26 – Work as Spiritual Practice According to Dogen's “Instructions to the Cook” – Part 2
28 - Q&A: The Teaching of Rebirth and Too Much Thinking During Zazen

 

The Buddha’s very first teaching as about the Four Noble Truths: Dukkha, the Origin of Dukkha, the Cessation of Dukkha, and the Path Leading to the Cessation of Dukkha. In this episode I introduce the Four Noble Truths and how the Buddha meant us to practice with them. Then I go through each truth in detail.

Read/listen to Buddha’s Teachings Part 1 : The Three Marks and the Teaching of Not-Self (Anatta)

 

 

Quicklinks to Transcript Content:
The Buddha’s First Sermon: The Four Noble Truths
The Noble Truths as Things to Investigate and Verify
Isn’t the Premise “Life Is Suffering” Negative?
The First Truth: Facing the Dukkha in Your Life
Why Investigate Dukkha When Things Are Going Well?
The Second Truth: Investigating the Origin of Dukkha
The Third Truth: Cessation of Dukkha
The Fourth Noble Truth: The Noble Eightfold Path
Conclusion

 

I had planned to focus this episode on the Buddhist teaching of dukkha, or suffering. In preparing, however, I realized I’ve already talked about dukkha quite a lot in previous episodes! In Episode 9: Shakyamuni Buddha’s Enlightenment: What Did He Realize? I talked at length about the Buddha’s insights into karma (the law of moral cause and effect), how dukkha arises, and what we can do to become free from it. In that episode, I also went into some of the subtleties about what the cessation of dukkha really means – and what it doesn’t mean. In Episode 12: Life of Shakyamuni Buddha Part 2, I summarized the Buddha’s first teachings – which included dukkha – and placed them in the context of his life. Finally, in Episode 14, I covered the Three Characteristics of Existence, or Three Marks; dukkha is one of the three marks, and in Episode 14, I describe how dukkha is intimately related to the other marks, anicca (impermanence) and anatta (not-self). In that episode, I covered how the cessation of dukkha is related to the practice of refraining from identifying anything as self, or as belonging to self (that is, recognizing things as anatta, or not-self).

It’s clear that my attempt to organize things on the Zen Studies Podcast in a nice, linear, logical fashion is going to be challenged by the nature of Buddhism: the teachings are complex and interrelated at many different levels! They remind me of a fractal; you look really closely at them and you’ll see the same patterns appearing over and over. Or of the image you see in a kaleidoscope as you turn it – all the pieces flowing into one another, always making a beautiful whole, but defying any attempt to follow only one piece and separate it from the rest.

So, I ask your patience as I talk about dukkha again, but instead of trying to isolate it as a concept, I’ll present it in yet another context – that of the Four Noble Truths, which is an appropriate next subject for my “Buddha’s Teachings” series.

The Buddha’s First Sermon: The Four Noble Truths

As I discussed in Episode 12, after his enlightenment, the first teaching the Buddha gave came to be called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, or the “Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion Sutta.”[1] In it, the Buddha presents the Four Noble Truths, or four things a Buddhist practitioner needs to investigate and realize in order to awaken. I will briefly summarize the four truths, and then go through them in more detail, one at a time.

The first noble truth is dukkha, which is often translated as “suffering,” but can also be translated as “dissatisfactoriness” or “stress.” The idea is that we need to recognize how our lives are pervaded with dukkha; sometimes the dukkha manifests as acute pain and suffering, sometimes it’s boredom, depression, or anxiety, and sometimes it’s just a vague sense that things aren’t quite the way they should be. Even when our lives are going really well, we’re aware that things are eventually going to change. Nothing gives us happiness forever.

The second noble truth is the origin of dukkha. It turns out dukkha is caused not by conditioned things being the way they are, but by our craving for them to be otherwise. For example, we resist the experience of unpleasant or painful things, and we want pleasurable things to be permanent and graspable even though they aren’t.

The third noble truth is the cessation of dukkha. It possible to let go of our desire and resistance in order to experience freedom from dukkha, which is peace and liberation. Even in the face of real pain, difficulty, and loss, a significant amount of relief can be found.

The fourth noble truth is the practice leading to the cessation of dukkha. We generally aren’t able to let go of our desire and resistance by sheer force of will, but fortunately there are many things we can do to help us realize the first three noble truths and attain peace. These include meditation, mindfulness, studying the Buddhist teachings, and more. The whole collection of Buddhist practices leading to the cessation of dukkha is called the Noble Eightfold Path. I’ll talk briefly about the Noble Eightfold Path in this episode in order to frame it as the fourth noble truth, but I’ll go into detail about it in the next “Buddha’s Teachings” episode, which will be devoted just to that topic.

The Noble Truths as Things to Investigate and Verify

Before I get into each noble truth in detail, I want to say something about how to approach the Four Noble Truths as a whole. They’re often presented as a list of four things a Buddhist needs to accept, like four Buddhist dogmas. However, that wasn’t the Buddha’s intention at all when he gave this teaching. Simply believing or accepting the four truths doesn’t help liberate us from suffering – at least, it doesn’t help very much. Instead, we’re instructed to investigate and verify each of these teachings for ourselves. It’s only through our direct, personal experience of dukkha, its origin, and its cessation that we become liberated from it, and it’s only through our actual practice of the Eightfold Path that we deepen our understanding and change our default mode of operating.

So, another way to describe the Four Noble Truths is like this: First, you need to carefully investigate your own experience and become very familiar with dukkha. What does it feel like in the body? In what circumstances does it tend to arise? What’s a common thread running through your experiences of pain, depression, anxiety, stress, or subtle existential angst? What thoughts go through your mind when you feel ill-at-ease? What does it feel like when you’re not experiencing dukkha?

Second, you’re encouraged to observe the arising of and passing away of dukkha closely, and repeatedly, until you notice what causes it to come and go, increase and decrease. You investigate the Buddha’s suggestion that dukkha is caused by your craving for things to be other than what they are. You can treat this teaching as an open question: Is it so? How is it so? In your own, direct, personal experience, other ways of describing the experience may come to you. For example, I recognize that dukkha arises in me when I internally tighten up with resistance to whatever I’m encountering, as if, through the tenseness in my gut, I will force things in a different direction.

Third, you need to experiment within your own body and mind until you find a way to let go of the extra piece you’re adding to situations in which you experience dukkha. I’ll get into this “extra piece you’re adding” in bit, but at this step in the process you challenge yourself: In the face of the kinds of things that cause you mental or emotional pain or discomfort, what can you do? Anything? Are you doomed to suffer? Some of our responses are instantaneous and beyond our direct control, but some of them are not. At some point, we can discover what I like to think of as an “off switch” for certain of our habitual views and approaches, and then – while a straightforward kind of pain or discomfort may remain, the gut-wrenching experience of dukkha drops away!

Finally, we explore the fourth truth of the Eightfold Noble Path. This isn’t actually something we do later, after we’ve investigated the first three truths. We practice the path leading to the cessation of dukkha from the beginning, because it’s what gives us the tools to settle our minds and observe our experience of dukkha, learn how it arises, and discover ways to to let go of what increases our suffering and stress.

Isn’t the Premise “Life Is Suffering” Negative?

So, back to dukkha. Many people, particularly non-Buddhists, misunderstand the first noble truth. Have you ever heard someone summarize the central Buddhist teaching as, “Life is suffering?” Sometimes people end up with the impression that the Buddha’s teaching was, in essence, something like this: “Generally speaking, life is a terrible experience. The best thing to do is withdraw from life as much as possible, literally and emotionally.” Put another way, when people hear that the Buddha counseled “detachment,” or even “renunciation,” it can sound to them like he advised his followers to make a practice of disassociation so they could live out their lives with a minimum of pain.

Part of the misunderstanding of the Buddhist teaching about the nature of human existence arises from difficulties in the translation of Buddhism from one language to another. Dukkha, an ancient Pali and Sanskrit word, has no simple English equivalent. Most Buddhist scholars agree the word “suffering” is too limited in its meanings to serve as a direct translation. Thus, dukkha has been alternatively translated as anxiety, uneasiness, stress, unsatisfactoriness, and discontent. According to Monier-Williams in his Sanskrit-English Dictionary, dukkha means “uneasy, uncomfortable, unpleasant, difficult.”[2]

The subtle nature of the experience of dukkha can be understood further from its etymology. In a footnote in his translation of the Bhagavad Gita, Winthrop Sargeant explains the historical roots of dukkha and its antonym sukha:

“It is perhaps amusing to note the etymology of the words sukha (pleasure, comfort, bliss) and duḥkha (misery, unhappiness, pain). The ancient Aryans who brought the Sanskrit language to India were a nomadic, horse- and cattle-breeding people who travelled in horse- or ox-drawn vehicles. Su and dus are prefixes indicating good or bad. The word kha, in later Sanskrit meaning ‘sky,’ ‘ether,’ or ‘space,’ was originally the word for ‘hole,’ particularly an axle hole of one of the Aryan’s vehicles. Thus sukha … meant, originally, ‘having a good axle hole,’ while duhkha meant ‘having a poor axle hole,’ leading to discomfort.”[3]

For me, it helps to demystify dukkha to imagine someone getting nauseous from riding in a cart that keeps swaying from side to side, thinking, “Oy, this is very uncomfortable!”

Now, to be fair, early Buddhism did arise in a time and place where many people had adopted a somewhat negative view of human existence. In ancient India, life was seen as an endless cycle of birth, life, death, and then rebirth in a new body in order to start the whole process over again. While this may sound in some ways like eternal life, that’s not how the ancient Indians perceived it. They saw the whole scenario as discouraging, because no matter how wonderful you might have it at any given point, you will inevitably lose everything and experience the heartbreak of loss, illness, old age, and death – not just once or twice, but over and over and over again, countless times. I described this worldview, called the Cycle of Transmigration, in Episode 6, and talked about how this view influenced the religious concerns of ancient India.

Fortunately, Buddhism is not dependent on a belief in transmigration or rebirth, or in a conviction that life is, on the balance, a bummer, because of all the pain and loss you’re eventually going to face. Such beliefs may have colored early Buddhism, but the Buddha’s teaching of the Four Noble Truths is much more profound than mere escapism or disassociation. The first noble truth is not “life is suffering,” “life is mostly suffering,” or even “life involves too much suffering to be worth it.” Instead, a good way to put this for modern ears may be, “life inevitably gets uncomfortable.”

The First Truth: Facing the Dukkha in Your Life

The Four Noble Truths can be said to encapsulate the entirety of Buddhist practice, and it all starts with acknowledging and recognizing dukkha! This is analogous to the saying, “You can’t start to change until you admit you have a problem.” Of course, if you don’t think you have a problem – in this case, if you don’t experience any suffering or dissatisfaction in your life – then you probably won’t be interested in spiritual practice anyway.

It can be challenging to admit you’re suffering, stressed, or otherwise less than perfectly “with it” and happy. Generally speaking, as adults we take pride in successfully managing our lives and our own minds so we’re more or less contented and happy. To admit to others – or even to ourselves – that we’re experiencing dukkha can suggest we’re incompetent, irresponsible, or emotionally weak. Facing the dukkha in our lives can also be daunting, because it can seem like opening a can of worms – who knows what will come up? After years of denying of our problems, the backlog could be overwhelming!

However, Buddhism teaches that facing dukkha is the only way to live a fully liberated, truly happy, life. It also promises that facing our dukkha can be fruitful! (More on that when I get to the third noble truth.)

As we prepare to face our dukkha, it helps to understand the question of human suffering was what inspired the Buddha’s whole spiritual quest. He observed the lives of people around him and saw people more or less subject to their conditions – happy when their circumstances were fortunate, stressed when their situations were less than ideal, and miserable when they were unfortunate. In particular, he observed seven types of human suffering:[4]

  1. Birth (physical birth, which we view as a pretty positive thing, but is unarguably painful and traumatic for mother and infant; this also refers to new beginnings of all kinds, which can be uncomfortable).
  2. Aging.
  3. Death.
  4. “Sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, and despair” (that is, any kind of sadness due to encountering misfortune or pain, grief, physical pain, emotional pain, and despondency or desperation).
  5. Association with who/what we don’t
  6. Separation from who/what we love.
  7. Not getting what we want. (Sariputta, one of the foremost disciples of the Buddha, explained this category of dukkha, saying that, “In beings subject to aging… illness… death… sorrow [etc.], the wish arises, ‘O, may we not be subject to aging… illness… death… sorrow [etc.]’… But this is not to be achieved by wanting. This is the stress of not getting what is wanted.”[5])

As I mentioned earlier, the Buddhist emphasis on the inevitability of these experiences in human life is not meant to imply life is only suffering, or even mostly suffering. There are obviously plenty of pleasurable and rewarding aspects of existence, or people wouldn’t be so attached to it. The point of Buddhism is that we usually operate in one of three different modes with respect to dukkha. If we’re in one of the first two modes, we totally get why the Buddha was so concerned about human suffering how to deal with it: 1) We’re in the midst of dukkha and long for our pain, depression, anxiety, or stress to go away, or 2) We may not be suffering that much at the moment, but we’re painfully aware that there’s dukkha in our future, and consequently find it awfully difficult to relax.

If you fall into one of these first two categories, the Buddhist emphasis on dukkha can actually be encouraging. I remember the first time I encountered the first noble truth; I was 24 years old and had been struggling with despair and neurosis. When I saw that Buddhism started from the premise, “Life is marked by dissatisfactoriness,” and then when on to address how to deal with that fact, I was extremely relieved. It seemed like all the other religions and philosophies I had encountered either tried to sweep the reality of dukkha under the rug, or blamed the experience of dukkha on the pathologies of the individual (in other words, life is wonderful, what’s wrong with you?). In contrast, Buddhism admitted up front that human life was challenging for everyone, and suggested there was something we could do about it.

Why Investigate Dukkha When Things Are Going Well?

If we’re in the third mode with respect to dukkha, however, things are going well for us and we try not to dwell on pain, suffering, or stress – we figure we’ll just deal with it when it comes. In this mode, we may not be very motivated to do spiritual practice, and the Buddha’s teachings about the need to investigate your dukkha can seem like a bit of a downer, or somewhat irrelevant. However, there are two important reasons to practice the Four Noble Truths even when you don’t feel like you’re suffering all that much. First, now’s the time. You’re not struggling with pain, grief, or illness. You don’t have to deal with tragedy or disaster. Relatively speaking, you have the time and capability for spiritual practice now, and if you practice hard you might be able to figure some stuff out, change some negative habits, and build some spiritual momentum before you’re faced with really difficult circumstances.

The second reason to practice the Four Noble Truths even if your dukkha isn’t particularly acute right now is subtler, but very important: there’s usually a pervasive dukkha present even when we’re enjoying the most fortunate of circumstances. Why? Because we anticipate things changing. Even if we push the thought out of our minds, at some level we experience stress. We may be motivated to try to make things last, to hold on, to fight change, or to accumulate wealth, relationships, and possessions so we’ll never be without. When change inevitably starts to make itself known – children grow, wrinkles appear – we may live in denial or cling to the past. At the very least we hold within ourselves a kernel of fear based on the question, “What will happen when we die? Who will we be when we eventually lose everything?”

Dukkha even when things are going well may not sound like that big a deal. So what if you have a little existential angst? So what if moments of happiness feel a little poignant because change is inevitable? It’s difficult, if not impossible, to convince someone who’s happy that they’re actually not – and really, that’s not the agenda of Buddhism. Still, it’s worth considering that the Buddhist goal of nirvana – liberation – can been likened to the relief of a dull headache you’ve gotten used to. Beforehand, the ache doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when your head is suddenly clear and pain-free – what joy! You had forgotten what you were missing! Similarly, when the subtle dukkha that usually pervades our lives drops away for a moment, life seems incredibly vibrant and precious.

The Second Truth: Investigating the Origin of Dukkha

In the second noble truth, the Buddha suggests that the source of our dukkha is craving – not, amazingly enough, the circumstances of our lives! Craving specifically refers to a “next step” we tend to take with our minds and bodies after we experience a feeling of like or dislike in response to something: We interpret our feelings as being of vital importance to our well-being, and form a desire to act on them. In Buddhism, “feelings” are fairly simple, uncomplicated responses to stimuli; we experience like, dislike, or indifference based on whether or not something seems pleasurable, desirable, or advantageous to us. We can’t do much about our preferences. Even an amoeba experiences a basic level of attraction and aversion as it encounters particles of food or the approach of a predator. What we can do something about is the “next step” – how do we respond to our own feelings?

Sometimes I find it helpful to differentiate between the terms “pain” and “dukkha.” Pain can be thought of as a sensation we endure when we experience one of those seven types of human suffering. It’s just the nature of life. It hurts to be sick, or to be separated from loved ones. Pain in and of itself is not such a problem. It’s a kind of straightforward, even pure, experience that most of us are willing to put up with in order to be alive. Dukkha, on the other hand, is something we add to the pain by resisting it – or, to put it in the Buddha’s terms, by craving to be free of it.

Adding to our pain by craving to be free of it may not sound like a big deal, but it definitely is. In an ancient Buddhist text called the Sallatha Sutta, the Buddha explains how encountering a painful feeling is like being shot with an arrow. In other words, it hurts! However, “the uninstructed, run of the mill” person – who doesn’t understand and practice the Four Noble Truths – ends up being shot with a second arrow when he “sorrows, grieves, and laments, beats his breast, [and] becomes distraught.”[6] The Buddha explains further, saying that when such a person is “touched by a painful feeling,” he becomes resistant, and longs for pleasure instead, because that’s the only way he can think of to be relieved of the pain. Through his actions, he becomes obsessed with replacing pain with pleasure, and only makes things worse (piercing himself with a second arrow).

An example may help, here. Let’s say a woman has lost her house to a fire. This is very traumatic; she has lost many irreplaceable belongings, has no place to call home, and will have to deal with insurance and rebuilding for a long time. The situation is painful, but the woman doesn’t necessarily experience a whole lot of dukkha. Unless, of course, she starts thinking, “Why me?” Or viewing this as yet another example of how everything in her life falls apart. Or trying to find someone to blame and sue, like a fire alarm company. Or nurturing resentment against family members who won’t give her money to rebuild right away, instead of having to wait for the insurance money. You can easily imagine someone enduring the heartbreak of a house fire and then moving on, but you can probably also imagine a host of ways someone could subsequently “shoot themselves with a second arrow” (or a third, and a fourth) and dwell on the situation with prolonged sadness, depression, despair, or bitterness.

Again, the origin of dukkha is something we’re supposed to investigate, not just accept or believe, so it may help you to open the question up to, “What causes dukkha?” rather than relating to the second noble truth as a forgone conclusion. However, the important message, here, is that we contribute to our own stress and suffering by how we view and relate to our experience.

The Third Truth: Cessation of Dukkha

Once we get intimately familiar with our experience of dukkha, and recognize the ways we make our pain worse by shooting ourselves with a second arrow, then what? This next step isn’t easy, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. Basically, when we see how we contribute to our own suffering, we cut it out. The Buddha explains:

“Now, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones, when touched with a feeling of pain, does not sorrow, grieve, or lament, does not beat his breast or become distraught. So he feels one pain: physical, but not mental.”[7]

Note: this passage talks about enduring physical pain and not adding mental pain, but the same principle applies to emotional pain. At a basic level it’s natural and fine that we should feel, for example, emotional pain in the face of loss, or even “mental” pain when faced with a difficult decision, but we don’t have to add additional mental pain to it.

When we practice the Four Noble Truths, we refrain from shooting that second arrow. We do this by responding differently to our pain, and to our natural feelings of like, dislike, or indifference. Instead of resisting our pain or grasping after pleasure, we’re simply remain aware of our experience as it is. The Buddha describes this as sensing pain or pleasure while “disjoined” or “detached” from the sensations.[8] This means we refrain from incorporating our experience into a self-narrative in which we’re compelled to resist or grasp in order to look out for ourselves. We’re pierced by one arrow, and it hurts, but we don’t sorrow, grieve, or lament, or become distraught about the fact that we have just been pierced by an arrow.

Until we’re familiar with the actual experience of detached awareness, we may think the Buddha is recommending that we disassociate from our feelings, and “check out” of reality in order to minimize our suffering. That assumption is based on the belief that the resistance or craving that leads to dukkha is a necessary part of our process of taking care of ourselves and our lives. For example, in order to stand up against an injustice, we think we have to resist it internally. We have to hold on to an inner refrain of, “Noooooo!” We assume that if we simply remain aware of the situation in a detached way, we won’t be motivated to take appropriate action. After all, if we take note of pain, problems, stress, etc. in a more objective way, we won’t be so upset, and we won’t act with enough energy or determination, right? Conversely, if we assume that if we cultivate awareness of pleasure in a detached way, we’ll become kind of numb and not really be able to enjoy anything.

Fortunately, the actual experience of detached awareness is freeing, not limiting. For example, we can be perfectly aware of a problem in our life, like losing our job and subsequently facing financial stress. We can acknowledge our feelings about the situation, and pay attention to all the necessary details we need to in order to get our life back on track. At the same time, we can let go of the extra stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening – about how we’re going to lose everything and end up on the streets, or how people are going to look down on us, or how this proves we’re a failure, or how maybe if we had done something differently six months ago this never would have happened. When we realize we’re feeling sorry for ourselves, we remind ourselves – because of our experience of the first two noble truths – that doing so isn’t going to help anything, but in fact will only increase our suffering.

Any thought, feeling, intention, approach, or behavior that increases our inner turmoil we vow to let go of. The Buddhist term for this is “renunciation.” Renunciation is often associated with the physical renunciation enacted by monks, but real Buddhist renunciation is giving up our attachment to things that cause suffering for ourselves and others. We’re often resistant to doing this; our stories and habits are familiar ways of coping, and they often help us feel righteous, or place the blame on others, or distract us from our pain. But if we diligently practice the Four Noble Truths, we eventually have to admit to ourselves when something leads to dukkha. Fortunately, the more clearly we see how something leads to stress or suffering, the easier it is to give it up.

The Fourth Noble Truth: The Noble Eightfold Path

Which brings me to the Noble Eightfold Path, or “the path that leads to the cessation of dukkha.” As I mentioned earlier, we practice the path all the way along, because it’s what enables us practice the first three noble truths. Few of us naturally develop the capacity to examine our own experience objectively, or to concentrate on it long enough to notice how one thing leads to another. Few of us, without conscious effort, have the ability to identify choice-points within our mental processes, where we opt to do things differently. There are countless Buddhist teachings and practices, but they all boil down to helping us practice the Four Noble Truths and alleviate dukkha.

I will devote a whole episode to the Eightfold Path, but I’ll briefly introduce it here. The path is divided into eight categories, which are sometimes conceived as “steps” on the path, but in actuality are all practiced together. Each category describes an ideal, and has many practices associated with it. (Note: The categories are usually translated as “right” such-and-such, like “Right Action,” but this isn’t “right” as opposed to “wrong” in a dualistic, good-vs-evil sense. Instead, the term “right” means appropriate or correct, like “this is the right key for the door,” so here I’ll use the term “appropriate.”)

  1. Appropriate view or understanding: If you see things clearly, you can act appropriately, and know how to avoid suffering and bring about happiness instead.
  2. Appropriate resolve or intention: Intention drives everything; if it’s not your intention to end your dukkha to begin with, you won’t get very far. We have to continually strengthen and refine our resolve and intention.
  3. Appropriate speech: Buddhist practice isn’t just about your mind. What you say profoundly affects the way you think, and vice versa; plus, your communication has consequences that can help or hinder your quest to relieve suffering.
  4. Appropriate action: Just as speech has consequences and forms a feedback loop with your heart and mind, so does action.
  5. Appropriate livelihood: Another aspect of appropriate action, specifically targeting the choices we make as we seek to take care of ourselves and our lives.
  6. Appropriate effort: If we don’t apply energy and diligence to our practice, it goes nowhere.
  7. Appropriate mindfulness: Clear, open awareness of what’s going on – within our minds and bodies, and in the world around us – is critical to Buddhist practice, and feeds back into appropriate understanding.
  8. Appropriate concentration, or meditation: Our efforts to liberate ourselves (and others) from dukkha are greatly enhanced when we practice meditation and learn to better use our minds, instead of being used by them.

More on the Eightfold Path later!

Conclusion

The Four Noble Truths are there for us to investigate and verify through our own experience. We’re invited to examine our lives closely and learn to recognize the phenomenon of dukkha – what it feels like, how it manifests, how it interferes with things. Then we’re asked to discover the origin of dukkha – what, within our own minds and hearts, causes it to arise? We’re specifically asked to investigate the relationship between dukkha and our inclinations toward resistance and craving. With the third noble truth, we’re challenged to learn to let go of the things we do that create or intensify dukkha. And with the fourth noble truth, we’re invited to partake of the rich collection of teachings and practices of Buddhism to help us strengthen our ability to practice the first three noble truths.

A final note: The practice of the Four Noble Truths is not about discovering the cure for dukkha one day and then forever after being free from stress and suffering no matter what happens. We certainly make progress in practice over the years, but we practice the noble truths over and over, every day, and even in each moment. We’re always encountering something that provokes a response in us, and as long as we’re alive we’ll be tempted to jump into grasping and aversion, or craving and resistance, and thereby generate dukkha. Over and over we have to identify what it is we’re adding to a situation that makes it worse, and then cultivate the ability and willingness to let it go – and actually let it go.

 


Endnotes

[1] “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion” (SN 56.11), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.than.html.
[2] Monier-Williams (1899, 1964), A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, London: Oxford University Press
[3] Sargeant, Winthrop. The Bhagavad Gita. Albany, New York: State Uuniversity of New York Press, 2009. Page 303 (online pdf)
[4] “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion” (SN 56.11), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.than.html.
[5] “Saccavibhanga Sutta: An Analysis of the Truths” (MN 141), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.141.than.html.
[6] “Sallatha Sutta: The Arrow” (SN 36.6), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn36/sn36.006.than.html.
[7] “Sallatha Sutta: The Arrow” (SN 36.6), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn36/sn36.006.than.html.
[8] “Sallatha Sutta: The Arrow” (SN 36.6), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn36/sn36.006.than.html.

 

26 – Work as Spiritual Practice According to Dogen's “Instructions to the Cook” – Part 2
28 - Q&A: The Teaching of Rebirth and Too Much Thinking During Zazen
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