The Lesser Discourse On Dukkha The Cula 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

The Cula-Dukkhakkhanda Sutta is similar to the Maha-Dukkhakkhanda Sutta in subject matter and, in certain sections, nearly identical language. In both Suttas, the Buddha is responding to questions regarding the contradictions between his Dhamma and common dharmas of his time. The Buddha teaches that developing the profound and liberating understanding of the true nature of individual contributions to stress and suffering – Dukkha – is the distinguishing factor between his Dhamma and common “spiritual” disciplines of his time.

As with all of the Buddha’s Dhamma it is the development of true and useful vipassana, true and useful introspective insight, into individual clinging of fabricated views to impermanent phenomena that results in stress and suffering. As shown in both of these suttas, the resolution and renunciation of ignorant views occur through specific understanding developed through the Eightfold Path.  [4]  Vipassana – Introspective Insight

In this sutta, the Buddha teaches his cousin Mahanama that the common manifestation in individual human beings of stress is greed, aversion, and deluded thinking. The common belief then and now is that by merely engaging in commonly accepted “spiritual” practice will result in the cessation of stress and suffering.

The Buddha teaches that wishing, hoping, speculating, and maintaining unexamined beliefs fabricated by ignorance of Four Noble Truths is simply a misguided, misinformed, and cruel distraction from understanding Four Noble Truths. [5]  Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views

The reference to “sensuality” must be understood in the context established in the Paticca-Samuppada sutta and the 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 Lesser Discourse On Dukkha
Cūḷa-Dukkhakkhandha Sutta  

Majjhima Nikaya 14

On one occasion the Buddha was staying with the Sakyans in the Banyan Grove at Kapilavatthu. Mahanama, Siddartha Gotama’s cousin, approached the Buddha, bowed, and sat to one side. Mahanama had a question for his cousin and teacher: “I understand your Dhamma teaches three defilements of the mind:

  1. Greed is a defilement of the mind.
  2. Aversion is a defilement of the mind.
  3. Deluded thinking is a defilement of the mind.

This description of the Three Defilements as “defilements of the mind” immediately and clearly directs Dhamma practice to resolve inner conflict and delusion. Rather than remaining distracted by fabricated beliefs that can only result in continued craving through continued clinging ignorant views to impermanent phenomena – impermanent objects, events, views, and ideas – including “self” and others. The Buddha is teaching his cousin to abandon seeking satisfaction where none can be found – in the impermanent phenomenal world and the fabricated views and fake dharmas supported by continued ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

The Buddha’s Dhamma resolves deluded thinking and inner confliçt by developing the profound understanding that what one is mindful of – what one holds in mind – determines their life experience, not impermanent external conditions or externally-focused fabricated beliefs and fabricated “dharmas.” The Buddha’s Dhamma resolves within each individual practitioner integrating the Eightfold Path as the framework and guidance for Dhamma practice.

“Even though I understand your Dhamma in this manner, greed, aversion, and deluded thinking invade my mind and remain. When I realize this, the thought follows ‘What quality do I continue to cling to when greed, aversion, and deluded thinking invade my mind and remain?”

This is a subtle but completely common occurrence to a mind continually grasping-after continued ignorance. The compulsive need to find a hidden or mystical cause for current stress through analysis, fabricated blame, or an intentional misunderstanding of Karma is the essence of greed. [12]  Karma And Rebirth

A common and subtly encouraged form of greed is always needing more “investigation” and endless analysis of “what’s wrong with or lacking in me” and grasping-after magical and mystical fixes for a flawed or lacking self. This should be seen as it truly is: a common form of distracted mindlessness compulsive encouraged in modern Buddhism-By-Common-Agreement. [5]  Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views

Aversion is another form of grasping-after external and impermanent phenomena that is a fabricated quality of mind that insists on the people and events of life, including fabricated dharma practices, to magically be different than what is simply and commonly occurring in human life.

Delusion is the condition that arises from ignorance of Four Noble Truths. Clinging to ignorance of Four Noble Truths is motivated by continuing greed and aversion and can only continue deluded thinking. This is an aspect of the feedback loop the Buddha described in the Nagara Sutta.  [6]  Nagara Sutta – The Buddha Describes His Awakening

The purpose of the Buddha’s Dhamma is to recognize and abandon individual ignorance of Four Noble Truths and the individual condition of deluded thinking that follows the initiating condition of individual ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

The Buddha responds: “Mahanama, it is the very qualities of greed, aversion, and deluded thinking that you continue to cling to. When any of these qualities arise in you it is due to continued clinging to these qualities.

Another word for greed is craving. In the Paticca-Samupaddha Sutta, the primary sutta on Dependent Origination, the Buddha shows that from “From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging and maintaining”.

The very qualities of greed, aversion, and deluded thinking are maintained by continual clinging to greed, aversion, and deluded thinking. It is the purpose of the Eightfold Path to develop the concentration necessary to support the refined mindfulness that can hold in mind the Eightfold Path. It is only from a mind resting in Jhana that has the ability to recognize and abandon all manifestations of the three defilements. [7]  Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhanas

“It is only when these qualities are not abandoned within you that you continue to be entangled in worldly affairs and you continue to cling to sensuality.

“It is only when these qualities are abandoned within you that you remain disentangled in worldly affairs and you no longer cling to sensuality.

“Even though a skillful disciple understands the stress, the despair, the drawback of sensual indulgence, if they have not developed concentration and pleasure apart from sensual indulgence and unskillful mindfulness, or an even deeper level of Jhana and peacefulness, they can still be distracted by sensuality.

The skillful disciple who develops the framework and guidance of the Eightfold Path will develop Wise Restraint and will continually lessen their craving for and clinging to sensual indulgence and sensual distraction. [8]  Wisdom Of Restraint

“But, when a skillful disciple understands the stress, the despair, the drawback of sensual indulgence if they have developed concentration and pleasure apart from sensual indulgence and unskillful mindfulness, or an even deeper level of Jhana and peacefulness, they cannot be distracted by sensuality.

“Friend, before my own self-awakening, when I was still an un-awakened bodhisattva, I came to understand with Right View that sensual indulgence is stressful, brings despair, and has drawbacks, but as long as I had not developed concentration and pleasure apart from sensual indulgence and unskillful mindfulness, or an even deeper level of Jhana and peacefulness, I did not claim that I was not distracted by sensuality.

The Buddha’s Dhamma does not culminate in an ongoing trance-like distraction grasping-after and clinging to fabricated beliefs. The Buddha’s Dhamma culminates in the profound Right View that that resolves with all self-referential views completely abandoned and a well-concentrated mind united with its body while remaining peacefully engaged with life-as-life-unfolds.

“But, when I came to understand the stress, the despair, the drawback of sensual indulgence, and I had developed concentration and pleasure apart from sensual indulgence and unskillful mindfulness, or an even deeper level of Jhana and peacefulness, then I did claim to not be distracted by sensuality.

There is, perhaps, no stronger reference in the suttas for developing Jhana than these last two paragraphs. The Buddha taught that the sole purpose of meditation within the Eightfold Path is to deepen concentration, to deepen Jhana. Without Right Meditation – Jhana Meditation, there can be no understanding of Dukkha and no release from craving for and clinging to ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

 

UNDERSTANDING THE ALLURE, THE DRAWBACK, AND THE RELEASE OF CLINGING TO SENSUALITY

This section is nearly identical to the corresponding section in the Maha-Dukkhakkhanda Sutta

“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. [8]  Wisdom Of Restraint

“Friend, whatever pleasure or happiness that one establishes in dependence on 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, and the whole mass of stress and 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 its 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 its 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. The skillful disciple develops Jhana that supports the refined mindfulness necessary for a 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 king’s 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 – EndingFabrications 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 and stress and suffering, 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.

“Friend, 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 its source and its establishment. Simply put, the drawback is sensuality.

“Friend, 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. 

An accurate 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.

 

The Conditioning And Inherent Distractions Of false Dharmas

“Friend Mahanama, once I was near Rajagaha onVulture Peak Mountain. There was a group of Nigantha’s at Black Rock on the slopes of Isigili.

Nigantha’s were flowers of Nigantha Natiputta, a leader of a local Jain sect.

“The Niganthas were practicing continuous standing in order to experience severe sharp and racking pain. As I emerged from my seclusion I went to the Niganthas and asked them ‘Why are you practicing continuous standing that develops severe sharp and racking pain?

“One of the Niganthas responded ‘Nigantha Natiputta knows and sees all. He claims to have knowledge and wisdom continually established within him. Nigantha has taught us that our past evil actions will be exhausted with these painful ascetic practices. He further taught us that if we are restrained in body, speech, and thoughts in the present thee will be no evil actions in the future.

So, with the destruction of past evil deeds through these painful ascetic practices and with no evil actions in the present there will be no flow (of the results of evil) into the future. With no flow of evil actions into the future, there is the ending of evil actions. With the ending of evil actions there is the ending of stress. With the ending of stress there is the ending of feelings and with the ending of feelings, stress and suffering will be exhausted. We, the Niganthas, approve of this teaching, we prefer this teaching and are gratified by this teaching.

The psychological model in effect during the Buddha’s time continues today. By conditioning people through fabricated speculation and suggestion to believe that they are inherently bad, or wrong, or inadequate in some way, and that an individual ‘dharma’  can bestow the means for salvation from their ‘evil deeds’, a ‘dharma’ teacher can now have people follow and worship them even though all they are offering is continued distraction from the true cause of their distress and inner and outer conflict.

The Buddha’s Dhamma shows that the root cause of all ‘evil deeds’ is rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths and by becoming ‘Rightly Self-Awakened’  precisely as Siddartha Gotama did is the Dhamma. Even if one has actually performed hurtful deeds in the past, and has an uncommonly accurate memory of these deeds, using certain actions such as asceticism (including institutionalized silence), hybrid meditation practices, chanting, bowing, deity visualizations, and many other adapted and embellished ‘dharmas’ in modern Buddhism-By-Common-Agreement can never provide the release from views ignorant of Four Noble Truths unless one develops the Eightfold Path intended by an awakened human being.

The Buddha responds “Do you know that you existed in the past or that you did not exist in the past?”

“No, friend.”

“Well, do you know that you did evil deeds in the past?”

“No, friend.”

“And do you know that the stress resulting from these evil deeds has been exhausted or that the stress resulting from these evil deeds remains to be exhausted or even that the exhaustion of the stress resulting from these evil deeds can be exhausted?”

“No, friend.”

“Well then, do you know the abandoning of these evil and unskillful qualities and the development of skillful qualities right here and now?”

“No, friend.”

“Friend, it seems as if you do not know if you did or did not exist in the past. It seems as if you do not know if you did or did not do evil acts in the past. You do not know that you did any evil acts in the past or if you even experienced any stress arising from evil actions or that there is stress remaining to be exhausted. You do not know that with the exhaustion of current stress that all stress will be exhausted.

“Furthermore, you do not know the abandonment of evil and unskillful qualities and you do not know the development of evil and unskillful qualities right here and now.

“This being the case, there are those who are cruel and murderous evildoers. Seeking change (salvation) they join with the Niganthas.

As today, the manner in which false and misleading “dharmas” are presented as salvation in some manner, and have distracted others to seek their particular form of salvation, more conflicted and troubled human beings will believe they can find salvation in fabricated dharma as well. This is also an important understanding of the importance of developing and maintaining a true and effective Dhamma practice if one is truly concerned with the well-being of others.

“But friend, Gotama, it is not true that pleasure is attained through pleasure. Pleasure is to be attained through pain. If pleasure is attained through pleasure, then King Bimbisara would attain great pleasure as he lives in greater pleasure than even you.”

This is a common pernicious though subtle fabrication that in order to experience sensual satisfaction there must be an equal experience of suffering. This fabrication arises from a confused mind in order to rationalize stress and suffering as having some value thereby continuing to ignore the root cause of ignorance through a lack of personal responsibility. This is similar to common and popular fabricated beliefs such as “there is no light without darkness. An awakened, fully mature human being understands in a completely dispassionate and impersonal manner that light and dark, day and night, hot and cold, peace and distress, likes and dislikes, are simply part of impermanent phenomena arising and passing away. The Buddha recognizes this ignorant thinking and responds with clear Dhamma:

“Surely you have said this rashly and without reflecting on your words. The skillful question (in the context of my Dhamma) is ‘Who lives in greater pleasure, King Bimbisara or master Gotama?”

“Yes, friend Gotama, we did speak rashly and without refection. Who does live in greater pleasure, King Bimbisara or master Gotama?”

“I will counter-question you. Answer as you see fit. Can King Bimbisara, without moving his body or uttering a word dwell sensitive to pure pleasure for seven days and nights, or even six, or five, or four, or three, or two, or even for one day and night?”

Here ‘sensitive” means true refined mindfulness – dispassionately and mindfully aware of what is occurring.

“No, friend.”

“Now, without moving my body or uttering a word I do dwell sensitive to pure pleasure for a day and a night, for two days and nights, for three, for four, for five, for six, for even seven nights and days.

The Buddha here is describing simply and directly the quality of mind of an awakened human being. In the context of the Satipatthana Sutta, the sutta on Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Buddha is also describing the establishment and continuation of the Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness, a mind resting in pure equanimity. [9]  Satipatthana Sutta – Four Foundations of Mindfulness 

“What do you think? Who dwells in the greater pleasure, King Bimbisara or myself?”

“It is clear that master Gotama dwells in the greater pleasure than King Bimbisara!”

This is what was said by the Great Teacher. Mahanama was delighted in the Buddha’s 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. Vipassana – Introspective Insight
  5. Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views
  6. Nagara Sutta – The Buddha Describes His Awakening
  7. Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhanas
  8. Wisdom Of Restraint
  9. Satipatthana Sutta – Four Foundations of Mindfulness

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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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