2020-05-19: Four Noble Truths: Nirodha (2 of 5) Freedom from Craving
5:32PM May 19, 2020
third noble truth
The topic today is continuing on the third noble truth, which is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering. In the most classic discussion of the explanation of this, it's, as I said yesterday, the cessation of the craving leading to rebirth. However, most people in interpreting and using the teaching about this third noble truth, and also the second noble truth, don't really make reference to how this particular classic teaching has to do with rebirth, but rather, how it applies to daily life, and our life in all kinds of ways. And that craving has a phenomenal role in how we suffer. We want to learn how to be free of that craving.
The way that this is discussed about, discussed in this third noble truth: it's the freedom from the non-clinging to, the non-attachment to, the non-enchantment with craving. It has a lot to do with our relationship to craving.
When I was a new meditator, I had a lot of knee pain. And I learned that in order to be able to sit and breathe in a relaxed way and not be miserable, I had to notice the reactivity I had to my knee pain. And there was all kinds, but remember, there was a period of time where I saw clearly the relationship between my self-pity in having all this pain and the severity of the pain.
I would have the knee pain. I would resist it, react to it, have self-pity, and the little muscles around my knee would tighten. And the pain would get worse. If I let go of the self pity, the muscles would relax, and the pain was better. And because it was so intense, I felt like I had no choice but to really track myself carefully to make sure that there was no self-pity and to let go of it as it came up. And then I would just be with the pain and it wouldn't be as bad.
So learning how the reactivity we have is extra is a powerful thing to do. But we have extra reactivity to desires themselves. We reach for them, we want them, we don't want them - and we feed them and fuel them. And even the negative, not wanting something to be there, keeps us caught in the cycles of wanting and not wanting.
The clarity of mind, of mindfulness, begins seeing the relationship, the conditional relationship, between different ways in which we react and respond. And in that clarity, we can begin leaving things alone. We can leave desires alone and not pick them up, leave cravings alone. We can see them arise, but we don't do anything about them.
Or we can see that the cravings and desires have an underlying condition. And that condition might be as simple as that there's something pleasant or unpleasant, something pleasant or painful that we're reacting to. And the desires the cravings, the resistances, arise in dependence in conditional dependence to the pleasant or unpleasantness.
But to see that clearly in the mind, so clearly, we can just leave it alone. And then we don't have a problem with the craving. We don't have to make the cravings being bad or a sin or evil to have it. We just see it as another phenomenon that's arising, that's appearing, that we don't have to get involved in. We just: "Look at that." It's like watching a cloud going through the sky, just a natural phenomenon that's going through.
The non-involvement with craving can be that strong. If the mindfulness is clear enough, and it's phenomenal, to begin having a very different relationship to our inner-life. One which we don't have to judge or be critical or be reactive to, but you see it, and knowing that clarity of seeing, we're not involved with it. We're not picking it up. It's just there.
In that clarity also, we start seeing the conditionality as I'm saying. And it might be as simple as really seeing the connection between pleasant and unpleasant, and how we react to it with desires, aversions and craving. And to seeing that conditionality, we can leave things alone. We start seeing that things exist conditionally. And as conditions, they're impermanent, they're inconstant, they're coming and going into existence.
For the Buddha, this ability, to see how things are conditional, how things arise because of other conditions, is one of the things that leads to freedom. One of the reasons for that, is that we see that our experiences are not permanent. They're not everlasting. We're not stuck in them.
I remember once many years ago when my first son was quite young, and we were having a difficult day with him, and I remember we were hovering over him, he was a teeny little toddler and trying to manage with something. And my wife looked up at me and she said, "We're having one of those kinds of days." And as soon as she said that, I noticed how much I was operating "as if" we kind of unconsciously almost "as if" these difficulties we're having, we're going to be forever. That was my mindset.
Of course, if you'd asked me, I knew it wasn't going to be forever, but what my subconscious, the way it's reacting and responding, was "as if" that was the case. And when she said "We're having one of those kinds of days." It popped that bubble of permanence. "Oh, it just a day. Okay." And then I could relax and settle in, and be much more at ease with what was going on.
The Buddha said something very interesting. He said, if you see any experience, (but here the focus can be our own psychophysical experience our mind states or thoughts or feelings or desires). If we can see any of these things as they arise, as they appear, we're not going to believe that they don't exist.
They do exist in a certain kind of way: they've appeared, they're not that. However, if we also see that they pass, then we won't to believe in their... If we see them arise, we don't believe in their non-existence. If we see them pass, we won't believe in their existence. And here, the idea is permanent non-existence, or absolute non-existence as if it doesn't exist, or if it really does exist.
It's a fascinating kind of distinction the Buddha makes. And if things need to exist, or don't exist: how are they? How they are is that they are processes that are constantly changing and evolving. And in fact, the conclusion of this little teaching he gives is to emphasize that things are constantly arising and passing. And that begins to loosen up the hold and the grip to see that loosens up the hold and the grip, of our craving, of our desire.
And we begin shifting our relationship to craving, desires and aversions. So there is no passion for them. It's a powerful word in ancient language - lust - perhaps, clinging to them, grasping for them, being enchanted by them, depending on them, resting our life on these desires and aversions.
And this freeing up, so that there is no clinging, no craving. This is a phenomenal thing to do, because it frees up what's wholesome within us. It frees up the goodness of our hearts in a powerful way. And this allowing the goodness of our hearts to flow and come is one of the great pleasures and treasures of Buddhist practice.
And I say that today because a lot the goal over and over again, in the early Buddhist teachings, has to do with absence. I see with letting go, not having clinging there, not having craving there, not having resistance there; letting go of the holding, abandoning craving.
It's all the absence of something. But it's a glorious absence because in the absence of what blocks or obstructs our minds, our hearts, the heart can develop and flow. And this naturalness, the dhammatā or the magga, the path. Over and over again the Buddha presents the path of practice as a path that develops and grows and unfolds over time. Or like a river flowing downslope, or a plant that's germinating and flowering. If we can get out of the way, and no longer obstruct what's here, it's phenomenal what begins to unfold and open in the practice; the path opens up for us.
Then nirodha, the cessation of suffering. I said yesterday that nirodha means also non-obstruction. And so, to really develop this clarity of mind, that can see the arising and passing of things clearly enough that we see pleasure, pain, discomfort, the desires in relationship to it, and we're able to just see that without it obstructing anything - without us getting caught and entangled with it. This is one of the goals of practice. This is one of the ways in which we are able to cut the clinging, the grasping, that entanglement, that gives birth to suffering.
So that is another take on this topic, and we'll continue with nirodha, the cessation of suffering, tomorrow. Thank you.