Second Noble Truth 09/12/2013
2nd Noble Truth: Causes of Suffering (samudaya)
Three basic inner causes of personal suffering are identified:
1. Ignorance misconceiving self and world as unchanging (Sanskrit: avidyā)
tendency to construct an identity, an isolated sense of self which is also separate from ones mind and body
as if there is a me separate from the body who owns the body
2. clinging attachment or possessiveness (Sanskrti: tṛṣṇ ā) together with other selfcentered emotions that
stem from it (Sanskrit: kleśā greed, aversion, anxiety, fear, hatred, jealousy, prejudice, egocentrism, etc. ),
and 3. harmful intentions and actions ( negative karma).
2nd Noble Truth in brief:
1) recall 1 Noble Truth teaching of impermanence. The mind’s fear of the insubstantial nature of its
experience elicits a tendency to try to create a secure sense of self against the tide of change. Mental
patterns create the appearance of an unchanging, substantial self and world out of the everchanging flow
of experience. This mental tendency is called "ignorance" (avidyā, literally, ‘misknowing’).
2) In each situation, then, this “ignorance” projects a field of clinging attachmen t and aversion onto other
beings and onto the worldclinging to those who seem to support one’s thought of ‘self,’ feeling aversion for
those who seem to undermine one’s thought of ‘self.’ Attachment and aversion transform into a host of
other destructive emotions (calledkleśa ) in diverse situations: possessiveness, greed, hatred, fear,
jealousy, prejudice, pride, despair, etc.
3) These destructive emotions motivate harmful actions (negative karma ): e.g. by mistaking one’s own
selfcentered thoughts of persons for the actual persons, one tends to misreact to them as objects of
possessiveness, aversion, or apathy, causing suffering to self and others. This is the "dependent
origination" of suffering (Kornfield, Radiant Mind 8083).
2nd Noble Truth in fuller detail: 1.“Ignorance” translates a technical Sanskrit term, avidyā. It refers to the tendency to conceptualize
changing phenomena as permanent things. Importantly, it also refers to the tendency to construct an
identity, a sense of one’s self, as an autonomous, separate, unchanging thing: an isolated sense of self felt
to exist within mind and body yet also distinct from them (so we say “my anger” as if there were an entity “I”
separate from “anger,” “my thought” as if there were an entity “I” separate from thought, who creates and
possesses the thoughts). According to Buddhist teaching, through mindful attention to all components of
mind and body (to the five aggregates), one begins to see that “I,” “anger,” etc. are all constructs of thought.
“I” inot the controllerpossessor of thoughts, it is product of thought. That is why, says Kornfield
(Radiant Mind: 284.1) we can not simply stop the arising of thoughts, even if we wish to; there is no "self"
standing behind the thoughts who can stop them. Rather “thoughts seem to think themselves” as the
natural outflow of prior conditions of mind/body. The mere thought of self, of “I” or “me” is sufficient to
organize our experience and personality so we can function well—but there is no unchanging, substantial,
isolated self to be found of the sort that our minds tend to ascribe to the mere thought “I.”
2. Clinging attachment, grasping, possessiveness— see Kornfield, Radiant Mind pp.
282bot.283. Within such “ignorance”, each situation is interpreted in a way that supports the impression
of an unchanging, concrete self (that doesn’t actually exist). In each situation, ignorance projects a field of
clinging attachment, aversion or apathy upon others, as the mind seeks to construct a secure
sense of self against the tide of change: clinging to those who seem to support one’s concept of “self,”
disliking those who seem to undermine one’s ‘self,” having apathy for those who don’t seem relevant to
one’s “self.” This makes a tiny window of insecurity upon a vast, momentary world, interpreting each
situation as a drama of concern for self, mistaking one’s selfconcerned thoughts of others for the actual
fullness of other persons: clinging to persons/things that seem to support one’s self (“my friends”), fearing
and hating persons that seem to threaten one’s self (“my enemies”), while most don’t seem to matter
(“strangers”). The full range oselfcentered emotions that flow from clinging attachment to self are
called “kleśā ” in Sanskrit, meaning destructive emotions such as possessiveness, hatred, fear, avarice,
pride, jealousy, prejudice, despair, hopelessness, etc.
3. Karma Such destructive emotions ( kleśā ) motivate actions harmful to self and others, actions that
are called “unskillful karma”akuśalakarma ). Karma literally means “action,” which can be either
“skillfulkuśala , bringing beneficial effects) or “unskillakuśala, bringing harmful effects). Unskillful,
negative karma occurs when we mistake our selfconcerned, reductive thoughts of persons for the actual
persons, misreacting to them as just objects of possessiveness, aversion, or apathy. As people react to
others through their own mental projections in that way, they make new karma, i.e. further imprint the habit
of experiencing the world through their own projections of others and reacting to their own projections
unawares (see article on course website called "Understanding Karma: Liberation"). That is the cycle of
samsara, which is extended in Buddhist co