Tonight hopefully we can begin to tie the first and second noble truths together, and derive some real practical knowledge out of doing so. Before we begin though I would like to explain what the four noble truths are. Once the Buddha attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya he made his way over to Varanasi. Near Varanasi is a place called Deer Park in a town called Sarnath. In Sarnath at Deer Park Shakyamuni Buddha taught or turned the wheel of dharma for the first time. He would go on to turn the wheel of dharma three times. The teaching he gave in Sarnath at Deer Park are known as the four noble truths. Those four truths are: 1) The truth of suffering 2) The cause of suffering 3) The cessation of suffering 4) The path to liberation. It could also be remembered by saying that there is an illness because there is a symptom, the cause of the illness, can it be cured or not, and the prescription to cure it. Our discussion deals only with the first two of these four truths; the truth of suffering and the cause of this suffering.
As I explained two weeks ago suffering is the word used here to express the Sanskrit concept of duhkha. However suffering probably is not the best word to communicate the idea behind the concept of duhkha. Duhkha would be better understood as discontentment or dissatisfaction, kind of dis-eased or uneasy. This discontentment or dissatisfaction manifest in three different ways; the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and pervasive suffering. The suffering of suffering is connected with death. We experience suffering in this form when things come to an end, when they die. Death in this case extends further than just a physical death. We also experience this sort of pain when a relationship dies or a friendship ends, we just call it heartache, having our heart broken, or whatever. The suffering of change illustrates the the continual movement between pleasure and pain. This idea is connected with ageing. We experience this when we fluctuate between good health & ill-health. We also experience this when our jobs, relationships, friendships, etc. become sick, or in other words no longer meet our expectations. Finally there is the pervasive aspect of suffering, which is the foundation the other two forms of suffering are built upon. Pervasive suffering is connected with our poverty mentality, our idea that something is not quite right, and we need to constantly be on the look out for the magical answer. We always want that miracle pill, that one thing, person, or idea that will just make everything wonderful. This is samsara. Samsara simply, “to wander on”, and all we do is wander around looking for a something to complete us. So we feel as though we do not quite have everything we need so we wander around (samsara) looking for something to fix our problems(pervasive suffering). We find something that provides us with temporary relief or security so we cling to it, but eventually it changes and no longer provides us with comfort or security (suffering of change). Finally we experience fear, depression, anger, anxiety, sadness, or whatever, because we lost some comfortable secure aspect of our life (suffering of suffering). This is a general description of the first noble truth(Duhkha/Discontenment).
The second noble truth deals with the cause of our discontentment. This needs to be addressed on two different levels; the grosser level and the more subtle level. We will only discuss the grosser levels which deal primarily with impermanence. Impermanence is not the cause of our problems, it is simply the way things are. The problem here is our attachment or our reliance upon things which are impermanent. Basically we try establish fixed unchanging relationships with things in a impermanent changing world. The most subtle cause of suffering is confusion. In order to have some sort of understanding or security the ego is created. However, ego is not some real solid thing, it is a relative concept. This means that ego is established in relation to something else. This something else is what our sanity becomes dependent upon. When studying impermanence there are two classes to be understood; the impermanence of external phenomena and the impermanence of self. In order to establish some idea of self or ego we cling to some form of external phenomena for example; our ideas, a job, relationship, political party, religion, food, or whatever. The problem with this plan is that all of these things are changing from one moment to the next. Our security is dependent upon this reference point remaining as we would have it be. Our sanity is contingent upon us feeling secure or safe. So, our idea of who we are is dependent upon things which are continually in motion. Therefore, once these things change enough for us to notice they have changed, our idea of who and what we are is challenged. At this point there is a feeling of dis-ease, so we begin to look for something to fix it, to bring comfort, and we are right back at the first noble truth with pervasive suffering. In Buddhist texts this is referred to as cyclic existence, trying to fix the problem with the problem, thereby keeping us stuck in the problem.
In order to develop some practical insight into this whole situation we should bring this knowledge to meditation. We should take our seat, aligning the body as explained previously. Next we should settle the mind by practicing shamatha meditation, or following the breath. After we have done this for 10-15 minutes we should begin to contemplate in this way: 1) We should contemplate the impermanent nature of all things. We should realize that all our relationships, friendships, even this body are continually changing from one moment to the next. We should see that no matter how close we are to someone that relationship is not the same this year as it was last year. We can see where we have been best friends, so close to someone at one point in our life and now it has been years since we have spoke to that person. We need to see that all things without exception are constantly in motion. This motion or change is nothing more than the process of death, because inevitably all these things will come to end. 2) Next we need to consider when they will come to an end. While it is certain that all of these things will end one way or another, the time when they will end is uncertain. We need to see that death can come about at any moment. 3) Then we should consider when they end what will be of use to us, what will enable us to move beyond the pain and suffering. If your loved one passes away it does not matter how much money you have, because you can not buy their life back. If your best friend is moving away it does not matter how nice your car is, the pain is still great from the separation. We may have a friend we can talk to, but this really just provides temporary relief, a comfortable distraction. The only thing that will be of any real long-term benefit is your ability to see and accept things as they are. When death comes, whether it be physical death, the end of a relationship, your friend moving, etc. the only thing that is of any benefit is being able to see that things change and just accept that. 4) Finally, we consider how we would be able to see things as they are and accept them for what they are in the midst of a calamity such as death. Through meditation practice we begin to develop serenity, as we calm our mind and begin to cut through our self-grasping. We do this by returning to the breath over and over again. We also develop deep insight, we begin to see things as they are, free of selfish elaboration. This happens as our minds settle and we being to look deeper & deeper, questioning our old paradigms. So meditation practice is nothing more than training our mind to be at ease with things as they are, because there is nothing more than things as they! Seeing this we consider how much benefit we could bring to ourselves and others if we were to strengthen our resolve towards meditation practice. Based on this we really commit ourselves to the practice of meditation. This is the contemplation of impermanence.