What is the First Noble Truth?

Hi all

It may seem a basic question, but I have come to what seems to be a very different understanding to the general one. I think we would all agree on the Pali text e.g. at

Katamañca, bhikkhave, dukkhaṃ ariyasaccaṃ? Jātipi dukkhā, jarāpi dukkhā, maraṇampi dukkhaṃ, soka­pari­deva­duk­kha­do­manas­supāyā­sāpi dukkhā, appiyehi sampayogopi dukkho, piyehi vippayogopi dukkho, yampicchaṃ na labhati tampi dukkhaṃ, saṃkhittena pañcu­pādā­nak­khan­dhā dukkhā.

Translations are where we might disagree on:

“Now what, monks, is the Noble Truth of Suffering? Birth is suffering, old age is suffering, death is suffering, grief and lamentation are suffering, sorrow and despair are suffering, being joined to what is not liked is suffering, being parted from what is liked is suffering, also not to obtain that which one longs for is suffering. In brief, the five clung to aggregates are suffering.”

In this translation I read ‘soka­pari­deva­duk­kha’ as ‘grief and lamentation are suffering’. I don’t read ‘dukkha’ there as ‘pain’ and to get: ‘grief, lamentation, pain’, but read dukkha there with the same meaning it occurs in the other eight occurrences in the paragraph. Thus, to me, only the first three items (birth, aging and death) could be interpreted as physical and all the others are mental.

To me, the summary sentence ‘In brief, the five clung to aggregates are suffering’ would be accurately paraphrased as: five aggregates (life) / + clinging / = suffering. And the summary of the First Noble Truth as ‘Life is Suffering’, is certainly not accurate, as it leaves out ‘clinging’, but understood to have come from the belief that birth, old age and death are meant there to be physical.

I note that the summary sentence is not:
saṃkhittena pañcak­khan­dhā dukkha
in brief the Five Aggregates are suffering
which to me would mean ‘Life is suffering’.

Unfortunately, I have not found ‘Life is Suffering’ which in Pali would be ‘jīvitam dukkham’ anywhere in the Tipiṭaka by a digital search. So to me, the belief that the First Noble Truth means that, is just an interpretation, even though a very popular one.

Now dealing with the first three terms usually taken as physical and seemingly having texts to explain them as such, I have found repeated times the Buddha is recorded to have given psychological meanings (redefinitions) to key terms, clearly including ‘death’.

“For this, monks, is death in the Noble One’s Discipline: that one gives up the training and returns to the lower life”

So, for me Nibbāna is the fading away and cessation of the Five Clung to Aggregates, not the Five Aggregates and the Buddha realised complete Nibbāna (parinibbāna) under the Bodhi Tree and lived a happy life (without birth aging and death) for 45 years till the ‘breaking up of his body’ (kāyassa bedha) which is the phrase he most often used for the end of life of a arahant, not ‘death’. And terms with parinibb* were used mostly to refer to the living arahant.

best wishes



Hi , your says about that
clinging of the 5 aggregates
cause suffering is correct .
But , what do you think
if life itself is not suffering ,
Only when there is clinging ,
then there is suffering .
What about those
arahant without clinging ,
but when facing unbearable
pains cause by sickness ,
why came to such a decision
by ending their lives ?
Isn’t they no longer have
clinging & craving ?


Correction: Nibbāna is the fading away of clinging to the Five Clung to Aggregates, not the fading away of the Five Aggregates.

Not sure why anyone would understand it any other way, unless that confuse sopadhishesa-nirvana and anupadhishesa-nirvana

with nibbana-here-and-now, the aggregates remain but are not clung to:.

The five aggregates are fully understood,
They remain, but their root is severed.
I have realized the end of suffering,
And attained the end of defilements thag1.120

“Pañcakkhandhā pariññātā,
tiṭṭhanti chinnamūlakā;
Dukkhakkhayo anuppatto,
patto me āsavakkhayo”ti. thag1.120

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For me, ‘dukkha’ here refers to ‘pain’, such as in the term ‘dukkha vedana’, which is not translated as ‘suffering feelings’ but ‘painful feelings’.

For example, when people experience sorrow & lamentation, the mind also generates painful feelings. Painful feelings is like having a headache. When people grieve a lot, their mind & body will also produce pain symptoms. For example, a friend of mind who lost his son developed a serious physical nervous disorder due to his enormous grief.

For example, MN 149 states about the painful bodily affects of suffering:

For him — infatuated, attached, confused, not remaining focused on their drawbacks — the five clung-to-aggregates head toward future accumulation. The craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now this & now that — grows within him. His bodily disturbances & mental disturbances grow. His bodily torments & mental torments grow. His bodily distresses & mental distresses grow. He is sensitive both to bodily stress & mental stress.

Personally, I don’t see the point of quibbling about the translation here, since it makes little difference, although the common translation is more realistic to me.

As for the rest of your post, I personally think the considerations are valid to reflect upon.

Suttas such as SN 37.3, MN 38 & MN 56 appear to use the term ‘vijāyati’ when explicitly referring to a mother or woman giving childbirth .

Kind regards :seedling:

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The actual pain of suffering requires clinging (viparinama dukkha). However the aggregates themselves are considered dukkha (Sankhara dukkha?):

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

“Impermanent, O Lord.”

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

"Unsatisfactory, O Lord."

To see that impermanence itself means the aggregates are dukkha is an experiential realisation seen when watching the rise (udaya) and fall (vaya) of the aggregates -of seeing that everything we considered to be real, solid and of self, just dissolving into bits of transient phenomena show how unsatisfactory it is.

Also full Nibbana (pari-Nibbana) occurs at death. Clinging is fully extinguished at enlightenment. This is because the impermanent aggregates are still present until death of an arahanth.

With metta

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  1. Does seeing the tilakkhaṇa nature of the aggregates entail the achievement of sopadhishesa-nibbana?
  2. Can one occur without the other i.e. (see tilakkhaṇa with no nibbana) or (achieve nibbana, not see tilakkhaṇa) ?
  3. Is it necessary to see all three marks or can each mark act as a doorway to sopadhishesa-nirvana, i.e. see (anatta OR anicca OR dukkha) AND (achieve nibbana).?

Disclaimer: no reification of any kind is intend by this post :wink:

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[quote=“Brother_Joe, post:1, topic:5289”]
In this translation I read ‘soka­pari­deva­duk­kha’ as ‘grief and lamentation are suffering’. [/quote]

You mean that the dukkha in sokaparidevadukkha is to be construed as a copular predicate of soka and parideva? If so, what class of Pali compound would this be?

And why does the whole phrase read: soka­pari­deva­duk­kha­do­manas­supāyā­sā’pi dukkhā and not soka­pari­devo’pi ­duk­kho, ­do­manas­supāyā­sā’pi dukkhā.?


These terms are also described in MN 141:

And what is sorrow? Whatever sorrow, sorrowing, sadness, inward sorrow, inward sadness of anyone suffering from misfortune, touched by a painful thing, that is called sorrow.

And what is lamentation? Whatever crying, grieving, lamenting, weeping, wailing, lamentation of anyone suffering from misfortune, touched by a painful thing, that is called lamentation.

Katamañcāvuso, dukkhaṃ? Yaṃ kho, āvuso, kāyikaṃ dukkhaṃ kāyikaṃ asātaṃ kāya­samphas­sa­jaṃ dukkhaṃ asātaṃ vedayitaṃ, idaṃ vuccatāvuso: ‘dukkhaṃ’.

And what is pain? Whatever is experienced as bodily pain, bodily discomfort, pain or discomfort born of bodily contact, that is called pain.

And what is distress? Whatever is experienced as mental pain, mental discomfort, pain or discomfort born of mental contact, that is called distress.

And what is despair? Whatever despair, despondency, desperation of anyone suffering from misfortune, touched by a painful thing, that is called despair.



Seeing tilakkhana leads to sopadhisesa nibbana. It isn’t however instantaneous and takes further progress and growth of insight before final release.

One can see tilakkhana (immature degree of insight) but not have attained nibbana yet. It is not possible to attain nibbana without seeing tilakkahana (vijja - insight). As long as there is avijja-ignorance, phenomena keep arising as per the DO. The ceasing version of the DO is an occurance -not just a theoretical model. When it happens consciousness, the working of the six sense bases, contact all cease, entirely based on insight.

What you see is impermanence (anicca, arising and passing away). The other two are insights (inferences) that arise from watching this. They are examples of bits of ignorance that fall away (sukkah, atta). Letting go at the deepest level is not possible if we hold on to phenomena as being sukha or self. Therefore all 3 needs to be seen. SN22.59 Anattalakkhana sutta describes how this process leads to nibbana.

There is what is called the three doors to nibbana- animitta, appanihita and sunnyata and I think the commentaries may have made links to the tilakkhana, which might be somewhat uncertain. The three doors are probably practices of non-returners to become arahanths, and not mentioned at stream entry. Just watching arising and passing away with mindfulness and clear comprehension is the practice. The praorgress happens on its own. Insights and liberation happen on its own based on causality.

Some interesting texts:

For one who remains focused on the inconstancy of all fabrications, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises." Iti80


Going forth is hard;
houses are hard places to live;
the Dhamma is deep;
wealth, hard to obtain;
it’s hard to keep going
with whatever we get:
so it’s right that we ponder
inconstancy. Thag111


“It is disintegrating, bhikkhu, therefore it is called the world. And what is disintegrating? The eye, bhikkhu, is disintegrating, forms are disintegrating, eye-consciousness is disintegrating, eye-contact is disintegrating, and whatever feeling arises with eye-contact as condition … that too is disintegrating. The ear is disintegrating … The mind is disintegrating … Whatever feeling arises with mind-contact as condition … that too is disintegrating. It is disintegrating, bhikkhu, therefore it is called the world.” SN35.82

I hope that clarifies things somewhat.

with metta

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Hi, I appreciate that you believe that part is correct, but the Buddha told us to express our belief as belief (e.g. I believe this is correct), not as a statement of fact (e.g. this is correct). He called that ‘safeguarding the truth’ and when I hear people declaring fact, it sounds arrogant to me. Of course, I don’t think you mean to be arrogant, but sometimes we (me too) do it due to lack of mindfulness.

I believe Arahants do not have clinging and the three types of craving the Buddha mentioned in the Second Noble Truth and no ignorance.

I believe they end their life, because they have compassion on themselves and others, seeing that they can no longer develop wholesome states (for themselves) and no longer teach (help others) effectively. They see their life is just a burden on themselves and others.

best wishes

In other words, there is knowledge that comes with nibbana. When one directly sees that knowledge, one is awakened (bodhi).


Hi Dhammanando

Thanks for your analysis of the Pāli. I wouldn’t know what type of compound it would be. My Pāli is not that good.

I think it’s a good/valid question, why the 'pi is not there.

But despite the quote given to identify ‘dukkha’ there as ‘pain’. I understand the Buddha to use words precisely and he would say ‘dukkha-vedanā’ if he meant ‘pain’. To suggest the Buddha used words imprecisely (dukkha = stress -mental suffering- sometimes and pain -physical suffering- other times), to me, is promoting the idea he was not the unexcelled teacher and taught a secret doctrine that needs commentators to explain it.

best wishes

Thanks for that. I find it interesting that the quote is from Bh. Sāriputta.

I have in suspension all discourses from disciples. I give priority to the words of the Buddha in line with my understanding of the instructions at SN20.7, which mentions ‘words of disciples’. I know that is sometimes explained as ‘others’ disciples’.

best wishes

A process involving insight has to be at work for the sudden attainment of nibbana. One sutta says there is a gradual incline followed by a sudden deepening. Most of the similies used by the Buddha have an experiential similarity as well, other than just the conceptual. Having said that, nibbana itself is a non-experience. No wisdom is to be had there. Knowledge of things as they are (yatabhuta nana) leads to repulsion, dispassion and finally cessation. One could argue the knowledge and vision of release (vimukti nana dassana) is a kind of insight as well, but it is the ‘insight’ of the knowing one has attained nibbana.

Note that this process of seeing impermanence of the aggregates to attaining the Dhamma eye could take a long time (or short, as the case maybe), possibly weeks, months, or years.

with metta

I definitely disagree. :slight_smile: For me, it is the highest happiness in this very life.

I certainly agree, just that I’d say it is the five clung to aggregates. :slight_smile:

one other thing is, there is no ‘sickness’ here, just birth, aging and death

I think the idea of sickness, was probably added later and popularised by the four sights the Bodhisatta saw which spurred him on.

Perhaps we are talking past each other or genuinely misunderstanding each other, but I strongly disagree. :anjal:

Nibbana is the experience of being free from dukkha, free from clinging to the aggregates.

After liberation, one see the aggregates in an entirely new way, in an awakened bodhi way.

Here is a beautiful description of that Nibbana liberation (which is most definitely an experience) :

The five aggregates are fully understood,
They remain, but their root is severed.
I have realized the end of suffering,
And attained the end of defilements thag1.120

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Thanks for your reminder ,
that I am being lacking
of mindfulness and
the way my language
or speech appear arrogant .
Well , as I would agreed with
you on that part which
I think is Buddha part also .
I supposed so .
But , I don’t know if that is called
Belief or just my thinking as such only !
Or both have the same meaning ?!

On the second part , shall I put it
another way . Is it not that
Life is dukkha ? because whether
one is an arahant or defiled
ordinary human being or
some other realms being ,
they are constantly in the
States of dukkha !?
Whether , it is
Psychologically or physically !
That is why life for most living
Beings simply is dukkha !!!

Thank you .

Correct. This is post nibbanic experience. This is the ‘fruit’ or phala phase of attainment. Arahanth magga (path) is the practice leading up to the attainment of nibbana, Arahanth phala is the phase after the attainment, as I see it.

However the attainment of Nibbana itself is instantaneous. Some are able to sustain it for longer periods:

“This Unbinding is pleasant, friends. This Unbinding is pleasant.”

When this was said, Ven. Udayin said to Ven. Sariputta, “But what is the pleasure here, my friend, where there is nothing felt…?” AN9.34

with metta

I’m not sure how you see this -I generally agree with the translations below:

Bhikkhu Bodhi:

“And what, bhikkhus, are the five aggregates subject to clinging? Whatever kind of form there is, whether past, future, or present … far or near, that is tainted, that can be clung to: this is called the form aggregate subject to clinging. SN22.48

Thanissaro Bhikkhu:

"And what are the five clinging-aggregates?
"Whatever form — past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near — is clingable, offers sustenance, and is accompanied with mental fermentation: That is called the form clinging-aggregate.

It is due to ignorance the aggregates are seen as permanent (nicca), satisfactory (sukkha) and atta (self). No amount of meditative bliss or light will be mistaken for enlightenment when this is truly seen. Only complete cessation is freedom from the incessant arising and passing away of the aggregates- and they will no longer be clingable and will be seen as dukkha.

He has no uncertainty or doubt that just stress, when arising, is arising; stress, when passing away, is passing away. In this, his knowledge is independent of others. It’s to this extent, Kaccayana, that there is right view. SN12.15

with metta