become less conspicuous.

The reason this subject material has been included in this book is because now seems to be the right time to give special, renewed importance to these terms and meanings.

On the other hand, some people may remark that other teachings that I have emphasized and elaborated on in the past have not been given prominence in this text.

Whatever the case may be, the author of this book is confident that the proportion of subject material in relation to special terms and aspects is close to the proportion contained in the Pali Canon, which is the original source of the principal Buddhist teachings.

Appendix 1: Observations on the Study of Buddha-Dhamma

Middle Teaching (majjhena-dhammadesanā): the Dynamics of Nature

According to Buddha-Dhamma, regardless of whether a Buddha appears in the world or not, the truth exists in an objective way, following its own nature. The Buddha simply discovered this truth and revealed it to others. The gist of this truth is that things exist according to a natural causal process – a dynamic of causes and conditions.

Those people who discern things as they truly are, rather than according to how they want them to be, gain insight into this objective truth. From this insight they derive a comprehensive understanding of truth and a broad vision of phenomena. They arrive at true liberation, freed both in regard to the mind – the mind is freed from suffering and from oppressive defilements, and is marked by peace and joy – and in regard to wisdom – they are liberated by way of thorough knowledge, gaining insight into pure, unadulterated truth. They are devoid of obstructive, distorting mental defilements, attaining an awakened, immediate understanding of truth. Their understanding is firsthand; it need not be relayed through someone else.

This natural causal process manifests in many forms, as is outlined in the various laws of nature, e.g.: physical laws (utu-niyāma), the law of kamma (kamma-niyāma), and general laws of nature (dhamma-niyāma):

A. Mode of Physical Conditionality; Dynamics of the Natural Environment


  • The summit of Mount Kailash is very high → the air is very cold → it snows throughout the year.

  • Mr. Harvey gets stuck in the snow for a long time → blood flow is reduced due to the cold temperatures → inadequate blood reaches his fingers and toes → his fingers and toes ache and become numb → he suffers frostbite → he is crippled.

B. Mode of Karmic Conditionality on the Level of the Mind


A Clock Strikes 10am

  • Mr. Adams (a prisoner, whose time of execution has arrived) hears it → he experiences fear → he is weak in the knees and unable to stand.

  • Mr. Barrington (a relative of the person killed by Mr. Adams) hears it → his thirst for revenge is slaked → he shouts with joy.

  • Mr. Chadwick (another relative of the deceased) hears it → he is angry but he reflects on human actions and their results (kamma-vipāka), and thus feels sadness → he is reserved and quiet.

  • Mr. Dmitry (another prisoner about to be executed) hears it → he was previously afraid, but he considers the just deserts of his actions → he walks peacefully alongside the prison guard.

C. Mode of Karmic Conditionality on the Level of the Individual


  • Mr. Evans swears at Mr. Fisher → Mr. Fisher whacks Mr. Evans over the head with a stick → Mr. Evans suffers a head wound → Mr. Evans takes a gun and shoots Mr. Fisher → Mr. Fisher is critically wounded, etc.

D. Mode of Karmic Conditionality on the Level of Society


  • People harvest food that has grown naturally in nature → some individuals hoard up this food → others follow their example → people stake out personal property → people steal from others → mutual accusations and violence → people recognize the need for social governance → a leader is elected → the origin of a king, etc. (this outline follows the content in the Aggañña Sutta). {877}

Mode B (karmic conditionality on the level of the mind) has unique characteristics. If one only looks at the external phenomena, without referring to the qualities in the minds of these individuals, one is unable to explain the relationship between the cause and effect, i.e. the connection between hearing the bell from the clock and the consequent behaviour. If the conditions in the mind do not exist, the external behaviour does not arise.

In modes C and D the factors within an individual are also very important, but they are concealed or less conspicuous, and tend to be overlooked. For instance, some people in such circumstances only notice the material or economic factors. Here, mode B has been placed aside these other modes in order to demonstrate the importance of internal factors, which play a participatory role, either in a supportive or a conflicting way, in these natural causal processes.

Mode B is a constant and unavoidable dynamic in people’s lives. It is initiated and its results are experienced exclusively by an individual. It is a vital and urgent matter, which every person should come to grips with and gain mastery over within this lifetime, even if they are simultaneously trying to cope with other dynamics inherent in nature.

Middle Path (majjhimā-paṭipadā): Methods for Practical Application

The Middle Path, or Middle Way, refers to a way of living one’s life with wisdom. Here, one applies one’s understanding of the objective truth outlined in the Middle Teaching (majjhena-dhammadesanā). Devoid of such understanding, one falls under the power of unhealthy desire, fosters vague ideas about how things should be, and entrusts one’s happiness to craving.

At the beginning of one’s practice, before one has fully realized this truth, one relies on faith and on those beliefs that are in concord with the principle of causality. One is responsible for acting with reasoned discernment, and one seeks success through one’s own volitional actions (this is the stage of mundane right view – lokiya-sammādiṭṭhi).

On a higher level, when one has fully realized this truth, attained liberation, and been freed from suffering and from the affliction by mental defilements, one abides with a complete and thorough insight into the nature of causality (this is the level of transcendent right view – lokuttara-sammādiṭṭhi). Here, one follows the Buddhist way of life (buddhacariya-dhamma). One lives the supreme life (brahmacariya) and abides in harmony with Buddha-Dhamma. One walks the noble path (ariya-magga): the noble way of the awakened ones, of solving life’s dilemmas.

There is an important distinction between awakened and unawakened individuals. The regular disposition of awakened beings is one of happiness and a freedom from suffering. Alternatively, one may say that awakened beings are released from suffering and have transcended happiness. Unawakened beings, on the other hand, must constantly pursue happiness, because they possess a shortage of it or they are assailed by suffering.

The Path leading to the end of suffering is comprised of eight factors. These factors are presented as a threefold process of training and spiritual development:

  • Sīla: training in behaviour that fosters a virtuous society, which is supportive of a good quality of life for people and conducive to mind and wisdom development. Here, one establishes a moral code, cultivates rectitude of body and speech, and engages in right livelihood.

  • Samādhi: based on such a virtuous and conducive society, environment, and lifestyle, one develops mental refinement, strength, capability, and health.

  • Paññā: by way of such a favourable state of mind, one is able to cultivate wisdom, giving rise to a comprehensive understanding of cause and effect. One’s actions are guided by this understanding until one reaches direct insight and liberation, abiding in constant ease and joy.

This training and development relies on two supportive factors:

  • Paratoghosa: external factors linked to faith; favourable environmental influences, in particular virtuous friends (kalyāṇamitta).

  • Yoniso-manasikāra: internal factors linked to wisdom; skilled reflection; wise reflection. {878}

These various factors may be outlined as illustrated on Figure Training and Development.

Training and Development image

’Old kamma’ is defined as the six senses – the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind – which act as the principal agents to start with on the spiritual path.18 From this point, spiritual training relies on external influences and instruction (paratoghosa), which may be summed up by the saying: ’people are shaped and moulded by their environment’, and on wise reflection (yoniso-manasikāra), which may be summed up by the saying: ’If one is skilled at reflection, one may achieve arahantship even by listening to the words of drunks and madmen.’

When one applies the method of detailed analysis (vibhajja-vidhi), those ethical quandaries that are difficult to solve, for instance: ’Is it moral or immoral for a child to steal money in order to buy medicine for his sick mother?’ become clear and are no longer a cause for doubt and confusion.

External influence on its own is insufficient for realizing the truth (sacca-dhamma); wise reflection is the decisive factor.

The two levels of right view reveal the range of human mental activity, which can be separated into two domains:

  1. Wisdom (paññā)/insight (ñāṇa)/true knowledge (vijjā), whereby ignorance (avijjā) is severed: this is equivalent to transcendent right view (lokuttara-sammādiṭṭhi), and pertains to knowledge, truth, science, the principle of life, and natural laws.

  2. Faith (saddhā)/wholesome desire (chanda)/compassion (karuṇā), whereby craving (taṇhā) is severed: this is equivalent to mundane right view (lokiya-sammādiṭṭhi), and pertains to values, morality, practical arts, human behaviour, individuality, and society.

Note that from a broad perspective the meaning of the term ’Buddha-Dhamma’ is restricted and does not encompass the entirety of Buddhism. The original term with an all-embracing meaning is ’Dhammavinaya’.

This volume discusses the Dhamma at length and is thus aptly titled Buddhadhamma, but it only briefly discusses the Vinaya. Perhaps there ought to be a companion volume to this text titled Ariya-Vinaya.19

  1. Dhamma: teachings on truth and virtue, pertaining to essential truths and principles, to matters discovered and revealed by the Buddha. They emphasize the internal, spiritual life of an individual. (They aim to solve and prevent personal problems and to foster internal growth.)

  2. Vinaya: codes of conduct and the establishment of such codes. The term vinaya pertains to social systems and conventions, ways of practice according with the aforementioned principles, disciplinary precepts, and the laying down of laws. A vinaya is an instrument for establishing a code of living or a social system that accords with the objectives of the Dhamma. One draws upon the essential principles of the Dhamma to set down a system of practice providing truly effective results amidst the truth of the tangible world. A vinaya emphasizes external behaviour, everyday life, one’s society and environment, communal interrelationship, and one’s responsibility to the common good. (It aims to solve and prevent external problems and to foster communal prosperity.)

Appendix 2: Order of Chapters in the Thai Edition of Buddhadhamma

Part I: Middle Teaching (majjhena-dhammadesanā)

Section I: Nature of Human Life
Chapter 1: Five Aggregates
Chapter 2: Six Sense Spheres

Section II: Attributes of Life
Chapter 3: Three Characteristics

Section III: Process of Life
Chapter 4: Dependent Origination
Chapter 5: Kamma

Section IV: Goal of Life
Chapter 6: Vijjā, Vimutti, Visuddhi, Santi, Nibbāna20
Chapter 7: Types and Levels of Nibbāna and Awakened Beings21
Chapter 8: Auxiliary Material:
Samatha-Vipassanā, Cetovimutti-Pannāvimutti22
Chapter 9: Essential Principles of Realizing Nibbāna23
Chapter 10: Summary of Nibbāna24

Part II: Middle Way (majjhimā-paṭipadā)

Section V: A Worthy Life
Chapter 11: Introduction to the Middle Way
Chapter 12: Forerunner to the Middle Way #1:
Virtuous Friendship25
Chapter 13: Forerunner to the Middle Way #2:
Wise Reflection
Chapter 14: Path Factors of Wisdom
Chapter 15: Path Factors of Virtuous Conduct
Chapter 16: Path Factors of Concentration
Chapter 17: Conclusion: Four Noble Truths

Part III: Methods for Realizing the Truth of the Noble Ones or Way of Life of Those Endowed with Noble Qualities (ariyadhamma-vīthi)

Section VI: A Noble Life
Chapter 18: auxiliary chapter #1:
Essential Conduct and Virtues of Noble Beings26
Chapter 19: auxiliary chapter #2:
Social Objectives of Moral Conduct27
Chapter 20: auxiliary chapter #3:
The Supernatural and the Divine
Chapter 21: auxiliary chapter #4:
The Buddhist Teachings on Desire
Chapter 22: auxiliary chapter #5:
Happiness: Doctrinal Analysis28
Chapter 23: auxiliary chapter #6:
Happiness: Practical Analysis


See also: A. IV. 209-10. Sāmukkaṁsikā-dhammadesanā (’teaching special to the Buddhas’) means ’eminent Dhamma teachings’, ’teachings extolled by the Buddhas’, or ’Dhamma teachings revealed and explained by the Buddhas themselves’ – they are unlike the teachings ordinarily given when people answer questions or when they converse with others.


Trans.: the author uses the spelling Sīsapā grove.


The passage in parentheses is from the commentarial interpretation at: SA. III. 299.


This translation accords with the quotation in the Visuddhimagga at Vism. 495. In the Thai Pali edition the term ariya is not found; with this omission the passage is translated as: ’It is because he has fully awakened to these Four Noble Truths as they really are that the Tathāgata is called the Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One.’ [Trans.: this is how it is translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi in The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Saṁyutta Nikāya; Wisdom Publications; © 2000.]


E.g.: in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Vin. I. 10; S. V. 421-22; and at: Ps. II. 147-150; Vbh. 99-104.


Vin. I. 1-5.


See, e.g.: S. II. 104-105.


See the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.




M. III. 290; A. II. 247. Note that in the Pali Canon the term bhāvetabba-dhamma (i.e. samatha and vipassanā) is listed before sacchikātabba-dhamma (i.e. vijjā and vimutti).


Vism. 512; VbhA. 88; PsA. I. 198.


Vism. 497-8; VbhA. 86; PsA. I. 54, 198. The passages are identical in all three texts. Here, I provide only an extract of these teachings.


E.g.: M. II. 214-23; A. I. 173; Vbh. 367-8; J. V. 232-43; J. VI. 206-211; JA. V. 237-41. Issaranimmāna-vāda is also known as issaranimmita-vāda, issarakaraṇa-vāda, or issarakutti-vāda. Especially in relation to pubbekata-vāda, it is important to distinguish this doctrine from the Buddhist teachings on kamma, a distinction which it seems that many Buddhists do not pay proper attention to. The scriptures emphasize this distinction and if it is studied well it will lead to clarity on the Buddhist notion of kamma. The commentaries at VbhA. 497 claim that the first doctrine is that of the Nigaṇṭhā, the second of the brahmins, and the third of the Ājīvakas. At J. V. 239-41 the doctrine of annihilationism (uccheda-vāda) is added as a fourth item to this list of false doctrines.


Ps. I. 27; Ps. II. 220.


Cited in Chapter 7 on awakened beings. The Triple Gem (ratanattaya) comprises the three essential pillars of Buddhism, which Buddhists should constantly bear in mind: the Buddha (’true humanity’; this principle points to the highest potential inherent in all people); the Dhamma (’nature’; the nature of causality, an understanding of which leads to the realization of ultimate truth, which transcends causes and conditions); and Sangha (’community’; the ideal community consisting of noble beings who exist at different levels of Dhamma realization and who follow the Path of the Buddha).


When describing the qualities of an individual (e.g. ’one developed in body’) the term bhāvita is used.


On the order of chapters in the Thai edition see Appendix 2.


S. IV. 132-3.


Trans. the author includes an extensive outline and analysis of this ’noble discipline’ (ariya-vinaya) in the book ’The Buddhist Discipline in Relation to Bhikkhunis’, translated by Robin Moore © 2015.


This material is included in chapter 6 of the English edition.


This material is included in chapters 6 and 7 of the English edition.


This material is included in chapter 8 of the English edition.


This material is included in chapters 7 and 8 of the English edition.


This material is included in chapter 6 of the English edition.


Note that chapter 14 in the English edition on faith is an extract from this chapter.


This material is included in chapter 7 of the English edition.


This material is included in chapter 17 of the English edition.


Note that these two chapters on happiness have been combined into a single chapter in the English edition.