The Four Noble Truths

  1. Life has suffering.
  2. We receive, create, and hold onto our own suffering through blindness.
  3. To be free from suffering we must destroy the cause.
  4. Once all the causes of suffering have been destroyed, the first level of Nirvana will appear.

Introduction

Sean Pig: There’s a story about the Four Noble Truths from my life that teaches a lot about Buddhism so I thought I might share it with you.

I was introduced to the Four Noble Truths on a few occasions before I met Sifu – and I always felt Buddhism was a great philosophy – but the first time I heard them, it didn’t sound complete. I remember learning about them at a Christian high school. The first “Noble Truth” was that all life is suffering. The second was that suffering is caused by desire. I can’t remember the exact wording of the third and fourth, but I passed the class with 92%!

Then, a couple of years later, I was watching the episode of “The Simpsons” where Sideshow Bob marries Marge’s sister Selma and is giving her a foot massage. He says “Ah, this reminds me of the second Noble Truth: suffering is caused by desire.” I thought “Yeah, I know that! Cool!”

Later, I started learning here at the dojo and Sifu didn’t even mention them in the first couple of years, but I didn’t care because the things I was learning made so much sense. Then one day, we were on holiday in Taiwan and Sifu brought them up. It suddenly occurred to me that there are many places in the world where something has been translated word for word into another language and the meaning has been lost completely. It’s very hard. Sometimes you read a book that’s a direct translation and straight away you see that the words don’t match the philosophy very well.

So the first thing that comes to mind when I think about the Four Noble Truths is that there are many translations that aren’t perfect, and Buddhism, as we learn, is meant to be completely perfect. So no high school textbook and no episode of “The Simpsons” will teach you the Four Noble Truths.

The second thing is that even the words of the Four Noble Truths aren’t enough to create the reality of the Four Noble Truths. This is important in all of Buddhism: the philosophy is more than ideas, more than the text on a piece of paper, or the words you can recite, or an argument you can have with your neighbour. It has to be a reality in your life that you can implement.

Simon: What’s the function of the philosophy?

Sean Pig: To be free from suffering and to help all others become free from suffering: this is Buddha-level awareness. I certainly don’t have that level of awareness, so I make mistakes.

The First Noble Truth

Sean Rat: Does anyone remember the correct wording of the First Noble Truth?

Matti: “Life has suffering.”

Sean Rat: Can anyone remember how it’s often incorrectly translated?

Kandi: “Life is suffering.”

Sean Rat: That’s right. Can everyone see the difference? If you have something, then you can get rid of it. If you are something, then you can’t change it: that’s what you are. The mistranslation of one word changes the entire meaning of the whole sentence.

Sean Pig: Raise your hand if you’re suffering at the moment… one person. Now raise your hand if you’re alive at the moment… everyone. All those people who are alive but not suffering have proved that life is not suffering. Who is alive and is having suffering right now… one person. There’s the proof that life has suffering.

The Second Noble Truth

Sean Rat: Does anyone remember the second Noble Truth?

Red Bull: We receive, create, and hold onto our own suffering through blindness.

Sean Pig: Do you all remember the philosophy that the main cause of everything that happens to you is your own intention? It’s another way to say that you receive, create, and hold suffering through your own blindness. Your suffering comes first from you.

Richard: What if you’re looking after a sick parent or child and it causes you stress? That’s not coming from you; it’s coming from the environment.

Sean Rat: There’s a reason why you were born as Richard. You might not have directly chosen to be born into that circumstance, but through lifetimes of karma you’ve been born as Richard and connected to that family. So yes, family causes us lots of suffering and it may not seem fair, but there is a reason for it.

Sean Pig: On a bigger scale, all of us have the karma to exist at a level of awareness where life has suffering. If you are a human being, you surely go through suffering because of your karma. All of that karma comes from your own Hidden Consciousness, so it’s your own creation: it comes from yourself.

Simon: Some people enjoy taking care of others, so it’s a question of your own ability.

Sean Rat: Yes, some people can deal with that sort of situation and not suffer, but for me and many others, that would drive me crazy.

Asian Ben: Life is a test, so the challenges in this life are part of your test.

Sean Rat: Life is your teacher; you can learn from that situation how to be compassionate without suffering.

Sean Pig: Does anyone have an example of a time when they received, created, and held their own suffering?

Shona: I received suffering recently by creating epic nervousness for a job interview. I made myself a wreck by creating negative scenarios in my mind that made me so nervous, and I held onto that feeling by coming up with more and more reasons why I couldn’t do this or do that, instead of simply letting go of that nervousness.

The Third Noble Truth

Sean Pig: The third word in the Four Noble Truths mnemonic is “destroy”. You can destroy suffering by destroying the cause of the suffering, which is your blindness. So, if you’re suffering and you can see where you are blind, if you destroy that blindness then the cause of suffering is gone so the suffering is gone as well.

Zen Pig: If my blindness is the cause, will I always be able to identify it?

Sean Pig: Eventually. The more philosophy you learn, the easier it gets. And if you come to class, someone will be able to point it out for you.

Simon: That’s something I’ve been thinking about recently. It comes from developing your observing ability. The more you develop it, the quicker you can recognise the causes behind your suffering.

Sean Rat: If you’re experiencing suffering, you obviously haven’t found the cause. It’s not until you understand the cause, and you have the ability to change or not follow it, that you can end the suffering.

Sean Pig: Often, it’s your own ego that gets in the way of seeing the cause. I sometimes hear people say “That’s just the sort of person I am. It’s just what I do.” But it doesn’t have to be that way, that’s just your ego talking. If someone says “I have such a bad hangover” you might say “Don’t drink” because clearly the cause is drinking. If they reply “Oh, that’s just who I am; that’s what I do on Saturday nights” then clearly the cause is their ego to think that way.

JC: Firstly, you need to have the desire to identify the cause. If you don’t, you won’t even start to observe the root causes, let alone make any changes to remove them. Otherwise everyone can offer you help, but you won’t even care to start.

Sean Rat: A Will to want to change is the first step.

Simon: You’ve also got to learn the right way of doing things, as well. If you have a very unhealthy lifestyle and you want to change it but you don’t actually know what a healthy lifestyle is, the next step is to learn the wisdom to take your life into a positive direction. That way you can see what you’re holding onto that’s taking your life in a negative direction.

Sean Pig: In philosophy class, we learn the truth of life. The truth of life is the truth of life, whether your personal situation is there or not, so when you can see cause and effect – that you’re the main cause for everything that happens to you – that’s a big step to uncovering the causes of your suffering.

If you look at something in the context of “Me, me, me, I, I, I”, then you’re observing with your personal, but if you look at something in the context of the philosophy, then you can see whether you are kind without your ego involved, caring without negative personal emotion (See “The Four Eternal Hearts”). The philosophy is eternal – it always stays the same – unlike the personal, which is always changing.

Sean Rat: As Simon was saying, you have to learn what a healthy life is and start chopping off your bad habits so you have room to make changes. If you spend your energy on the wrong things, you won’t have enough left to do the right things.

Red Bull: So “destroy” is to remove your bad habits?

Sean Rat: The habit is the result of the cause.

Sean Pig: There’s a saying in Buddhism that humans are afraid of the effect while bodhisattvas are afraid of the cause. If you’re afraid of the cause and you never let it happen, then surely the effect will never happen. If you’re afraid of the effect, by the time it happens, it’s too late to change it.

Shona: Would you say that understanding the cause will definitely destroy it straight away? Sometimes I feel that I might know the cause of some habit that I have, but because it’s a habit it just keeps going. It’s not easy to let go of.

Sean Rat: Without understanding the cause you’ll never change the habit. Once you understand it, you can spot it every time it comes back. Then you can keep your energy away from it or find a better angle to look at it. The desire will die off if you don’t feed it, but it takes a long time. The more discipline you have, the quicker it will die.

Sean Pig: Does anyone have an example of when they’ve figured out the cause of suffering and slowed down the habit, or a situation where you’ve just realised that the cause of your suffering is “this habit” and you want to stop it?

Simon: I used to smoke a lot. I tried to quit twenty or thirty times. Each time I’d stop smoking for a few days then start again, but eventually it built up a habit of not smoking. Then, when I finally worked out what appealed to me about smoking, it was easier to quit because I’d built up that habit of not smoking.

Shona: One habit I have is ongoing, but I haven’t slipped into it in a long time. I looked to external things to provide me with security – materials, people, and jobs – and even though I put a lot of effort into those things, I never actually felt very secure. So, I started learning Buddhism because I thought that if I know a lot of things, my life will be better because I’ll be smart and strong. Through the journey of understanding that the philosophy is not just mental, it’s practical, that’s when martial arts made me feel that I need to be strong enough to at least protect my own body and that will make me feel more secure, but then a love for the art itself started to develop so now I practice if for the joy it brings me. Looking to external things to feel secure when all those things are constantly changing meant that I was never going to feel secure. Once I could get rid of that habit, I could see where the security actually was.

Sean Rat: No-one is more reliable than you. Other people can let you down, but if you let yourself down, you’re the only one who suffers for it. You motivate yourself more than anyone.

The Fourth Noble Truth

Sean Pig: So, once you’ve destroyed your suffering, what happens? You arrive at the human level of Nirvana.

Simon: It’s like Shona said, you’re no longer searching for security.

Sean Rat: You feel like the beginning is joy and contentment. If you’re not suffering, all that’s left is that feeling. If you’re not searching and there’s nothing more to gain, then you can just be that first level of Nirvana. Can anyone describe Nirvana?

Simon: It’s when you’re no longer searching for security because you are secure in your own wisdom and understanding of life. You’re no longer asking questions or finding answers; you’re being the philosophy directly.

There can be moments in your life when you see through it all, but being able to live in the philosophy every moment is another level altogether. In modern life, we always live in this power of always looking for something to make us satisfied, but it’s actually when you stop looking outside for happiness – when you accept complete responsibility for your life and are aware of life – that the suffering will stop appearing.

Conclusion

Sean Pig: There’s more than one level of the Four Noble Truths – today we only looked at the human level – but there’s a four-word formula for remembering that stays the same: suffering, receive, destroy, Nirvana. If you can remember these four words, they will give you the foundation and then you can work out the rest.

Red Bull: Blindness creates suffering, so if you destroy the blindness then will you no longer have the bad habit?

Sean Pig: If you destroy the blindness then the habit is surely gone. When you follow your bad habit, that’s when you’re being blind.

JC: Sometimes the cause of the blindness is very deep and you might only be destroying the surface level, so you think that you’ve destroyed the cause, but there’s actually another cause underneath it.

Simon: I think the main cause of suffering in our lives is our priorities. Whatever you’re looking for in life, there’s still some positive to be gained from following your bad habits or you wouldn’t follow them. You’ve got to observe what you have to gain from following your bad habit to find the cause.

The Four Noble Truths

  1. Life has suffering.
  2. We receive, create, and hold onto our own suffering through blindness.
  3. To be free from suffering we must destroy the cause.
  4. Once all the causes of suffering have been destroyed, the first level of Nirvana will appear.

 

This post is taken from a talk by Sean Pig and Sean Rat on 4 December 2011 at the Sydney dojo.

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