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Chapter .3 .The Second Noble Truth "Samudaya" : "The Arising of Dukkha"

The Second Noble Truth is that of the arising or origin of dukkha
(Dukkhasamudaya - driyasacca). The most poular and well-known definition of the
Second Truth as found in innumerable places in the original texts as follows.: 'It is this
"thirst" (craving, tanha) which produces re-existence and re-becoming
(ponobbavika), and which is bound up with passionate greed (nandiragasahagata),
namely, (1) thirst for sense-pleasures (kama-tanha), (2) thirst for existence and
becoming (bhaa-tanha) and (3) thirst for non-existence (self-annihilation,
It is this 'thirst', desire, greed, craving, manifesting itself in various ways, that
gives rise to all forms of suffering and the continuity of beings. But it should not be
taken as the first cause, for there is no first cause possible as, according to Buddhism,
everything is relative and inter-dependent. Even this 'thirst', tanha, which is
considered as the cause or origin of dukkha, depends for its arising (samudaya) on
something else, which is sensation (vedana), and sensation arises depending on
contact(phassa), and so on and so forth goes on the circle which is known as
Conditioned Genesis (Paticca-samuppada), which we will discuss later.
So tanha, 'thirst', is not the first or the only cause of the arising of dukkha. But it is the
most palpable and immediate cause, the 'principal thing' and the 'allpervading
thing'. Hence in certain places of the original Pali texts themselves the definition of
samudaya of the origin of dukkha includes other defilements and impurities (kilesa,
sasava dhamma), in addition to tanha 'thirst' which is always given the first place.
Within the necessarily limited space of our discussion, it will be sufficient if we
remember that this 'thirst' has as its centre the false idea of self arising out of
Here the term 'thirst' includes not only desire for, and attachment to, senseleasure,
wealth and power, but also desire for, and attachment to, ideas and ideals,
views, opinions, theories, conceptions and beliefs (dhamma-tanha). According to the
Buddha's analysis, all the troubles and strife in world, from little personal quarrels in
families to great wars between nations and countries, arise out of this selfish 'thirst'.
From this point of view, all economic, political and social problems are rooted in this
selfish 'thirst'. Great statesmen who try to settle international disputes and talk of
war and peace only in economic and political terms touch the superficialities, and
never go deep into the real root of the problem. As the Buddha told Rattapala : 'The
world lacks and hankers, and is enslaved to "thirst" (tanhadaso).'
Every one will admit that all the evils in the world are produced by selfish
desire. This is not difficult to understand. But how this desire, 'thirst', can produce reexistence
and re-becoming (ponobhavika) is a problem not so easy to grasp. It is
here that we have to discuss the deeper philosohical side of the Second Noble Truth
corresponding to the philosophical side of the First Noble Truth. Here we must have
some idea about the theory of karma and rebirth.
There are four Nutriments(ahara) in the sense of 'cause' or 'condition'
necessary for the existence and continuity of beings: (1) ordinary material food, (2)
contact of our sense-organs with the external world, (3) consciousness and (4)
mental volition or will.
Of these four, the last mentioned 'mental volition' is the will to live, to exist, to
continue, to become more and more. It creates the root of existence and continuity,
striving forward by way of good and bad actions (kusalakusalakamma). It is the
same as 'Volition'(cetana). We have seen earlier that volition is karma, as the
Buddha himself has defined it. Referring to 'Mental volition' just mentioned above
the Buddha says: 'When one understands the nutriment of mental volition one
understands the three forms of 'thirst'(tanha)'.
Thus the terms 'thirst', 'volition', 'mental volition' and 'karma' all denote the
same thing : they devote the desire, the will to be, to exist. To re-exist, to become
more and more, to grow more and more, to accumulate more and more. This is the
cause of the arising of dukkha, and this is found within the Aggregate of Mental
Formations one of the Five Aggregates which constitute a being.
Here is one of the most important and essential points in the Buddha's
teaching. We must therefore clearly and carefully mark and remember that the
cause, the germ, of the arising of dukkha is within dukkha itself, and not outside; and
we must equally well remember that the cause, the germ, of the cessation of dukkha,
of the destruction of dukkha, is also within dukkha itself, and not outside. This is
what is meant by the well-known formula often found in original Pali texts : Yam
kinci samudayadhammam sabbam tam nirodhadhammam 'Whatever is of the
nature of arising, all that is of the nature of cessation.' A being, a thing, of a system, if
it has also within itself the nature of arising, the nature of coming into being, has also
within itself the nature, the germ, of its own cessation and destruction. Thus dukkha
(Five Aggregates) has within itself the nature of its own arising, and has also within
itself the nature of its own cessation. This point will be take up again in the
discussion of the Third Noble Truth, Nirodha.
Now, the Pali word kamma or the Sanskrit word karma (from the root kr to
do) literally means 'action', 'doing'. But in the Buddhist theory of karma it has a
specific meaning : it means only 'volitional action', not all action. Nor does it mean
the result of karma as many people wrongly and loosely use it. In Buddhist
terminology karma it has a a specific meaning : it means only 'volitional action', not
all action. Not does it mean the result of karma as many people wrongly and loosely
use it. In Buddhist terminology karma never means its effect; its effect is known as
the 'fruit' or the 'result' of karma (kamma-phala or kamma-vipaka).
Volition may relatively be good or bad, just as a desire may relatively be
good or bad. So karma may be good or bad relatively . Good karma (kusala)
produces good effects, and bad karma (akusala) produces bad effects. 'Thirst',
volition, karma, whether gook or bad, has one force as its effect : force to continue -
to continue in a gook or bad direction. Whether good or bad it is relative, and is
within the cycle of continuity (samsara). An Arahant, though he acts, does not
accumulate karma, because he is free from the 'thirst' for continuity and becoming,
free from all other defilement and impurities (kilesa, sasava dhamma). For him there
is no rebirth.
The theory of karma should not be confused with so-called 'moral justice' or
'reward and punishment'. The idea of moral justice, or reward and punishment, arises
out of the conception of a supreme being, a God, who sits in judgment, who is a lawgiver
and who decides what is right and wrong. The term 'justice' is ambiguous and
dangerous, and in its name more harm than good is done to humanity. The theory of
karma is the theory of cause and effect, of action and reaction; it is a natural law,
which has nothing to do with the idea of justice or reward and punishment.
Every volitional action produces its effects or results. If a good action
produces good effects and a bad action bad effects, it is not justice, or reward, or
punishment meted out by anybody or any power sitting in judgment on your action,
but this is in virtue of its own nature, its own law. This is not difficult to understand.
But what is difficult is that, according to the karma theory, the effects of a volitional
action may continue to manifest themselves even in a life after death. Here we have
to explain what death is according to Buddhism.
We have seen earlier that a being is nothing but a combination of physical
and mental forces or energies. What we call death is the total non-functioning of
the physical body. Do all these forces and energies stop altogether with the nonfunctioning
of the body? Buddhism says 'No'. Will, volition, desire, thirst to exist, to
continue, to become more and more, is a tremendous force that moves whole world
lives, whole existences, that even moves the whole world. According to Buddhism,
this force does not stop with the non-functioning of the body, which is death; but it
continues manifesting itself in another form, producing re-existence which is called
Now, another question arises: If there is no permanent, unchanging entity or
substance like Self or Soul (atman), what is it that can re-exist or be reborn after
Before we go on life after death, let us consider what this life is, and how it
continues now. What we call life, as we have so often repeated, is the combination of
the Five Aggregates, a combination of physical and mental energies. These are
constantly changing; they do not remain the same for two consecutive moments.
Every moment they are born and they die. 'When the Aggregates arise, decay and
die, O bhikkhu, every moment you are born, decay and die.'
Thus even now during this life time, every moment we are born and die, but
we continue. If we can understand that in this life we can continue without a
permanent, unchanging substance like Self or Soul, why can't we understand that
those forces themselves can continue without a Self or Soul behind them after the
nonfunctioning of the body? When this physical body is no more capable of
functioning, energies do not die with it, but continue to take some other shape or
form, which we call another life. In a child all the physical, mental and intellectual
faculties are tender and weak, but they have within them the potentialitiy of
producing a full grown man. Physical and mental energies which constitute the socalled
being have within themselves the power to take a new form, grow gradually
and gather force to the full.
As there is no permanent, uncahanging substance, nothing passes from one
moment to the next. So quite obviously, nothing permanent or unchanging can pass
or transmigrate from one life to the next. It is a series that continues unbroken, but
changes every moment. The series is, really speaking, nothing but movement. It is
like a flame that burns through the night: it is not the same flame nor is it another. A
child grows up to be a man of sixty. Certainly the man of sixty is not the same as the
child of sixty years ago, nor is he another person.
Similarly a man dies here and reborn elsewhere is neither the same person,
nor another. It is the continuity of the same series. The difference between death and
birth is only a thought-moment: the last thoughtmoment of this life conditions the
first thought-moment in the so-called next life, which in fact, is the continuity of the
same series. During the life itself, too, one thought-moment conditions the next
thought-moment. So, from the Buddhist point of view, the question of life after
death is not a great mistery, and a Buddhist is never worried about this problem.
As long as there is this 'thirst' to be and to become, the cycle of continuity
(samara) goes on. It can stop only when its driving force, this 'thirst', is cut off through
wisdom which sees Reality, Truth, Nirvana.

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