Chapter 2 The Four Noble Truths // The First Noble Truth : Dukkha

Chapter 2

The Four Noble Truths

The First Noble Truth : Dukkha


 1.What are the Four Noble Truths?

Sutta mentioned in book:  Dhammacakkappavatiana-sutta .The Buddha’s very first sermon ‘Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth’

2. Is Buddhism pessimistic? Why or why not?

3. What is ordinary definition in Pali for dukkha?

4. What is the full, complete, accurate definition of dukkha with regards to the First Noble Truth?

5. The Buddha does not deny happiness in life, what are the different forms of happiness?

6. Why does The Buddha say even the happiness of family life, recluse life, spiritual attainments are included in dukkha?

7. What are the three things one should clearly understand with regard to life and enjoyment of sense pleasures?

8. How is viewing life’s pleasures, happiness and sorrow objectively and with the understanding of dukkha, beneficial to you and others?

9. What are three aspects the conception of dukkha may be viewed from and what are some examples of these three aspects?

10. According to Buddhist philosophy, what is it that we call “a being’ , “Individual” and “I”?

11. Why are the Five Aggregates also called dukkha?

12. What are the names of the Five Aggregates?

Supplemental Information on The Five Aggregates

Buddhist doctrine describes five aggregates:[3]

  1. “form” or “matter”[4] (Skt., Pāli rūpa; Tib. gzugs):
    external and internal matter. Externally, rupa is the physical world. Internally, rupa includes the material body and the physical sense organs.[5]
  2. “sensation” or “feeling” (Skt., Pāli vedanā; Tib. tshor-ba):
    sensing an object[6] as either pleasant or unpleasant or neutral.[7][8]
  3. “perception”“conception”“apperception”“cognition”, or “discrimination” (Skt. samjñā, Pāli saññā, Tib. ‘du-shes):
    registers whether an object is recognized or not (for instance, the sound of a bell or the shape of a tree).
  4. “mental formations”“impulses”“volition”, or “compositional factors” (Skt. samskāra, Pāli saṅkhāra, Tib. ‘du-byed) :
    all types of mental habits, thoughts, ideas, opinions, prejudices, compulsions, and decisions triggered by an object.[9]
  5. “consciousness” or “discernment”[10] (Skt. vijñāna, Pāli viññāṇa[11], Tib. rnam-par-shes-pa):

Mahayana and Theravada perspective on the Five Aggregates from Wikipedia.

Mahayanist perspectives

In one of Mahayana Buddhism’s most famous declarations, the aggregates are referenced:

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.[50

Theravada perspectives

Bhikkhu Bodhi (2000b, p. 840) states that an examination of the aggregates has a “critical role” in the Buddha’s teaching for multiple reasons, including:

Understanding the Four Noble Truths: The five aggregates are the “ultimate referent” in the Buddha’s elaboration on suffering (dukkha) in his First Noble Truth (see excerpted quote below) and “since all four truths revolve around suffering, understanding the aggregates is essential for understanding the Four Noble Truths as a whole.”

Future Suffering’s Cause: The five aggregates are the substrata for clinging and thus “contribute to the causal origination of future suffering.”

Release: Clinging to the five aggregates must be removed in order to achieve release.

Comparison to both Mahayana and Theravada teachings on the Five Aggregates:

The intrinsic emptiness of all things

The Sanskrit version[51] of the classic “Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra” (“Heart Sutra”) begins:

The noble Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva,

while practicing the deep practice of Prajnaparamita

looked upon the Five Skandhas,

…seeing they were empty of self-existence….[52]


In the Theravada canon,[54] when “emptiness of self” is mentioned, the English word “self” is a translation of the Pali word “atta” (Sanskrit, “atman”); in the Sanskrit-version of the Heart Sutra,[55] the English word “self-existence” is a translation of the Sanskrit word “sva-bhava”.[56]

In other words, whereas the Sutta Pitaka typically instructs one to apprehend the aggregates without clinging or self-identification, Prajnaparamita leads one to apprehend the aggregates themselves as having no intrinsic reality.[57]

In the Heart Sutra’s second verse, after rising from his aggregate meditation, Avalokiteshvara declares:

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form,

form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form. The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness.[50]

Thich Nhat Hanh interprets this statement as:

Form is the wave and emptiness is the water…. [W]ave is water, water is wave…. [T]hese five [aggregates] contain each other. Because one exists, everything exists.[58]

Red Pine comments:

That form is empty was one of the Buddha’s earliest and most frequent pronouncements. But in the light of Prajnaparamita, form is not simply empty, it is so completely empty, it is emptiness itself, which turns out to be the same as form itself…. All separations are delusions. But if each of the skandhas is one with emptiness, and emptiness is one with each of the skandhas, then everything occupies the same indivisible space, which is emptiness…. Everything is empty, and empty is everything.[59]

[edit]Tangibility and transcendence

Commenting on the Heart Sutra, D.T. Suzuki notes:

When the sutra says that the five Skandhas have the character of emptiness …, the sense is: no limiting qualities are to be attributed to the Absolute; while it is immanent in all concrete and particular objects, it is not in itself definable.[60]

That is, from the Mahayana perspective, the aggregates convey the relative (or conventional) experience of the world by an individual, although Absolute truth is realized through them.

The tathagatagarbha sutras, on occasion, speak of the ineffable skandhas of the Buddha (beyond the nature of worldly skandhas and beyond worldly understanding), and in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra the Buddha tells of how the Buddha’s skandhas are in fact eternal and unchanging. The Buddha’s skandhas are said to be incomprehensible to unawakened vision.


A. The first Aggregate is the Aggregate of Matter (form )

1.What are the Four Great Elements included in the first Aggregate?

2.What are the Derivatives of the Four Great Elements?

B. The second Aggregate is the Aggregate of Sensation (feeling)

1. What are all our sensations, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral experienced through?

2.What are the six kinds of physical and mental organs ?

Mind ( manas)

According to Buddhist philosophy explain what is and is not ‘Mind’.

C. The third Aggregate is the Aggregate of Perceptions (conception,  apperception, cognition or discrimination)

1. How are the Aggregates of Perception produced?

2. How many kinds of Aggregates of Perception are there?

D. The fourth Aggregate is the Aggregate of Mental Formations (impulses, volition)

1. What is included in this group of the fourth Aggregates?


What is The Buddha’s definition of Karma?

2. What is the function of volition?

3.How many kinds of volition are there?

4.What are not volitional actions?

5. List a few volitional activities that can produce karmic effects.

E.  The fifth Aggregate is the Aggregate of Consciousness (discernment)

1. What is the definition of consciousness?

2. Is the function of consciousness to recognize an object? Why or why not?

3. Is the ‘Soul’ , ‘Self’ , ‘Ego’ synonymous with consciousness? Why or      why not?

4. How does The Buddha explain consciousness in detail to his disciple Sati?

5. Does or can consciousness exist independently?

6. Why does the author say a true Buddhist is the happiest of beings ?


Supplemental Information on The Seven Factors of Enlightenment


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"The gift of Dharma surpasses all gifts."
Dhammapada 354

"Giving, a Dharma life, caring for relatives, and blameless deeds: this is the greatest fortune."
Sn 263

"There are two kinds of gifts: a gift of material things and a gift of the Dharma. Of the two, the gift of Dharma is supreme."
Itivuttaka 98

"Directing one's mind to the states of faith, learning, generosity, and wisdom, one has a comfortable abiding.
Majjhima Nikaya 68.10

“Furthermore, Subhuti, in the practice of compassion and charity a disciple should be detached. That is to say, he should practice compassion and charity without regard to appearances, without regard to form, without regard to sound, smell, taste, touch, or any quality of any kind. Subhuti, this is how the disciple should practice compassion and charity. Why? Because practicing compassion and charity without attachment is the way to reaching the Highest Perfect Wisdom, it is the way to becoming a living Buddha”
-The Diamond Sutra

'What the Buddha Taught' by Rev. Dr. Walpola Rahula pdf

Bodhi Monastery's Webpage

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