To speak of the 1st Noble Truth, I use a quotation from the SN56.11: Dhammacakkappavattanasutta provided on this website.
At the time the Buddha announced this, it was revolutionary on multiple levels. Everyone knew of suffering and stress in some form or other, but what the Buddha was suggesting, combined with the 3 other Truths, was that suffering was on a whole different level to what they were used to thinking of, and the fact that the source of that suffering was under their own control, if only they knew it.
Now this, monks, is the noble truth of stress: Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.
As I have stated in a previous article, the use of the word ‘stress’ is an approximation. The Pali word is Dukkha, and has many and varied interpretations. My favourite happens to be ‘unsatisfactoriness’ as it gives a far more wide-ranging indication of the nature of reality. Not everything in life is stress, not everything in life is suffering, but there is absolutely nothing in life that is completely satisfactory… if you spend enough time thinking about it.
This is the key to the first Noble Truth. You need to really think about whether your kitchen table is truly satisfactory, (eventually its design will become unsuitable, maybe even a leg will become loose and break off, or it will not fit in with you planned redesign of the kitchen). You need to really think about the latest iPad you have just bought. I’ll bet you a pound to a penny that in 18 months time you’ll be getting frustrated by it because it has become slow and cumbersome to use.
Look at your relationships. Are they truly satisfactory? I mean REALLY satisfactory? No they are not. Now I’ll bet this may be where people start having trouble with this concept because I for one have the most finest, trustworthy and dependable partner any man could wish for; BUT, the relationship is unsatisfactory. How on earth can I say that having just stated what an amazing woman she is? Well, one day, however it happens, my relationship with Sharon will come to an end, and that is very unsatisfactory.
What I have written above is just a small attempt to indicate how far-ranging even the first Noble Truth is. It affects absolutely everything in our lives from the can opener to the atomic bomb, from your pet cat to the ivory poachers in Africa. Nothing, absolutely nothing is completely satisfactory, and all these elements have an impact on our mental well-being in some form or other. From minor frustration to full-blown mental breakdown.
The Five Clinging Aggregates mentioned in the quote above are a subject for another article but they can be approximated to the five senses. I say approximated because mental ‘objects’ or as is more usually stated, ‘formations’ come in to the mix and it is quite a complicated scenario, so I will no get in to it just yet. But fear not, a full explanation will be forthcoming.
I trust what I have written has given you a rough idea of what the First Noble Truth encompasses. The subject bears much thought and meditation before a true grasp of the subject can be made, and I recommend doing so before progressing further. The 1st Noble Truth is a biggy and is the start of your adventure into Buddhism as a whole.