Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Four Noble Truths II

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (pp.159-166)

Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (pp. 287-323) 

“Again, monks, in regard to dhammas he abides contemplating dhammas in terms of the four noble truths. And how does he in regard to dhammas abide contemplating dhammas in terms of the four noble truths? “Here he knows as it really is, ‘this is dukkha’; he knows as it really is, ‘this is the arising of dukkha’; he knows as it really is, ‘this is the cessation of dukkha’; he knows as it really is, ‘this is the way leading to the cessation of dukkha.’

The Second Noble Truth:  The Cause of Dukkha

“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the origination of stress: the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.

The cause of dukkha can be explained very simply:  we want life to be other than it is.  This longing is often referred to as craving or desire.  These words are a translation of the Pali word tanha which means ‘the fever of unsatisfied longing’.  This longing is bound up with greed, aversion and delusion (not knowing that all is impermanent).  Our craving does not and cannot lead to lasting happiness, the peace that we seek.

The Second Noble Truth in Literature

Many examples of the fever of unsatisfied longing for life to be other than it is can be found in literature. Here are some examples from Sky Bridge by Laura Pritchett, Milkweed Editions 2005.

“Amber, though, is fair, just like her father, Simon.  She’s got blue eyes and pale blotchy skin, and like her father she seems too wispy and empty to be real.  That’s how every day she’ll be reminding me:  Libby, things just don’t turn out like you think they will.  Daydream if you want but expect the opposite to come true.  And don’t go feeling sorry for your heart when it registers the difference.”  P. 5

“Juan (his child) asks for you.  He’s got an opinion on everything these days. He was throwing a temper tantrum because the moon was the wrong shape –he wanted it to be full instead of crescent. He doesn’t get what he wants and he says, ‘Rompiste  mi corazon.  You break my heart.’  As if it’s my fault.  I’m not in charge of the moon, man.  I wasn’t in charge of his mom’s life.” p.24

“I straighten my Ideal Foods Santa Fe Foods apron and scrape the manure off my shoes before heading out front. I love this job. Mostly because it’s just me and my mind and my daydreams, and time gets filled up, and so does my heart, and even though my life isn’t what I pictured, at least I have this, meaning that if I can’t have the life I want, at least I can have a job where I can daydream about the life I want.”  p. 28

“Tess used to say: Libby, would you please tell me what you do in your mind all day? You daydream like nobody I ever met.  You live in your head more than you live in your life.  I’d say: Leave me alone, I’m thinking.  She’d say: About what? A different life?  And I’d say: No, a different me.”

“The last time we had that conversation, she said, Well, sister, it’s Real Life that you need to focus on now.” P. 45

“Finally I say, “You know Hippie Ed? He was out checking his bees and he said to me, out of the blue, ‘People just let their lives happen to them, without a struggle, and that’s a crime.  The crime of not paying attention to your life.’ I don’t know, Derek. I don’t know about her life or my life.”  p.  119

“I look out his window because I don’t know where else my eyes should go. “I don’t want to be me anymore. Because if I was a different person, I could do this. And I want to do this. I just can’t.”  p.  195

When expressing dissatisfaction, people often use the phrase, “This didn’t meet my pictures.”  What they are really saying but may not realize it, is that the mind has formed an expectation from the aggregates of feeling, perception and mental formations and instead of experiencing the experience, they are trapped in the dukkha of comparing.

Three Types of Craving

The Buddha categorized fever of unsatisfied longing into three types of craving:  craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.

Craving for Sensual Pleasures

This is the most familiar type of craving that we get from our six sense bases (body, eyes, ears, nose, tongue and mind).  As Goldstein notes, “All of these desires are just our usual engagement with life – enjoying and wanting what is pleasurable, avoid as best we can what is disagreeable.”  This engagement is never ending.  As the Buddha noted, “…people who are not free from lust for sensual pleasures, who are devoured by craving for sensual pleasures, who burn with the fever of sensual pleasures, still indulge in sensual pleasures; the more they indulge in sensual pleasures, the more their craving for sensual pleasures increases and the more they are burned by the fever of sensual pleasures, yet they find a certain measure of satisfaction and enjoyment in dependence on the five cords of sensual pleasure.”  MN 75  (The five cords are the six sense bases minus the mind.  However, the mind can also be a source of pleasure as noted in craving for becoming below.)

Marketers know the value of craving and some even are upfront about it:








Craving for Becoming

Craving for becoming is wanting to “be” a certain way.  “We can see it in the planning mind, in the act of imagining ourselves in some future situation. We might be planning for something at work or perhaps for our next vacation. It all starts with just a thought, and then weeks or months or even years later, a whole chain of thoughts and actions has materialized in our lives. Notice how often we get lost in mind fantasies of a future self: “I’ll do this,” “I’ll go there.” Losing ourselves in these projects is a manifestation of craving for becoming.”  Goldstein

Craving for non-becoming

This is a desire to end it all.  It happens when we want to get rid of whatever is bothering us and we get so distraught that we don’t want to live anymore.  We reject existence.

Craving and the Sense of Self

All of these cravings are dependent on a sense of self.

“The problem here is that this craving for nonexistence, no less than the other two types of craving, is both sustained by and feeds the sense of self. And this is the fundamental wrong view that keeps the wheel of saṃsāra rolling along: a self to gratify, a self to clone in the future, a self to get rid of. The great discovery in our practice is that, on one level, birth and death, existence and nonexistence, self and other are the great defining themes of our lives. And on another level, it’s all just a dance of insubstantial appearances, what the Buddha called “the magic show of consciousness.” The twentieth-century Taoist philosopher Wei Wu Wei (Terence Grey) described this dance in his book Posthumous Pieces, in which he wrote, “Destroy ‘the ego,’ hound it, beat it, snub it, tell it where it gets off. Great fun no doubt, but where is it? Must you not find it first? Isn’t there a word about catching your goose before you can cook it? The great difficulty here is that there isn’t one.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening


  • Reread this talk and reflect on it.
  • As you go through life, when dukkha arises, can you see that it is because you want life to be other than it is? In each instance, investigate and see if this is true for you.


  • Meditate using the mindfulness of the breath technique and focus your insight meditation on states of mind.

Next: Mindfulness of the Dhammas: The Four Noble Truths III
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