The First Noble Truth: Insights 1-3 Summary

Dancing with Life (DWL) (pp. 26-72)

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 First Insight:  There is Suffering (Dukkha)

“Life is a never-ending dance between moments of feeling good and moments of feeling bad.”  (DWL p. 28) All conditions including suffering and worldly happiness are impermanent, unsatisfactory and of selfless nature.  Regarding selfless nature, the Buddha said “There is suffering” not “I suffer”.

Bhante Gunaratana in Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness describes four areas that can cause suffering:  the life cycle, change, no control, and unrealistic perception.

“The first insight of the Truth of Dukkha is realized when you are able to distinguish between carrying the weight of your life with all its loss and pain, and collapsing underneath these difficulties.  You nobly accept your suffering and acknowledge that your life is being characterized by it, despite your preference for it to be otherwise.” (DWL p. 37)

The Second Insight:  Suffering is to be Comprehended

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.  Our mental defenses built up through conditioning proliferate the suffering.  These defenses include reactions, taking it personally, and thought processes.

The Third Insight:  Suffering has been Comprehended

Knowing that you know is the comprehension of suffering.  “You embrace what you realized in the first two insights such that the Truth of Dukkha becomes your new reality and you develop the ability to live more wisely right now.”  (DWL p. 55).  You develop a beginner’s mind or a “don’t know mind.”  By practicing the seven factors of awakening, you can experience a relaxed, composed mind that is fully present with whatever is happening at the moment.

“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.  When suffering arises, practice the last paragraph and the seven factors of awakening.


  • 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 Third Noble Truth: Insight 2 The Cessation of Suffering is to be Directly Experienced II
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