2021-01-03 Four Noble Truths all at Once
6:48PM Jan 3, 2021
four noble truths
fourth noble truth
second noble truth
So the custom here at IMC is to dedicated the first Dharma talk of the year to the Four Noble Truths. And it said sometimes that all of the Dharma, all of Buddhism is is, is, can be found within the Four Noble Truths. And so in a sense, all the rest of teaching that's going to come in the course of the year are all in a continuation or an expression or aspect of these four noble truths. And they're really a wonderful rubric, a wonderful, four little phrases, called truths, pragmatic truths, that are interpreted in a number of different ways. And that's part of the richness of these four noble truths is that they can be applied in different ways understood different ways and, and the work to kind of help us reflect and think about our lives and offer a new perspective for understanding what's going on for us. And kind of celebrate with the various different interpretations that have occurred in Buddhism down through the ages, and, and also the various ones that exist here in the modern world. And I think of them as the inexhaustible noble truths, that there's no exhausting all the different ways in which they can be applied and understood for our lives. So I'll offer you a little bit of, you know, interpretation, a little bit understanding of them as we go along. And, as I said, at the beginning of the meditation, the primary characteristic of the Dharma is harmlessness, is non harming. And one of the forms that takes is the desire to not harm anyone, but including oneself, and to understand how we harm ourselves. How we inflict or bring about suffering on ourselves, is one of the great tasks of a lifetime. And the Dharma practice is really getting to the bottom of ways that we unnecessarily inflict suffering on ourselves, stress on ourselves, and come to the other side of that, where instead of suffering, we experience happiness and peace. And, and it's a challenging statement, of course, to say that, you know, we're trying to get underneath the pillow, or really kind of work through the ways in which we inflict suffering on ourselves. Because the very idea that we would do that seems counterintuitive. And for some people, maybe even a little insulting that they think that they're causing harm for themselves, especially when there's so many people around you, maybe, who are causing harm, our whole society could be causing harm towards you, in a way that societies do so many terrible things. And, and, and so, but what the kind of the specialty of Buddhism is to really understand what we're doing what's happening within us, what is our contribution to our suffering? Because that's where we have the most ability to make a change, whether or not we can change society and the world around us or other people. Certainly at times, we should, sometimes passionately. But whether we successful or not, that's just open question. But we can have much more success with ourselves. And it turns out, if you can really delve deeply in ourselves and really understand the roots of self inflicted suffering in ourselves, it really is transformative. And and that transformation changes our relationship to the difficulties of the world around us, and changes those changes dramatically. So that maybe we become more porous, are more free. In the context of people who maybe are even harming us, we have much more ease. So this idea of turning inward and looking at the Four Noble Truths. So in Buddhism, we celebrate the Four Noble Truths there are sometimes considered to be the core teachings of the Buddha. And in celebrating them, it's possible to then to want to say they're the greatest and the most wonderful and so important. But I'm not going to say that
one of the earliest teachings of the Buddha is to be very careful not to take any spiritual teachings as ultimate. And so the idea that somehow Buddhism has some ultimate teachings or better teachings in other spirit traditions, better philosophies is such a big trap that we fall into human beings we want to be part of the best and, and really be, you know better than others or something because we want to be involved with the best, the most helpful or something. And we see in the earliest teachings of the Buddha, were really clear explicit. teachings did not do this, don't hold up your, your philosophy, your religion, your spirituality as being better, don't diminish, demean it don't diminish its value, just don't play the comparison game. And just let these teachings be what they are for you. And if they're beneficial, great, and that's wonderful. And there's no need to consider them the best going. So in this regard, then it might be useful rather than saying beginning by saying what they are. And maybe I'll say briefly what they are up for, as if you know if you've ever heard what they are, and then talk about what they're not. So, the Four Noble Truths are four statements having to do with the nature and the potential around suffering that we inflict on ourselves suffering that we kind of somehow contribute in ourselves, that happens within us, in our own little psychophysical ecosystem. And, and the first statement is that there is there is suffering, there is personal suffering, there is stress and, and distress in this system that we have. And that that suffering. The second noble truth says that suffering has an arising, it arises. It's a very strange statement in English, just as it would be in Pali, that it's this it's the noble truth of the arising of suffering. But what this arising implies, is that suffering is not permanent, that has a beginning, it arises it gets born, it comes out of something. And sometimes the Four Noble Truths puts a lot of emphasis on what it comes out of. Sometimes the emphasis is just the very fact of its impermanent nature and constant nature, in substantial nature, which is, but but also what does it arise out of, which is often described as the cause. And so people will look at the cause as part of the second noble truth. The third noble truth is kind of the good news of Buddhism. And that is that it's the the cessation of the suffering, this, this that suffering, inner and eternal suffering, the inner ways in which we inflict suffering to ourselves, comes to an end, and a radical, thorough kind of ending. And, and that's the kind of the good news. And then the fourth noble truth is described as the way leading to that end. And now, there's more to say about that that way. And I'll do that later. But these are the four statements of them. So what did it's not? Sometimes, because in popular English writings about the Four Noble Truths, there's a statement that the first noble truth says life is suffering. Now, this is a very depressing statement. And the Buddha never said that life is suffering. What he said was that there is suffering, and, and, you know, but that doesn't mean that that's all there is. Life is suffering kind of implies that you have to kind of live with a suffering life because there's no alternative. But there is suffering and there is an alternative, and there is a possibility of bringing suffering to an end. And the statement there is suffering is meant to be an encouragement, to stop and look at it, to stop and take it seriously. to really recognize the suffering the stresses we live under, live with, in order not to suffer better, but to really see see it all the way through to the other side. But it requires admitting it stopping for it, recognizing it. The other thing that the Four Noble Truths are not, they are not a belief system.
They're not like you have to now believe these four noble truths as a tenant are part of the creed of Buddhism. They're more like a frame of reference. They're more like a perspective that we adopt. And, and it's a it's an alternative perspectives to some perspectives that we commonly go through life with, that don't really serve us too well. And one of the most common perspectives that many people have Is the perspective that of me myself in mind of self, that everything is seen through that goes on what happens to us how we experience things, what goes on inside, what we do and don't do, from the point of view of me, I, the self, I'm the one who's experiencing something, they said something to me, and it affects me and my sense of self, I want something, I have an opinion, this is my opinion, this is my experience. So all this me myself. And of course, it's not an unreasonable category to go say, use the ideas of me myself in mind or be concerned with oneself. But if that's the sole perspective we use to understand our lives, then we end up into the trap that sometimes the self help program, psychology gets into, sometimes that there's no end to fixing the self because the self is kind of ends up to be primarily are a big part of it. A construct of the mind, kind of a, the story of the self that we live by, is a story that's constantly changing, never ending, never can be perfect, never can be finished. And, and if we're always kind of looking and measuring our life, from the point of what it means for me, and the impact on me, it's a rather limited perspective. The alternative to that is the perspective of the these four noble truths. And rather than looking at their experience, through the vantage point of self, we're looking at our experience through the vantage point of suffering, and the end of suffering. And whether there is or not, there is or is not a self is really incidental, not that important. To this new perspective, what's important is to really be able to point to the real issue, the real, what's really at the heart of suffering, if we want to find the heart of freedom from suffering. And sometimes if we look at through the vantage point of self, me and myself in mind, it actually limits our ability to see the underlying nature of suffering itself. We're kind of one step removed, we've interpreted it, we've applied it, we've, we've centralized it in relationship to self. And it turns out that it's just a lot easier to not take things so personally, to not measure things suffering about me myself in mind. There's a strong, almost addictive habit of seeing things through the vantage point of self, it can seem just like so second nature, so natural to do it. But in fact, it's possible to have a whole different perspective. And to ask, you know, where's the suffering? What's the suffering right here? Not how am I suffering? What's my suffering, but just what is the suffering, and the complications of self and self consciousness and self definition, kind of get loosened up. And so it's a framework for understanding our experience that's simpler than the framework of self. And other ideas idea that comes to that is, some people have this idea that the Four Noble Truths are rather limited or narrow, perspective to us or teaching, you know, it's so much more to life in the Four Noble Truths. And certainly, that's true. But they're not so narrow and so limited. What they do, is they bring us very close in to see suffering itself. It turns out that when we suffer, suffering is intimately related to so much of our psychology, so much of who we are so much because on the world, that it's a fascinating and important doorway, to deep self understanding to understand the full range of who we are. Suffering has its is it related is connected to so much of our inner life, our personality, our psychology, our emotions, our body, that studying suffering really opens up to a real wealth and richness of who we are in a fantastic way. And or we discover by turning into suffering, that
the issues that we're looking at or think are important, turned out to be not so important after all. So for example, I don't know if this is a good example. But the question, what is the meaning of life? That seems like a maybe a good question and surface. But if we ask ourselves in as if we explore it in asking that question, Where does that question come from inside of me? Does that question arise out of fear does a question arise out of greed or out of some kind of anxiety? Doing my suffering in some way, might uncomfortable in some way. That's why I'm asking the question. If there is any inner discomfort that's prompting the question, then Buddhism would say, settled that inner fear or anxiety or discomfort, that whatever inner turmoil there is that might give birth to that question, what is the meaning of life? Is that can be settled without answering the question. And that's why this deep insight into the Four Noble Truths are so helpful. And if there is no inner turmoil, there is no anxiety and fear or suffering related to the question, what is the meaning of life, it's good to know that. And then you can continue exploring what the meaning of life is, but do so happily and with ease and without a lot of weight and a lot of conceit and a lot of looking for the ultimate so that you can know them ultimate better than other people knowing the ultimate. It just becomes a nice project who understand that some people complain about this four noble truths said it's a selfish teaching. Because it's kind of looking at your own experience, turning attention inward to see your suffering, the cause of suffering and the way out of the suffering. And, but it's not really selfish, because partly because it's really taking a very different paradigm than me myself in mind, that's self preoccupation. But also, because selfishness itself is a form of suffering, is a form of stress and distress. And, and so, as we study the Four Noble Truths, will root out selfishness, the self interest of wanting to be involved in a great religion, the best religion and have the best, you know, have the best religious teachings, the best spirituality, the best spiritual experience of anybody on your block. All these ways in which we want to be special, and are all the ways that were threatened. Easily our sense of self our sense of conceit or sense of selfishness is threatened by what goes on in the world is questioned by the Four Noble Truths, because we question the underlying Molly's the underlying tension, that that gives birth to any kind of selfishness including the kind of selfishness which is to demean oneself and to limit oneself and think oneself is less than others. It is a kind of self preoccupation. All these come out of ours forms of suffering. And the Four Noble Truths, hopefully, gently pops the bubble, it probably shows that this is not really so interesting and so useful. There is no other way of living. That is doesn't have the suffering of selfishness or self preoccupation. And then if we pop that bubble, then it becomes more natural to come into that perspective of the Four Noble Truths, which are force for perspectives that have no in and of themselves are free of the perspective of taking things personally. So they're not selfish. The other thing is, some people say, well, it's kind of a party party pooper. This four noble truths, because we're supposed to look at suffering we're supposed to really get to know are suffering and, you know, the bumper sticker for Buddhists would be I stopped for suffering, and doesn't seem like a great advertisement, you know, to come to Buddhism and get to look at your suffering better. I mean, not not too many people would come off the street to a Buddhist center, if that was the main teaching that they heard. But the the classic teaching around these four noble truths is that all four truths are even though they they are kind of talked about one at a time. The first, second, third and fourth, because that's the kind of limitation of language the,
the, the insight into them. The deeper insight into the Four Noble Truths is you see all four altogether, they're seeing simultaneously. So that means that as we see suffering, we see the cause for suffering as we see suffering. We see it as insubstantial as something arising and passing is something something that's not permanent and solid and stuck. We also see the cessation of suffering. It's a little strange, but you can get in there very suffering that we have. We also see the possibility or the actuality of the end of that suffering or the freedom from that suffering. And we see what it takes. And it takes a radical letting go, not clinging to anything. And to see all those four together, makes it more of a happy occasion to see the Four Noble Truths. If we're only looking at our suffering, it can be a little bit depressing, it can be a little bit distressing. But if we remember if we can learn to understand these four noble truths as as a unitary perspective, then the very encounter with suffering shows us a path and a possibility that's quite inspiring and encouraging to us, there is a possibility to get to the other side of it. Now, it also means though, that there is a certain, this idea of calling each of these four noble truths, noble truths, gives a certain kind of sacredness to each, not that suffering is sacred. I never want to say that. But there's something sacred, about bringing our mindful, caring, attention to how we suffer, to stop and really be there for it. To really, there's something sacred, about stopping and taking a good look, to see the cause of it to what's bringing giving rise to it. There's something very sacred about seeing the cessation of it, seeing the possibility of freedom from it. It's kind of like seeing the space that's around the suffering, and realizing we can live in that space, rather than living in the suffering. And that there's something sacred about the way leading to it, because it's Noble. And what makes it sacred. For me this, you know, it's not exactly a Buddhist word sacred, they use the word noble, which I associate with being dignified, very dignified, and highly valued. But what makes it sacred, is that, it it's, it's kind of makes it's kind of fundamental to all of our life, and applies to all of our life. It's all pervasive, this idea of the Four Noble Truths, because either we're touching into all the different ways in which we feel suffering. And we also discover a sense of peace, a sense of cessation of suffering, that also relates to all the different ways that we live our lives. So it's comprehensive, it's in completely inclusive of all of our lives. And so, so there's something very dignified and valued and no noble, sacred, in being learned, learning the capacity to take a good, honest look at our suffering. But doing so and knowing that this is not the end of the story, knowing that this very looking, this very stopping and being present for it is a special act. It's not being lost in the suffering or caught in it, it's actually the beginning of finding an alternative to the suffering the freedom from it. And so that we don't simply just kind of fall into some spiritual bypass. So just being kind of not suffering in some way, because we're holding ourselves away from the world. The second noble truth is noble truth is so important. Because the second noble truth is it includes looking at the underlying cause of the suffering. And, and one of the primary causes that the Buddhist tradition emphasizes is something that's called in Pali is called tun, Na, ta and ha, and it's usually translated into English has thirst. But I kind of like to think of it as hunger, that we're trying to consume something in the mind in order to feel good, the heart that there are to feel good, wants to consume things to hold things, and it has a certain kind of compulsion driven pneus. to consume, to want to have.
And there are four things that the mind will consume in order to feed itself. And it is feeding itself a certain kind of suffering when it does this. It's the thirst or the hunger for sensual desire and central comfort. The hunger for our stories, our views or opinions, our philosophies are certainly our stories, many of the stories of our lives and what happened to us, the hunger to hold on to that to make a better story, to assert that story to tell everyone that story to live that story. That hunger to do. So there's 100 longer, too, for anything and everything that's going to help us get over our suffering, and hunger for practices and rituals, and, and, you know, all kinds of things, this drive for practices, things that spiritual practices. And it's very kind of paradoxical that Buddhism offers spiritual practice. But not only does it not want us to take anything as anything, Buddhist is being ultimate, it also doesn't want us to hunger for be attached to the very practices Buddhism teaches, partly because the practices are just a means they're not the end. But so this hunger for spirituality for being right. And then the fourth of these consumables that we're hungry for, is identification. Identifying, creating the defining a sense of self, ourselves, having a view an idea of who I am, or what the self is. Now, it can be innocent enough to have these ideas of self and use of self. But there can also be a hunger for it, or a drive for a compulsion and need for it in order to feel safe or complete or fulfilled. So these four hungers are often seen as the primary cause for suffering, and, and understanding how they might be the cause of these four are limited to these four, take some kind of reflection thinking and looking deeply into the nature of what motivates you. And, and from which our, our suffering arises. And so to look deeply at suffering, to look at it as something that's insubstantial, that's arising, that has a cause that arises from something, to see that it's possible to lay down the compulsions, to have them cease completely. And so the very roots for the suffering, whether up, dry up, dissolve, and the suffering itself vanishes. And it's a fantastic thing. To discover how thoroughly and completely it's possible to have a suffering free Heart, heart that's deeply at ease that peace with itself, content, not needing to consume anything, to get more, to change anything for its own well being. And then there's the path. And the final final thing I'll say is the path. The fourth noble truth has two essential meanings. One is those practices and means that help us let go of our suffering, like over clinging. The other thing it means is that it's the wide open path that opens up, when we realize the freedom from clinging, freedom from suffering, when we realize that this true is possible, it's possible to have a heart that's at ease and free and, and suffering free. And then to have a feeling for that have a vision for that have a sense of that, and see that this is the way forward. And it's kind of like now, the path forward from this freedom is an expression of the freedom and so a path to freedom and a path that expresses that freedom in our life. And so all these four can as we mature and the Four Noble Truths, be seen simultaneously, at the same time. And doing so, is inspiring and hopefully bring you a sense of happiness and maybe a smile on your face, and a wonderful smile that you might have. Living with the Four Noble Truths. The smile of being contented, happy not to take Buddhism as being ultimate and special and wonderful and better than anything else. And also this wonderful smile you
can have when you don't take yourself as being ultimate and special and the most wonderful thing going. We just can be alive. Just a life, just alive, peaceful content happy, perhaps hopefully, living for the welfare of all beings. May all beings benefit from the Four Noble Truths. Thank you