Analysis of Four Noble Truths – The Sacca-Vibhanga Sutta

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Introduction

For a complete understanding of this sutta within the context intended by an awakened human being, please read the suttas linked inline and at the end of this article. ([x]) Inline links will open in a new window.

Everything the Buddha taught was taught in the context of Dependent Origination and the ongoing stress, suffering and distraction that results from ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

 [1] Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta

[2] Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta

His first teaching was taught to describe the results of this common ignorance and the single path the Buddha taught to recognize and abandon ignorance. [3]  Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta

In the Sacca-Vibhanga Sutta, one of the Buddha’s chief disciples, Sariputta, presents a complete analysis of the Four Noble Truths including a simple and direct explanation of the Eightfold Path.

In this sutta, one of the Buddha’s chief disciples, Sariputta, teaches in plain and simple terms the qualifications one should look for in choosing a skillful Dhamma teacher and what an authentic Dhamma practice must be based on: “Sariputta is able to declare, teach, describe, set forth, reveal, explain, and make plain the Four Noble Truths in detail.”

The reference in this sutta to established brahmans, disincarnate “beings”, and imagined creator gods as having no more understanding of Four Noble Truths as ordinary human beings is common throughout the Buddha’s Dhamma. [4] Mara And Metaphor

A critical aspect of the Dhamma is that ignorance that arises within, and is resolved within individual human beings through their own individual Right Effort, as described in this sutta, through direct engagement with an Eightfold Path. The Buddha referred to imaginary, disincarnate beings, devas, and gods to show that even though these fabricated beliefs were as widespread then as they are today, they are merely metaphors for a confused, distracted, and conflicted minds lacking understanding of Four Noble Truths. [5] Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views

Simply put, an awakened human being’s Dhamma, as seen here and throughout the Buddha’s Dhamma, resolves solely within the mind and body of each individual Dhamma practitioner.

My comments below are in italics.

 

Analysis of Four Noble Truths – The Sacca-Vibhanga Sutta

Majjhima Nikaya 141

On one occasion the Buddha was staying at the Deer Park in Isipatana. He addressed those gathered: “Friends, it was here that I set in motion the unexcelled Wheel Of Dhamma. My Dhamma cannot be corrupted by any brahman, deva, Mara, Brahma, or any one in the entire world.

No one can corrupt the revelation, declaration, the description, the structure, the explanation, and the clear and direct teaching of Four Noble Truths:

  1. The Noble Truth of stress and suffering.
  2. The Noble Truth of the origination of stress.
  3. The Noble Truth of the cessation of stress.
  4. The Noble Truth of the Eightfold Path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.

“Friends, associate with wise disciples such as Sariputta and Moggallana. Sariputta and Moggallana are well-trained, focused, wise, and sympathetic to those developing a life integrated with the Eightfold Path.

“Sariputta is like a mother giving birth and Moggallana is like the nurse that attends to the baby. Sariputta trains others on developing the Dhamma, Moggallana, to the highest culmination.

This last may seem to show Sariputta as a lesser teacher. The Buddha always held Sariputta as his most effective Dhamma teacher. When seen clearly it is much more difficult to introduce an ordinary person to the Dhamma than to continue to support the development of one already engaged with the Eightfold Path. Both Sariputta and Moggallana were critical support to the Buddha and the original Sangha.

“Sariputta is able to declare, teach, describe, set forth, reveal, explain, and make plain the Four Noble Truths in detail.”

Having said these words, the Buddha left for the days abiding.

Sariputta then addressed those gathered: “Friends, it was here that the Tathagata set in motion the unexcelled Wheel Of Dhamma. This Dhamma cannot be corrupted by any brahman, deva, Mara, Brahma, or any one in the entire world. No one can corrupt the revelation, declaration, the description, the structure, the explanation, and the clear and direct teaching of Four Noble Truths:

  1. The Noble Truth of stress and suffering.
  2. The Noble Truth of the origination of stress.
  3. The Noble Truth of the cessation of stress.
  4. The Noble Truth of the Eightfold Path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.

Friends, what is the noble truth of stress and suffering?

  • Birth is stressful.
  • Sickness is stressful.
  • Aging is stressful.
  • Death is stressful.
  • Sorrow, regret, pain, distress, and despair are all stressful.
  • Not getting what is desired is stressful.
  • Receiving what is undesired is stressful.
  • In short, the Five-Clinging-Aggregates are stressful.

The Five Clinging-Aggregates are the ongoing personal experience of stress and suffering in an impermanent world – the personal experience of Anicca, anatta, and Dukkha. [6] Five Clinging-Aggregates

It is the Eightfold Path that develops useful Vipassana, useful introspective insight, into these Three Marks Of Existence. [7] VipassanaIntrospective Insight

“And what is birth? Whatever takes birth. The descent, the coming-to-be, the coming forth, the arising of the Five-Clinging-Aggregates, the fabrication of sensuous realms of diverse beings. This is called birth.

One of the grossest misunderstandings of the Buddha’s Dhamma is what he taught as Karma and Rebirth.  Rather than teaching Karma and Rebirth as a magical and mystical system of behavior modification through reward and punishments, reward based on ambiguous “merit” and good deeds with the ultimate reward in a vague realms of emptiness or nothingness or eternal  establishment in some form of Buddhist “heaven” and punishment similar to all other salvific religions in some type of “hell”, the Buddha taught that Karma is the conditioning of past intentional acts  manifesting in the present moment that is moderated by the present level of mindfulness. If what is held in mind continues to be rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths than individual experience of what one is “giving birth” to in the present moment can only “give birth” to continued ignorance in the present moment. Holding in mind the framework and guidance of the Eightfold Path will “give birth” to a present-moment-experience that continues the non-distracted development of wisdom of Four Noble Truths.  [8] Karma And Rebirth

Many translations state “acquisition of (sense) spheres of the diverse beings in this or that group of beings, that is called birth” rather than the content-relevant “the fabrication of sensuous realms of diverse beings. This is called birth.” The improper (relevant to context) translation encourages a subtle grasping-after establishment on speculated and imaginary non-physical realms that the Buddha consistently and emphatically taught to abandon. [9] Right Mindfulness And Authentic Dhamma

“And what is aging? Aging is (increasing) decrepitude, brokenness, graying, wrinkling, decline of life-force, diminishing of mental faculties, of diverse beings. This is called aging.

“And what is death? Death is the passing away, the breaking up, the disappearance, the completion of time, the casting off of the body, the interruption of the life faculty, and the dissolution of the Five Clinging-Aggregates of diverse beings. This is called death.

“And what is sorrow? Sorrow is sadness, this suffering of misfortune, being touched by pain. This is called sorrow.

“And what is regret? Regret is the grieving, the crying , the weeping, the wailing, the regret of suffering from misfortune, of being touched buy pain, this is called regret.

“And what is pain? Pain is bodily pain. bodily discomfort, pain or discomfort from bodily contact this is called pain.

“And what is distress? Distress is mental pain and mental discomfort, pain or discomfort from mental contact. This is called distress.

“And what is despair? Despair is despondency and  desperation of anyone suffering from misfortune or touch buy a painful thing. This is called despair.

“And what is the stress of not getting what is desired? In those beings subject to birth, the wish arises, ‘May I not be subject to birth, may birth not come to me.’ Wishing does not bring cessation. This is the the stress of not getting what is desired.

“Furthermore, In uninformed human beings subject to birth, sickness, aging, death, sorrow, regret, pain, distress, and despair the wish arises ‘O, may I not be subject to birth, sickness, aging, death, sorrow, regret, pain, distress, and despair. May these not befall me.’ These things are not avoided by wishing.  This is the the stress of not getting what is desired.

The result of continued grasping after continued establishment of a fabricated view of self clinging to any impermanent phenomena, including the fabricated phenomena of external realms and the fabricated belief of salvific intervention of beings from external imaginary realms is what is referred to here. Wishing to avoid any experience that is determined by simply having a human life is rooted in self-referential wrong views self and always results in continued distraction and continued stress and suffering.

“And what are the Five Clinging-Aggregates that continue stress?

  1. The clinging-to-form-aggregate.
  2. The clinging-to-feeling-aggregate.
  3. The clinging-to-perception-aggregate.
  4. The clinging-to-fabrication-aggregate.
  5. The clinging-to-consciousness-aggregate.

“These are the Five Clinging-Aggregates that continue stress.

“This, friends, is the Noble Truth of Stress.

“And what is the Noble Truth of the origination of stress? The very craving that makes for becoming father ignorant, craving clinging to passion and delight (after what is craved including adapted, accommodated and/or embellished modern dharmas), entranced here and there with craving for sensuality, craving for continued becoming (further ignorant), craving for non-becoming (escape from the effects of ignorance rather than cessation of ignorance, annihilation into nothingness, emptiness, non-duality). This is called the Noble Truth of the origination of stress.

Wise and skillful disciples understand that the Dhamma is practiced within individual life as life unfolds. Each moment holds the potential to become further ignorant or become further awakened.  [10] Becoming Explained

“And what friends is the Noble Truth of the cessation of stress? The renunciation, the relinquishment, the release, the letting go, he remainderless fading away and complete cessation of craving. This is called the Noble Truth of the cessation of stress.

“And what is the Noble Truth of the path of Dhamma practice that leads directly to the cessation of stress? This path is the Noble Eightfold Path:

1. Right View. Right View is knowledge with regard to stress, knowledge with regard to the origination of stress, knowledge with regard to the cessation of stress, knowledge with regard to the Eightfold Path of practice leading to the cessation of stress. This is Right View.

2. Right Intention. Right Intention is maintaining mindfulness of the intention for renunciation, for freedom from ill-will, for harmlessness, for cessation. This is Right Intention

3. Right Speech. Right Speech is abstaining from lying, abstaining from divisive speech, abstaining from abusive speech, and abstaining from gossip and idle chatter. This is right Speech.

4. Right Action. Right Action is abstaining from taking life, abstaining from stealing, and abstaining from sexual misconduct. This is Right Action.

5. Right Livelihood. Right Livelihood is when a skillful disciple of the Noble Ones has abandoned dishonest livelihood and provides for themselves with honesty. This is Right Livelihood.

6. Right Effort. Right Effort is when a skillful disciple of the Noble Ones (internally) generates the skillful desire, who is persistent, who remains mindful of their intent for the non-arising of unskillful qualities that have yet arisen, who remains mindful of their intent for the abandoning of unskillful qualities that have arisen, who remains mindful for maintaining non-confusion and for increasing, developing, and the culmination of skillful qualities that have yet arisen. This is Right Effort.

7. Right Mindfulness. Right Mindfulness is when a skillful disciple of the Noble Ones remains mindful of the body in and of itself while remaining ardent, alert, and mindful of putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world. Right Mindfulness is when a skillful disciple of the Noble Ones remains mindful of feelings in and of themselves while remaining ardent, alert, and mindful of putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world. Right Mindfulness is when a skillful disciple of the Noble Ones remains mindful of thoughts in and of themselves while remaining ardent, alert, and mindful of putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world. Right Mindfulness is when a skillful disciple of the Noble Ones remains mindful of the (present) quality of mind in and of itself while remaining ardent, alert, and mindful of putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world. This is right mindfulness. [11] Satipatthana Sutta – Four Foundations of Mindfulness

8. Right Meditation. Right Meditation is when a skillful disciple of the Noble Ones has established seclusion from sensuality and unskillful mental qualities. The enter and  remain in the First Jhana. This First Jhana is experienced as rapture born of that very seclusion. It is accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. [12]  Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhanas

This first Jana is simply the initial pleasant calming that occurs from taking refuge in seclusion and becoming mindful of the breath in the body.

“Furthermore, the ending of the defilements depends on the Second Jhana which is the stilling of directed thought and evaluation.  This Second Jhana is experienced as rapture and pleasure born of concentration. Free of directed thought and evaluation, the joy of concentration permeates their entire mind and body.

This second Jhana is a deepening awareness of the mind calming in the body as a point of concentration. “Furthermore, the ending of the defilements depends on the Third Jhana which is the fading of rapture. They remain equanimous, mindful, alert, sensitive to pleasure. With the fading of rapture, this pleasant abiding permeates their entire mind and body.

This third Jhana is characterized by the stilling of directed thought and evaluation and now able to experience the subtle pleasure of a mind calmly united with the body. This is a pleasant abiding free of comparison to what is no longer present.

“Furthermore, the ending of the defilements depends on the Fourth Jhana which is the abandoning of evaluation. They enter and remain in the Fourth Jhana which is pure equanimity and mindful. Being pure, neither pleasure nor pain is seen. They sit permeated in mind and body with pure, bright awareness. The Fourth Jhana which is a pleasant abiding. This is Right Meditation.

This fourth Jhana is simply a deepening level of concentration and resulting pleasant abiding that remains at peace no matter what arises. This pleasant abiding is the defining characteristic of a well-concentrated mind having integrated the Eightfold Path.

“This is the Noble Truth of the Eightfold Path of practice that leads directly to the cessation of stress.

“Friends, it was here that the Tathagata set in motion the unexcelled Wheel Of Dhamma. This Dhamma cannot be corrupted by any brahman, deva, Mara, Brahma, or any one in the entire world. No one can corrupt the revelation, declaration, the description, the structure, the explanation, and the clear and direct teaching of Four Noble Truths.”

This is what Venerable Sariputta said. Gratified, those in attendance were delighted in Venerable Sariputta words.

End Of Sutta

 

Linked Articles For Further Study

 

  1. Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
  2. Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
  3. Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
  4. Mara And Metaphor
  5. Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views
  6. Five Clinging-Aggregates
  7. Vipassana – Introspective Insight
  8. Karma And Rebirth
  9. Right Mindfulness And Authentic Dhamma
  10. Becoming Explained
  11. Satipatthana Sutta – Four Foundations of Mindfulness
  12. Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhanas

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My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Acharya Buddharakkhita, Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

 

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