I think that I am going to try and write an article on a specific portion of Buddhism each week. This will help me learn more, as I am forced to explore the philosophy more and more.
So, let’s start at the beginning.
The Four Noble Truths
When the Buddha became enlightened, the first talk that he gave was about the Four Noble Truths. They are:
1. Dukkha: There is suffering. Suffering is an intrinsic part of life also experienced as dissatisfaction, discontent, unhappiness, impermanence.
2. Samudaya: There is a cause of suffering, which is attachment and desire (tanha).
3. Nirodha: There is a way out of suffering, which is to eliminate attachment and desire.
4. Magga: The path that leads out of suffering is called the Noble Eightfold Path.
Dukkha sums up our experience. We have all been unhappy, suffered, been depressed. This is called life. We have had our hearts broken, been passed up for a promotion. It is summed up nicely in the cliche:
Life sucks and then you die
“And what have I taught? ‘This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress… This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress’: This is what I have taught. And why have I taught these things? Because they are connected with the goal, relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. This is why I have taught them.
“Therefore your duty is the contemplation, ‘This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress.’ Your duty is the contemplation, ‘This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.'”
Realizing that suffering exists is the first step in obtaining happiness. Understanding it is the first step towards real compassion. When we see and understand that Suffering is the common human bond, we can start to feel real compassion. It’s sad, but I think that unhappiness is the primary motivator for most people out there. Their actions are trying to fill a void.
When we are driving, and some one cuts us off – how do we react? Usually we get angry. We say some not to nice things about that person. Compassion is when you try and understand that that person is simply attempting to escape from or mitigate his suffering. Perhaps they are late, and are concerned that they will be in trouble? Perhaps they simply do not care about others, and are only thinking of themselves.
‘Hey Jake,â€ I say calling my newest waiter over,â€ check this shit out.â€
After I relate the story Jake smiles and says, ‘When I wake up in the morning you know what I sometimes say to myself?â€
‘What?â€ I reply.
‘I’m gonna win today,â€ he says.
Jake’s words hit me like a thunderbolt. Suddenly I understand why I mixed it up with the guy at the bank.
‘Sometimes you feel like you have to come out on top,â€ I say.
‘Which, more often than not, is an illusion.â€
‘We’re just wired that way I guess,â€ Jake says walking away.
I’m gonna win today. That’s how I felt in the bank. That’s how I felt on the highway and in Starbucks. Not a healthy sense of competition or ambition, just a grubby graspy feeling of ‘I want what I want when I want it.â€ That attitude is more appropriate for those infants squealing in their Baby Hummers than a grown man.
We are wired to want to win in every interaction with each other. Part of compassion is putting that visceral winning need aside for a time, and trying to understand the other person. The first step along the path is to look deep with in, and comprehend our suffering. To see that all humans have and will suffer. Black, white, brown or purple, humans are an unhappy species.
Once we have that connection with others, it’s easer to see that they are people just like us. People who worry about taxes, work, their love life. People who are not faceless enemies. People who love, laugh, and enjoy time with their children. People who hurt when their parents die. People who are saddened by the senseless death of their friends.
The Pali word, dukkha, means “incapable of satisfying” or “not able to bear or withstand anything”: always changing, incapable of truly fulfilling us or making us happy. The sensual world is like that, a vibration in nature. It would, in fact, be terrible if we did find satisfaction in the sensory world because then we wouldn’t search beyond it; we’d just be bound to it. However, as we awaken to this dukkha, we begin to find the way out so that we are no longer constantly trapped in sensory consciousness.
So many people try to find satisfaction in the sensory world. They use drugs, sex, emotion as a salve for their Dukkha not even knowing that they cannot fill that hole. A pastor of mind used to say that the need for God was a hole that we could not fill. We would try, but the only thing that could fill it was God. I think that knowing about that hole, seeing that hole, and seeing that hole in others is the first step on a long path.
I have brought up this theory that suffering is universal before, and folks seem to think that it’s pessimistic. I disagree. Its like a disease. If we do not know that we are sick, then how can we fix it? People are like that. They suffer, and they do not even really realize it. They do not know that there is a better way out there. Buddhism is all about curing Dukkha. It’s not easy, but I think that even a fractional decrease in our collective suffering will be a great thing.
Homework for the week (Ha! and you thought that you would get off easy?) Meditate on suffering. If you do not meditate, then just think about the suffering in the world. Do not get yourself into a funk! If you start to find yourself focusing your entire week on misery, then get out side, play a game, be with friends. When you start to feel unpleasant thoughts, find their root. Understand them.
When interacting with people, try and look at them with the compassion that understanding the commonality of suffering allows. Try and imagine yourself consoling them. Feel and emote love towards them.
Read the first Truth at Buddhanet
Tune in next week for the Second Noble Truth…