20-05-26: Four Noble Truths: Patipadā (2 of 5) Entering the Stream
3:02PM May 26, 2020
fourth noble truth
four noble truths
Today I continue the talks on the fourth noble truth. And the keyword for the fourth noble truth is Patipada. And it means something like a method or a practice, I translate it as practice. And so it's the practice that leads to this cessation of suffering.
There's a long tradition of translating this word patipada as 'way', because the English word 'method' can also mean 'way' and a way of doing something but the English word 'way' also can mean a 'road'. A path that one goes on. And so this has led to a very easy confusion maybe, between marga, the Eightfold Path, which is the word 'marga', not 'patipada'. And then equating the two, that the fourth noble truth, the truth of the practice, that leads the cessation of suffering, is the same as the truth of the path leading to it. And since it's the word 'path', it must mean the Eightfold Path.
That teaching does exist in the suttas. But as I've been trying to say here today: it's not the predominant teaching. But there is a strong connection between the Eightfold Path and the fulfillment, the awakening, that these four noble truths points to. So the way I've been teaching these four noble truths is that there's a two-step process of deep insight, deep encounter with inconstancy, with how things arise and pass away. And that is not really so easy to understand often in daily life. But rather, it's really something to discover in a very deep stillness of the mind, the quiet of the mind. And the way we are in the present flow of present-moment experience. And then as I said yesterday, to make space for that, and discover a freedom that is in that space in the non-involvement, non-entanglement with the flow, the stream, the river of life, as it flows through us, as we are part of the flow.
So, there's some kind of freedom there. And to understand and see that this is the way, this is the way, the practice for the cessation of suffering doesn't require us to understand the cause of suffering. It does address some of the things that do cause suffering, the clingings, the holdings, the craving, that are interfering with that flow, getting caught in that flow.
So first, the practice is to understand in a deep way, that this is the way forward at least in insight meditation. And then, to really go to the full fulfillment of this, when it comes to the full awakening of the Four Noble Truths, the full awakening of suffering, the full awakening to the arising of suffering, to the cessation of suffering, and to the full awakening to: this is the way, this is the practice of the cessation of suffering.
So this idea of of complete liberation, complete letting go. And whether it's partial, or whether it's full, does change a person. And this change is sometimes called the Eightfold Path. And so there are two meanings of the Eightfold Path. The one that's most associated with the contemporary interpretations of the Four Noble Truths is that the fourth truth is the Eightfold Path. And it's the path, the practices we have to do to build up the momentum to be on the path that leads eventually to liberation.
The stronger idea in the early suttas around the Four Noble Truths connected to it, is that the Eightfold Path is not a path that leads to suffering. But rather it's an expression leads to freedom from suffering, but rather is an expression of our liberation. So somebody becomes a stream-enterer, entering the stream of the Dharma is the first stage of awakening.
And in the suttas it says, defines that the stream one enters is the Eightfold Path. So rather than the Eightfold Path being the way to some degree of awakening, with awakening one enters into the Eightfold Path, the Eightfold Path that the suttas say originates in oneself. There is no eightfold path outside of ourselves. It's really found in ourselves. And it's found in ourselves with some degree of letting go, some degree of liberation and freedom.
And, then to live by the Eightfold Path is not so much a living by taking on all these lists describing the Eightfold Path, and you memorize a list and you have to do this here and this here and this here. But rather, it's a description. The eightfold path is a description of how someone begins to live when they have some degree of freedom, when they've touched something deep inside, their goodness, their wholeness, their lack of clinging and grasping. And this idea that with some degree of liberation practice begins to unfold in it the more we allow for it to happen, is a big part of the Buddha's teachings.
When I was younger, there was a lot of metaphors that described that path the spiritual path, as climbing a mountain. And it's difficult work to climb a mountain. To paraphrase or to reformulate what the Buddha said: that that's only half the way to go up the mountain. Once we're at the top of the mountain, then we're going down the mountain. And the metaphor the Buddha uses for the practice that goes down the mountain is that a water flowing down a mountainside, that when it rains on the mountainside, the water gathers together into little streams, creeks, rivulets, and the creeks becomes streams, streams become creeks, creeks become rivers, rivers become big rivers, and just keeps flowing all the way down eventually gets to the ocean. And water will flow downhill unless there's something blocking it.
So the practice at some point when we get to the top and we just allow the water, allow the momentum to flow. The Buddha did use, the other time you use the example of a river, that when in a river, everything will flow in the current of the river. A log will flow in the current of the river, unless it gets stuck on the side or on the shore. Or if some person on the shore grabs that, and holds on to the log, but if the log stays in the middle of the current, it'll go all the way out to where the river goes, to the ocean.
The word stream-enterer. Sotā is the Pali word, literally means 'current', more than 'stream'. To enter the stream might give the impression that it might be just years awaiting in the stream or just kind of floating nicely in the stream. But the connotations in this ancient text is: you enter the current of the river, so it can take you somewhere.
So here we're talking about a phase of practice we're allowing becomes the name of the game. We have to stay present, but we're also allowing our freedom to move through us and unfold to greater and greater freedom. And one of the ways the Buddha talks about this, he talks about practicing based on seclusion, non-attachment, dispassion, cessation, letting go. That once a person lets go in a very deep way, they have a feeling, they have a sense, they have a reference point inside, for what this place of freedom is like. And the language they use is maybe not the language some people in the modern world would use. But this idea of allowing that which is deep deep inside a sense of freedom to live there, and our actions are closely related to that freedom, to that openness, to that clarity.
And if we have this open, clear heart, it's going to be very hard for a person to want to be unethical, to intentionally harm other people. Because it's a violence against ourselves to do that. If we are connected to that sense of inner-freedom and non-clinging, the attitude, the intention by which we live our life, right intention, will be one of kindness and compassion as opposed to cruelty and ill will. The second factor of the Eightfold Path.
If we have this deep connection to our freedom and liberation, we'll be careful with how we speak. If we have a deep connection to our liberation, then the awareness, the mindfulness that comes from that will be right mindfulness, it's mindfulness, it's opening and forward leading, that allows things to keep flowing and moving. The subtleness and concentration will come out of that as well.
So over and over again the Buddha talks about basing one's practice on the liberation one has attained. And so it doesn't have to be a dramatic liberation. But as we practice, there are times we start feeling this release, feeling this freedom. And that freedom and release allows the practice to go deeper and deeper.
The core insight that the Buddha emphasized over and over and over again, and maybe it's not really what... there are other insights, other ways for different people maybe for you. But for the ancient text, this insight into inconstancy, the arising and passing of things. And then as things flow and move to begin to release the grip of the hand, the grip of the mind, the clinging, and at some point to feel that the release is meaningful enough that it becomes a reference point. So that as we continue to live in this inconstant changing and impermanent world, we start orienting ourselves to not cling again, or if we do cling to realize this, the place of non-clinging is the place. The traces of non-clinging, the memories, the feeling we have or this place of freedom becomes the reference point for all that we do. And the more that becomes the reference point, then the way the Buddha describes, the life of someone who is free, is described by the Eightfold Path, by right view, right intention, right action, right speech, right way of life, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. This the stream we enter into. This is what lives inside of us, that originates in us, that then allows, that leads to further and further deeper liberation.
So there's a very intimate relationship between the four liberating insights into inconstancy. And then what Buddhism also talks about is the Eightfold Path and, repeating myself, one of the ideas of the Eightfold Path is it's not a beginner's practice. But rather it's the practice, it's the description of the life of the people who are really maturing in the path of release, of freedom. So I'll go further along with this in the next few days. But hopefully, that's enough for today. So thank you for your involvement and being here and my opportunity to share this.