BUDDHISM, WHEELS, and REPETITIONSPlease read the Short Summary Version first
Pleasure and wanting lead to repetitions
Buddha's central teachings are the Four Noble Truths. The Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna (1) is the most detailed version of the Four Noble Truths in the Pali scriptures. My ideas are based on this text.
The first Three Truths are about Dukkha, its beginnings, and endings. The Fourth Truth is a list of instructions. In the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna the first of these instructions is specifically: "The Right Understanding of Dukkha". These days, Dukkha is understood as 'suffering'.
The First Truth
The new invention of continuous rotary motion – the potter's wheel and the spoked wooden cartwheel – dates from around 2,000 B.C. By Buddha's time in 500 B.C., the spoked cartwheel had led to a cultural revolution.
The wheel has various symbolic uses in Buddhism. This wheel is firstly a perfect circle, this satsifies perfection in our abstract understanding. It was a wonderful new form of movement, motion, and mobility. And it was the epitome of repetition and self-perpetuating motion, with the possibility of momentum.
In those days, the word Sukkha described when a wheel was turning smoothly. But ancient wooden wheels often squeaked, snagged, grinded and wobbled, and the hub needed constant maintenance in order to run smoothly. Dukkha described when the turning of a wheel was problematic.
Modern suggestions for the interpretation of Dukkha are : suffering, anxiety, distress, unsatisfactory, frustration, unease, stress (2); – and all these are the results of Dukkha, in the frst place they all were caused by things not running smoothly, not turning well, of there being a problem.
There is another symbolism to the old-fashioned cartwheel which would have been obvious to anyone living in those days : the hard wheels on the soft dirt roads made tracks, habitual ruts, karmic ruts.
But for Buddha, this was not a question of semantics and the literal meaning of the word Dukkha. In those days everyone knew what Dukkha meant. Buddha's question was what is the problem with life's wheel? What is not running smoothly?
What is Dukkha? What is not running smoothly?
In many texts, it is written that the Five Aggregates are Dukkha. The Aggregates are five umbrella terms which explain how we experience the world. They describe the process: manifest form, sensation, perception, concepts and consciousness. The Aggregates apply to all of our senses.
The way we sense life, our sensory apparatus is Dukkha, it's not running smoothly.
In Buddhism, where thoughts are considered as manifest forms or 'mind-objects', the Aggregates also apply to how the mind senses its own thoughts. In other words, the mind sensing its thoughts, functions in the same way as the eye sees a sight, or the ear hears a sound.
So, to be exact The First Truth tells us: Our sensory apparatus – for the six senses of touch, taste, smell, sound, sight, and thought – is problematic, it's not running smoothly.
The Second Truth
The usual view is that pleasure and wanting lead to attachment. (And, due to impermanence and change, hoping for fulfilment or wholeness through attachments is illusory, and will inevitably lead to suffering. Freedom from karma is the aim of Buddhism.)
I believe the first step leading to attachment, is that pleasure and wanting lead to repetitions.
If something is pleasurable, we want to repeat it. Even the smallest want we have, will lead to some form of repetition of the idea, and probably an actual repetition.
Repetitions always involve us in a timeline. They are not conducive to being now, and, once the repetitions start, once the wheels start turning; then they turn with their own karmic momentum.
Attachment, clinging, and craving, - cycles, routines, habits, and karma - and also greed and closed mindedness - are all possible consequences of the repetitions.
This way of understanding Buddha's prime-truths, started when i questioned the idea : The origin of Dukkha is "that craving which gives rise to fresh rebirth" (3) – i asked myself what is the normal, everyday sense of this? And realised : The origin of Dukkha is "that wanting which leads to fresh repetition".
It may well be that extreme forms of wanting like craving, lead to extreme forms of repetition like rebirth; but it is obvious that even the smallest want we have, will lead to some form of repetition, either mental or actual – and this is the prime, basic and universal truth.
Discussion of The Traditional View
The traditional view is that attachment is the central problem. And this was clearly written (more than 400 years after Buddha spoke), in even the most trustworthy texts, where "The Five Aggregates" are almost always described as "The Five Aggregates of Clinging".
'Clinging' limits the Five Aggregates and their universal application. Attachments, especially extreme attachments like clinging, are just one possible consequence of the repetitions.
The extreme forms of Dukkha – suffering, clinging and craving – make Buddha's message concrete, but they diminish its universal application. Buddha's message does not only apply to extreme and traumatic suffering, it also applies to all the little things which aren't running smoothly.
Ref. 1, Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutra, Introduction and Collected Translations (English, French, German).
Ref. 2, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dukkha (2019, 2020, 2021,).
Ref. 3, Nyanaponika Thera, "The Heart of Buddhist Meditation" (page 142) Rider & Co. London (1962).