Teachings of the realized beings
The message of the Buddha is a message of joy. He found a treasure and he wants us to follow the path that leads us to the treasure. He tells man that he is in deep darkness, but he also tells him that there is a path that leads to light. He wants us to arise from a life of dreams into a higher life where man laves and does not hate, where man helps and does not hurt. His appeal is universal, because he appeals to reason and to the universal in us all: “It is you who must make the effort. The Great of the past only show the way.” He achieved a superior harmony of vision and wisdom by placing spiritual truth to the crucial test of experience; and only experience can satisfy the mind of modern man. He wants us to watch and be awake, and he wants us to seek and to find.
- Juan Mascano, Spanish academic and educator, lecturer at Cambridge University
The first teaching given by the Buddha described his realization in terms of four facts about existence, known as the Four Noble Truths. These four truths are:
(1) We undergo undesirable experiences (the truth of suffering). These unsatisfactory experiences are to be identified.
(2) These experiences have causes: ignorance and disturbing attitudes (the truth of the cause). These causes are to be abandoned.
(3) There exists a peaceful situation in which all these undesirable experiences and their causes have been eliminated (the truth of cessation). The cessation of each disturbing attitude is to be actualized.
(4) There’s a path which will lead us to this state of peace (the truth of the path). The path is to be practiced.
Identifying undesirable conditions
Translating the first fact as “the truth of suffering” can be misleading, for the term “suffering” connotes great pain. Thus when we hear that the Buddha said life was suffering, we wonder what he was talking about, for most of us don’t experience extreme misery most of the time. Actually, the Pail and Sanskrit term dukha connotes that things aren’t completely right in our lives. Something is amiss; there are unsatisfactory conditions in our existence.
Most of us would agree with this. We know from our own experience that when we talk to people, be they rich or poor, leaders or followers, for more than five minutes, they’ll inevitably start to tell us about problems in their lives. Everybody has some difficulty, something that isn’t going well in his or her life.
We experience unsatisfactory situations: we don’t get what we want, or we get what we don’t want. While we have to work hard to obtain what we like, what we don’t like comes effortlessly, without our having to ask or work for it! Even when we get things we desire, they don’t last forever. Our possessions break or go out of style. We can’t always be with the people we love. Eventually our most cherished relationships end, either through separation or death.
Besides these problems, there is the basic situation of being born, getting sick, growing old and dying. The very nature of our bodies is that they become sick: who can we point to who has never been sick? Also, without choice, we grow old. From the time we’re born we are aging. There’s no way to stop time, nor can face-lifts or body building prevent the natural process of growing old. The only thing we can say will definitely happen to us in our life is that we will die, for no one can avoid death.
None of these situations is particularly appealing, is it? We try to make our lives fantastic and exciting in superficial ways: we create shopping malls, Disneyland, the Miss Universe contest, company banquets, family reunions and so on. Nevertheless, when we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit our situation isn’t one hundred percent okay. We continually feel something is missing, and we search for more and better.
The Buddha didn’t describe these problems and difficulties in order to make us depressed. They exist whether or not we think about them. However, by recognizing the unsatisfactory nature of our experience, we can then work to change it. The Buddha discussed suffering to motivate us to change our unsatisfactory experiences. The Buddha likened our present condition to that of a person suffering from a severe illness. Pretending there’s no illness doesn’t make the disease go away. That person must first admit she’s sick and seek a doctor’s advice. Then she can be cured by taking medicine. The same is true in life. Although initially we may not want to think about our unsatisfactory situation, doing so propels us to seek solutions. In addition, we may feel relieved by being honest with ourselves. Seeing that we can make things better, we become encouraged and invigorated.
Causes to be abandoned
To change the situation, we must eliminate its causes: disturbing attitudes such as ignorance, anger and attachment. When these arise in our minds, we’re unhappy, and we act in ways that make others unhappy. These actions create the causes for ourselves to experience unpleasant situations now and in the future.
Disturbing attitudes can be eliminated, for they rest on the foundation of ignorance. If we follow the path of ethical conduct, concentration and wisdom, we’ll be able to eliminate the disturbing attitudes and their unpleasant results once and for all. Having done so, we’ll be free to abide in a state of peace and bliss. This path has been seen as true by the noble ones who have actualized it in their own mindstreams, and the resulting blissful freedom is their own experience.
The cessation of problems is peace
The state of peace, in which the disturbing attitudes, actions and the problems they generate cease, is called liberation or nirvana. The person who has attained this is called an arhat. If we go even further and purify all subtle obscurations and develop all our qualities, then we’ll attain enlightenment, the state of a Buddha.
Some people ask, “Isn’t nirvana boring? Don’t we need suffering to know what happiness is?” The answer is no. Boredom is a function of ignorance and attachment, and since these have been eliminated when we attain liberation, we no longer get bored. Also, we have experienced suffering already; we don’t need to continue to have it in order to recognize happiness.
In the state of nirvana, our minds are peaceful, concentrated and wise. People who have attained nirvana aren’t spaced-out and inactive. Rather, they possess great inner resources and radiate a sense of freedom and bliss.
The path to peace
How can we attain liberation and enlightenment? By following the path leading to those goals. There are many ways to explain this path. One is in terms of the noble eightfold path the practice of correct action, speech, livelihood, mindfulness, concentration, effort, view, and thought. To avoid making this book too long, the noble eightfold path isn’t explained in detail. There are many excellent books on this subject, some of which are listed at the end of this book.
The Four Noble Truths
1. The truth of undesirable experiences
2. The truth of the causes of these experiences: disturbing attitudes and karmic actions
3. The truth of cessation of undesirable experiences and their causes
4. The truth of the path to peace
Another way to describe the path is by speaking of three principal realizations: the determination to be free, the altruistic intention to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, and the wisdom realizing reality.
These three are called realizations because as we familiarize ourselves with them, these deep understandings become part of us and transform our outlook on the world. We’ll discuss these three principal realizations in the next few chapters.
Two ways to explain the path to peace
According to the noble eightfold path:
Truth of the path to peace:
+ 1. correct action
+ 2. correct speech
+ 3. correct livelihood
+ 4. correct mindfulness
+ 5. correct concentration
+ 6. correct effort
+ 7. correct view
+ 8. correct thought
According to the three principal realizations:
Truth of the path to peace:
#1. the determination to be free (aspiration to have a peaceful death and a good rebirth; aspiration to attain liberation)
#2. the altruistic intention
#3. wisdom realizing emptiness
* = the three higher trainings
+ = the noble eightfold path
# = the three principal realizations