Seeing the Noble Truths (Maṅgala Sutta – Protection with Blessing)

revised on 2020-06-30

By Venerable Uttamo Thera(尊者 鄔達摩 長老)

Seeing and knowing or understanding The Four Noble Truths is the highest blessing and protection as the Buddha taught. This is arguably the greatest blessing and protection of all the others because it transcends dukkha forever. The others are not transcending dukkha, but create good causes for wandering in the round of existence and supporting beings to have better lives.

Before to understand The Four Noble Truths, have to understand the other truths. These are: sammuti sacca (conventional truth) and param-attha sacca (ultimate truth).

For this purpose, I will quote from the talk given by Sayadaw Dr. Nandamālābhivamsa. There are two concepts; atthapaññatti—concepts-as-meanings, and nāmapaññatti—concepts-as-names. Concepts-as-meanings are related to the body and form. Concepts-as-names are related to human voices/languages in symbols or letters.

There are also concepts which are non-existence, e.g., turtle hairs, rabbit horns, etc. Except for the concept of non-existence, other concepts are conventional truth. Ultimate truth has four: matter (rūpa), mind or consciousness (citta), mental factors (cetasika) and Nibbāna.

The nature of concepts is when the body or form changes and its name also changes, e.g. cotton becomes a thread, and the thread becomes cloth, etc. Analyze them with knowledge and the names disappear; then these are concepts. As an example, if we took off each part of a car body, then it is not a car anymore.

Objects of ultimate reality are not like this. Even their objects are changed, their nature or qualities are not changed. For example, the earth element in the cotton and the thread are the same; it does not change. The meaning of ultimate reality is unchanging essence. Concepts are true with the general consensus. Ultimate things are true with their nature.

Ledi Sayadawgyi divided the ultimate reality into two types:

(1) sabhāva paramattha—intrinsic reality or ultimate truth (paramattha sacca)
(2) ariya paramattha—noble reality or noble truth (ariya sacca).

Even paramattha sacca—natural truth, from the point of noble truth, is still wrong. From the viewpoint of ultimate reality; analyze with knowledge and concepts become wrong. Why the Buddha urged people viewed things and matters with ultimate reality. Because viewing with concepts, they cannot abandon craving and clinging, the three types of feeling (vedanā); pleasant, painful and neutral feelings (sukha, dukkha and upekkhā vedanā) are natural truth.

But all of them are the truth of unsatisfactoriness (dukkha sacca). The most pleasant jhānic feelings are also dukkha sacca. Because all of them are within the nature of three universal characteristics of inconstant, suffering and not-self, these are noble truth. Therefore, from the viewpoint of noble truth, natural truth is still wrong for the ariyas.

In the Abhidhamma, teaching consciousness has 89 types. Combine with the jhānic mind or consciousness and become 121 types of mind. Mental factors are 52 types and it relies on the mind. Matters of forms are 28 types. All the cessation of causes, mind and matter is Nibbāna element. Only all beings arrive at the noble truth and become totally right or perfectly right.

So, all living beings within these three levels of knowledge; the lowest, middle and highest. These are common worldlings (puthujjana), learned disciples of noble beings [sutavā ariya sāvakas (or sutavānt ariya sāvaka)] and ariyan (noble beings). This point is very important for Buddhists in names. If we cannot become a learned disciple of noble beings and still at the level of common worldling and not a true Buddhist yet, with the practice and penetration of The Four Noble Truths, we will become a noble person. This is the highest blessing.

There are two levels of knowledge of The Four Noble Truths:

(1) Anubodha ñāṇa—contemplation knowledge.
(2) Paṭivedha ñāṇa—penetrative knowledge.

Anu— means contemplate for many times to understand the truth. Paṭivedha means penetrate thoroughly and there is no more for knowing.

The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths are true all the times without time limits. These are true at anywhere and for every being. The Four Noble Truths are very profound and only a Buddha has arisen beings have the chances to know and practice them (exclude the Pacceka-buddhas—Solitary-Buddhas).

The Buddha started his teaching with The Four Noble Truths in his first discourse. The Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta or Turning the Wheel of Dhamma. The Blessed One was dwelling at Bārāṇasī in the Deer Park at Isipatana; he delivered this talk to his first five disciples—the pañca-vaggika. Dhamma-cakka—Wheel of Dhamma has two knowledge in it. These are:

(1) The direct penetrative knowledge of The Four Noble Truths—paṭivedha ñāṇa.
(2) The teaching knowledge of The Four Noble Truths—Sacca desanā ñāṇa.

Without knowing and direct penetrating The Four Noble Truths that all living beings are wandering in the round of existence or becoming. The Buddha penetrated the Truths directly by himself (without a teacher) and taught to people.

Some people know, but they cannot teach people (e.g., Pacceka-buddhas). The Buddha’s paṭivedha ñāṇa arose at Buddhagayā under the Bodhi Tree. He delivered his desanā ñāṇa at Isipatana. The Buddha gave talks for four reasons. These were;

(1) With his wishes.
(2) By the spiritual faculties of beings
(3) Answering the questions
(4) Something happened.

Here he delivered the discourse for the second reason. These teachings were never known and never heard before him. We can say it was new teaching at his time. It was not an easy teaching to come by. To become a Buddha, it at least needed four incalculable aeons and ten thousand aeons to fulfill the perfections (10 pāramīs).

Even in his last life, he was searching for the truths at a young age with many difficulties [see his autobiography in Mahāsaccaka Sutta (MN 36) and Ariyapariyesana Sutta (or Pāsarāsisutta; MN 26), both in Majjhima Nikāya].

At the beginning of the discourse, the Buddha said that there were two extremes which should not be followed by monks. In Pāli two anuyoga should not be followed and done. In the second time, he taught about the path should be followed and done.

The Buddha always taught two things; things should not be done first and things should be done in the second. Because when doing wrong things sometimes difficult to change and the consequences are great and grave. Even not doing right things are better than doing the wrong things and matters. In this Maṅgala Sutta, we see this example; not associate with the fools and associate with the wise. What are the two extremes which should not be followed?

  1. The pursuit of sensual happiness in sensual pleasures

By pursuing them, people have joy and pleasure in short terms and cannot get any knowledge. To enjoy them, the price is also great. In the west, people are saying a slogan—“Life is too short; let's enjoy yourself.” Maybe consumerism comes to existence from this western philosophy.

Extreme economic views and doctrines made today’s world unsustainable in many different aspects such as morality, society and environment. For money and sensual pleasures, human beings can do everything. The price for all these short or momentary joys and pleasures creates a lot of human problems.

Nowadays we are talking about quantity and not quality, even including humans. Therefore, there are more rubbish, pollution and immoral human beings. So, hedonism is one of the extremes which relates to pleasant feeling and leads to craving (taṇhā) and the source of dukkha. It is the hindrance for higher or spiritual knowledge. It has five faults;

hīna—which is low;
gamma—vulgar or behavior of common people;
pothujjanika—the way of worldlings or popularisation, people are like slaves for their mind;
anariya—ignoble or cannot becomes the noble person;
anattha‐saṁhito —unbeneficial or nothing to do with knowledge or Dhamma Knowledge.

Why the Buddha took sensual pleasures as lowly? Because animals are also enjoying and looking for it. Even we can see some human beings not better than animals and even could be worse. For example, some indigenous people who get money support from government become lazy, just eating, drinking (alcoholism) sleeping and only for sensual pleasures. Even animals have to search for foods.

  1. The pursuit of self-mortification

The Buddha gave three faults for it; dukkha—which is painful; ignoble; and unbeneficial. This self-mortification is still practicing in India. Some Christians also have their self-mortification practices. What about some common people of nowadays? Some people are not for spiritual purposes, but the connection with sensual pleasure, such as fame and gain.

For examples, sky diving, scaling tall and high buildings, climbing off a snowy mountain, etc. and the results are death, severe injuries, amputations of the bodily parts, etc. If we make a record of human foolishness will never end. Therefore, the Buddha said that worldlings were crazy.

revised on 2020-06-30; cited from (posted on 2019-11-22)

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