The Four Noble Truths
I am pretty sure most of you have heard of the Buddha’s four noble truths since Buddhism has been well-advertised in the West. But I wonder if you are able to recite them, in your own way of course, the way you took them in. Along with that wonder are these personal questions, do you live by them – that is, did they take root – and did they grow into a strength within you?
Just in case you’ve forgotten them – oh, don’t be embarrassed – I’ll stick them in right here just as a reminder.
The Four Noble Truths
- The Truth of suffering
- The Truth of the cause of suffering
- The Truth of the end of suffering
- The Truth of the path to the end of suffering
I do hope they sound familiar. For those of you who have never, ever heard them or heard them once or twice and blew them off stay tuned. I am going to give a refresher.
I remember many years ago waking up in the morning and sitting on the edge of my bed thinking, “Life is so disappointing.” I hope you can have a good laugh – I certainly can. There I was first thing in the morning in a lovely house, in the middle of my career, with a wonderful partner, two dogs, a car, money enough to travel if I like, nominal health and I woke up declaring:
Life is so disappointing!
As I sat there I heard myself declare such a ridiculous pronouncement I fell back onto the bed and laughed and laughed and laughed. Once I stopped laughing I sat up, shook my head and declared:
Life is neither so disappointing nor so satisfying!
Huh. I thought to myself. Life happens without any of my declarations. Life, that is, existence of all life, goes on without me saying one way or the other what life is or not. Life rolls along, much like the waves on the ocean or the wind through the trees, or fire burning wood, or water running in a stream. Life happens.
Ok. I hope you get this – because it has to do with the first two Truths. The Truth of suffering and the Truth of the cause of suffering. Let’s take a look.
There I was – saying to myself life is so disappointing. I was making a declaration of the Truth of suffering. Imagine living out the day of existence experiencing the day as sooooooooo disappointing. Pretty miserable. Smack dab in suffering.
Now I was a newbie to the world of Zen Buddhism so I fell into the suffering of disappointment, but I had a fortune pocketed in my mind. I knew the Way to end suffering (this Way is the third and fourth Truths; the end of suffering and the path). Whew!
Let me explain some of the pitfalls that many of us fall into when we think about these four Truths. The main pitfill is highlighted by my declaration which is a mistake that comes with consequences. If I had continued to live the day with the mind and body on the rudder of disappointment, suffering indeed would continue. Convincing me life is disappointing. The continuation would be long-lived because I would have seen the “world” the external “world” as the cause of my misery. That is not what Shakyamuni meant in the second noble Truth. The Truth is the cause of suffering is desire.
Wanting. Wanting. Wanting.
Let’s retrace that morning. “Life is disappointing” is the expression of an inner desire that if followed and believed would lead to more suffering. The inner desire, and more deeply than that, the seed of that desire was the cause of the suffering, not the world. As I said, “life, existence is neither disappointing nor satisfying. Life is. PERIOD.
We, you and me, put our desire on life which sometimes gives us what we want, which strengthens the seed of suffering and sometimes cracks us over the head with not getting what we want which weakens our ability to be fearless, generous and wise. We tend to whine, sniffle, and fall into a vat of despair when we don’t get what we want. Afterall, we remain babies until we grow up in the Truth.
This scenario, one of many, shows us that we need a Way – a path on which to travel in order to end suffering.
Now it’s true there are many paths out there – exclaiming this is the Way. It is at times like a barker at a carnival. Nonetheless, over time we, if we are lucky, we pick a path and begin the spiritual journey out of suffering. As we go along, the Path tends to incline and we tend to breathe in the heights of awareness and awakening. Let me illustrate.
The explanation above shows us a level of knowing how to end suffering. Let me repeat here before I go further. To know the world is NOT the cause of suffering is a big deal – not many see this Truth. But this cause is Truth at a particular level – where you are amongst those who see the world as existence – but there’s more to do.
Some of you may be asking – “OK. If the world is not the cause of suffering, what is?” I think that question needs to be contemplated. Take for example the political conditions worldwide. There are those FOR and there are those AGAINST just about everything in the world making for more and more conflict. Now apply the Truth to this situation. “The world is NOT the cause of your suffering.” At this point you may ask, then if that is TRUE, what is the cause of suffering.”
Glad you asked.
The cause of suffering is in YOU….and to be honest and sincere…in ME. This is good news. Very good news. Even though you may want to continue to blame the world…the Truth is the cause of suffering is you and me.
The basis of this cause is desire. You and I want things to go according to our desire. This suffering is our human condition and will continue on until you work on your inner attachment to wanting things to go according to your desire.
So far, are you with me? Attachment to your desire is the clenching factor in suffering.
I can attest to this Truth. But that’s not much help. You need to experience it yourself.
It requires an honest, rather a stripping away type of honesty, to fess up to your wanting things your way. Some of us will lose this opportunity this time around and die in the suffering of wanting things our way. And…thankfully, some of us will do the work of taking a deep look into the self ferreting out the seeds of desire.
This ferreting activity is just the beginning. There is another step which is more of a clear out like a power vac of the ego – where the ego is sucked up altogether. But that is for another day. We have to start the work with a sincere heart and examine the self until we see that the cause of suffering is in us – in you, in me.
This is the Truth.
*I was once dubious about working with a teacher, but after a lifetime of practice, and working with Ming Zhen
I see the need and recommend you find a teacher you can work with face to face.
Author: FaShi Lao Yue
Image credits: Fly, 2020
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