BUDDHISM, WHEELS and REPETITIONS
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 original Pali scriptures. This essay is based on the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutra (DN.22).
The first three Truths are about Dukkha (Pali), its beginnings and endings. The Fourth Truth is a list of instructions and directions – in the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna the first of these instructions is specifically: The Right Understanding of Dukkha. These days, Dukkha is commonly understood as 'suffering'.
The First Truth
In those days, the new invention of rotary motion and the wheel, was the epitome of continuous repetition and self-perpetuating motion.
There was one big central problem : Dukkha. In those days the wheels squeaked and wobbled, and the hub needed constant maintenance in order to run smoothly.
Dukkha describes how our existence is not running smoothly. The hub of the ancient wooden spoked wheel symbolises how life wobbles, and sometimes starts grinding or gets twisted and blocked.
Modern suggestions for the interpretation of Dukkha are : suffering, anxiety, distress, unsatisfactory, frustration, unease, stress (2); – all may be true, but none express the sense of repetition and self-perpetuating motion as witnessed in the wheel – not running smoothly, not turning well.
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.
The 17th century invention of the ship's wheel has a totally different use, and functions in a totally different way to the spoked wheel of Buddha's times.
The use of the ship's wheel on many Buddhist websites, including the English Wikipedia page on Dukkha (2), exemplifies how far modern Buddhism has diverged from the original teaching.
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. – Our sensory apparatus is 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.
The First Truth tells us very simply: Our sensory apparatus is not running smoothly; or –
The Five Aggregates which are manifest in the six senses of touch, taste, smell, sound, sight and thought, are not running smoothly.
The Second Truth
The normal or traditional view is that pleasure and wanting lead to attachment, but due to impermanence and change attachment is inherently impractical, thus finding security through attachments is an illusion, it will inevitably lead to suffering.
I believe Buddha's understanding of Dukkha, was that pleasure and wanting lead primarily 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 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, habits, cycles, and routines; clinging and craving, greed and closed mindedness; are all possible consequences of the repetitions.
This way of understanding Buddha's prime-truths, started when i questioned this idea : The origin of Dukkha is "that craving which gives rise to fresh rebirth" (3) – and realised the normal, everyday sense of this is : The origin of Dukkha is "that wanting which leads to 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 a basic universal truth.
The Traditional View Discussed
The traditional view is that attachment is the central problem. And this is clearly written 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 potential as a universal principle. Attachments, especially extreme attachments like clinging, are just one of the possible consequences of the repetitions.
All the extreme forms of Dukkha: suffering, clinging and craving; make Buddha's message more concrete and dramatic, but they diminish its universal application. Buddha's message does not only apply to extreme and traumatic suffering, it applies to all the little wants and problems we have.
There is another important word in basic Buddhism: Sukkha. Sukkha means when a wheel is running smoothly. A good wheelwright would not only be able to cure Dukkha, he would know how to make a wheel Sukkha.
Ref. 1, Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutra, Collected Translations (English, French, German). Ref. 2, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dukkha 2019. Ref. 3, Nyanaponika Thera, "The Heart of Buddhist Meditation" (page 142) Rider & Co. London (1962).
The Importance of Repetitions
Understanding the nature of Dukkha and repetition, is fundamental to understanding the development of habitual ruts, and their culmination in our present day individual and cultural Dukkha, This is discussed in Part 2 The Habitual Ruts of Security and Pleasure.