How to practice seeing the second noble truth?

Good morning all,

In order to experience and internalise the basics, I am investigating the four truths from the beginning of this year, using two short books - Ajahn Sumedho’s book on the four noble truths and Bhikkhu Bodhi’s book on the eightfold path.

Regarding the second truth, I am starting to experience and see how it’s working in my own day to day life - and this is obvious whenever I’m not prepared to accept a situation or outcome for what it is - I see the grasping for something to change, for the situation to be other than what it is, see the dōsa, the aversion, and how they play with each other. During the daily sitting, some of these memories or new experiences come up and it’s an opportunity for me to look deeper.

Yet, it feels like there’s something missing from these insights, and I haven’t yet “got it” like I could directly see and experience the reality of the first truth. Reading through Bhikkhu Bodhi’s work, he talks about greed, aversion and delusion as the cause of this dukkha. Ajahn Sumedho talks about the attachment to the three kinds of desire, kāma-tanha, bhava-tanha and vibhava-tanha, as being the origin of dukkha.

So when there’s dukkha that arises, I try to see where it’s coming from, and go even deeper to try and find the root cause (avijja in theory, but I am not yet getting it.)

From the experience of others who’ve gone through a similar exercise, what worked for you, where you finally “got it”, tasted the second truth for yourself, with that unshakeable conviction founded on your own experience?

I know this is a very subjective question, so posted it in the watercooler section rather than in the other more focused sections.

Thank you all in advance, with metta & karuna from this morning’s sitting.
Sam from Singapore.

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Have you heard of the 12 links of dependent origination?

This page is a fine resource Twelve links of dependent origination - Encyclopedia of Buddhism, but note this page also talks about “lifetime-to-lifetime rebirth”, which I don’t think the Buddha was referring to in the suttas about this (so look at “moment-to-moment”)

And here’s a longer series on it that also deals with how we interface with the Second Noble Truth.

and go even deeper to try and find the root cause (avijja in theory, but I am not yet getting it.)

To guide a little, if one has this ignorance in the sense of “not seeing not self / not seeing impermanence”, they would be inclined to create ideas of “this is mine”, “this will stay”, “I should fill up more space with myself”, “things should be the way I want it”. I would say that the three kinds of desire thing can be useful, but it’s not everything/works in every context perfectly. You could also consider “clinging to the five aggregates” for example.

where you finally “got it”, tasted the second truth for yourself

You may have already guessed, but this can take a lot of time and frustration and patience, this is normal and natural, so don’t push it, and with time, understanding these things is sublime and peaceful, good luck with this.

How to practice seeing the second noble truth, i.e. the arising of dukkha (suffering)? If according to SN/SA suttas, one needs to practice seeing:

(1) The connection between anicca (impermanent), dukkha, anatta (not-self) (or anicca, dukkha, suñña (empty), anatta):
Pages 52-4 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (226.0 KB)

(2) The reason why anicca is dukkha, and the various terms for the notion of anatta:
Pages 55-60 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (447.3 KB)

Personally, I don’t think that studying these doctrinal terms will take you very far. These truths need to be experienced.

I could tell you what did it for me, but the question is: Should I?

Buddhadasa likened dhamma to a medicine. You experience dukkha and you turn to Buddha, the physician, to get to know what can be done about it. If you are generally not unhappy with human existence and you can find meaning in the world and the goals of mankind in general, then congratulations! You don’t need to see a doctor.

The second & third truth contrast as opposites. The second is at the basis of conventional reality and the third of ultimate. There needs to be a clear division there:

" There is the case, monk, where a monk has heard, ‘All things are unworthy of attachment.’ Having heard that all things are unworthy of attachment, he directly knows every thing. Directly knowing every thing, he comprehends every thing. Comprehending every thing, he sees all themes[2] as something separate."

—Samyutta Nikaya 35.80

A sense of the unconditioned should be built from the earliest stage in order to make the contrast.

The Buddha instructing a layperson to experience the unconditioned:

His mind heads straight, based on the Dhamma. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal"

—Anguttara Nikaya 11. 12

Understanding dhamma relies on the contrast of opposites (Samyutta Nikaya 14.11).

In Nagara Sutta(SN 12.65) SuttaCentral,

When consciousness exists there are name and form. Consciousness is a condition for name and form.’ Then it occurred to me: ‘When what exists is there consciousness? What is a condition for consciousness?’ Then, through rational application of mind, I comprehended with wisdom: ‘When name and form exist there’s consciousness. Name and form are a condition for consciousness.’
Then it occurred to me: This consciousness turns back from name and form, and doesn’t go beyond that. This is the extent to which one may be reborn, grow old, die, pass away, or reappear. That is: name and form are conditions for consciousness. Consciousness is a condition for name and form. Name and form are conditions for the six sense fields. The six sense fields are conditions for contact. … That is how this entire mass of suffering originates. ‘Origination, origination.

When there is name & form, due to the separation consciousness arises. When there is consciousness (awareness) due to ignorance and clinging we identify something separate from awareness. Thus name & form is born.
For example:
A thought(mind-rupa) meet consciousness, give birth to mind-consciousness. Due to impermanence the thought passes away.Due to craving mind-consciousness starts to aware of separation. Which gives birth to another thought(mind-rupa) and a mind consciousness.
What I mean by being aware of separation is that awareness(consciousness) tries to find anything to cling and in this process become aware of anything other than itself even if there is nothing else. Thus name-form is born.

Thank you all for the recommendations. A little more background - there was a realisation that I’d gone too deep into the suttas and the academic aspects - more book knowledge and not enough experiential insight - which was the motivation to start this experiment or practice from Jan 2023.

Starting right at the beginning - I went into the first truth of dukkha, that dukkha should be understood - and worked this into day-to-day mental and physical processes to try and taste some real experiential insight. As an example, I’d observe the desire to eat something or listen to some music, and performing the action - followed by the brief pleasure, and subsequently the emptiness and sense of something lacking, after that pleasure had passed. I started to (try and) use every opportunity that I could not accept or found difficult, as a tool to look deeper and experience the truth of dukkha.

These cycles would often happen multiple times every minute, and it takes a lot of energy and discipline to keep at it, but I saw no other path therefore had to persist.

This practice is becoming a lot easier these days, there’s no need to analyse much, and I can see the rapid succession of mental states and the underlying current of dukkha pervading it. As a pleasant (or unpleasant) experience is just about to begin, I can already see where this will go, and the states of mind to follow.

What I was trying to get at was a practice that would help me experientially taste the second noble truth in this way, when it is no longer something in a book, but insight from repeated experience and knowing this as a fact of reality.

With your comments, with some more reflection over the past few days, and with some trials, I’m starting to see how to go about it.