The First Noble Truth: Insight 2 Suffering is to be Comprehended

Dancing With Life (pp. 38-53)

The First Noble Truth of Suffering

The three insights of the First Noble Truth are: (1) There is suffering (dukkha), (2) Dukkha is to be comprehended, (3) Dukkha has been comprehended.

The Second Insight:  Suffering is to be Comprehended.

Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: ‘This noble truth of stress is to be comprehended.” (trans. Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

Directly Experiencing the First Noble Truth of Suffering

Directly experiencing means that you choose to be mindful of the actual experience of pain, stress, and emotional distress as it manifests in your body, mind, and heart. (Dancing with Life (DWL) ( p. 39)

There are six sense bases (sensation, hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling and thinking).  We experience suffering from all of these sense bases making contact with their respective sense objects.  It is not what is outside that causes suffering, it is how we process it.

Experiencing suffering is challenging because we often immediately react to our discomfort and neglect to investigate and “feel” our pain.  We each have mental defenses built up through conditioning.  These mental defenses/conditioning include reactions, taking it personally, and thought processes.

Reactions can include the arising of mental formations such as anger or frustration, distractions such as seeking pleasure, or just shutting down.  The same reaction process applies to pleasant experiences as well.  As Moffitt points out, working with what you feel at the present moment can increase your capacity for being with joy.  (p. 41)

Taking it personally.  The perception of “I am angry” or “This makes me angry” is very different from “anger is arising” or “anger feels like this.”  “I am angry” invites reaction and mental proliferation.

Thought processes include denial, rationalization, blaming and judging.

It is not what is outside that causes suffering, it is how we process it.

Ajahn Sumedho in The Four Noble Truths gives some examples of situations in which we can suffer:

We can look at something heedlessly such as beautiful scenery and wish that we could take it all in and keep it.  We suffer trying!

It you are in a situation that you don’t like and you can’t get out of it.  You suffer wishing that this situation did not exist.

Wishing that people would behave differently can cause suffering.

As you realize that you are suffering in situations such as the ones noted above, you gain insight by investigating the feelings (both mental and physical) that arise as a consequence.

“You can let go of this burden if you are willing to use the teachings skillfully.  Tell yourself: “I’m not going to get caught up in this anymore; I refuse to participate in this game.  I’m not going to give in to this mood.”  Start putting yourself in the position of knowing: ‘I know that this is dukkha; there is dukkha.’  It’s really important to make this resolution to go where the suffering is and then abide with it.  It is only by examining and confronting suffering in this way that one can hope to have the tremendous insight: ‘This suffering has been understood.”

Whenever you feel suffering, first make the recognition: “There is suffering,” then: “It should be understood”, and finally: “It has been understood”.   This understanding of dukkha is the insight into the First Noble Truth.”  (The Four Noble Truths Sumedho p. 26)


  • Reread this talk and reflect on it.  Read the last 2 paragraphs.  Can you comprehend this?
  • Continue the rubber band exercise:  To discover how you suffer (body sensations, thoughts), put a rubber band on one of your wrists.  When you feel “dis ease” in any way, put the rubber band on the other wrist.  Don’t judge.  Look at the frequency at which you change the band.


  • Meditate as usual in your daily practice being mindful of what arises and falls away.  Note particularly any phenomena that are negative, unpleasant, and which could be suffering.

Next: The First Noble Truth: Insight 3 Suffering has been Comprehended
Previous: The First Noble Truth: Insight 1 There is Suffering