Dhamma inconsistency: Ignorance or craving

Is the cause of suffering craving or ignorance?

It seems that the dhamma has evolved from originally the 4 truths (including the 8FP) that gives craving as the cause (the 2nd truth) to the dependent origination concept that puts ignorance as the cause.

Was the Buddha under pressure from the Yogic and Jain majority (the Buddhists only became a big group centuries after the Buddha thanks to Asoka (similar to Constantin for the Christians)) to define a Liberating Insight as these two traditions had? So he came out with dependent origination and in doing so the 4 truths, the 8FP, the jhanas lost their primacy and suddenly insight became a possibly for awakening instead of the destruction of the DADs (Desires, Aversions & Delusions).

This seems like it right to me, and it goes along with the increasing emphasis on right view in some of the teachings. As the sangha became more institutionalized, and the teaching came to be increasingly seen as a rationalized and organized doctrine preserved and passed down by intellectuals, and by scholarly experts and systematizers, rather than a practice and spiritual ideal preserved and passed down by saintly and spiritually ennobled ascetics, it perhaps became more common to think one made spiritual progress primarily by knowing a bunch of stuff, and that the difference between the enlightened elite and the unenlightened masses was related to the ignorance of the latter.

To me these two things are co-dependent.
It is due to lack of vision and knowledge of the four Noble truths and four enobbling tasks, and as well the origination of awakening they point -i.e. avijjā - to that craving (taṇhā) persists as the underlying fuel of the dependent origination of suffering.

The key message of the Buddha is that only when avijja is replaced with vijjā, through the fulfillment of the four enobbling tasks the four noble truths are all about that craving looses it’s momentum and its role in the process of dependent origination of suffering lifetime after lifetime.

The process is gradual e beautifully described in suttas like AN10.2 / AN11.2, SN12.23.

As per these beautiful, simple yet powerful EBTs, the key finding of the Buddha is that by cultivating the causes and conditions of the right sort of stillness one is brought to the threshold of knowledge and vision of the reality of how things have since time immemorial come about to be (yathā­bhūta­ñāṇadas­sanaṃ).

This knowledge and vision in turn is what allows the origination of a wise sort of revulsion (nibbidā) and disinterest (virāga) in the usual craving-fueled paths of action and pattern of choices.

This in turn serves as the ultimate blow to the flame of craving, and marks the fruition of liberation and internal knowledge and vision of the total destruction of the taints.



Yes I agree about the role of the growth of insight for realizing liberation. We are able to drop our anger, for example, only after we have deep insight into what is causing our anger. We have to see it caused arising and the conditions for its stilling. But I want to resist the idea that this depends on articulated conceptual understanding, theories and mastery of doctrines - some sort of Buddhist catechism.

It may be helpful is to refer to the texts and acknowledge that the ignorance avijjā refers to is very specific to the lack of understanding and commitment to the four noble truths and the four ennobling tasks these point to: fully understand how suffering comes about, let go of its causes, verify yourself that suffering ceases as soon as its causes are abandoned and fully develop the path that leads to that.

It is not about not knowing all aspects of the theory nor pursuing a full understanding of reality, universe, atman etc.



This sutta clarifies this issue:

The Blessed One said, "Monks, ignorance is the leader in the attainment of unskillful qualities, followed by lack of conscience & lack of concern. In an unknowledgeable person, immersed in ignorance, wrong view arises. In one of wrong view, wrong resolve arises. In one of wrong resolve, wrong speech… In one of wrong speech, wrong action… In one of wrong action, wrong livelihood… In one of wrong livelihood, wrong effort… In one of wrong effort, wrong mindfulness… In one of wrong mindfulness, wrong concentration arises.

“Clear knowing is the leader in the attainment of skillful qualities, followed by conscience & concern. In a knowledgeable person, immersed in clear knowing, right view arises. In one of right view, right resolve arises. In one of right resolve, right speech… In one of right speech, right action… In one of right action, right livelihood… In one of right livelihood, right effort… In one of right effort, right mindfulness… In one of right mindfulness, right concentration arises.” SN45.1

The reason why efforts at reducing DADs, without including insight as part of the practice is that as mentioned in the Dhammapada, though the leaves and branches are cut, as long as the roots of permanence, satisfactoriness, Self and unsullied (nicca, sukha, atta & subha) are present the defilement tree grows back up again. Insight is the weed killer sprayed after weed tops have been removed. Samatha (concentration) meditation suppresses the defilements but doesn’t remove them permanently. If someone stops meditation they can start up again. It’s helpful to have the mind layered with metta practice after removing defilements, as often mentioned in the suttas.

With metta


It doesn’t seem to me that concentration merely suppresses defilements. Rather, the gradual elimination of defilements and destruction of the taints is needed to achieve and sustain deeper levels of concentration. Yes, there is a certain degree mere calming or stilling that just depends on suppressing or temporarily suspending certain kinds of thoughts of volition. But to be able to enter the various levels of concentration at will, and rapidly, and sustainably, you have to eradicate unwholesome mental tendencies.

Agree. And this is to be done outside the cushion.
My approach to the removal of the DADs, again outside the cushion, is by Transforming my Emotions one by one using an adaptation of the 1st 7 components of the 8FP (in a practical way not a “religious” way) with tools acquired with modern psychology. The main goal is to “dry up the remain of the past” (Sn).
An example of the “religious” way of practicing the 8FP is to limit the 1st component (that I call Complete View instead of Right View) as simply the 4 truths.

1 Like

This means that Hindu meditation and monastic Christianity can give rise to Arahanths.

With metta

Maybe, but I don’t know all of the different kinds of meditation those traditions. It seems to me that to the extent a spiritual practice tradition teaches that the goal is the soul’s unification with something external, rather the the realization of the non-substatiality of the soul, and the complete detachment from and relinquishing of all possible objects of experience and thought, that tradition will not be able to guide people all the way to nibbana.

Of course, someone with great spiritual acuity might find the way to it all by themselves, despite the inadequate guidance from their tradition.

Yes that’s the definition of a Sammasambuddha!

With metta

What about the paccekabuddhas? They became arahants mostly due to their own striving.

Anyway, there is so much dhamma “in the air” due to the rise of literacy and cultural exchange that it would not surprise me if some people were able to accomplish the goal from teachings they absorbed indirectly.


True, but the source is still the Gotama Buddha and his discovery- no one is thinking to discover the path entirely from scratch. Even during the Buddha’s days people had to develop the dhamma in themselves for the first time.

With metta

I’m guessing if you are following Hindu meditation techniques, you are probably using techniques that were already heavily influenced by early Buddhist-era techniques. Perhaps the same is true with Christianity, since its spiritual traditions come in part from the desert fathers and other waves of spirituality flowing east to west.

True. But as you say, these traditions carry with them the idea of the Self -ie. vipassana or insight meditation never became transmitted to them and that is also what defines the Buddha’s dhamma from these other traditions.

with metta

Any human being from whatever culture who gets rid of his/her cravings will reach Nibbanna. In the process of eliminating the DADs he/she will naturally let go of concepts such as permanence and self/soul.

1 Like