The First Truth:
The Buddha taught that life by its very nature is unsatisfactory, that some level of difficulty exists for all unenlightened beings in creation. We face sickness, old age, and death; the sense
pleasures we do experience don't last; and physical and perhaps emotional pain is a given in life.
There are two levels to this truth. The first is the pain of existence that we can't do anything about. The second is the suffering and unhappiness that we create for ourselves due to our lack of wisdom and our vain attempts to control the uncontrollable--that is, the transient nature of all physical, emotional, and mental phenomena. We are born into a realm of constant change. Everything is decaying. We are continually losing all that we come into contact with. Our tendency to get attached to impermanent experiences causes sorrow, lamentation, and grief, because eventually we are separated from everything and everyone that we love. Our lack of acceptance and understanding of this fact makes life unsatisfactory.
Pain and suffering are two completely different experiences. Pain is unavoidable. Suffering is self-created. Some level of dissatisfaction exists for all unenlightened beings.
For some this is a revelation, a normalizing statement that brings about a great sense of relief. Finally we are being told the truth: life isn't always easy and pleasant. We already know this to be true, but somehow we tend to go through life thinking that there is something wrong with us when we experience sadness, grief, and physical and emotional pain. The fi rst truth points out that this is just the way it is. There is nothing wrong with you: you have just been born into a realm where pain is a given.
The Second Truth
There is a cause for all this dissatisfaction and suffering. It is our craving for life to be filled exclusively with pleasure. That craving for pleasure creates a natural reaction of aversion to the pains and difficulties of life. This truth can be seen as a simple lack of acceptance: unwilling to accept the pleasures and pains as they are, we go about clinging to the experiences we like and trying to get rid of the ones we don't like.
We also create suffering for ourselves due to our craving to exist permanently--that is, our craving for eternal pleasure. When life is good, we want it to go on forever. At other times, though, we create suffering for ourselves through our craving to not exist at all--the craving for nonexistence, which results from the desire to escape from the pains and difficulties of life. All suicidal tendencies can be understood in the light of this desire to escape suffering. When life is very diffi cult or painful, we want to no longer exist.
As long as greed, hatred, and delusion exist within our hearts, suffering will continue in our lives, no matter how much we seek to experience pleasure and avoid pain.
Craving is the problem. Desires are natural, but craving--which is painful--is the extreme aspect of desire.
The Third Truth
Freedom from suffering is possible. There is a way to relate to all experience that is in harmony with the reality of constant change and the ultimately impersonal nature of all things. When greed, hatred, and delusion are destroyed, a state of peace and happiness is all that remains. This is the state of freedom from suffering referred to as Nirvana (which means cessation).
The Buddha experienced it, and if he could do it through his own efforts, others can too.
We all have mini-experiences of this--moments in our life, perhaps even on a daily basis, when we are free from greed, hatred, and delusion, when we are satisfi ed and at peace. Yet we tend to ignore or forget those experiences. The truth of craving blocks the truth of freedom. The path of rebellion, the Buddha's path, will bring us to a more consistent state of freedom.
Freedom is available in this lifetime.
The Fourth Truth
The path to freedom consists of eight factors (often referred to as the eightfold path). These eight important areas of comprehension and practice, which make up the spiritual revolutionary's training manual, can be broken down into three sections:
Studying and contemplating these eight factors, the enlightened revolutionary can experience the freedom celebrated and taught by the Buddha.
Noah currently teaches at his meditation center in Los Angeles. Against The Stream Buddhist Meditation Society is located in a historic building in East Hollywood, one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city.
4300 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90029