2022-04-29 Satipaṭṭhāna (66) Knowing the Four Noble Truths
10:19PM Apr 29, 2022
I wanted to read a wonderful passage from the teachings of the Buddha. The Buddha says, "It is enough to do this. This is enough, if you just do this with your life." Something like that. Rather than thinking of this as a high standard – this is enough. This is a wonderful way. If you just did this, it would be enough.
"Practicing for your own welfare is enough. Practicing for the welfare of others is enough. Practicing for the welfare of both the self and others is enough." There is a little bit more than that. It was a bit of a paraphrase of the text. Here we are, practicing hopefully for our welfare and the welfare of others.
This week we looked at the Four Noble Truths. The wording of the Four Noble Truths is, to me, very simple, but very evocative. One way it is evocative is that there are no pronouns in it. It says, "One understands the noble truth of suffering. One understands the noble truth of the arising of suffering. One understands the noble truth of the cessation of suffering. And one understands the noble truth of the practice leading to the cessation of suffering." There are no pronouns there. It is not emphasizing one's own suffering, or the suffering of others. I like to interpret this to mean that when we practice, we are available to recognize suffering wherever it is – in ourselves and in the world around us. That can be equally our care, to care for the suffering of others, as to care for ourselves.
Each of them is enough, this little text, sutta, says. It is in the Saṃyutta, book 12, sutta 22. Each is enough. Wherever we are at. Paying attention to the suffering of others, if that is what is salient, prominent, that is enough. That is good. Paying attention to our own suffering, that is good as well. Doing both, here it says is enough. But I think that doing both is really the best.
If we only pay attention to the suffering of others, but not our own, we can easily speak and act in ways that cause more harm, for ourselves and for others. If we only pay attention to our own suffering, then it is too easy for that to reinforce self-involvement, self-preoccupation, selfishness of a certain kind. It is too easy then to not pay enough attention to the suffering of others, and cause harm because we do not understand people – the impact we are having or what is supportive for people.
To be able to do both, is a phenomenal thing. One of the phenomenal aspects of the keeping the Four Noble Truths at the center of Buddhist practice – It is a form of self-protection and protection for others. We notice when we start becoming uncomfortable, tense, stressed, distressed. We stop and pay attention to that. "This is worth understanding. This is worth looking at." That is a very different approach than just barreling ahead with the suffering – being preoccupied in a way that reinforces it.
There is a special awareness we are developing in mindfulness – the ability to, in a metaphorical way, step back and know it. Be conscious of it, where knowing and being conscious of it is, in some ways, more important than the content of what is happening. Where the knowing of it is where some freedom is found. Where the knowing of it gives us information about how, maybe, to do a course correction. If you notice the shoulders are tense, that may be simple to relax the shoulders. If we notice were attached to some outcome, may be that is not so easy to let go. Or we are holding on to some pain, attached to suffering. That is not so easy to let go of.
Slowly we begin to learn to have this different relationship to suffering, where it is not driving the show. It is not confusing us, or preoccupying us in some deep way. We are learning this ability to step back and be conscious. In that consciousness there is some ease, some freedom. There is the information we need to maybe do course corrections. That is how it is protective.
That works, for example, in meditation practice – at some point, we become aware that we are straining, maybe, we are trying too hard, or we have an expectation it should be different. We have this idea that, "I'm not doing it well." Those kinds of thoughts, that kind of a strain, probably you can feel some discomfort around having them, some dukkha, some strain or stress. If you notice it, then you are on the road to becoming free of it, especially if you have developed this capacity to be consciously aware, in this very clear way that we are talking about today. Then we can make a course correction. We can maybe change what we are doing as well.
We are not so much focused on the content of what we know, and we are not necessarily focused on the process of what is happening. We are prioritizing being conscious of it. Some people might feel that is not enough, that is dangerous. We are not going to take care of ourselves properly. But what happens is, as we are relaxed, open and conscious in this effortless way, then we have access to deeper places of wisdom within – deeper knowing – we have time for some deeper process to unfold. And to reference what we say and do, against, or with, this freedom, spaciousness or ease of this kind of knowing.
The Four Noble Truths – instead of trying to understand what they mean, (which is appropriate; I hope you understood more this week what they mean), remember how important is the word "to understand", "to know", to know each one. The knowing grows. The capacity to know present moment awareness, present moment conscious awareness, can grow. It becomes a place of abiding, resting, a place of freedom. We discover that, in a deep way what we are looking for in practice – the freedom, the peace that we are looking for – maybe is not found in what we are trying to understand. It is found in our 'capacity' to understand. It is not found in what we are trying to know. It is found in the knowing itself. That is a paradigm shift.
May you appreciate your knowing, your ability to be conscious, to be attentive, to be aware. May you, over this weekend, try to go through the day, periodically tapping into or exploring what I talked about today – about this value of understanding, knowing and being conscious in this effortless way where we just receive. See what you learn. See what you learn, how difficult it is, when it is easy, what benefits come from it. Even if you just have little hints of it, from here and there.
Monday we will start the last week on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. Now that we have gone through all the exercises, there is a foundation for bringing it to a close. Thank you very much and look forward to Monday.