I apologise to all of my non Buddhist readers for the last two posts, I am not really a Buddhist but I do get a lot of inspiration from the Buddhist teachings. I would hate to be labelled a Buddhist and I believe Shakyamuni would have agreed with me on this point. I think a lot of the religion that has sprung up around Buddhism is very distasteful and is usually political in it's purpose. This will be the last of three essays on Buddhism as promised, in it I will deal with the fundamental teachings on the four noble truths.
In Buddhism you always get lists of things, this is so that the mind remembers the teachings quickly it’s like a memory trick, the four noble truths, the 6 perfections, the 3 bodies of the Buddha, the ten wholesome actions etc., etc. If you can remember the words “The Four Noble Truths’ then you are on your way to remembering the rest of the teachings.
I have never been sure of that word ‘Noble’ it always seems a bit pompous to me and makes me think of posh people with nobility. Theses ‘truths’ are called Noble because they are righteous and they help us overcome suffering. But they are also deep and can be a bit mind bending. I would like to call them: ‘The Truth of Existence in Four Parts’ or: ‘The Initially Upsetting but Eventually Liberating Facts of Life’.
So let’s look at ‘The Four Mind Bending Truths’: The first Truth is the Truth of Suffering. If you don’t see that life is all suffering you will never seriously see the need to let go of grasping after the thoughts and emotions that are stopping you from realizing your true amazing nature. Of course we can all see the suffering, the sickness, the old age and death and the physical pain that follows us through every part of our lives. Not to mention the emotional trauma of loss and death. However the suffering Buddha is talking about is the subtle suffering of change.
"I teach about suffering and the way to end it"
The second truth is the truth of the cause of suffering. The cause of suffering is craving or better ignorance. The Ignorance of how everything is completely impermanent. Then because of ignorance delusional and negative thoughts arise forever grasping after impermanent things. Strong desire for things is based on ignorance. Unknowingly we are trying to find happiness and permanence in an impermanent universe. Ultimately the cause of suffering is the mind, if the mind see’s clearly the reality of existence it stops becoming excessively attached to things. When this happens the mind lets go of thoughts and emotions, seeing them as transient lies chasing after a transient world. When we get rid of the grasping thoughts and emotions through realizing impermanence we uncover the pure awareness or the Buddha nature that lies behind the thoughts and emotions. Becoming the pure awareness and living in the now without grasping is the end of all suffering, to become pure awareness apprehending the eternal now is complete freedom, knowing, fearlessness, wisdom and much else.
The third truth is the truth of the cessation of Suffering. Simply stated it says that if you remove the cause you will remove the suffering. It says that this can be done and indeed has been done before. You can train the mind and habits to see reality clearly and you can overcome the power of thoughts and emotions and therefore the false ego that exists because of them. You can return to a state of pure knowing. The state of pure awareness is where all fear and suffering comes to an end and where confidence, real freedom and joy are born. In this state you can deal with anything life throws at you and with a little chuckle at your heart face life and death with dignity.
The fourth truth sets out instructions for how to go about training the mind to free itself from ignorance and suffering. These instructions are called the Eightfold noble path. Eight ways of being and living that are in accord with the truth of suffering, the truth of how suffering is created and the truth that the suffering can be removed. The Eightfold noble path is like a new program for your mind, a complete set of values and views that help you to overcome the ego and eventually become ‘enlightened’. The Noble Eightfold path is the true start of the Buddhist path to enlightenment.
Having once achieved Enlightenment however we still exist and the state of enlightenment comes and goes like everything else. As we stabilize in the experience of enlightenment we gain greater control of our entire existence and also open up to ever greater powers of perception. The playful display of wisdom and compassion in the moment is filled with meaning yet has no real meaning at all.