FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS explained by Sayadaw U Nanujjota at the Nalanda Institute Buddhist Conference

Here we are at the Nalanda Institute on the occasion of the 5th University of Buddhism.

This opportunity to discuss about the Four Noble Truths from various Buddhist Traditions is a matter of rejoicing. Thank you for offering us such a precious opportunity.

And today, as it is already the 2nd and last day of the conference, you may have already to a certain extent cultivated some understanding about the Four Noble Truths.

Born in Burma, Sayadaw U Nanujjota has learned the Dhamma within the Theravada school of Buddhism. So it is from the Theravada perspective that he will now explain the Four Noble Truths.

What are the Four Noble Truths? As you already know, the Four Noble Truths are:

– Dukkha sacca, the Truth of Suffering

– Samudaya sacca, the Truth of the Origin of Suffering

– Nirodha sacca, the Truth of the Cessation of Suffering

– Magga sacca, the Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering

It is essential to discover and penetrate these Four Noble Truths.

Among these 4 Truths, some are within us already. In fact the Truth of Suffering is already within us. Do you realise that?

What is the Truth of suffering? The Buddha said that ageing, sickness, death are suffering. Not to get what we wish is as well suffering.

  • Indeed, only if we know what the Truth of Suffering is, will we be able to avoid it.
  • However, we cannot remove directly suffering. We should in fact end the cause of suffering in order to end suffering.  So, only if we understand the origin of suffering as well, will we be able to discard that cause and avoid suffering. Otherwise it will amount to having a wound on the middle finger and putting a plaster on the third one; or suffering from a particular illness, but healing it with the medicine for another disease.
  • Again, only if we understand what the cessation of suffering is, will we be able to strive to realize it. Only if we know the destination, will we be able to undertake the journey and reach it.
  • And finally, what do we need to know in order to undertake the journey and reach the destination? We need to see the way. Likewise, to strive to realize that cessation, we should know the practical method to accomplish the cessation of suffering. Only when we understand the practical way of achieving the cessation of suffering, will we be able to effectively realize it.

As far as he understands them, Sayadaw will explain these Four Noble Truths from both a theoretical and practical aspect.

So what is the 1st Noble Truth, the Truth of Suffering?

What does it mean?

The body and mind, ie physical and mental phenomena, which can be the object of attachment through tanha (craving), and ditthi (wrong) view are the Truth of Suffering.

Do you agree?

It means that not all physical and mental phenomena are the Truth of Suffering. On their own, physical and mental phenomena don’t constitute suffering. Only when they function as an object of attachment, when they can cause clinging through craving and wrong view, do they become the Truth of Suffering. Those physical and mental phenomena, which are the object of attachment trough tanha, craving and ditthi wrong view are calledupadanakhandain pali, the groups of grasping or clinging-aggregates.

So upadanakhanda, the groups of grasping constitute Dukkha sacca the Truth of Suffering. Indeed, only things we are attached to can bring us suffering.

[There are thus 2 kinds of attachments (upadana):

–          one arising out of desire for pleasurable senses

–          and the other because of wrong views

The objects of such attachments consist of the aggregates of rupa and the aggregates of nama. They are known as upadanakhanda. To sum up, we have objects, which can cause attachments as ‘I’, ‘mine’, areupadanakhanda. (Dhammacakka – p 150)]

It means that all physical and mental phenomena, which a meditator is not mindful of represent Dukkha sacca, the Truth of Suffering. When we loose mindfulness, the body and mind become the Truth of Suffering. Therefore, we need to contemplate the physical and mental clinging-aggregates as they really are. And by seeing their arising and passing away, their impermanent, unsatisfactory and non-self nature, through our own wisdom, we have to understand these physical and mental clinging-aggregates or groups of grasping as being the real Truth of Suffering. When we are not mindful of this body and mind as they truly are, they become the Truth of Suffering.

[Through mindful contemplation of all phenomena occurring at the 6 sense doors, there is discernment of their impermanent, painful and insubstantial nature. This knowing amounts to understanding the Truth of Suffering. (Dhammacakka – p 224)]

So, knowing that all acts of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking, all mental and physical phenomena, which are liable to cause attachment through tanha craving and ditthi, wrong view are the Truth of Suffering- knowing this, what should we do so that the Truth of Suffering doesn’t appear?

Samudaya Sacca, the Truth of the Origin of Suffering

What to do to avoid suffering?

Well, for suffering not to occur, we need to strive so that its cause doesn’t arise. For the truth of suffering not to appear, we need to get rid of the Truth of the Origin of Suffering, Samudaya Sacca.

And how to prevent the cause, the origin of suffering from arising?

Well, [we need to observe with mindfulness these rupanama upadanakhanda, physical and mental clinging-aggregates (eye and sight, ear and sound ect… eye consciousness, ear consciousness ect…) each time they occur at the 6 sense doors.]

That means that when seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking, we need to be aware of these acts of seeing, hearing ect and understand them as they really are.

What does ‘as they really are’ signify? It means that we clearly perceive all these acts of seeing, hearing, ect, all these physical and mental phenomena, according to their true nature, namely their impermanent, theirunsatisfactoriness and non-self nature or insubstantiality.

If we can know the body and mind as they truly are – that they do not last, are unsatisfactory, ego-less, then there is no craving and attachment, tanha towards them. In that way, tanha, the Truth of the Origin of Suffering,samudaya sacca has no chance to arise. And thereby, if there is no samudaya sacca craving, there is no suffering, which can occur.  Indeed, samudaya sacca, is the root cause of suffering; and dukkha sacca, the Truth of Suffering is the result. Samudaya sacca is like the roots of the dukkha tree with all its branches and leaves. If the roots samudaya sacca are cut off, then the branches and leaves of dukkha cannot grow anymore.

Suppose for example that you come across a pleasant visible or audible object. If there is no mindfulness at the very seeing or hearing moment, ie, if the mind is not guarded with mindfulness, if it is not restrained, then you will not perceive the object as it really is; you will not understand its true impermanent, unsatisfactory and insubstantial nature. Not comprehending that it is not permanent, not satisfactory and without any core entity, you will find it agreeable; and there will be craving for it. This craving, attachment is called samudaya sacca, the Truth of the Origin of Suffering, for it is the cause for the truth of suffering to arise. Favourable conditions are met; there is enough water, the roots are still there; then surely, branches and leaves will grow. Similarly, if there is samudaya saccadukkha sacca, its outcome will inevitably follow.

Let’s elaborate further more and take the example of any object, which is agreeable to you: a flower with pleasant colours and a sweet fragrance, a valuable car or lovely house.  As you come across this object, you feel glad; you become happy. Then you want to get it. Desiring it, you look for it; and getting it, you keep it and feel satisfied. At that moment, you may feel happy and fulfilled. With that sense of satisfaction, samudaya sacca, the Truth of the Origin of Suffering becomes firmly established. However, in time, it will be damaged or destroyed. For one reason or another (an accident, flood, fire, robbers, bad rulers…), you may lose it. Then comes time for sadness, worries and lamentation. You become afflicted by various kinds of suffering. Samudaya sacca, The Truth of the Origin of Suffering is the seed from which the shoot of dukkha, unsatisfactoriness sprouts.

It’s like agreeing to rob a bank. When you are driving away with the money, you are happy. Things are still ok. But when you wake up in jail, you should not be surprised.

Nirodha Sacca, the Truth of the Cessation of Suffering

To sum up, samudaya sacca is the real cause and dukkha sacca the true resultant effect.

“I don’t want to suffer. May there be no suffering anymore!” By mere wishing it, could that wish be fulfilled? Certainly not. The end of suffering couldn’t be achieved by mere wishing for it. Only if the cause samudayasacca can be discarded, will the consequence dukkha sacca not be brought about.

And how to get rid of samudaya sacca?

By applying mindfulness at each moment of seeing, hearing, etc… Contemplating with mindfulness all arising objects when seeing, hearing…, we come to realize that they just appear and disappear, are unsatisfactory and insubstantial. As we see clearly their impermanent, painful and non-self nature, there is no liking or craving for them (these physical and mental phenomena). By this absence of craving, craving has died out. It is ceased. This cessation is called nirodha sacca, the Truth of the Cessation of Suffering (otherwise called Nibbanic peace)

Actually, this cessation achieved through mindfulness of the very arising object is only temporary. This is called khana nirodha sacca, temporary cessation. Complete cessation is realized when attaining Nibbana, full Enlightenment. So we keep on practicing mindfulness so to be fulfilled with the Dhamma. Our insight knowledge will become more and more mature. Enlightenment, Nibbana will be realized. And at that time, the knowledge associated with the Path and Fruition of Arahantship will completely eradicate tanha, craving, bringing forth a complete end to all suffering, dukkha saccanirodha sacca, The truth of the Cessation of suffering is in fact Nibbana, full Enlightenment.

If we are to speak in terms of cause and result, nirodha sacca is the result. So, if we wish to realize Nibbana and put an end to suffering, dukkha sacca, then we need to work on the very cause of cessation, which is nothing but magga sacca, the Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering. We should develop magga sacca, the root cause of cessation.

Magga sacca, the Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering

Magga sacca is made up of 3 groups or Paths:

–          Sila magga, the Path of morality or ethical conduct

–          Samadhi magga, the Path of concentration

–          Panna magga, the Path of wisdom

As for sila magga, the Path of ethical conduct, it refers to theobservance of the precepts. There are various kinds of precepts, which can be maintained: the 5 precepts, the 8, 9 or 10 precepts.

As for the 5 precepts, as you may already know, they are composed of:

–          the restraint from killing any beings

–          the restraint from taking what is not given, ie stealing

–          the restraint from sexual misconduct

–          the restraint from lying

–          the restraint from taking intoxicants

Sila magga is actually made up of:

–          Samma Kamanta, Right Action

–          Samma Vaca, Right Speech

–          Samma Ajiva, Right Livelihood

The commitment to respect the precepts enables us to be more refined and pure on the physical and verbal levels. As for the mental level, sila magga cannot refine our mind. With sila magga only, it is not enough to purify our mental states.

Indeed, if our precepts are maintained pure, we don’t bring harm to others, but we can still harm ourselves – when greed, lobha, aversion, dosa invade our mind.

So, to refine, cultivate our mind, we need to develop samadhi magga, the Path of concentration.

What is samadhi magga, the Path of concentration? 

Samadhi magga, the Path of concentration is composed of:

–          Samma Vayama, Right Effort

–          Samma Sati, Right Mindfulness

–          Samma Samadhi, Right Concentration

Let’s elaborate further on samadhi magga.

Suppose your mind is filled with greed, desire, lobha, or anger, dislike, dosa. At that time you may keep your precepts unbroken, so your physical and verbal attitudes are still restrained. They remain pure and refined. But as for the mind, it is not under control anymore. It becomes wild with greed or aversion. Thus, greed, lobha or aversion, dosa being present in your mind, although they don’t harm others, they do harm your mind. Your mind is not pure and refined anymore.

Therefore, to cultivate and refine our mind, we need to (proceed one step further and ) develop samadhi magga. How is that achieved?

By contemplating with mindfulness the upadanakhanda, the clinging-aggreagtes, which are dukkha sacca, the Truth of Suffering. At every moment of seeing, hearing, ect…, if we are mindful of these upadanakhanda, clinging –aggregates, we will see them according to their true nature, namely impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and insubstantiality. If we don’t apply mindfulness to these physical and mental phenomena, we will perceive them as permanent, nicca, pleasant, sukkha and possessing a self or entity, atta, thinking for example: “I am seeing”; this sight will always be there; it is enjoyable…” And we will develop craving, attachment for these objects.

On the contrary, those who are mindful of these objects, will see them as impermanent, unsatisfactory and non-self, anicca, dukkha and anatta.

  • This mindfulness constitutes Samma Sati, Right Mindfulness.
  • The effort needed to be mindful is Samma Vayama, Right Effort.
  • The establishment of the mind on the object, which is observed is Samma Samadhi, Right Concentration.

So, in that way, if samadhi magga, the Path of Concentration is developed, like and dislike, lobha and dosa do not appear (and disturb, agitate the mind). And neither others, nor us, are harmed. Our mind is pure and refined. That’s why, if you want to tame and refine your mind, the practice of sila magga alone is not enough. You need to cultivate the samadhi magga, the Path of Concentration as well.

So, by developing samadhi magga, the Path of Concentration is developed, we become able to see the physical and mental phenomena as they truly are.

  • This understanding is Samma Ditthi, Right View.
  • And the factor that bends, inclines the mind towards the objects, so that it comprehends them as they really are, is Samma Sankappa, Right Aiming.

Therefore, each time we observe an object with mindfulness, the 8 factors of the Eightfold Path are developed.

To sum up,

–          Dukkha sacca, The Truth of Suffering, is to be rightly perceived and understood. It means, understanding their impermanent, unsatisfactory and non-self nature, through mindfulness of all objects arising at the 6 sense doors,. However, this understanding is still not permanent. It occurs only at the very moment of mindfulness.

–          With this clear understanding about the arising phenomena, craving for them doesn’t occur. Tanha, craving has no chance to arise. Thus, craving, samudaya sacca, The Truth of the origin of Suffering is abandoned, on a temporary basis.

–          Temporary cessation is realized. This is Tadinga Nirodha.

–          At each moment of mindfulness, in our stream of consciousness, the Eightfold Path, made up of Samma Kammanta, Samma Vaca, Samma Ajiva, Samma Vayama, Samma Sati, Samma Samadhi, Samma Ditthi, and Samma Sankappa, that is to say Magga Sacca is being developed.

In this way, at the very moment of mindfulness, the complete 4 Noble Truths are momentary present.

Dukkha sacca – The definition

“Now this, monks, is the Noble Truth of dukkha: Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are dukkha; association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha.”

— SN 56.11

5 aggregates

The five aggregates are form, feeling, perception, fabrications, and consciousness. These five categories cover the entire range of experience that can be adequately described [§231]. “Form” covers all physical phenomena, both within one’s own body and without. The remaining four categories cover all mental events. “Feeling” covers feelings of pleasure, pain, and neither-pleasure-nor-pain, regardless of whether they are based on physical or mental sensations. “Perception” denotes the mental act of applying labels or names to physical or mental events. “Fabrications” here covers the verbal and mental processes of concocting thoughts, questions, urges, or intentions in the mind. “Consciousness” covers the act of consciousness at any of the six senses: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and intellect. A few texts [§§235-36] discuss a separate type of consciousness that does not partake of any of the six senses or their objects. This type of consciousness is said to lie beyond the range of describable experience and so is not included under the five aggregates. In fact, it is equivalent to the Unfabricated and forms the goal at the end of the path.

The five aggregates, on their own, do not constitute suffering or stress. They are stressful only when functioning as objects of clinging/sustenance. This hybrid word — clinging/sustenance — is a translation of the Paliterm upadana. Upadana has a hybrid meaning because it is used to cover two sides of a physical process metaphorically applied to the mind: the act of clinging whereby a fire takes sustenance from a piece of fuel, together with the sustenance offered by the fuel. On the level of the mind, upadana denotes both the act of clinging and the object clung to, which together give sustenance to the process whereby mental pain arises. In terms of this metaphor, pain is hot and unstable like fire, whereas the mental act of clinging to any of the five aggregates is what keeps the fire burning. These images are part of a larger complex of imagery contained in the Pali discourses, likening the processes of pain and its cessation to the physical processes of fire and its extinguishing. An understanding of this imagery helps to give a graphic, intuitive sense for the ways in which the Pali texts analyze the problem of stress and pain.


The clinging-aggregate of form, the clinging-aggregate of feeling, the clinging-aggregate of perception, the clinging-aggregate of fabrications, the clinging-aggregate of consciousness: These are called the five clinging-aggregates

There are four types of clinging to the aggregates that give sustenance to the processes of suffering and stress: desire and passion for

· the sensuality found in the aggregates,

· views regarding the aggregates,

· practices and precepts involving the aggregates, and

· theories about the self involving the aggregates.

“Dukkha should be known”

The cause by which dukkha comes into play should be known. The diversity in dukkha should be known. The result of dukkha should be known. The cessation of dukkha should be known. The path of practice for the cessation of dukkha should be known.’ Thus it has been said. In reference to what was it said?

Although the texts list four separate duties appropriate to each of the truths, in actual practice these duties are four aspects of a single process. When stress is comprehended, the second noble truth — craving — has no object to latch onto and so can be abandoned. The full realization of what is happening in the process of that abandoning constitutes the realization of the third noble truth, the cessation of stress. Both the abandoning and the realization are accomplished by developing the path, which destroys any trace of ignorance concerning the four noble truths at the same time that it abandons craving. This is how the practice cuts the chain of dependent co-arising simultaneously at its two most crucial factors [§§210-211], thus unraveling the causal chain and opening the way for an experience of the Unfabricated.

Thinking (p. 146)

It is very important to realize the true nature of thought by being mindful of it every time thinking occurs. Not being able to be aware of it, and thus to recognize its real nature will lead to attachment to it as “I”, “mine”, “permanent”, “pleasant”, “good” etc. Most people in these days are constantly clinging to these mental objects. Such attachments give rise to active processes for becoming, in accordance with the Law of Dependent Origination, Paticca Samuppada. And in every state of new becoming, there awaits old age, disease, death, followed by sufferings of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair.

If however, mindfulness is developed on each occurrence of a thought, its real nature of impermanence, painfulness and insubstantiality (anicca, dukkha, anatta) will become evident.

Having thus known its true nature, no attachment to it arises. Hence, no active processes for new becoming take place. And when there is no new becoming, the mass of suffering represented by old age, disease, death, sorrow, lamentation etc is completely eliminated. This cessation of suffering as a result of mindfulness on each thought as it occurs is temporary. But if the practice of noting every thought is continued, gaining temporary cessation on each noting, by the time the ariya magga becomes fully developed, the mass of suffering will have been completely eradicated.

To common people who are not aware at the moment of seeing, the subject which sees is obviously substantial body; the external object which is seen is also obviously a woman, a man, a substantial body. Likewise with the phenomena of hearing, tec. In reality, however, there is no such substance or mass to form a physical body. Only the five groups of grasping. Nothing exists except at the six moments of seeing, hearing ect. They become evident only at the six moments and what become evident then are also just the 5 groups of grasping.

Samma Ditthi              – Right View

Samma Sankappa        – Right Thought

Samma Vaca               – Right Speech

Samma Sammanta       – Right Action

Samma Ajiva               – Right Livelihood

Samma Vayama          – Right Effort

Samma Sati                 – Right Mindfulness

Samma Samadhi         – Right Concentration

The Eightfold Path can be summarised under 3 groups, namely –

Sila, Samadhi, Panna

Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood form the Sila group or magga. By practising Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood, sila magga is established.

Samadhi magga is made up of Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. By practising them, samadhi magga is established. Right View and Right Thoughts belong to panna magga. Developing Right Viev and Right Thoughts leads one to vipassana panna (Knowledge of Insight), magga panna and phala panna (Knowledge pertaining to Transcendental Path and Fruition), that is, wisdom pertaining to both mundane andsupramundane levels.

Notes from Dhammacakkapavattana – Mahasi Sayadaw

Suffering from the 5 groups of grasping

an arahant, a perfected one, is one who has seen clearly the Four Noble Truths


The Pali word, dukkha, means “incapable of satisfying” or “not able to bear or withstand anything”: always changing, incapable of truly fulfilling us or making us happy. The sensual world is like that, a vibration in nature. It would, in fact, be terrible if we did find satisfaction in the sensory world because then we wouldn’t search beyond it; we’d just be bound to it. However, as we awaken to this dukkha, we begin to find the way out so that we are no longer constantly trapped in sensory consciousness.

The sensory world is a sensitive experience. It means you are always being exposed to pleasure and pain and the dualism of samsara. It is like being in something that is very vulnerable and picking up everything that happens to come in contact with these bodies and their senses. That is the way it is. That is the result of birth.

Having found a teacher like Ajahn Chah, I remember wanting him to be perfect. I’d think, ‘Oh, he’s a marvellous teacher – marvellous!’ But then he might do something that would upset me and I’d think, ‘I don’t want him to do anything that upsets me because I like to think of him as being marvellous.’ That was like saying, ‘Ajahn Chah, be marvellous for me all the time. Don’t ever do anything that will put any kind of negative thought into my mind.’ So even when you find somebody that you really respect and love, there’s still the suffering of attachment. Inevitably, they will do or say something that you’re not going to like or approve of, causing you some kind of doubt – and you’ll suffer.