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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 4: Deepening the Understanding of the Path > The Sixteen Aspects and Sixteen Distorted Ways of Embracing the Four Noble Truths

The Sixteen Aspects and Sixteen Distorted Ways of Embracing the
Four Noble Truths

Alexander Berzin, 1974
revised September 2006
based on explanations by Geshe Jampa Gyatso

Introduction

The main objects on which the five pathway minds (lam-lnga, five paths) of shravakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas focus in their meditations are the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths (bden-bzhi rnam-pa bcu-drug). With discriminating awareness (shes-rab, Skt. prajna, wisdom) of the specific details of the sixteen, they rid themselves of the sixteen distorted ways of embracing (log-zhugs bcu-drug) the four. Further, practitioners use discriminating awareness of a lack of an impossible “soul” (bdag-med, Skt. anatma, selflessness, identitylessness) in relation to each of the sixteen in order to rid themselves also of emotional obscurations (nyon-sgrib) preventing their liberation and, in the Mahayana context, cognitive obscurations (shes-sgrib) preventing their omniscient enlightenment.

[See: The Five Pathway Minds (Five Paths): Basic Presentation.]

Here, we shall follow the Gelug explanation as presented by Gyeltsab Jey (rGyal-tshab rJe Dar-ma rin-chen) in A Filigree of Explanantions of the Essence of (Haribhadra’s) “Commentary to (Maitreya’s) ‘ Filigree of Realizations,’ Clarifying the Meaning” (mNgon-rtogs rgyan-gyi ‘ grel-pa don-gsal rnam-bshad snying-po’i rgyan).

The Sixteen Aspects of the Four Noble Truths

True Sufferings

True sufferings (sdug-bsngal bden-pa, Skt. du:kha-satya) refer to the five tainted aggregate factors of experience (zag-bcas-kyi phung-po lnga, five contaminated skandhas). The five aggregate factors are forms of physical phenomena, feeling levels of happiness or unhappiness, distinguishing (recognition), other affecting variables (volitions), and types of consciousness. “Tainted” means that they arise from disturbing emotions and attitudes (nyon-mongs, Skt. klesha, afflictive emotions).

[See: Basic Scheme of the Five Aggregate Factors of Experience. See also: Tainted and Untainted Phenomena.]

The four aspects of true sufferings are:

  1. Nonstatic phenomena (mi-rtag-pa, Skt. anitya, impermanence). The five tainted aggregate factors are nonstatic phenomena, which are temporary and change from moment to moment. Any set of five aggregates in a particular lifetime eventually comes to an end and, in each moment, it is drawing closer to that end.

  2. Miserable phenomena (sdug-bsngal-ba, Skt. du:kha, suffering). The five tainted aggregate factors are phenomena that are subject to one or more of the three types of suffering without any break in continuity. Thus, they are miserable phenomena because they are under the control of other factors (namely, true origins of suffering) that cause them to be tainted. The three types of suffering are unhappiness, change (referring to tainted happiness), and all-pervasively affecting suffering (referring to the five aggregates being the basis for the first two types of suffering).

  3. Void phenomena (stong-pa, Skt. shunya, empty). The five tainted aggregate factors are devoid of a gross impossible “soul” – a static, monolithic self (“me”) that is a separate entity, independent from the five aggregates, controlling and making use of the five.

  4. Phenomena lacking an impossible “soul” (bdag-med-pa, Skt. anatmaka, selfless). The five tainted aggregate factors lack a subtle impossible “soul” – a self-sufficiently knowable self (“me”) (rang-rkya thub-pa’i rdzas-yod-kyi bdag), which controls and makes use of them.

There are alternative explanations of the third and fourth aspects. “The five tainted aggregate factors being void phenomena” means that, in relation to the five, there is no such thing as an impossible soul that is either one with them (exactly the same as them) or totally different (fully separate) from them. “The five tainted aggregate factors being phenomena that lack an impossible soul” implies the decisive understanding of the total absence of an impossible soul, based on the third aspect of true sufferings as the line of reasoning. The decisive understanding is that the five tainted aggregate factors are totally lacking an impossible soul, because such a soul cannot be established as being either exactly the same as these aggregates or totally different from them.

In this formulation, the impossible soul is the same in both the third and fourth aspects. Depending on the tenet system, the impossible soul may be the subtle impossible soul of a person – namely a self-sufficiently knowable “me” – or it may be the impossible soul of all phenomena, as defined by that system.

True Origins (True Causes)

True origins (kun-‘byung bden-pa, Skt. samudaya-satya, true causes) for suffering refer in general to the disturbing emotions and attitudes and to karmic impulses (karma).

More specifically, “disturbing emotions and attitudes” refer to craving (sred-pa, Skt. trshna), the eighth of the twelve links of dependent arising (rten-‘brel ‘byung-ba, Skt. pratityasamutpada). Equivalent to attachment (chags-pa), craving manifests as clinging (a) not to be parted from ordinary forms of happiness, (b) to be separated from what is fearful, namely pain and unhappiness, and (c) to continue having further existence.

“Karmic impulses,” here, refers more specifically to the second link of dependent arisingaffecting impulses (‘du-byed, Skt. samskara, volitional factors) – and the tenth link – further existence (srid-pa, Skt. bhava, becoming). “Affecting impulses” refer to throwing karma (‘phen-byed-kyi las), which are karmic impulses strongly motivated by disturbing emotions and attitudes. The karmic aftermath of these impulses (the positive and negative karmic forces and the positive and negative karmic tendencies or seeds) can “throw” our mental continuums into further samsaric rebirths. Craving activates this karmic aftermath; while the link of further existence refers to this activated karmic aftermath. This mechanism is the cause of the all-pervasively affecting suffering of continuing to have tainted aggregate factors that are the basis for the suffering of unhappiness and change.

[See: The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising.]

The four aspects of true origins are:

  1. Causes (rgyu, Skt. hetu). Craving, for example, is a cause for true sufferings in the sense that, together with an obtainer (len-pa, Skt. upadana, grasping), the ninth link of dependent arising, it activates throwing karma. The activated throwing karma then ripens into a further samsaric rebirth. Thus, craving is often specified as the “root of all suffering.” “Obtainers” refer to a set of disturbing emotions and attitudes. They include (a) desire for some sensory object, (b) a distorted outlook, extreme outlook, or holding a deluded outlook as supreme, (c) holding deluded morality or conduct as supreme, and (d) a deluded outlook toward a transitory network.

  2. Origins (kun-‘byung, Skt. samudaya). Craving, obtainer disturbing emotions and attitudes, and karmic impulses are the origins from which arise, over and again, all the true sufferings of repeated samsaric rebirth.

  3. Strong producers (rab-skyes, Skt. prabhava). Craving and karmic impulses, both in general and specific instances of them, strongly bring about the production of strong sufferings as their result.

  4. Conditions (rkyen, Skt. pratyaya). Craving and obtainers are the simultaneously acting conditions (lhan-cig byed-pa'i rkyen, Skt. sahakaripratyaya) for the arising of further samsaric rebirth and the true sufferings that such rebirth entails. This means that craving and an obtainer disturbing emotion or attitude must be present for karmic aftermath to be activated and to function as a throwing karmic impulse. This is like the necessity for water and fertilizer to be present for a seed to germinate into a sprout.

True Stoppings (True Cessations)

True stoppings (‘gog-pa’i bden-pa, Skt. nirodha-satya, true cessations) of true sufferings and true origins occur on the mental continuums of aryas (highly realized practitioners with nonconceptual cognition of the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths) through the power of their application of opponent forces. True stoppings are static phenomena, which never change and which last forever. Thus, when they are present on someone’s mental continuum, true sufferings and true origins never occur again. More specifically, they are stoppings of portions of either emotional or cognitive obscuration.

The four aspects of true stoppings are:

  1. Stoppings (‘gog-pa, Skt. nirodha). True stoppings are stoppings of a portion of true sufferings and true origins on someone’s mental continuum, such that, because of the opponent forces applied for the true stoppings to occur, nothing remains on that continuum for there to be a recurrence of that portion of suffering or its origin.

  2. Pacifications (zhi-ba Skt. shanta). True stoppings are pacifications in the sense that, because the mental continuums on which they occur are totally rid forever of a portion of true sufferings and true origins, they are states of everlasting peace. Note that in Buddhist technical terminology, a riddance (spong-ba, Skt. hani, abandonment) is a parting (bral-ba, Skt. visamyoga, separation) that is static – unchanging and lasting forever.

  3. Superior states (gya-nom-pa, Skt. pranita). True stoppings are superior states that are immaculate since they are parted forever from a portion of disturbing emotions and attitudes. In addition, they are blissful since they are parted forever from the true sufferings brought on by that portion of disturbing emotions and attitudes.

  4. Definite emergences (nges-‘byung, Skt. ni:sarana). True stoppings are definite emergences from the sufferings of samsara in the sense that they last forever.

True Pathway Minds (True Paths)

True pathway minds (lam-gyi bden-pa, Skt. marga-satya, true paths) refer to the seeing pathway minds (mthong-lam, path of seeing), accustoming pathway minds (sgom-lam, path of meditation), and pathway minds needing no further training (mi-slob lam, path of no more learning) of shravakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas. In other words, they refer to the pathway minds of all aryas. Thus, pathway minds refer more specifically to the minds that have nonconceptual discriminating awareness of the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths.

The four aspects of true pathway minds are:

  1. Pathway minds (lam, Skt. marga). True pathway minds, being nonconceptual cognitions of the lack of an impossible soul, serve as pathways for leaving the state of being an ordinary being and achieving the state of an arya and onwards. “Onwards” refers to advancing to the goal of either liberation as a shravaka or pratyekabuddha arhat or enlightenment as a Buddha.

  2. Appropriate means (rigs-pa, Skt. nyaya). True pathway minds have the discriminating awareness of the true sufferings and true origins that are appropriate to get rid of and the appropriate opponents that get rid of them forever.

  3. Means for actualizations (sgrubs-pa, Skt. pratipatti). True pathway minds are means for actualizing correct nonconceptual realizations in order to actualize the state of an arya, and the goal of either liberation or enlightenment. In the Mahayana context, this entails, for bodhisattvas, a correct realization of the void nature of the mind.

  4. Means for definite removals (nges-‘byin-pa, Skt. nairyanika). True pathway minds are means for definitely removing forever all obscurations preventing the attainment of the above-mentioned goals.

 

The Sixteen Distorted Ways of Embracing the Four Noble Truths

True Sufferings

  1. Holding what is unclean to be clean. Although the five tainted aggregate factors, for example the body, are filled with unclean substances, this mistaken view entails incorrectly considering them to be clean. Such type of incorrect consideration comes from believing that there is a static, monolithic “me,” separate and independent of the aggregates and which makes use of and enjoys the aggregates. We then think that the aggregates, such as the body, that this impossible “me” enjoys must be clean; otherwise, how could we enjoy them? The discriminating awareness of the third aspect of true sufferings – they are void phenomena – eliminates this mistake.

  2. Holding what is suffering to be happiness. Although the five tainted aggregate factors are in the nature of all-pervasively affecting suffering, this mistaken view entails incorrectly considering them to be in the nature of happiness. The discriminating awareness of the second aspect of true sufferings – they are miserable phenomena – eliminates this mistake.

  3. Holding what is nonstatic to be static. Although the five tainted aggregate factors are nonstatic, in that they change every moment and the continuity of them in one lifetime lasts for only a short time, this mistaken view entails incorrectly considering them to be static, in the sense of being unchanging and lasting forever. The discriminating awareness of the first aspect of true sufferings – they are nonstatic phenomena – eliminates this mistake.

  4. Holding what is not established as an impossible “soul” to be an impossible “ soul.” Although the five tainted aggregate factors are devoid of being established as a self-sufficiently knowable “ me,” this mistaken view entails incorrectly considering them to be such an impossible “me.” The discriminating awareness of the fourth aspect of true sufferings – they are phenomena lacking an impossible “soul” – eliminates this mistake.

True Origins

  1. The first distorted way of embracing true origins entails has two aspects. The first is holding that suffering has no cause. This is the incorrect view that suffering happens for no reason at all, as asserted by the Charvaka school of Indian philosophy. The Charvakas do not accept karma. The second aspect of the first distorted way of embracing true origins is holding that suffering has a discordant cause. This is the incorrect view that suffering comes from causes that are unrelated or irrelevant to it, such as chili coming from sugarcane seeds rather than from chili seeds. An example of this mistaken view is the belief that suffering comes from a perturbation (rnam-‘gyur, Skt. vikara, transformation) of primal matter (gtso-bo, Skt. pradhana), as asserted by the Samkhya school of Indian philosophy.

     The discriminating awareness of the first aspect of true origins – craving and karma are the causes of all suffering – eliminates both aspects of this first mistaken view.
  2. Holding that suffering is created from just a single cause. Results, such as suffering, however, come from a multitude of causes and conditions, just as sprouts come not just from seeds alone, but from a combination of contributing factors – seeds, water, fertilizer, heat, light, and so on. The discriminating awareness of the second aspect of true origins – craving and karma are the origins of all suffering over and again – eliminates this mistaken view.
  3. Holding that suffering is created from its having been sent ahead by the mind of some other being, such as Ishvara. According to the view of the Vaisheshika school of Indian philosophy, suffering is sent, by previous plan, from the mind of the creator god Ishvara. Thus, Ishvara sometimes creates and sends suffering, and sometimes rests from this type of activity. The discriminating awareness of the third aspect of true origins – craving and karma are strong producers of suffering, regardless of what any creator might do – eliminates this mistaken view.
  4. Holding that, regarding the cause of suffering, there is something that is permanent by nature, but changes temporarily, according to the occasion. This incorrect view refers to the assertion of the Jain school of Indian philosophy that living beings (srog, Skt. jiva) are, by nature, eternal, perfect souls that experience peace forever. However, because of their association with matter, they experience temporary, changing sufferings. The discriminating awareness of the fourth aspect of true origins – craving and karma are the conditions for suffering – eliminates this mistaken view.

True Stoppings

  1. Holding that there is no such thing as liberation. This is the incorrect view asserted by the Charvaka school of Indian philosophy. The discriminating awareness of the first aspect of true stoppings – true stoppings are everlasting stoppings that occur through the power of opponent forces – eliminates this mistaken view.

  2. Holding that certain specific tainted phenomena are liberation. This is the incorrect view that the balanced absorptions (snyoms-‘jug) of the actual states (dngos-gzhi) of the four levels of mental stability (bsam-gtan, Skt. dhyana) – the “four dhyanas” – associated with the plane of ethereal forms (form realm), as well as the balanced absorptions associated with the plane of formless beings (formless realm) are states of ultimate liberation. Such meditative states are still tainted, however, with disturbing emotions and attitudes, and thus, because disturbing emotions and attitudes recur after arising from such states, these balanced absorptions cannot be states of ultimate liberation. The discriminating awareness of the second aspect of true stoppings – true stoppings are pacifications of disturbing emotions and attitudes – eliminates this mistaken view.

  3. Holding that some specific suffering states are liberation. This is the incorrect view that the attainment of the aggregates of a formless being is a state of ultimate liberation. The limited beings reborn on the plane of formless beings have only four aggregate factors: they lack an aggregate of forms; they lack gross bodies. Although they also lack, during that lifetime, the suffering of unhappiness and the suffering of change, they still experience the all-pervasively affecting suffering of having tainted aggregates. The discriminating awareness of the third aspect of true stoppings – true stoppings are superior states – eliminates this mistaken view.

  4. Holding that although there may be a depletion of suffering, it is something that will recur. The discriminating awareness of the fourth aspect of true stoppings – true stoppings are definite emergences from samsaric sufferings – eliminates this mistaken view.

True Pathway Minds

  1. Holding that there is no such thing as a pathway mind leading to liberation. The discriminating awareness of the first aspect of true pathways minds – nonconceptual discriminating awareness of the lack of an impossible soul is a pathway mind leading to liberation – eliminates this mistaken view.

  2. Holding that the pathway mind of meditation on the lack of an impossible soul is inappropriate. The discriminating awareness of the second aspect of true pathways minds – nonconceptual discriminating awareness of the lack of an impossible soul is an appropriate means for stopping true sufferings and true origins forever – eliminates this mistaken view.

  3. Holding that certain specific states of mental stability alone are pathway minds leading to liberation. Although nonconceptual discriminating awareness of the lack of an impossible soul may be held with many of the states of mental stability associated with minds on the plane of ethereal forms, this incorrect view is that those states of mental stability by themselves are pathway minds to liberation. The discriminating awareness of the third aspect of true pathways minds – nonconceptual discriminating awareness of the lack of an impossible soul is the means for the actualization of the state of an arya and the state of liberation – eliminates this mistaken view.

  4. Holding that there is no such thing as a pathway mind that can bring about the nonrecurrence of suffering. The discriminating awareness of the fourth aspect of true pathway minds – nonconceptual discriminating awareness of the lack of an impossible soul is the means for the definite removal, forever, of true sufferings and true origins – eliminates this mistaken view.