Skillful Understanding: Four Noble Truths Dissatisfaction II

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 34-42)

First Noble Truth, Dissatisfaction

Most dissatisfaction (suffering) is caused by three factors:  Life Cycle (birth, sickness, aging, death), Change, and No Control.


Our mind wants stability and doesn’t like change.  However, everything that arises from causes can be named  “conditioned things” or phenomena.  All phenomena have three characteristics:

  • Impermanence
  • Unsatisfactoriness
  • Selflessness

Change is a part of life and when we find ourselves attached to stability, we are in delusion.

Bhante G. notes that it is easy to understand impermanence and unsatisfactoriness but more difficult to realize selflessness.  He notes, “By truly understanding selflessness, you can feel happy and comfortable wherever you go, whether you are treated well or ill…As our practice of mindfulness continues, we can look forward to the day when we will perceive the selflessness and soullessness of all phenomena directly.”

No Control

This is another aspect of selflessness.  Having a sense of control is wanting to maintain stability and thinking that we can make it so.

There is a saying:  “Act like you are in control knowing that you are not.”  This means that in the conditioned world we use the terms “I” or “me” but we do not get attached to thinking that the “I” or “me” is real.

Realistic Perception

Our mind tends to put spin on things.  It is often difficult it is to see what type of dissatisfaction we are having

What the Buddha said:

“Depending on the mind and forms, mind consciousness arises.  The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as a condition, there is feeling. What one feels, that one perceives.  What one perceives, that one thinks about.  What one thinks about, that one mentally proliferates.  With what one has mentally proliferated as the source, perception, and notions tinged by mental proliferation beset a man with respect to the past, future, and present forms recognizable by the mind.”

Realistic Perception occurs when we apply mindfulness to all conditioned phenomena and see how things really are (e.g. in accordance with the three characteristics: impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness).  What gets in the way?  As we perceive the conditioned world through the senses, we put them into one of three perceptual boxes: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral.  In other words, our mind takes the raw sensations and puts the “spin” on.  Mindfulness meditation or observation allows us to discern when we are adding judgments, commentary or decision-making to the input we are receiving.

Realistic perception is mindfulness – bare of judgment, commentary and decision-making.  When these are present, we are suffering.



  • As you go through this week, reflect on all conditioned things.  Do any of them not have all three characteristics mentioned above? 
  • Search for the self, can you find it? 

No Control 

  • Bhante G. notes, “That’s why it is said that there are only two tragedies in life: not getting what one wants, and getting it.”  So does having control really matter?

Realistic Perception 

  • Each day during this period, apply mindfulness to your experiences.  Are you able to see how things really are (the three characteristics) and can you see how your mind puts “spin” on raw sensory input?  Note some examples.

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