In the first in this series we looked at “The First Noble Truth.” Today we will continue with Buddha’s Second Noble Truth.
The Second Noble Truth states that the cause of all suffering (dukkha) is desire (Tanha, Trishna or Raga -depending on translation). Tanha is a term that roughly translates to “thirst,” or “desire.” We all enjoy good food, enjoy fine music, pleasant company. When we enjoy these things we want more and more of the things. We try to prolong the pleasant experiences. We try to get more and more of the things and yet we are never satisfied. We may be fond of a particular food and yet if we eat it again and again we will get bored of it. We try another food and we like until we get bored with it. This happens with friends, places to live, your hair-style the list of example is endless.
Sometimes this chase after pleasant experiences leads down a dark path to addiction. Things such as alcoholism, drugs, gambling, sex, and even excitement are harmful to people in many ways and this type of “Tanha” is suffering. Suffering comes from not letting go. If you are have a great time with a loved one and they must go to work, that feeling that you have when they leave is suffering too. It is said that trying to satisfy your desire for pleasant experiences it like drinking salt water when you are thirsty. No matter how much you drink you will never quench your thirst. In fact, rather than being lessened your thirst will only increase.
Not only do we crave or desire experiences, we also crave for material things. This is easily demonstrated in the behavior of children. I have a six year old daughter. If I take her into a toy shop and buy her a toy, almost as soon as she has the toy she will begin to lose interest in it, without fail. After a few days the toy, that she “must have” will be neglected sitting in her toy box and next time she will want another toy.
While it is easy to see this in children are adults any different? After you get the latest X-box, Wii, or Nintendo do you not want the “latest” one? After we buy a new car don’t we want a different one? After we move into our new house don’t we think “Well this house is nice but..” The list goes on and on, whether it is a train set, a bicycle, a 3D TV, or a Mercedes the outcome is the same.
It is said that the desire for acquiring wealth or possessions in involved in three major sufferings, or issues.
- You have to acquire the items. You have to work and save to buy that X-Box, car or house.
- You have to protect the item. You will worry about the item getting damaged i.e someone might crash into your car, burn your house down or lightening might damage your X-box.
- You will suffer when you lose the item. No matter how good you take care of an item sooner or later it will fall apart, break or become obsolete.
Another cause of suffering is the craving for existence or external life. We all crave for life in spite of all the frustrations, challenges and obstacles that we face daily, this craving is the cause of dependent arising, which I will get into later. There is also the craving for eternal life or, the opposite, total annihilation the desire for non-existence or eternal death.
By now you may be asking:
“Is craving alone a sufficient cause of suffering?”
“Is craving alone enough to explain suffering?”
“Is the answer as simple as that?”
In a word, No. There is something that is much deeper than craving and that something is called ignorance or (Avidya) but that is another upcoming post.
In short, we suffer because we want. If we had no desires, we would have no disappointments. The existence of desire is what causes the suffering in our lives. Here, “desire” is meant to be broadly interpreted. The desire can be for sensory pleasures like food, sex, or wealth. We can also have desires or attachments to ideas, theories, and beliefs. The Buddha taught that all problems in the world arise from the attachments and desires of humanity. Without such attachments and desires, it is difficult to see how war or domestic strife would arise.
Now we know that all life is suffering, and that suffering is caused by desire, craving and ignorance. But is that bleak landscape really the entire story? No, as Hope lies in the Third Noble Truth.