Week 39 - The First Noble Truth – Dukkha

This week, Joseph moves on to teaching about the Four Noble Truths, which, he says, “express the very essence of the Buddha’s awakening”. The talk is on Dukkha, the First Noble Truth, and Joseph examines its meaning and its manifestation in a detailed and clarifying manner. Dukkha is often translated or understood as “suffering”, but Joseph clarifies the limitations of that translation and expands its meaning in very useful ways.

He then goes on to elaborate on how we experience Dukkha and quotes the Buddha: “in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are Dukkha”.

In terms of how we investigate Dukkha in our lives, Joseph describes:

1.   The Dukkha of painful experiences,

2.   The Dukkha of the changing nature of all things, and

3.   The Dukkha of conditioned experience.

He concludes with emphasis on the importance of the First Noble Truth: “Practicing the instruction in the Satipatthana Sutta, ‘Here one knows as it really is – this is Dukkha’, brings two great results. It is the gateway not only to awakening, but also to the arising and nourishing of compassion.”


I would like to divide the group into 6 smaller discussion groups. Each group will discuss a metaphor Joseph Goldstein uses in this talk.

1.   Just as the footprints of any living being that walks can be placed within an elephant’s footprint… so too, all wholesome states can be included in the four Noble Truths. (here beginning with Dukkha)

2.   Having built the lower story of a peaked house, I will then erect the upper story;  this would be possible having made the breakthrough to the noble truth of dukkha as it really is.

3.   The origin of the word dukkha has the prefix  “du” which means bad or difficult and the root “kha” which means empty.      If the axle fits badly into the center hole of a wheel, we get a very bumpy ride.

4.   Uninstructed worldlings regard form as self… feeling as self…perception as self…volitional formations as self…consciousness as self. … just “like a dog tied up on a leash” bound to a strong post would just keep on running and revolving around the post, we keep running  and revolving around form, around feelings, around perceptions, around volitional formations, around consciousness.

5.   Practicing the instructions in the Satipatthana Sutta,  “here one knows as it really is – this is dukkha” brings two great results. It is not only the gateway to awakening, but also to the arising and nourishing of compassion.   It’s the feeling described by the Japanese Zen master and poet Ryokan, “O that my monk’s robes /were wide enough/ to gather up all the people/ in this floating world.

6.   In the cherry- blossom shade there is no such thing as a stranger.

Here are four additional questions.

1.   What is your personal experience with the word Dukkha after hearing this talk?  How does it clarify the limitations of the word and expand the meaning?

2.   What is your personal experience in the wisdom gained by understanding Dukkha in regard to painful experiences just to name a few, like war, death or illness, fear, jealousy?

3.   How do you observe having gained this insight into the changing nature of all things?  How would you describe the liberation it has given you and has it brought an awakening and nourishment of compassion?

4.   What is your personal experience with regards to the statement: “Done is what had to be done”?

Here are three simple exercises for practice

1.   When dukkha arises can you step back, see and receive this as an invitation to stop and take a look at the nature of body and mind and remember the sentence, “ Here one knows as it really is, this is dukkha.

2.   Observe if by understanding the true nature of dukkha you can experience a deeper sense of understanding and compassion.

3.   At the end of the day, can you reflect on knowing “you did what had to be done”?