The Four Noble Truths - Architecture/Meta-Structure of the Dhamma


Architecture/Meta-Structure of the Dhamma

Maybe we should have a “main”/root wiki page from which the rest of the wiki pages can branch?

This is an attempt at starting something like that. Hopefully we can agree enough on the foundations.

There are quite a few different ways we can lay out the structure, let me know if you have any suggestions.

  • Four Realities of Noble Beings
  • The Four Ennobling Tasks
  • relation to Specific Conditionality
  • as a medical diagnostic scheme
  • The Four Noble Truths in more detail

The Four Noble Truths

these are truths/realities for the Noble Beings (ariyas):

  1. Dukkha Sacca - the reality of suffering
  2. Samudaya Sacca - the reality of the origin (of suffering)
  3. Nirodha Sacca - the reality of the cessation (of suffering)
  4. Magga Sacca - the reality of the path (leading to the cessation of suffering)

Friends, just as the footprint of any living being that walks can be placed within an elephant’s footprint, and so the elephant’s footprint is declared the chief of them because of its great size; so too, all wholesome states can be included in the Four Noble Truths.

The Four Ennobling Tasks

the four noble truths/realities can also be seen as pragmatic tasks as per [SN56.11]

  1. to be known/understood completely (pariññeyyaṃ)
  • the reality of suffering
  1. to be abandoned (pahātabbaṃ)
  • the reality of the origin of suffering
  1. to be witnessed/realized/attained (sacchikātabbaṃ)
  • the reality of the cessation of suffering
  1. to be cultivated/developed (bhāvetabbaṃ)

discussion on the usage of ‘ariya’

relation to Specific Conditionality

Specific Conditionality (idappaccayatā) is often seen as the fundamental structure of the more complicated chains of Dependent Arising. The basic formulation of Specific Conditionality is as follows:

When [this] is, [that] is.
From the arising of [this] comes the arising of [that].
When [this] isn’t, [that] isn’t.
From the cessation of [this] comes the cessation of [that].

The Four Noble Truths can fit into this scheme as follows:

When [craving] is, [suffering] is
From the arising of [craving] comes the arising of [suffering]
When [craving] isn’t, [suffering] isn’t
From the cessation of [craving] comes the cessation of [suffering]

The Eightfold Noble Path is the way leading to the cessation of craving, and thus also the cessation of suffering.

as a medical diagnostic scheme

  1. disease: dukkha
  2. pathogen: craving (arising of dukkha)
  3. health: nibbāna (cessation of dukkha)
  4. cure: eightfold noble path

(sutta reference in the saṃyukta āgama, study by Bhikku Anālayo)

The Four Noble Truths in more detail

  1. Dukkha Sacca
  • in brief: the 5 grasping khandas (sn56.11)
  • (re)birth, aging, sickness, death, union with what is displeasing, separation from what is pleasing, not to get what one wants [sn56.11]
  • Three Kinds of Suffering [sn45.165]
    • dukkhadukkhatā - suffering due to pain
      • related to the sign of dukkha (suffering/pain)?
    • vipariṇāmadukkhatā - suffering due to change
      • related to the sign of anicca (impermanence)?
    • saṅ­khā­ra­duk­khatā - suffering due to conditionality
      • related to the sign of anatta (insubstantiality of all phenomena)?
  1. Samudaya Sacca
  • 3 kinds of craving (taṇhā) [sn56.11]
    • kāmataṇhā (craving for sensual pleasure)
    • bhavataṇhā (craving for existence)
    • vibhavataṇhā (craving for non-existence)
  • avijja
  • āsavas [mn1]
  • akusalamūla [an3.69]
  • paṭiccasamuppāda in general
    • this/that conditionality (idappaccayatā)
    • 12 links, 10 links, 9 links
    • nidāna/lokiya sequences: chart
  1. Nirodha Sacca
  • the complete fading away and cessation without remainder of that craving (taṇhā)
    • liberation, letting go, release, and non-adherence
  • Liberative Dependent Arising [sn12.23,an10.2]
  • seclusion, dispassion, cessation, maturing in release, nibbāna
  1. Magga Sacca

The Elephant's Footprint: Visual Representation of how it all fits: Feedback Welcomed
Systematic & Structured Approach to Buddhism

Quite right, many versions but I think faith features consistently enough to warrant being included. I lean towards the idea that faith is just as much a skill to be developed as anything else.


quite right, i’ll fix that


I am not sure, whether or how this might fit into this topic, but a few years back I sketched a little scheme that tried to depict the relationship of several important doctrinal concepts in a simplified ‘heuristic’.

This will not be adequate for deeper study but might prove helpful to some bewildered beginners, at least it was for me. There are two caveats attached:

  1. “You should not mistake the map for the territory” (Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi kindly pointed this out to me) and
  2. “You should make things as easy as possible, but not any easier” (Einstein). I plead guilty to that.:relieved:

Dhamma-Heuristic_2014-05-14_b.pdf (345.1 KB)



Excellent work.


Dukkha Sacca - what suffering is

Craving itself does not create suffering. For suffering to arise, the craving must lead to becoming.

duk­kha­sa­muda­yaṃ ariyasaccaṃ—yāyaṃ taṇhā ponobbhavikā SN 56.11


Do the khandhas really grasp? Or are the khandhas grasped? (SN 22.1; SN 22.48)

The Pali is ‘jati’ or ‘birth’.

Suffering due to ‘conditioning’ (‘mental concocting’; ‘mental stirring up’).

The opposite of ‘sankhara’, namely, ‘visankhara’, is described at Dhp 154.

Visaṅ­khā­ra­gataṃ cittaṃ,
taṇhānaṃ khayamajjhagākhaya

Or in MN 26:

sabba­saṅ­khā­ra­sama­tho sabbū­padhipa­ṭi­nissaggo taṇhākkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānaṃ

Dukkha lakkhana is not a suffering (trauma) listed in SN 45.165 but an object of insight leading to freedom (Dhp 278). Experiencing dukkha lakkhana is not suffering but liberation (SN 22.59).



I guess we could equally say “what is suffering”. I’m not sure either is really justified, the important thing imo is that it should be fully understood (pariññeyyaṃ) and how this point relates to the other 3.

An interesting point, taṇhā ponobhavika “the craving leading to rebirth” or as you put it “leading to becoming”. Does this necessarily mean that is a kind of craving or that all craving (kāma, bhava, vibhava) leads to rebirth? Canda is the more neutral term that can include the positive desire for liberation from suffering/rebirth, taṇhā afaik is always used in a negative sense.

I don’t mean to elicit a subject/object relation but rather a time relation — i.e. presently grasping and grasped at for a future (both for the subjective sense of self). Translation seems really hard, and some words/concepts in particular seem infernally hard to translate. For instance, khanda, is it a heap, an aggregate, a bundle? Bhikkhu Sujato has a post on grasping here and here and probably elsewhere.

Yes, but also very very commonly as rebirth. Ven’s Brahmali and Sujato have made this point clear.

Saṇkhara is another very difficult word. I’m not sure either translation is truly satisfactory.

Experiencing or seeing/understanding for what it is?


The Pali starts with the phrase: “suffering is this”.

The Pali is not “rebirth”. 'Bhava", similar to sensual desire & ignorance, is an ‘asava’ or ‘mental defilement’. Many suttas, such as MN 121, refer to the liberated mind as a mind free from the asava & “perception” of bhava.

It is but the principle problem is described in countless suttas as ignorance grasping the aggregates. The aggregates themselves do not grasp. For example, physical form or feelings do not grasp. Only the sankhara aggregate grasps and only when it is affected by ignorance. A Buddha still has five aggregates (SN 22.85) but a Buddha has no grasping. Thanissaro’s translation does not accord with sutta principles.

If “jati” meant “rebirth”, the Buddha would have used the term “rebirth”.

Sankhara is not a difficult word when discerning different ‘contexts’. I personally have no problems with it. I consider the translation I offered is truly satisfactory because it can be verified by meditative experience. In SN 45.165, the word ‘sankhara’ means ‘conditioning’ and does not mean ‘the five aggregates’. It does not mean ‘formations’ per se because the mind of a Buddha still has a functioning sankhara aggregate that generates mental formations when thinking & speaking. The ‘formations’ of SN 45.165 refer to the proliferating formations that create suffering, sometimes called ‘papanca’ (MN 18). I suggest the direct translation of ‘conditioning’. The suffering of ‘sankhara’ in SN 45.165 is exactly the same as the suffering of ‘grasping’ mentioned in the 1st noble truth or the suffering of ‘conceiving self (mannati/maññita)’ mentioned towards the end of MN 140 or the suffering of ‘self-identifying’ (sakkaya) mentioned at the start of MN 44 & the ‘sankhara’ as the 2nd condition of dependent origination that is conditioned by ignorance.

It is that craving which leads to continuation in existence, friend Visākha, which is connected with enjoyment and passion, greatly enjoying this and that, as follows: craving for sense pleasures craving for continuation craving for discontinuation. This, friend Visākha, is said to be the arising of embodiment (self-identification) by the Gracious One. MN 44


[quote=“SCMatt, post:7, topic:3688”]
Experiencing or seeing/understanding for what it is?[/quote]
A Buddha spends their whole life as a Buddha (for Gotama 45 years) experiencing anicca lakkhana, dukkha lakkhana & anatta lakkhana but spends none of their entire life experiencing the dukkha of the four noble truths or the dukkha in SN 45.165.

The word ‘dukkha’ in SN 56.11 vs the word ‘dukkha’ in SN 22.59 have entirely different meanings. The Western translators such as Bhikkhus Bodhi & Thanissaro use the same English word for both contexts.

Below is a translation by Acharya Buddharakkhita that accords with logic & reality: Notice the two different words.

“All conditioned things are unsatisfactory (dukkha)”—when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering (dukkha). This is the path to purification.

Dhp 278

When SN 22.85 describes the ending of the life of a Buddha as ‘that which is dukkha (unsatisfactory) ending’, it is obviously not referring to ‘suffering’.

If, friend Yamaka, they were to ask you: ‘Friend Yamaka, when a bhikkhu is an arahant, one whose taints are destroyed, what happens to him with the breakup of the body, after death?’—being asked thus, what would you answer?”

“If they were to ask me this, friend, I would answer thus: ‘Friends, form is impermanent; what is impermanent is unsatisfactory; what is unsatisfactory has ceased and passed away. Feeling … Perception … formations … Consciousness is impermanent; what is impermanent is unsatisfactory; what is unsatisfactory has ceased and passed away.’ Being asked thus, friend, I would answer in such a way.”

“Good, good, friend Yamaka!

SN 22.85

Asian scholars seem to have no issues with context.

“All conditioned things are unsatisfactory (dukkha)”—when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering (dukkha). This is the path to purification. Dhp 278


What do you think of this, O monks? Is form permanent or impermanent?"

“Impermanent, O Lord.”

“Now, that which is impermanent, is it unsatisfactory or satisfactory?”

“Unsatisfactory, O Lord.”


From seeing impermanence, we see unsatisfactoriness, see anatta, see sunnata; see tathata, and see idappaccayata (conditionality, the law of cause and effect), also.