2020-05-12: Four Noble Truths: Samudaya (2 of 5) The Conditionality of Suffering
6:27PM May 13, 2020
second noble truth
For this second talk on the second noble truth, the truth of the arising of suffering, I'm going to talk about a variation of what I talked about yesterday, that the second noble truth is the cause of suffering. That's a common interpretation. A variation of that is that rather than looking for a cause, the second noble truth is pointing to the conditions, the conditionality of suffering and that what we want to discover in what's being pointed to is the conditions for the arising of suffering.
Now, there's a strong tendency in the teachings of the Buddha to avoid what could be called causal language - causal in the sense of a deterministic cause, or something that when it happens, when x happens, y will happen. Because if it's deterministic that way, then there's no movement for practice. We will experience what happened in the past. And then there's no point to practice or do anything different, because the continuity of past causes, it was just something we have to experience. And this the Buddha was quite explicit about.
The other thing he was very reluctant, the reason he was reluctant talk about cause seems to be the causal language lends itself to the idea that there's someone who is the cause, an agent of the cause. And so, rather than talking about anything that suggests an agent, over and over again, the Buddha chooses language or descriptions of reality, that talk about how conditions come together. And it's the conditionality, the conditions, the flow, the process of conditionality that gives birth to the world that we experience. And in this regard, the second noble truth is looking not at the deterministic cause, but rather the condition that needs to be there. The necessary condition for suffering to be there. If the necessary condition is present, it doesn't have to lead to suffering. But if there's suffering, that necessary condition is in place.
So this is getting now into a little bit more complicated, maybe philosophical ideas, but it has something to do also with how the process of looking at our lives changes as we start doing meditation practice. In ordinary life, it's completely natural to look at cause, and the causes maybe are looked at over time, that if I was angry with my friend yesterday, and now my friend doesn't want to see me, I suffer. The cause of that suffering is what happened yesterday. That's the ordinary way of seeing.
But that's a more complicated analysis involving past and present and future. When we're looking at meditative experience, we're focusing on what's the conditionality in the present moment, what's happening in the present, so that in the present, something about the present moment experience, we can discover awakening, real freedom, and not to have to analyze, consider what was I doing yesterday and looking, analyzing, figuring out, "What was the cause of that?"
In meditation, we're looking at the moment-to-moment experience as it arises. And one of the remarkable things about quiet, deep mindfulness meditation is we can watch things arise. without the arising, with any reference to self. "I didn't plan that thought. I didn't will that thought." It's almost as if, of course, a particular thought is happening to me, within me. But the agent, me as the agent, doesn't seem to be operating. It's just a thought. A thought arises and we don't identify it: "That's me."
And so you can watch something arise without identifying, and it's possible to see how with the arising of one thing, that something else arises - not as a necessary result, but in relationship to the first one, with the first one as a condition. So if I have a thought about what happened in high school, my high school girlfriend, for example, then the next thing, that's just a thought that could come and go, I might have those thoughts periodically over my adult life, and there's no charge to it.
But it might be that I get angry. The anger is not necessary to follow the thought about the girlfriend. But without the thought about the girlfriend, that anger about what happened, doesn't occur. But it's possible to have both of those arise in a certain kind of way that we just see them in the clarity of awareness, where in that clarity, we're not involved in them, picking at them, reacting to them. They just seem to float up, appear and then next one appears based on the first one. And there starts to be a kind of freedom in relationship to it, freedom from reactivity.
So in the meditative mind, rather than looking for cause, we're looking for conditionality. Conditions also allow us to see a bigger picture than cause. Often when we look at cause we're identifying a single cause. And that's the cause. But there can be a range of conditions that add up to our suffering.
And so an example might be that I'm driving down the freeway every day to work and I see a billboard for some wonderful product for sale and I salivate. I'm just really want that, it's hard to not get off the freeway to go buy it. Every day I feel this tremendous desire to buy that thing. And I suffer because of it. I get to work frustrated and anxious, and I hardly keep my attention at work because I'm thinking about this thing that I want to get. And so then I don't have money to buy it, and then I'm frustrated with myself for all... you know, goes on and on the story.
So the cause of all that is maybe my desire, my desire for this thing, but I can't give up the desire. It's very stuck and strong. But if I look at the conditions, one of the conditions for that strong desire and obsession, is seeing that billboard. So then I decide let's just go on a different freeway, different road, not see the Billboard. And lo and behold, I don't get triggered in the usual way. So silly example, but it's an example of how when, we start looking at conditions, we can see much more of the situation and more where we can intervene. And one of the ways we intervene in the world of conditionality is we allow something just to be. Craving arises; strong desire arises. And we see it. And we know it's a condition for further clinging and grasping and all kinds of other things. But in the meditative mind, we just see it as a single event of craving, and we let it be. And that's described as cutting the chain of conditionality at the point of craving.
They also say that one of the conditions for craving is that we see something or experience something pleasant, unpleasant or neither pleasant or unpleasant. There's a direct experience of something. And sometimes it's possible to just see the pleasantness of experience. And then maybe we see the desire arise, but because it's so clear, how one exists and the next one follows. We can, in a sense, allow them to just be separate. Not to have them linked together to form strength, they say that the chain of conditionality, the sequence of conditions is cut between feelings and desire and thereby finding some freedom.
So, the Buddha talked a lot about conditionality. This is one of the ways that conditionality under the second noble truth has been understood. And, and it can be quite helpful to see it this way. And, as I said, it really comes to fruit, or is really seen clearly in the meditative mind.
And what we'll see in the next talk tomorrow, is how further the meditative mind, going deeper into concentration, lends itself to the next interpretation - probably the most common interpretation of the Four Noble Truths that the Buddha had.
So I want to thank you, and I look forward to our next time together.