EXCERPT from The Four Noble Truths by Ajahn Sumedho
Now the Four Noble Truths are: there is suffering; there is a cause or origin of suffering; there is a end of suffering; and there is path out of suffering which is the Eightfold Path. Each of these Truths has three aspects so all together there are twelve insights. In the Theravada school, an arahant, a perfected one, is one who has seen clearly the Four Noble Truths with their three aspects and twelve insights. ‘Arahant’ means a human being who understands the truth; it is applied mainly to the teaching of the Four Noble Truths.
For the First Noble Truth, ‘There is suffering’ is the first insight. What is that insight? We don’t need to make it into anything grand; it is just the recognition: ‘There is suffering’. That is a basic insight.
The ignorant person says, ‘I’m suffering. I don’t want to suffer. I meditate and I go on retreats to get out of suffering, but I’m still suffering and I don’t want to suffer.... How can I get out of suffering? What can I do to get rid of it?’ But that is not the First Noble Truth; it is not: ‘I am suffering and I want to end it.’ The insight is, ‘There is suffering’.
Now you are looking at the pain or the anguish you feel - not from the perspective of ‘It’s mine’ but as a reflection:
‘There is this suffering, this dukkha’. It is coming from the reflective position of ‘Buddha seeing the Dhamma.’ The insight is simply the acknowledgment that there is this suffering without making it personal. That acknowledgment is an important insight; just looking at mental anguish or physical pain and seeing it as dukkha rather than as personal misery - just seeing it as dukkha and not reacting to it in a habitual way.The second insight of the First Noble Truth is:
‘Suffering should be understood.’
The second insight or aspect of each of the Noble Truths has the word ‘should’ in it: ‘It should be understood.’ The second insight then, is that dukkha is something to understand. One should understand dukkha, not just try to get rid of it.
We can look at the word ‘understanding’ as ‘standing under’. It is a common enough word but, in Pali, ‘understanding’ means to really accept the suffering, stand under or embrace it rather than just react to it. With any form of suffering - physical or mental - we usually just react, but with understanding we can really look at suffering; really accept it, really hold it and embrace it. So that is the second aspect, ‘We should understand suffering’.The third aspect of the First Noble Truth is: ‘Suffering has been understood.’
When you have actually practised with suffering - looking at it, accepting it, knowing it and letting it be the way it is - then there is the third aspect, ‘Suffering has been understood’, or ‘Dukkha has been understood.’ So these are the three aspects of the First Noble Truth: ‘There is dukkha’; ‘It is to be understood’; and, ‘It has been understood.’This is the pattern for the three aspects of each Noble Truth. There is the statement, then the prescription and then the result of having practised. One can also see it in terms of the Pali words pariyatti, patipatti and pativedha. Pariyatti is the theory or the statement, ‘There is suffering.’ Patipatti is the practice - actually practising with it; and pativedha is the result of the practice. This is what we call a reflective pattern; you are actually developing your mind in a very reflective way. A Buddha mind is a reflective mind that knows things as they are.