2020-01-05: The Four Noble Truths
2:22PM Jun 21, 2020
four noble truths
second noble truth
So, today is the first my first Dharma talk of the year. And the custom is to give a Dharma talk on the Four Noble Truths. And it's kind of like this is often seen as the heart of Buddhist teachings. And the center of it all, some people have said that everything all the Buddhism flows out of the Four Noble Truths or is contained within the Four Noble Truths. And I find the Four Noble Truths, the formulation of them brilliant, and, and ever adaptable, lots of perspectives, lots of new ways to understand it, and to live with the Four Noble Truths to understand them enough. The formulation, the basic ideas of that and have them reoccur in your life and your reflection and how you see the world and how you see yourself. I found phenomenally supportive, helpful and profound and it is Buddhism, as you know, is often considered to be the heart of Buddhism, especially kind of Buddhism, that of Tera vaada Buddhism that we practice here. And one of the kind of images, I guess, or analogies I have for learning the Four Noble Truths is that well, first I'll tell you what they are, and then I'll give you an analogy. So the simplest formulation of them is made in four statements, that there is the noble truth of suffering. There is the noble truth of the arising of suffering. There is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering. And there is the noble truth of the way, the method leading to the cessation of suffering. And so at the heart of this is this idea of suffering, which some people Very happy to hear that Buddhism is going to address this directly. And people for whom everyone around them is constantly avoiding suffering and painting, romantic pictures, nice pictures, you know that things are all good and not really addressing what's going on, it can be a relief to come to a religious practice where we really put it at the center. Other people get quite discouraged maybe even depressed by this, you know, they suffering enough in their life. And now they're told that you know, the suffering is at the heart of it all and you have to look at it and they came here hoping to get away from it and get inspiring teachings that would just go and you leave full of hope and delight and joy and riding on a cloud and feel really spiritual for the rest of the week. And, and, and don't have to deal with suffering at all. So, the analogy is that you are being attacked and not attacked, but a vicious monster comes at you barking. And, and, and for these kinds of monsters, you can run towards it and attack it that just makes it more ferocious and the monsters really big, huge so and you can't run away. Because if you're in a way it just excites it you're become, you know, a wonderful target, you're more likely you're easier to catch because you know, I can just take two steps and called you up. So, so you can't run towards it. You can't run away. You can't just crawl up in a fetal position because then it's just more and more delicious. And, but what you can do is you can hold your ground, stand in the middle of the situation without offering any animosity hostility without any fear, and just calmly hold the ground and look the monster in the eye. And that's what disarms the monster. That's then the monster doesn't know what to do, it doesn't do anything. Or the monster just sits down at your feet and says, Well, you know, something, I don't know. Why don't you teach me what you've how you've learned to, you know, be in that way. I mean, everyone else either attacks or runs away or, but you learn something, how can you just kind of hold your ground and look that calmly steadily and, and be there with me? So this would be the idea of sitting in the middle of our life, completely in our life, is I think what I like to think the Four Noble Truths are about
none of our life is excluded. This is not running away. It's a kind of a holistic way of really stepping in living in this messy, complicated, difficult Maybe in a certain perspective, impossible life, just right in the middle of this monstrous life and standing upright and looking at it directly, without attacking and without running away without giving up and just just kind of just holding and looking at it directly. Sometimes the monsters to turn into stages. Sometimes there's not monsters that appear for us, but there are sages that come Weiss people. Turns out what the wise people want from us. They want us to meet them in the same way. sages don't want us to be afraid of them. sages don't want us to run away. sages don't want us to collapse and give up and expect them to give us all the answers. sages want to meet other sages Say just want to meet the people who could stand up right? And have the ability to look them in the eye to say, Here I am, I see you we're here together, hold your ground in a certain free way, peaceful way. And then the sages have come to play with you to enjoy this life together. And this contrasts this duality, if you will, to fuse a terrible word, in some, some circles between the sage and the monster. That's much more of the Buddhist kind of distinction as opposed to the center and the saint between purity and impurity. But they've become a sage to become a wise person who has the ability to be in the midst of this complicated life and have the stance of freedom have a stance of calm and peace and really participate in it to really feel part of it in a full way, but also in an independent way. And so the Four Noble Truths are kind of a, you know, is kind of pointing to this or being this as another introduction to this topic are the Four Noble Truths, because suffering is really at the heart of this. And some people say, gee, you know, Buddhism is kind of a party pooper, you know, talking about suffering all the time and someone wants, I think it was Sharon Salzberg, who, in the 1990s was went to Russia to teach. And I forget what it was, no, no, I wasn't suffering, it was compassion. So he had a translator, and she's like the great embodiment of loving kindness and compassion, this books on it and, and was giving this retreat over there in Russia but loving kindness and compassion. And every time she said the word in English compassion, it was translated to Russian, the whole audience, which is kind of like sink, like get depressed. And somehow the English word was not being translated in a way that the the way that she meant the word To be translated, and so it was a there was a cultural gap there. And so you know, when we keep using the word suffering for the Buddhist word Duka. Maybe we don't understand what the Buddhists mean, maybe we're not conveying what it actually means. But one of the associations I have to this topic of Duke of suffering, that I often think about was, there was a Thai forest monk who came to United States once. And someone brought up a question about suffering to him. And he just broke into this huge smile, and was just so happy. And and then he said, Oh, he, the noble truth, the holy truth of suffering. It has to be holy. It has to be sacred. And so again, everyone's Well, what do you mean right? That You know, now your glory, glory, glorifying suffering, absolutely not what he was doing. But rather I think what he was doing was saying, if you turn toward suffering and really see it, you'll see through it to the other side, to freedom from suffering. And that's what makes it Noble. Not that the suffering is noble, but the insight, the ability to hold your ground and look at it clearly and directly and not run away and not attack, but just be there with it. You can see you can see the other side. The other side, what is that? Sometimes it's called happiness. Sometimes it's called peace.
Sometimes it's called many times it's called freedom in liberation. The advantage of words freedom and liberation, is that it's a little more difficult to make liberation or freedom, a thing. Whereas happiness and peace is more like a thing like oh, I'm I'm not you Then you can measure yourself against it and your happiness is not the right happiness or all kinds of things. But liberation. Freedom is kind of like an absence. And so it's not quite a thing. And so it's easier to stay free. When you don't, you don't get anything. And just the absence of clinging of attachment. So Buddhism puts, you know, this idea of a sage and the monster, the idea of the suffering and happiness kind of at the center. The Buddhism as far as I know, Buddhism is the first time in human history that we have records of, were the concepts of suffering and happiness replaced at the center of a religion or philosophy. And, but this is not the only time this has happened and to give you some kind of appreciation for why suffering and happiness is kind of at the heart of Buddhism and why it's not just some kind of Self indulgence or something? I like to think of that in this world of ours. There are two kinds of religion. And this is a guild ism. So don't go, don't, don't go look it up. There's two kinds of religions and religions. I defined religion here as the ultimate values and purposes and meaning that humans live their life on. And so there's been that meaning altered means it applies to all our life, every corner and cranny of our life. These values, these meanings, these understandings are applicable or we apply them understand them. So that sense of ultimates ultimately, is what you know that kind of ways what I call a religion. So there are two types. There are those that are theistic divine, with pauses, some kind of transcendent, being some transcendent truth. Something that's quite removed and separate from this world of ours. And then there's the humanistic religions that are not theistic Li based. And this is where some people would, you know, quibble with me calling this way. And Buddhism is one of those theistic religions, the heart, the center of Buddhism is not, is not the aesthetically based. And I would say it's not transcendently based in terms of something transcendent reality that's beyond and outside of this world of ours. And, and, but there are other theistic religions that most people wouldn't call it religions that people tend to call them philosophies. So one of the first that's kind of contemporary for Buddhism to Buddhism is the Greek philosopher, Epicurus. Epicurus was, I think, the closest thing to a Buddhist in ancient Greece that I've come across the only different main main difference There's a few differences but one of the main differences, he didn't seem to have a meditation practice. And so he was teaching many of the same things. But maybe he couldn't point people to the depth of this of the mind depth to the psyche, to really see where the subtlety, the depth, the almost subconscious areas of attachment, clinging and suffering, have the roots. But he, for him, being a humanist, rather than he was clearly countering the theistic ideas of his time. He said he didn't believe in them, I think. And, and so he was looking for something that could function as the foundation for a good life in Gil's language today, the religious life and if you're not looking for transcendent answers, you're not looking for the answers that come from some God, which tend to be things of purity and sin and things like that. What what's very here humanistic, that can be experienced and known for oneself is once the happiness and suffering that can be known that's experiential, that doesn't require some authority in some book that will tell you this is what the purpose of life is. That's actually the purpose of life and the meaning of it can be can be found and discovered and applied and clarified in your own lived experience. Then what are the next people who had this? Gil's humanistic religion is john Stuart Mill's,
one of the founders of you utilitarian ism, one of the very important philosophies for the modern world and, and he was very important because he's also a political philosopher, and he tried to build a philosophy for politics and how people get along and how to live and lo and behold, trying to find something humanistic maybe that people could agree upon everyone can have experiential reference to point to, that you can if there's a polar pluralistic society of many different religions, and people have their own transcendent ideas of what's ultimate. What he posited was happiness and the absence of harming. And one other wonderful things he said, I said, he put the goal of life, the purpose of life is to be happy, and not to cause harm. And we have to, we have to remember that second one is only about being happy, then it's all too easy for that to, unconsciously unintentionally, or justifiably spill over and cause harm for others, to others and to oneself. And then a little bit then this is maybe I'm not talking even more about what I don't know about. But I find it interesting that seems like Sigmund Freud, also, you know, he was a psychologist, but he also was looking for an understanding of human life that had some kind of primacy or sensuality or something at the root of it all. And he also had the pleasure principle and he also use these kinds of very fundamental ideas of what you can experience as his guide for understanding what was going on. So the Buddha in emphasizing suffering and freedom from suffering was not alone in human history. And, and, and if you're looking for a religious life, not based on transcendent ideas or in theology, this is one of the kind of really kind of reliable basis is for finding a good life or successful religious life for life for freedom with Buddhism emphasizes john Stuart Mill's also wrote a book I think his famous book is called on liberty. So it's not as maybe not a surprise that these people who focus on suffering and and the end of suffering, suffering End of harming suffering and happiness, that they're also kind of a people appreciate the idea of liberty. And so, that's kind of the background for why this idea of the Four Noble Truths and dressing suffering is so central to Buddhism. And it's not meant to be depressing. It's meant to offer a lot of hope. There are traditionally four tasks associated with these four noble truths. The first one is the task is to understand suffering. The second is a task to abandon or let go of the cause the underlying condition, the root of suffering. The third is to realize the end of suffering. And the fourth is to develop to cultivate in oneself in one's own being what's called the Eightfold Path. So to understand, to abandon, to realize, and to cultivate. So the study of understanding is kind of enough. Maybe it's counterintuitive for many people, that the task is to understand our suffering. This is the idea of turning towards the monster holding your ground. And really looking and seeing out there it is. This willing, I think of it as a willingness to be fully human, a willingness to be really here in this life of ours. It helps if we don't take it so personally. One of the ways that we get hooked and caught by our difficulties and challenges is the degree to which we measure it in personal terms me myself in mind and take responsibility, take blame for it. Feel it's all about, you know, for me to get better or something. But just is just appreciate that in this life there. The human experience for everyone involves suffering sooner or later. And, and sometimes unfortunately, it's sooner rather than later. And it just comes with it. And there's all kinds of reasons for it, many causes for it many, you know, different ways of addressing it and dealing it if we have to do. And
there's many, many ways in which we realize about our suffering and act on it that are different than what Buddhism emphasizes. This doesn't mean that Buddhism says don't do those other things. So things need to be done. If the monster is literally putting a hammer on top of your head, then don't stand there and look the look of a monster in the eye. That, that that's stupid, you know, then maybe you should be doing something else. But But what Buddhism offers, is not supposed to be the only thing, only way to relate to suffering. But if what you want to do is to sift through it to the other side, to be transformed by it, to become free to really and to understand you have to understand your own contribution to the suffering. It isn't that you have to understand everything about the causes of it in the world. Sometimes you do, sometimes other people are responsible for the challenges you have and you have to understand that address that but if you're paying to the degree to which you're walking the Buddhist path, the Buddhist path involves looking at your content contributions. So if the monster is hammering you over your head, and, and you have time to look at your contribution, it you might see that you are filled with self righteousness. And with the idea that this is really wrong, and you have to attack the person to return, or keep blaming the person as they hit their over the head. So you're making the whole situation worse. It's bad enough as it is, but you're very self righteousness and your attack and you're blaming complaining about the monster. It's just making the whole situation worse than it has to be. That's your contribution doesn't mean the monster is not doing it doesn't mean you shouldn't call out the National Guard. And you know, to come and help but, but the Buddhist path of the Four Noble Truths is found by taking a good look at suffering stops. And taking a look at it, and then understanding your contribution. Now this stopping and taking a look is a very interesting movement of the mind. Remember the story of the monster there's something the magic or the key is standing your ground and looking at the monster without animosity, hostility, without fear, just holding looking at it. Maybe you put your hand out to show them that you're harmless. But, but the there's something about how we look how we stand how we be, that is the key. So understanding suffering, things stopping and looking and trying to see what's going on, does not necessarily mean that we have to analyze it. probe into the depths of it, tease it apart, understand all the different aspects of it. A big part of what we're learning to do is to stand and look at it. To find the freedom of a way of seeing a way of being a way of that doesn't take it personally, doesn't complain about it, doesn't attack it, but finds a certain freedom. It's deep satisfaction, deep sense of meaning, in the ability to just stand there peacefully. And look at it. I am depressed. I'm sad. I'm angry. There's anger here. Maybe we don't even say I Wow, there's anger here. And and to find this freedom in the seeing out, this is what's happening here. And you will learn people who practice mindfulness will learn over time. The difference between seeing something like anger or sadness or grief, seeing it just seeing it as almost like it's
something you're free from just seeing it there versus getting entangled with it, being pushed around by it. Taking it on as glasses, you put on colored glasses you put on, and you see the whole world by it. It's more like you're Oh, here it is. Oh, of course, I'm a human being. And now this is the flavor of 32 flavors of suffering. Now I have this flavor. It's like this. Now, let's look at this. Let's not, let's just hold my ground and really see it and be with it. So, you know, suffering takes many, many forms and shapes. The one translator prefers to translate the Buddhist word Duka as stress, and do any one of the one of the nice things about the word stress is that it's not so big. The word for some people the English word suffering only means the big stuff. If stress means even the small, even the smallest stuff is stressful. And it also suggests that how radical a transformation is of two four noble truths, that even stress kind of gets eliminated or reduced or something. It's not just the big stuff. being stressed by what's going on, it's a radical idea. The second noble truth, I think of as the heart of the Four Noble Truths, the really the key or the or the pivot point, or the real thing that we want to look at. And depending on the context of our lives, depending on the situation we find ourselves in, or the state of the mind, the clarity of the mind, the stillness of the mind. How we see the second noble truth varies. In ordinary life, everyday life going about our life It's fairly common that to understand the second noble truth as being the cause of suffering. That's a pretty sense, sensible and ordinary category in which to understand our lives, what's going on? What's the cause here? What am I doing? If if, you know you really, really want something, and it's really important for you, you know, or you really want it because it's just your strong desire, like, sense pleasure, you really want something to have something and you're being frustrated. It's not being provided. It's not, you're not getting it, the person you're with doesn't want to do it, whatever. And you feel upset, you get angry, you get resentful, and all these things. And then you say, what's the cause here? That causes I just really want this such desire. That's really obvious signs of strong desire. And it might be obvious if that's the cause. Why don't I just give up The desire, you do it as if it's easy. And lo and behold, that suffering goes away. Wow, that was pretty cool. And, or you really don't want something to be there. You know, your, your least favorite relatives showed up at the party. And they sat down next to you at the dinner. And this is like, you know, and so you feel you're, you know, this is the last thing you wanted and you're frustrated, you're angry at the host placed you there and on and on. It goes on. And after almost like I'm really, you know, struggling here. I can barely taste my food. So what's going on here? I had a strong wish not to sit next this person that seems to be pretty qualified as the cause. What happens if I somehow put that aside? I can't let go of it. But what happens if I take a deep breath Be patient With it, try to kind of come from a different place inside of me relate to this person sitting next to me. Let me just ask them how their year has been. And, and so we see the cause we could call it cause and we somehow come to terms with it and reorient and find a different way of being. I think it's a very wise thing to do to very helpful and useful thing to do. in a different state of mind, a different situation. We might especially people who do mindfulness practice or meditate, they do have cause doesn't quite work. Cause often associated with me, I'm the cause someone else's the cause,
cause is often quite limited. It's just a narrow, small sliver of what's the bigger pitch situation and what's going on. And so when we start getting quieter and can see more deeply, we tend not to see This situation in personal terms and what I'm doing, and we start kind of tuning, it's actually more going on here. There's more conditions. There's more. Yeah, the Buddhist word is conditions. They're different conditions that come together to with that cause. And so rather than the second noble truth being about the cause of suffering, it's about the conditions of suffering. What are the different things happening here that are contributing to this? So I really want this sensual pleasure thing, and I can't get it. I can let go of the desire. But that was really just a tip of the iceberg. There's actually deeper parts of my psyche involved in having that desire. I think that I'm only a successful dignified, card carrying member of the human race. If I get a certain number, a certain amount of sensual desire every day. And and so it's really my sense of self worth, somehow. tied up in this. And this self worth is not the cause. The cause more is the desire itself. But the condition for that desire has to do with this underlying idea of self worth that I have or lack of self worth I have there might be many things like this, that go on it might be that part of the conditions is that I spent too much time watching commercials. And the commercials are, you know, telling me that I should have lots of things I should deserve the other being telling me I should deserve these things. And my wife I know a few days ago watched a wonderful, well, she wouldn't say that anymore. We were. She said she told us this wonderful documentary, an hour long documentary about crafts, and wonderful craftspeople and let's let's watch it. So we did it was kind of inspiring parts of it. Until we got to the end say, wait a minute. Wait a minute. There's a long section there. And it was basically an one hour, very fine. I thought sophisticated commercial for a car manufacturer there was building up to the car being a great crafted in a beautiful way. We got, you know, he got pulled in, you know, to this, you know, and so it was kind of disappointing at the end. But, you know, this idea that, you know, you're supposed to, you know, so I guess someone else could have left that movie and that documentary, so called documentary and said, yes, if I could just have that kind of car. This would be the epitome of refined, crafted, you know, beautiful human life and you know, and, and that's, that's the desire and the condition, the idea of participating in a crafted life and refined life or all these conditions that are building coming together. And so watching that movie would have been the conditions so life gets broader when the mind gets quieter. You really take a good look. And you see the broader conditionality, it gives you a lot more choice. It gives you a lot greater ability to address what's going on. Because if you're only looking at the cause, I'm calling that a narrow sliver of the whole picture. Sometimes the cause like a strong desire is hard to let go of might be a lot of attachment. But if you start seeing the wider field of conditions that contribute to that, cause some of those other conditions might be easier to deal with. Stop watching documentaries, I think maybe called docu commercials or something. And, you know, as you know, stop hanging out with, you know, conditions that are keep, you know, fueling your desire fueling your desires. And it might be easier to kind of take care of the conditions than the actual kind of when it's become a compelling compulsive desire. The third Meaning of the second noble truth that happens for people who are really generally generally most accessible, but not only in a really deep way for people who are really meditating deeply deep states of stillness and quiet. And that is that the third noble truth, the second noble truth is a truth literally means the arising of suffering, to be present, to really be present at the moment, the initial initiating moment when the suffering appears, and it reappears and reappears. And it turns out that our suffering we have when you're really still to watch it is not a constant, steady stream of suffering.
It's something that keeps arising and passing and rising and passing. And there's a lot of the wisdom becoming a sage and Buddhism has a lot to do with the getting to appreciate all the different ways that are suffering. comes and goes, comes and goes. Certainly this can be seen in everyday life. And there's plenty of people who become very wise in recognizing, wow, it just comes and goes, here it is again and they won't be here tomorrow and or some point and just watching the changing nature of it. But to watch it in a momentary away, they coming and going, is the heart of what the Buddhist meditation like Vipassana meditation is pointing to. Because when when you really see the moment of arising, it's a lot easier not to grab on. And if you can be there and not grab on, then you can, then there's opportunity to settle back, open up, relax, let go in a deeper, deeper way, which has to do with a third noble truth, the truth of the cessation of suffering. Certainly, if you let go of your desire or your ill your, your resistance to your you know, your If your central desire, your resistance of your relative that's sitting next to you, that you can feel the relief and letting go. But when you but to really, really let go and profoundly deep way, Buddhism points to that. For this, you really want to settle back, learn how to settle that look directly hold your ground, and really start recognizing how things are just passing through how things are just arising and passing a stream of life. Even though some things might stay for a while. It's part of a stream of things coming and going arising and passing. And when the mind is still enough, then you can see this arising and passing happening much more often. See it actually kind of, you know, in terms of minutes or seconds, even even things that persist for days, has a quality of kind of coming in and out this oscillating change. And that's where some really deeper kind of cessation letting go opening up freedom can happen. And this letting go of suffering is to let go of what john Stuart Mill talks about, causing harm. In the Buddhist analysis, the deepest happiness the deepest peace has to do. When our hearts can be open, hearts are free to just beat and flow and feel and be and think, without any kind of clinging, attachment, any kind of cause of suffering, interfering with it. So this idea of seeing suffering and letting go of it is not a diminishment of ourselves doesn't leave us with nothing. That leaves us with a happy heart leaves us with a peaceful heart. leaves us with something wonderful. And so, the Buddhist the Buddha has talked about this suffering and happiness thing in a very interesting way. He said, he pointed to a path of practice. That doesn't just lead to you know, momentary happiness. So, momentary suffering just for today, you know, I feel better because I let go of my whatever he was interested in what he called the long term happiness, and the long term ending of suffering. So, something gets persisted that could last. And for that, to really have that third noble truth, the cessation really kind of carry us to the full potential of freedom have some deeper happiness and well being or real penetration this suffering a powerful ability to be a sage you can look at suffering directly at the monster directly. The Buddha then offered the Eightfold path, he offered a set of practices that that are supposed to be practices or the word practices probably doesn't do justice for what this eightfold path is. Because they're supposed to be something that lives in us. They're not supposed to be something we just take on like we do. Like something like a like a, like a little device we pick up and use like a tool. It's supposed to become who we are. We're supposed to like you know, in terms of for example, the third of the Eightfold Path is right speech, why speech? It is by like, we take it on like a code to good code to go around with why speech we become why speech
it isn't that the right action you know, that we know, you know, your take on like a code that can other code, you know, not to kill, not to steal and such things. It becomes who we are. So to develop this, to develop ourselves to be transformed in a deep way to become in some sense different than how you were different than how you were, that contributed for you, you're suffering, your stress that you don't feel moment to moment, a deep, abiding sense of peace, at home comfort, a sense of meaning value in this life that allows you to then look at this messy life we have that we see in this difficult world that we all live in, and gives us the ability to look at it wisely, compassionately, clearly, and perhaps even so that we can make this world a better place. So suffering and the end of suffering for ourselves and for this world, to become sages to become wise. Don't try to be a saint. It's not enough. So maybe next week I'll talk more about the Eightfold Path since like you just touched on it. And so hopefully this will give you something to chew on for the rest of the year. That was kind of my inspiration and giving this first first Sunday of the year was to emphasize how important this is and, and you, you're not going to go wrong if you choose to reflect on or think about it over and over again. And if you're, you know, if you happen to like my talks or something, you can go back over the last 15 years. I probably have 30 of these talks in the Four Noble Truths since the beginning of January, and maybe you could see how they've changed over the years. How I've been reflecting on it, then. Developing and changing over time. So it's a growing thing. It's a you know, it's something that evolves and we develop and we kind of every year I'm curious to see we're at grad might this year Thank you very much.