As I was working on my journaling and discussion for the next class in my Butterfly Journal workshop today, I went to an old blog post from 2012 to check on a reference I wanted to make about the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths. I had written four posts to cover this topic, one for each Noble Truth. Only a few people were reading this blog at the time, so I have decided to refresh these posts by putting them all together here into one post…
Noble Truth #1 – There is Suffering (Dukkha)
Buddha images from the Sacred India Tarot deck
The Buddha developed the Four Noble Truths as a means for each of us to understand the nature of suffering, i.e. what suffering is, and to show us a way to overcome it. Though they are his teachings and guidelines, each of us still has to come to the awareness of what suffering is and how to free ourselves from it on our own. Being told or studying how to do something doesn’t mean we truly know and understand it. We must go through the process and do it ourselves. And usually it takes a lot of practice, practice, practice! Understanding ourselves from within is no different.
The first of the Four Noble Truths is Dukkha, which means suffering or dissatisfaction, and is often stated as: there is suffering. We all are aware of the external sufferings of the world: violence, poverty, etc., but to free ourselves from suffering, we must first acknowledge that suffering exists within ourselves. The first Noble Truth is telling us to look deep inside and self-reflect on what it is that we do mentally, emotionally, and psychologically that causes our own suffering. What thoughts of the mind or beliefs of the ego are we holding onto that cause us to be continually dissatisfied with ourselves and with life? In what ways do our mindsets and attitudes create and contribute to our suffering? We must acknowledge that there is suffering within us before we can truly understand its nature.
Noble Truth #2 – The Truth of The Origin of Suffering (Samudaya)
What causes us to suffer? What is it that makes us dissatisfied with ourselves, our lives, and the world around us? What is the origin of our suffering? It is the clinging to those mindsets, beliefs, and desires of the ego that cloud our vision and mask our understanding of realty, of Truth, behind the veil of illusion. This veil of illusion, Maya, is created by the ego’s desires and cravings. The selfishness of the ego mind makes us ignorant…it gives us the illusion that we are separate from God, from the Universe, from Truth. This feeling of detachment from the true nature of reality causes us to suffer, and yet the fear of letting go of our attachment to our egos drives us to cling even more and escape behind Maya.
Ignorance, Desire, and Fear/Anger are, in Tibetan Buddhist Medicine, the three fundamental roots of disease and of cyclic existence, the cycle of rebirth into this earthly realm. It is perpetuated by the illusory cycle of ignorance > desire > fear > ignorance, and so forth. The second Noble Truth is our so-called “wake-up call”. To free ourselves from our suffering, our illusion of separateness, we must not only acknowledge that we are suffering, but we must also become aware from within that we, our egos, are the roots to our suffering.
As explained in the Bhagavad Gita 3:36-41:
Arjuna: What is the force that binds us to selfish deeds, O Krishna? What power moves us, even against our will, as if forcing us?
Krishna: It is selfish desire and anger, arising from the guna of rajas; these are the appetites and evils which threaten a person in this life. Just as a fire is covered by smoke and a mirror is obscured by dust, just as the embryo rests deep within the womb, knowledge is hidden by selfish desire – hidden, Arjuna, by this unquenchable fire for self-satisfaction, the inveterable enemy of the wise. Selfish desire is found in the senses, mind, and intellect, misleading them and burying the understanding in delusion. Fight with all your strength, Arjuna! Controlling your senses, conquer your enemy, the destroyer of knowledge and realization.
It sounds simple at first, but for most of us it may take many years, or many lifetimes, to achieve this full self-awareness. It takes practice! Like the warrior Arjuna, we must strive to become spiritual warriors for Truth in order to face the origin of our suffering.
Noble Truth #3 – The Truth to The Cessation of Suffering (Nirodha)
If we choose to become spiritual warriors, how will we conquer our enemy? How can we cease suffering? How do we stop desiring, clinging, and craving? How do we silence the ego and bring stillness to the mind? We can free ourselves from our suffering by letting go of clinging and by surrendering our egos so that our souls can shine through. Surrender is a powerful weapon which takes great strength to wield, but with continuous practice we will be able to set our ego’s control aside and open our hearts…to Love.
In Tibetan Medicine, Love and Compassion is the ultimate antidote for all disease and suffering. When we truly love, we cannot be selfish and we cannot crave and desire; we can only give unconditionally. When we love, our souls, our true Selves, unite with Truth, God, the Universe… This is freedom! Free from our egos, free from the cycle of ignorance, desire, and fear/anger, free from suffering.
the perfect stillness
and the greatest excitement, and most profound act,
and the word almost as complete
as His name
– Rabia of Basra, Islamic Sufi saint
God came to my house and asked for charity.
And I fell on my knees and cried,
“Beloved, what may I give?”
“Just love,” He said.
– Saint Francis of Assisi
Even after all this time
the sun never says to the earth,
“You owe me.”
Look what happens with a love like that –
it lights the whole world.
– Hafiz, Persian poet
Noble Truth #4 – The Noble Eightfold Path
The first three of the Four Noble Truths were developed by the Buddha to teach us about the nature of suffering. With the fourth part the Buddha provides and shows us the pathway to overcome our suffering: The Noble Eightfold Path. By practicing and following this path, we can become more and more able to surrender our egos and free ourselves from the roots of suffering (ignorance, desire, and anger) in order to live a life of Truth, Love, and Compassion.
1) Right Understanding
2) Right Intention
3) Right Speech
4) Right Action
5) Right Livelihood
6) Right Effort
7) Right Mindfulness
8) Right Concentration
Following the Noble Eightfold Path is a continuous practice in which we must try to be aware of and conscious of how our actions, thoughts, words, and intentions affect others. By doing what is right and compassionate towards others, we will overcome our suffering.