Buddhas Second Noble Truth – The Cause of Suffering

Buddhas Second Noble Truth – The Cause of Suffering

buddhas second noble truth

In this article, I’ll take a look at Buddhas Second Noble Truth – the causes or origins of suffering.

The Four Noble Truths can be seen as a doctors prescription with the First Noble Truth identifying the problem or malady of suffering, the Second Noble Truth identifies the cause of the malady of suffering, the Third Noble Truth is a prognosis, in that “suffering can end, Nirvana is the cure”, and the Fourth Noble Truth is the medicine or therapy that needs to take place to realize the reality of Nirvana for ourselves and truly live in the present moment.

The Second Noble Truth is the truth of the origin or causes of suffering.  Though the mind itself is the ultimate cause, there are three main categories of suffering (also known as the Three Poisons):  Attachment (or addiction, thirst), Anger, and Ignorance.

Attachment (Desire, Craving, Addiction) & Anger

buddhas second noble truthAttachment can bring us suffering when we believe that the self is separate from everything else. Such a belief naturally causes us pain because we perceive ourselves to be isolated from everyone and everything else.This loneliness is fear of the end of existence and so we tend to gravitate towards addictive behaviors believing that grasping something outside of ourselves with our minds can liberate us from suffering.

All living beings have the desire for the pleasures of the senses and for life itself. But even when we get what we want, our happiness is short-lived since we cling to the object of desire worried that we will lose the thing that once gave us happiness, and so when that thing eventually crumbles into dust our suffering deepens.

Attachment (desire, craving) can be likened to a great Tree of Cravings, with three branches on this tree named Greed, Ill Will, and Anger with the fruit of this tree being dukkha (suffering).

Desiring more things to make us happy no matter how many possessions we have accumulated leads to Greed so the vicious cycle continues, the Wheel of Samsara keeps turning.buddhas second noble truth

And when someone tries to take our precious things away from us, then we instinctively react with anger in defense of what we believe will rob us of our happiness, and then feel justified to harm others.

Any harm whether it be angry words or acts of violence that we inflict on others will also be inflicted on us, since we are all interconnected. Desire can also lead to more addictive behaviors such as smoking, drinking, and overeating, which then leads to further suffering.

The Buddha explained attachment (craving, desire) as follows using the method of catching monkeys in India as a metaphor:

“To catch a monkey, one takes a coconut and makes a hole in it, just large enough that a monkey can squeeze its hand in. Next, the coconut is tied down and a sweet is placed inside.  What happens next is pure attachment. The monkey smells the sweet, puts his hand into the coconut, grabs the sweet and…. The hole is too small to let a fist out of the coconut.  But the last thing a monkey would consider is to let go of the sweet, so it is literally tied down by its own attachment.  Often they only let go when they fall asleep or become unconscious because of exhaustion.”

We are like those monkeys who can’t resist the sweets (pleasures in life) even though trying to grasp them causes us pain and suffering.


buddha second noble truth

The Three Poisons

So what is the source of our Tree of Cravings? The answer is ignorance. Ignorance in this context doesn’t merely mean a lack of knowledge but rather it can be defined as the inability to see the truth of reality, to see things as they really are (as Bliss).

We can cultivate our minds through study, critical thinking, and meditation (though meditation is largely useless without the carefully thinking about what we are studying.

I think we call all relate to the Buddha’s discovery, but more often than not we tend to downplay our attachment to things, and today’s global society is fueled by suffering, addiction, and hatred.

When I was writing this article, I remembered that yesterday was the opening day of the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens and then I remembered a few Jedi quotes from one of my favorite characters Yoda that I liked from all six Star Wars movies.

It is said that Yoda was modeled on a Tibetan Buddhist teacher Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche who also kind of looks similar to Yoda’s physical appearance.  Here I will outline briefly the life and role of Serkong Rinpoche.  He was born in Tibet and was widely known for his humble and wise manner, and was an “assistant tutor” one of nine to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.  He accompanied the Dalai Lama until his death in 1983 and made sure that his understanding of Buddhism was correct.

buddhas second noble truth

Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche, tutor to the Dalai Lama

Like Yoda, he was a counselor and a wise Buddhist master and had mastery of all four Tibetan traditions.  He was also well versed in the Buddhist arts and sciences.  For example, he was an expert in the construction of symbolic world-systems, or mandala which are used in tantric rituals.

He was an accomplished poet, a master of literary composition, and was adept at Tibetan grammar.  Like Yoda, he was able to divine the future, though Serkong Rinpoche practiced Tibetan divination (Mo in Tibetan) involving throwing of three dice while in a meditative state.  He was also an expert in Tibetan astrology as well and a skilled diplomat which is also reminiscent of the Jedi themselves serving as counselors and diplomats.

George Lucas went to Dharmasala to learn more about eastern religion and met this teacher before filming the original Star Wars trilogy.

Enjoy this list of Yoda quotes and take note of how similar they really are to Buddhism, with the Dharma being roughly equivalent to the Force, the all-encompassing energy that permeates our reality.

  • “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”
  • “Fear is the path to the Dark Side.  Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
  • “Yes, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the Dark Side. Anger, fear, aggression, the Dark Side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight.  If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.” 
  • Buddhas second noble truth

    “Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is.

    “You will know (the good from the bad) when you are calm, at peace. Passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.

  • “Luke: I can’t believe it
    Yoda: That is why you fail” 
  • “Feel the Force.”
  • “You must unlearn what you have learned.”
  • “In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way.”
  • “When you look at the dark side, careful you must be. For the Dark Side looks back.” 
  • “Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.”
  • “Through the Force, things you will see. Other places. The future….the past. Old friends long gone.”
  • “Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.”
  • “The fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side.” 
  • “Do or do not, there is not try.”
  • “You will find only what you bring in.”
  • buddas second noble truth

    “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.  You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes.  Even between the land and the ship.”

    “Ohhh…Great warrior. Wars not make one great.” 

  • “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”
  • “Luke : ‘What’s in there’
    Yoda: ‘Only what you take with you”
  • “Use your feelings Obi-Wan, and find him you will.”
  • “Already know you that which you need.”
  • “Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things”
  • “To answer power with power, the Jedi way this is not. In this war, a danger there is, of losing who we are.”
  • “Named your fear must be before banish it you can.” 
  • “To be Jedi is to face the truth, and choose. Give off light, or darkness, Padawan.  Be a candle, or the night.”
  • “Control, control, you must learn control!”

I hope you enjoyed this article as well as the Yoda quotes.  

If you have any thoughts on Buddhas Second Noble Truth or the wisdom in Star Wars please leave a comment below.

So, what’s your favorite Jedi or Star Wars quote?

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8 Responses to Buddhas Second Noble Truth – The Cause of Suffering

  1. Dave says:

    Ian, thanks for a bloody good read! I am fascinated by Buddism as it seems to be the only religion that is genuinely peacful and wish no harm on anyone. I had a colleague who used to always disappear for weekends to Buddhist retreats and would come back to work as the image of calm and serenity.

    the concept of the 2nd noble truth rings true to me in so many ways, man does seem to cause so many problems by desiring what he cant have.

    When are you doing your 3rd noble truth post?

    • Ian H says:

      Thanks! I really appreciate your words. I am currently working on a post on the Third Noble Truth so I should be able to get that onto the site in the next day or two.

  2. Robert says:

    I wanted to say thank you for your explanation. I am not a student of Budda but I am interested. Wisdom is an interesting concept. Solomon prayed for one one thing. He asked for wisdom.

    I had never heard the story of catching a monkey. What a wonderful way to explain holding on to something destructive.

    The idea of suffering because of greed and anger needs to be shouted from the roof top. Well done. Robert

    • Ian H says:

      Many of the Buddhist teachings are certainly in line with Solomon. It’s interesting how Solomon’s name became synonymous with the concept of Wisdom.

  3. Luke says:

    Hi Ian,
    I had no idea Yoda was based on Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche and his famous quotes mirror classic Bhuddist teachings.
    I can relate to the concept that attachment brings jealousy, anger and resentment. I used to be plagued by those feelings until I learnt to let them go.
    Wise words!
    No wonder the original Star Wars is such a classic as it is imbued with ancient wisdom.
    – Luke

    • Ian H says:

      Thanks for the comment!

      There were several more influences on Yoda’s appearance as well. The make-up artist who designed Yoda, Stuart Freeborn also admitted that Yoda’s face was also partly based on his own combined with the wrinkles of Albert Einstein.

  4. braxa0103@gmail.com says:

    This post revealed some interesting thoughts about suffering.

    I couldn’t have agreed with these principles more.

    The no 1 cause of any form of suffering for most people is the level of attachment that they place on their wants desires, fears and frustrations.

    Suffering is proportional to the level of emotional investment that we place in our experiences and i think that this post will be an eye opener for those people who can take the time to apply these concepts in their lives.

    Great stuff.

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