Tag Archives: Noble Truth

Buddha’s Third Noble Truth – Nirodha

Standard

In the past few articles we discussed and identified the causes of suffering, thus we are now ready to discuss how to put an end to suffering. Just as when one has identified the pain in your lower, left side, abdomen and you are then in a position to remove the cause of the pain. We can now start to put an end to suffering by elimination craving, ill-will and ignorance. Buddha’s Third Noble Truth states that there is freedom from suffering, or Dukkha. The successful cessation of suffering is known as Nirvana — the absence or extinction of desire.  This “state of being” is popularly known as “enlightenment.”

To understand the truth of the end of suffering, one of the obstacles that we have to overcome is the doubt that an end of suffering is even possible. It is in this context that confidence or faith plays an important role in Buddhism. When we say confidence or faith we  do not speak of faith in the sense of blind acceptance but in the sense of recognizing or accepting the possibility of achieving the goal of ending suffering. If you do not have faith that a doctor can cure you of your abdominal pain you will not seek out a doctor, you will never take the medicine or have an operation to help you. Thus, you will die as a result of an illness that could have been cured it you had faith that going to a doctor would help you. So, confidence, belief in the possibility of being cured is an indispensable prerequisite to stopping suffering.

Here too people might ask “How can I believe in the possibility of Nirvana? How can I believe that there can be an end to suffering?”  In response to these questions I say that if it were not for the development of radio receivers which translates the unseen radio waves into sound we would not be able to enjoy radio. Until Antony van Leeuwenhoek opened up a whole new world with his studies of the microscopic world most people did not believe in microscopic animals and plants. I would hazard to say that few who read this, unless you are a particle physicist, have actually observed an electron and yet we accept them because there are people who have special training and instruments who have seen them and with enough studying and hard work we too could see them. The same applies in regards to the possibility of the end of suffering and of attaining Nirvana; we ought not to reject the possibility of attain Nirvana outright simply because we have not experienced it ourselves.

If you are familiar with Plato’s Allegory of “The Cave” (see video at end) I present an Eastern variation on that theme.

One day a turtle crawled up out of the water and sat on the bank looking at the sun, clouds, trees, birds and other wonderful sights. When he returned to the water and told his fish friends about his experiences out of the water they did not believe him. The fish could not believe that there existed a place that was completely dry and totally unlike what the fish knew and were familiar with. The fish would not believe that there was such a place where creatures walked and flew rather than swam, where they breathed air instead of water, and that the sun was round like a ball instead of just a glow.

There are many historical examples of the tendency to reject information that goes against what is “commonly” accepted. When Marco Polo returned to Italy after traveling to the Far East, he was put in prison because what he said about how large the Far East was and other various things that challenged what was then believed about the nature of the Universe. When Copernicus advanced the theory that the Earth circled the Sun instead of the opposite being true. Copernicus waited until the end of his life to publish his work “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres” and  challenge the GeoCentric accepted theory with his HelioCentric one to avoid being put into jail. In history there are many cases such as these two.

We have to be on guard against dismissing the possibility of the complete end of suffering or the possibility of attaining Nirvana simply because we have not experienced it ourselves. If we can accept that the end of suffering is possible, that we can be cured of an illness, then we can proceed with the steps, that have been taken before, that are necessary in order to achieve that cure. Unless and until we believe that a cure is possible there is no question of successfully completing the treatment. In order therefore to attain progress on the path, to realize, eventually, the end of suffering one has to have at least confidence in the possibility of achieving the goal, the goal of attaining Nirvana.

Now that we know that life is suffering, ignorance and desire cause suffering and that we must have confidence in the path to attain Enlightenment. What are the steps along the path we must take. This is addressed in the upcoming article on the Fourth Noble Truth.

If you missed any of the other Noble Truths click on the one you want to review.

Buddha’s Second Noble Truth – Samudaya

Standard

In the first in this series we looked at “The First Noble Truth.” Today we will continue with Buddha’s Second Noble Truth.

The Second Noble Truth states that the cause of all suffering (dukkha) is desire (Tanha, Trishna or Raga -depending on translation).  Tanha is a term that roughly translates to “thirst,” or “desire.” We all enjoy good food, enjoy fine music, pleasant company. When we enjoy these things we want more and more of the things. We try to prolong the pleasant experiences. We try to get more and more of the things and yet we are never satisfied. We may be fond of a particular food and yet if we eat it again and again we will get bored of it. We try another food and we like until we get bored with it. This happens with friends, places to live, your hair-style the list of example is endless.

Sometimes this chase after pleasant experiences leads down a dark path to addiction. Things such as alcoholism, drugs, gambling, sex, and even excitement are harmful to people in many ways and this type of “Tanha” is suffering. Suffering comes from not letting go. If you are have a great time with a loved one and they must go to work, that feeling that you have when they leave is suffering too. It is said that trying to satisfy your desire for pleasant experiences it like drinking salt water when you are thirsty. No matter how much you drink you will never quench your thirst. In fact, rather than being lessened your thirst will only increase.

Not only do we crave  or desire experiences, we also crave for material things. This is easily demonstrated in the behavior of children. I have a six year old daughter. If I take her into a toy shop and buy her a toy, almost as soon as she has the toy she will begin to lose interest in it, without fail. After a few days the toy, that she “must have” will be neglected sitting in her toy box and next time she will want another toy.
While it is easy to see this in children are adults any different?  After you get the latest X-box, Wii, or Nintendo do you not want the “latest” one? After we buy a new car don’t we want a different one? After we move into our new house don’t we think “Well this house is nice but..” The list goes on and on, whether it is a train set, a bicycle, a 3D TV, or a Mercedes the outcome is the same.

It is said that the desire for acquiring wealth or possessions in involved in three major sufferings, or issues.

  1. You have to acquire the items. You have to work and save to buy that X-Box, car or house.
  2. You have to protect the item. You will worry about the item getting damaged i.e someone might crash into your car, burn your house down or lightening might damage your X-box.
  3. You will suffer when you lose the item. No matter how good you take care of an item sooner or later it will fall apart, break or become obsolete.

Another cause of suffering is the craving for existence or external life. We all crave for life in spite of all the frustrations, challenges and obstacles that we face daily, this craving is the cause of dependent arising, which I will get into later. There is also the craving for eternal life or, the opposite, total annihilation the desire for non-existence or eternal death.

By now you may be asking:
“Is craving alone a sufficient cause of suffering?”
“Is craving alone enough to explain suffering?”
“Is the answer as simple as that?”
In a word, No. There is something that is much deeper than craving and that something is called ignorance or (Avidya) but that is another upcoming post.

In short, we suffer because we want.  If we had no desires, we would have no disappointments.  The existence of desire is what causes the suffering in our lives. Here, “desire” is meant to be broadly interpreted.  The desire can be for sensory pleasures like food, sex, or wealth.  We can also have desires or attachments to ideas, theories, and beliefs.  The Buddha taught that all problems in the world arise from the attachments and desires of humanity.  Without such attachments and desires, it is difficult to see how war or domestic strife would arise.

Now we know that all life is suffering, and that suffering is caused by desire, craving and ignorance.  But is that bleak landscape really the entire story?  No, as Hope lies in the Third Noble Truth.

Buddha’s First Noble Truth.

Standard

Thus I have heard. That the first Noble Truth is “Life is Suffering” or Dukkha.

When I talk to people, non-buddhists, about this they seem to think that this is very pessimistic. I then attempt to further explain what I think the Buddha meant.

There are various ways to interpret the Pali word “Dukkha” and suffering is only one way. It can also be disappointment, unhappiness, sorrowful. And who can argue with that.

From the moment we enter this life we are looking for something. At first it is our parents touch, food or a change of diapers. We are happy, for a brief moment, we those needs are met. Then we are sad (suffering) when the bottle we were suckling on is empty.

I remember when my daughter was an infant. She would complain and cry to be fed. She would be content while drinking. But, afterwards she would fuss again because she needed something else. i.e. Sleep, burping, or changing perhaps still another bottle.

Her suffering came from the clinging to the moment of happiness from feeding or the recognition of another need to be filled.

No one expects an infant to realize they are happy and warm most of the time. As parents we do our best to keep them happy but no matter how hard we try their happiness is fleeting, (impermanent) and thus they suffer.

Now at 6 my daughter understands that her needs cannot always be fulfilled immediately and she does her best to savor the happy moments.

Truly, there are times when she reminds me to live in the “present moment.” But, boy if she gets overtired she loses her mindfulness and everyone suffers.

So when you think of the first “Noble Truth” – Life is Suffering- remember that your reaction is what matters most and that without disappointment you would not appreciate the good moments in life.

When you have a moment of suffering remember that it will pass and a moment of joy will pass as well. Greet each moment with equanimity feel the emotions that are there, let them flow through you like a breath and enjoy the moment for what it is.

From there we move to the Second Noble Truth.