The Greater Discourse On Dukkha – Maha Dukkhakkhanda 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 Maha-Dukkhakkhandha Sutta the Buddha teaches that developing the profound and liberating understanding of the true nature of individual contribution to stress and suffering – Dukkha – is the distinguishing factor between his Dhamma and common “spiritual” disciplines of his time.

Here the Buddha teaches that due to ignorance of Four Noble Truths the uninformed becomes enamored and entranced with their own conditioned feedback-loop of self-referential views grasping after fleeting sensual experience framed by this initial ignorance. [4]  Nagara Sutta – The Buddha Describes His Awakening

The reference to “sensuality” must be understood in the context established in the Paticca-Samuppada sutta and fabricated views corrupting the individual experience of contact with impermanent phenomena at the six-sense-base. [1]  Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta

My comments below are in italics.

The Greater Discourse On Dukkha – Maha Dukkhakkhanda Sutta

Majjhima Nikaya 13

On one occasion the Buddha was staying at Savatthi in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. Early in the morning a group of disciples adjusted their robes and, carrying their bowls, left for Savatthi for alms. They quickly realized that it was too early for alms and decided to visit a group of wanderers from another sect.

They exchanged courteous greetings and sat to one side. The wanderers from the other sect questioned the group from the Buddha’s Sangha: “Friends, Gotama the contemplative describes understanding sensuality, as we do. Gotama describes understanding forms, as we do. Gotama describes understanding feelings, as we do. Friends, what is difference, the distinguishing factor between his teaching and ours?”

The Buddha’s disciples, neither delighting nor disapproving of these words decided to seek out their teacher to hear his words.

They went for alms and then returned to the Buddha. They bowed to their teacher and sat to one side and told him what the wanderers of the other sect said.

The Buddha replied “Friends, when wanderers of other sects say this you should ask them ‘What is the allure, the drawback, and the release with regard to sensuality? What is the allure, the drawback, and the release with regard to forms? What is the allure, the drawback, and the release with regard to feelings?’

“When asked, these wanderers of other sects will be in trouble and not be able to provide a reasonable answer. This understanding is beyond their knowledge.

“Friends, in this world of (fabricated) devas, Maras, and Brahmas, of contemplatives and brahmans (local priests), royalty and commoners, I do not see anyone who could answer these questions aside from myself, my disciples, or someone who learned my Dhamma from a skillful disciple.

Understanding The Allure, The Drawback, And The Release Of Clinging To Sensuality

“Now, what is the allure of sensuality? There are five clinging-fabrications of sensuality:

  • Forms interpreted by the eyes as agreeable, pleasing, endearing, and enticing.
  • Sounds interpreted by the ears as agreeable, pleasing, endearing, and enticing.
  • Aromas interpreted by the nose as agreeable, pleasing, endearing, and enticing.
  • Flavors interpreted by the tongue as agreeable, pleasing, endearing, and enticing.
  • Tactile sensations interpreted by the body as agreeable, pleasing, endearing, and enticing.

Here the Buddha is describing the immediate application of the understanding developed through the Eightfold Path at the point of contact with impermanent phenomena arising and passing away. [5]  Wisdom Of Restraint

“Friends, whatever pleasure or happiness that one depends on establishing through any of these five senses is the (distracting) allure of sensuality.

As is seen here it is the preoccupation with pleasure and disappointment that distracts one form understanding life as it truly is as described in Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

“Now, what is the drawback of sensuality? Here is an example: When one’s occupation, whether accounting or plowing, whether trading goods or attending to cattle, whether archer or attending a King, whatever one’s occupation, they are subject to changing weather, to harassment by insects, to dying from thirst and hunger, an the whole mass of suffering.

Reacting to ordinary phenomena arising and passing away results from personalizing ordinary experience that is entirely impersonal. Understanding Dukkha brings cessation to clinging and maintaining self-referential views ignorant of Four Noble Truths. [6]  Nothing Personal – A Buddha’s Analysis Of Self

“This drawback of sensuality, this mass of stress and suffering that is visible here and now has sensuality as it source and its establishment. Simply put, the drawback is sensuality.

“Now, if a person gains little while striving and making effort they will be sorrowful and regretful. They will grieve and become distraught: (All emotions rooted in self-referential ignorant views) ‘All of my efforts have been useless and fruitless!’

“This (reaction) is also a drawback of sensuality, this mass of stress and suffering that is visible here and now has sensuality as it source and its establishment. Simply put, the drawback is sensuality.

A mind lacking Jhana – concentration – cannot support the refined mindfulness developed through the Eightfold Path that the skillful disciple develops supporting the profound understanding of stress and suffering and the cessation of all ignorant views. [7]  Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhanas

“If a person gains wealth while striving and making effort they will experience distress protecting their wealth: ‘How can I keep my wealth from kings and thieves? How will I protect my wealth from fire or floods? How will I protect my wealth from greedy heirs?’

Even the immediate gratification of achievement is disappointing due to clinging to impermanent phenomena. It is this precise true and useful vipassana – true and useful introspective insight – into wrong views of self clinging to impermanent phenomena resulting in stress and suffering that is the sole purpose of the Buddha’s Dhamma [8]  Vipassana – Introspective Insight

“Even as they protect their wealth, kings and thieves make off with it, fire and floods destroy it, and greedy heirs make off with it.  They then will be sorrowful and regretful. They will grieve and become distraught: ‘What was once mine is gone!’

These various descriptions of Dukkha are describing the entirely impersonal experience of Dukha. The allure and drawback of sensuality is established in ignorant views of self craving for and clinging to ordinary impersonal phenomena that is experienced as having personal “ownership” of fleeting objects, events, views, or ideas through self-identification with  impermanent phenomena. [9]  Vipassana Category

“This drawback of sensuality, this mass of stress and suffering that is visible here and now has sensuality as it source and its establishment. Simply put, the drawback is sensuality.

“It is (preoccupation) with sensuality as the reason, the source, the cause, that kings quarrel with kings, nobles quarrel with nobles, brahmans with brahmans, householders with  householders, parents with children, children with parents, children with siblings, and friends with friends. When conflicted they will attack each other with fists, or sticks, or clubs, or knives, and they incur extreme pain or death.

It is due to the compulsive preoccupation with pleasure and disappointment that uninformed people become distracted towards constant satisfaction where constant satisfaction cannot be found – through ignorant views of self clinging to impermanent worldly phenomena. [10]  Anupada Sutta – Ending Fabrications One After. Another

“Here again is the drawback of sensuality, this mass of stress and suffering that is visible here and now has sensuality as it source and its establishment. Simply put, the drawback is sensuality.

“It is (preoccupation) with sensuality as the reason, the source, the cause, that human beings wear armor and use swords, spears, and arrows, while charging in formation into battle with other human beings. With spears and arrows flying, with swords flashing, they are wounded, their heads cut off, insuring extreme pain and death.

Here the profound nature of this teaching becomes apparent. Due to self-establishment in the world through individually craving for and clinging to ignorant views legitimized by sensual indulgence in this very craving, all manner of human conflict, internally and externally, arise. [11]  The Personal Experience Of Ignorance – Dukkha Sutta

“Here again is the drawback of sensuality, this mass of stress and suffering that is visible here and now has sensuality as it source and its establishment. Simply put, the drawback is sensuality.

“Friends, it is (preoccupation) with sensuality as the reason, the source, the cause, that human beings take what is not theirs, ambush others, commit adultery, and when caught, kings have them tortured for their misdeeds. They are flogged and beaten with clubs, their hands and feet cut off, their ears and noses, too. They are subjected to many indignities and deprivations.

“Here again, this is the drawback of sensuality, this mass of stress and suffering that is visible here and now has sensuality as it source and its establishment. Simply put, the drawback is sensuality.

“Friends, it is (preoccupation)  with sensuality as the reason, the source, the cause, that human beings engage in bodily, verbal, and mental misconduct. Having lived their lives as such, upon death and the break-up of the body there is only continued deprivation.

This last is a significant reference to the Buddha’s teaching on Karma and Rebirth. Unless one resolves ignorance of Four Noble Truths, death can offer no release, only deprivation. This is not a reference to a continued personal experience of disincarnate individual life after physical death – a common misunderstanding that contradicts the intent and purpose of the Buddha’s Dhamma. As taught further on in relation to the continued indignities that occur to a physical form after death.

A clear understanding of Karma and Rebirth shows that the Buddha’s Dhamma resolves Karma and the skillful disciple ceases giving “birth” to another moment rooted in ignorance. [12]  Karma And Rebirth

“Here again, this is the drawback of sensuality, this mass of stress and suffering that is now only continued deprivation has sensuality as it source and its establishment. Simply put, the drawback is sensuality.

“And what friends, is the release from sensuality?  The subduing of passion for sensuality, the subduing of craving for sensuality, the abandoning of passion for sensuality, the abandoning of craving for sensuality. This is the release from sensuality.

“Friends, I say to you, any contemplatives or brahmans who do not understand sensuality as it truly is, who do not understand the allure as allure, who do not understand the drawback as drawback, who do not understand the release from sensuality as release, could only understand sensuality, or rouse in others, in accordance with what they believe and what they practice. It is impossible for them to understand sensuality as sensuality.

This last describes those seeking underbidding where understanding cannot be found – in doctrines that do not develop understanding of the clinging relationship between fabricated views of self and the phenomenal world. If one is unable to de-personalize their involvement with the people and events of their life through the Eightfold Path then understanding the allure, the drawback, and the release from sensuality cannot occur due to continued self-identification with the inherent stress and suffering that follows from clinging to sensuality.

The number of people engaging in a particular doctrine offers no proof of the usefulness of the doctrine to develop individual understanding of Four Noble Truths and a calm and peaceful mind. Believing in our own individual fabrications or clinging our beliefs to worldly fabrications is essentially the same thing and can only further the effects of ignorance. [13]  The Noble Search For The Noble Path

“But, friends, I say to you, any contemplatives or brahmans who do understand sensuality as it truly is, who understand the allure as allure, who understand the drawback as drawback, who understand the release from sensuality as release, would themselves understand sensuality, and rouse (understanding) in others, in accordance with what they believe and what they practice. It is now possible for them to understand sensuality as sensuality.

This last describes understanding sensuality from the profound Right View developed through the  Eightfold Path. It is this developed Right View that establishes and maintains a dispassionate, impersonal, and mindful and calm presence in life as life unfolds.  Rather than continuing gasping-after fabricated views or fabricated “dharmas”creating speculative self-establishments in ever-more-elaborate fabricated ideas and fabricated ideologies, the skillful disciple understands that there is nothing within impermanent phenomena arising and passing away that are in any manner personal or deserving of self-identification. [14]  Mindfulness Of Bahiya

Understanding The Allure, The Drawback, And The Release Of Clinging To Form

This next section teaches the foolishness of fabricating a clinging relationship with physical form(s). This is also a teaching on Karma and Rebirth and the importance of holding in mind reality established in Right View and abandon clinging to views that can only develop ongoing stress and deprivation. [12]  Karma And Rebirth

“Now, friends, what is the allure of form? Suppose a young women of fifteen or sixteen years old, neither tall or short, thin or plump, or too dark or too pale. Is this when her charm is greatest?”

“Yes, great teacher.”

“Then it follows that whatever pleasure and happiness that is dependent on (clinging to) her present state is the allure of (self-identifying with) form.

“And what is the drawback of form? This very woman, now eighty, or ninety, or one hundred  years old, bent, needing a cane, trembling, miserable, gray-haired, perhaps even bald, wrinkled, now ill, in pain, lying in her own filth. Later still, one may see her as a corpse rotting away, bloated, oozing. Later still, one may see her corpse being picked at by crows and vultures, a heap of bones. What do you think? Has her earlier charm vanished and a drawback appeared?”

“Yes, great teacher.”

“This is the drawback of (self-identifying with) form.

“And what is the release from (self-identifying with) form? The subduing of passion for form, the subduing of craving for form, the abandoning of passion for form, the abandoning of craving for form. This is the release from form.

“Friends, I say to you, any contemplatives or brahmans who do not understand form as it truly is, who do not understand the allure as allure, who do not understand the drawback as drawback, who do not understand the release from form as release, who could only understand form, or rouse in others, in accordance with what they believe and what they practice. It is impossible for them to understand form as form.

“But, friends, I say to you, any contemplatives or brahmans who do understand form as it truly is, who understand the allure as allure, who understand the drawback as drawback, who understand the release from sensuality as release, would themselves understand form, and rouse (understanding) in others, in accordance with what they believe and what they practice. It is now possible for them to understand form as form.

This last describes understanding form from the profound Right View developed through the  Eightfold Path. It is this developed Right View that establishes and maintains a dispassionate, impersonal, and mindful and calm presence in life as life unfolds.  Rather than continuing gasping-after fabricated views or fabricated “dharmas”creating speculative self-establishments in ever-more-elaborate fabricated ideas and fabricated ideologies, the skillful disciple understands that there is nothing within impermanent phenomena arising and passing away that are in any manner personal or deserving of self-identification. [14]  Mindfulness Of Bahiya

Understanding The Allure, The Drawback, And The Release Of Clinging To Feeling

“Now, friends, what is the allure of feelings? When a skillful disciple is secluded from sensuality and unskillful mental qualities enters and remains in the First Jhana which is the experience of rapture and pleasure arising from that very seclusion and accompanied by directed thought and evaluation.  [7]   Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhanas

“Established in the first Jhana, the skillful disciple  is free of the affliction of their own craving and the craving of others. They experience feelings free of craving. Free of the affliction of craving is the (only) skillful allure of feelings.

Rather than engaging in doctrines or practices that encourage analyzing or “embracing” or “working” with feelings that can only continue validating fabricated views of self, the Eightfold Path, including Jhana meditation, develops the concentration necessary to recognize and abandon craving-after all self-referential views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths.  “Continuing in meditation the skillful disciple, with the stilling of directed thought and evaluation enters and remains in the second Jhana which is experienced as rapture and pleasure (now) arising from concentration free from directed thought and evaluation – internal poise and assurance established.

Rapture is a word often used in the Dhamma to describe a profoundly joyful engagement with the Dhamma.

Directed Thought is mindfully directing thoughts away from internal idle chatter and to the breath-in-the-body. This relates directly to the Buddha’s instruction for Right Meditation found in the beginning section of the Satipatthana Sutta.  [14] Satipatthana Sutta – Four Foundations of Mindfulness

Evaluation follows directed thought and provides the skillful method of noticing when distracted by thoughts and feelings and then intentionally directing mindfulness back to the breath-in-the-body. Evaluation is dispassionate and avoids criticism of self or method during Jhana practice.

“Continuing in meditation the skillful disciple, with the fading of rapture, remains equanimous, mindful, and alert and sensitive to pleasure within the body. They enter and remain in the third Jhana which the Noble Ones declare is equanimous and mindful, a pleasant abiding.

“Continuing in meditation the skillful disciple,, with the abandoning of (evaluating) pleasure and pain, they enter and remain in the fourth Jhana which is experienced as pure equanimity and mindful, free of evaluation.

“Now the skillful disciple is free of the affliction of their own craving and the craving of others. They experience feelings free of craving. Free of the affliction of craving is the (only) skillful allure of feelings.

“Now, friends, what is the drawback of feelings? Feelings are impermanent, always subject to change and so (when attached to ) are always stressful. This is the drawback of feelings.

“And what is the release from (self-identifying with) feelings? The subduing of passion for feelings, the subduing of craving for feelings, the abandoning of passion for feelings, the abandoning of craving for feelings This is the release from feelings.

“Friends, I say to you, any contemplatives or brahmans who do not understand feelings as they truly are, who do not understand the allure as allure, who do not understand the drawback as drawback, who do not understand the release from feelings as release from feelings, who could only understand feelings, or rouse in others, in accordance with what they believe and what they practice. It is impossible for them to understand feelings as feelings.

“But, friends, I say to you, any contemplatives or brahmans who do understand feelings as they  truly are, who understand the allure as allure, who understand the drawback as drawback, who understand the release from sensuality as release, would themselves understand feelings, and rouse (understanding) in others, in accordance with what they believe and what they practice. It is now possible for them to understand feelings as feelings.

This last describes understanding feelings from the profound Right View developed through the  Eightfold Path. It is this developed Right View that establishes and maintains a dispassionate, impersonal, and mindful and calm presence in life as life unfolds.  Rather than continuing gasping-after fabricated views or fabricated “dharmas”creating speculative self-establishments in ever-more-elaborate fabricated ideas and fabricated ideologies, the skillful disciple understands that there is nothing within impermanent phenomena arising and passing away that are in any manner personal or deserving of self-identification. [15]  Mindfulness Of Bahiya

This is what the Buddha said. Those in attendance were gratified and delighted at these 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. Nagara Sutta – The Buddha Describes His Awakening
  5. Wisdom Of Restraint
  6. Nothing Personal – A Buddha’s Analysis Of Self
  7. Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhanas
  8. Vipassana – Introspective Insight
  9. Vipassana Category
  10. Anupada Sutta – EndingFabrications One After. Another
  11. The Personal Experience Of Ignorance – Dukkha Sutta
  12. Karma And Rebirth
  13. The Noble Search For The Noble Path
  14. Satipatthana Sutta – Four Foundations of Mindfulness
  15. Mindfulness Of Bahiya

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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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