Dependent Co-Arising and the Four Noble Truths

In continuing to read Thanissaro Bikkhu’s “The Shape of Suffering“, I came across a small quote from one of the Buddha’s Suttras that captures the cause of suffering more succinctly than I’ve seen it before:

“Sensing a feeling of pleasure… a feeling of pain… a feeling of neither- pleasure-nor-pain, he senses it as though joined with it. This is called an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person joined with birth, aging, & death; with sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs. He is joined, I tell you, with suffering & stress.” -Saayutta Nik›ya 36:6

The way I read it, the immediacy of any feeling (pleasure, pain, or even neutral feeling), being misunderstood (through ignorance) as part of one’s self (i.e.. as joined with it) causes one to be immediately ‘joined’ with the entire process of dependent co-arising and therefore each of it’s elements. In one fell swoop.. we’re trapped in a cycle that by it’s very nature produces suffering.

The whole point of Thanissaro’s work here is to point out that the factors of dependent co-arising work in two directions. When ignorance is present, the factors lead to suffering. When the 4 noble truths are brought to bear on one’s experience, ignorance is replaced by knowledge — and the skillful use of each of the factors of dependent co-arising lead one to view experience not “as though joined with it” but rather as impersonal phenomena, dependent upon causes and conditions, arising and passing, impermanent, empty of self, and ultimately not a cause for suffering. There is an “unbinding”, which is equated with liberation itself.

From The Shape of Suffering:

Ignorance is the primary cause of suffering; knowledge, the primary factor leading to its cessation. … ignorance here means not seeing events in terms of the four noble truths: stress, its origination, its cessation, and the path of practice leading to its cessation.

So if bringing the Four Noble Truths to bear on our experience is the key to developing this knowledge — how do we do that?  It seems quite unwieldy to have to stop and remember the definition of the four truths prior to each sensation, perception, feeling, etc., which are constantly occurring at a very high rate. This is the edge of my practice at the moment. I’m experimenting with shortcuts. Might it be possible to study the Four Truths and soak in them, but then also to find a shortcut that might be more easily kept in mind? I’ve been working with a few:

Shortcuts to stand in for the Four Noble Truths:

  • “All things are impermanent – they arise and pass away – to be in harmony with this truth brings great happiness.” (great when chanted)
  • “Do not cling to anything as ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘mine’.”
  • “____ is being known.”
  • “Let go.”

Does anyone else have a single phrase or simple teaching they like to bring to mind that would serve this same purpose of orienting the mind towards liberation and non-clinging so that the process of dependent co-arising might lead towards liberation instead of suffering?

One thought on “Dependent Co-Arising and the Four Noble Truths

  1. As it happens, I have also been making a greater effort to keep the Four Noble Truths in mind, and perhaps being a lazier yogi than you, never considered reviewing all of them prior to speaking or acting. :-) What I have been saying to myself as a reminder is, “Grasping is suffering. Aversion is suffering.” Once in a while, I also toss in, “Ignorance is suffering.”

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