In the two years I have been writing about Buddhism, I always like to do a refresher on the Four Noble Truths, especially because throughout the year I hear so many interesting takes on their meaning. It’s nice to see some teachers go over the Four Noble Truths every New Year while other teachers seem to get to a certain level of teaching and they tend to barely gloss over it.
The more I learn about the Four Noble Truths, the more I like to compare them to Body and Mind. You can’t change your body but you can certainly change your mind.
During life, your body goes through changes. You grow, you crawl, you walk, you run. Muscles and tendons get strained, bones get bruised, skin gets scrapes and cuts. You age, bones get brittle, we experience age related changes and diseases. While you could live a good clean life, you cannot stop the cycle. Each day you live, you are one day closer to death. Maybe you will be healthy for your entire life and to the grand old age of 100 but we have no guarantee of that. Some children die from Cancer at a very young age.
We can choose to be positive or negative. Yes, we will one day die and between now and then our body will cause us suffering. Should we take this news as a shock? Should we spend our entire life complaining about it? No! Despite your body, you are in control of your thinking.
There are times when you crave things, such as alcohol. You consume it when you think things are stressful. Perhaps before too long you find yourself easily “stressed”. Eventually that glass or two is not enough and you consume more to get rid of your stress. The additional consumption leads to intoxication and possibly suffering in the way of a hang over the next day.
The Four Noble Truths
- The Truth of Suffering (Dukkha). Dukkha is sanskrit for Suffering, Stress or unsatisfactoriness. This could also be pain, anguish, jealousy, anger, affliction and addiction…etc
- The Truth of the Origins of Suffering (Dukkha). The truth is, we cling, we crave, and we look to find external things that make us happy. Unfortunately those external items are only temporary, we soon find ourselves being unsatisfied. We have expectations of ourselves and other people and when those expectations are unmet, we make ourselves suffer. Intoxicants can temporarily hide suffering but when you are sober, those problems still remain.
- The Truth of the Cessation from Suffering (Dukkha). It takes practice but we certainly can stop looking to external sources for temporary satisfaction. We can stop having expectations, we can stop being clingy and stop craving. I once used “driving” as a great example. I use to get really irritated by others driving habits. Why was I in such a rush? What if that is someones Grandmother in front of me? What if they are having a medical emergency? Why should I be angry? You can utilize these questions in search to end your own suffering. Why doesn’t he or she love me? (Maybe because I am clingy? or jealous? or that I drink excessively..?)
- The Truth of the Path from Suffering… I always found this Noble Truth strange because it just references the Noble Eightfold Path (which I will cover below) but I think it should also cover the Five Precepts (which I will also cover below). Both put a great deal into perspective.
The Building Blocks
The Four Noble Truths are the building blocks. I think one should spend a great deal of time going over their own suffering, attempting to discover what the cause of their suffering is and how they can practice improving. I blogged about the Noble Eightfold Path Here
The Noble Eightfold Path
Right Concentration (or Meditation)
Right Understanding (Insight/View)
Right Resolve (Thought/Aspirations/Intentions)
Right Speech This is one that I recently had a debate on as someone told me swear words were perfectly fine to use in this day and age but I asked the appropriateness of use in a school, church or most places of business. There is no debate, the use of swear words is not Right Speech. Right Speech is avoiding abusive speech as well as being honest and avoiding decisive speech. Think of this also as in how you speak to others. Are you taking your anger out on them? Are you treating them with respect? Hopefully you are not talking badly behind their backs.
Right Action along the lines of Right Speech, do not be abusive or be harmful to others. You want to conduct yourself in a responsible manner. Be helpful to others. Sometimes when I see something such as a spill or something that splashed on the counter, even though someone else made the mess, I’ll clean it up so someone doesn’t have to do it later. (I’ll be honest, I don’t always, lol )
Right Livelihood This refers to working an ethical job. One that does not harm or is dishonest to others. Something that does not involve cheating, lying, stealing, selling drugs, scams and the such.
Right Effort involves practicing, following the items I suggested in my blogs about the Four Noble Truths. You want to write down, seek the source and eradicate your sufferings. Continue this practice everyday. Continue to read and learn about Buddhism and utilize meditation.
Right Mindfulness I mentioned something similar under Right Actions. How great would it be for you to see something that needs to be done and perform that action, such as cleaning up that counter? But it goes beyond that as well. Be mindful of things that affect you. Be mindful of your speech and your actions. Alcohol, drugs and the like can also adversely affect your mindfulness.(See also 5 Precepts)
Right Concentration This is where I suffer the most. I can be reading a book and before I know it, I have trailed off, thinking of work, suddenly I have read a whole page of words and I haven’t a clue what I just read. Same thing when I am suppose to be listening, something will grab my attention, my mind trails off and when I return, I have missed a paragraph or two of information. Right Concentration is being focused. To concentrate on issues you may face, it is also helpful to Meditate or do some breathing exercises.
Right Understanding (View) refers to you needing the correct perspective and understanding. When I am uncertain, I try to detach myself from being right or wrong and just try to see things for what they are. Avoid the pitfalls immediately taking a Learned View. A Learned view is something that we have been taught throughout our lives that may not be correct.
Right Resolve (Intention) What are you trying to accomplish? Your intentions should be riding yourself of your suffering, anger, bad behavior with constant practice. Be Happy! What are your intention when it comes to others? I find it true, that if you want your life to be better, make the lives of the people who surround you better.
and to bring it all together, Read the Five Precepts:
The Five Prcepts:
No Killing This seems obvious, much like the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill” but some expand on this to state you should avoid not only killing humans but animals as well. I have seen this defined in different ways such as not directly killing animals, if it has been prepared for you, that is okay but I have also heard that many following this Precepts are vegetarians. My definition would be a senseless killing of a person or animal.
No Stealing Not taking what is not given. This too seems obvious but some people don’t think twice about taking property that does not belong to them such as office supplies from their employer. In America about 15 years ago, they started printing new $10, $20, $50… dollar bills. I had given someone a $20 and they gave me change of $50. I looked and stared at my new found fortune but the bottom line, I knew the employee would get in trouble and it would likely come out of his paycheck. I admired my new found fortune, lol, but then informed the person of their mistake. Ill gotten gains are still stealing.
No Sexual Misconduct Avoid Sensual Misconduct or do not engage in improper sexual conduct. I think sex is great! but I figure this goes along the lines of “Adultery”, and even sexual harassment. When two people are married or atleast in a strong relationship, it seems something that comes naturally. But when something goes beyond what is acceptable to two consenting adults, that is what I would consider Sexual Misconduct.
No False Speech Do not make false statements. Honesty is the best policy! Although I would have to agree that if you have nothing nice to say, it is best not to say anything at all. When you witness an accident and it is being investigated, it would be better for you to inform the investigators what honestly happened, even if it means you report that the incident was the fault of a family or friend. Seems hard to do sometimes doesn’t it?
Avoid Fermented Drinks Avoid Alcohol, Avoid intoxicants, avoid things that may cloud your judgement. I know with the stresses of current society, it is easy to use products that may cloud your judgement. I enjoy a glass of wine every now and then! I would even venture to say that in a social situation, I may have quite a few glasses. Many probably see from experience that people tend to lose all inhibitions when it comes to products that “cloud judgement” (NOTE: Since writing this, I now abstain from drinking)
Like anything, if you want to free yourself from pain and suffering, you need to practice. Even after two years I am still working on many of the items listed above. There have been time where I have dedicated myself to the practice and other times where I have been lazy… which is probably the reason I am working on this blog now, it serves as a reminder for me. In fact, I think I will bookmark it so I can return to it 🙂
Picture Credit: Venerable Wuling