My experience with the Four Noble Truths
Archive for the The Four Noble Truths Category
Recently, we were asked on our Instagram page, “What can I do to help cultivate a commitment to regular practice?” The user also said, “…some ‘me time’ such as yoga or meditation would really benefit me, but my mind is rebellious and fights against the idea.” Another user added, “So hard to make it a regular practice.”
What a wonderful question. So many of us have seen the benefits of a meditation practice for ourselves, yet we somehow still resist. Even with the experiences we have had, we still can’t seem to sit regularly. When we are suffering, we think about meditating, but don’t actually get it done.
There are many ways to begin cultivating a commitment to regular practice. In the end, we all must discover what works for us. It may be different for you than for me. Here are a few tips we find helpful…
Find a Time
Finding a regular time to sit has been very beneficial for us. Some people enjoy sitting first thing in the morning, while others prefer sitting before bed. Maybe the middle of the day is best for you. Try to sit at different times to find what works for you. When something feels good, make it a part of your schedule.
For example, you may sit after waking, before eating breakfast. As you begin to do this more regularly, you may find that it becomes an important part of your daily routine. Meditation is a PRACTICE. It takes time and repeated effort. Finding a consistent time to practice every day helps us regulate our practice. Some people like to set alarms to remind themselves to sit during that day.
Sometimes, you just have to sit. One Instagram user, @merehut, contributed, “Some days are easy, some are not. Just don’t fret or judge your efforts.” Wise advice. We tend to get down on ourselves or anxious when we don’t want to sit. After years of meditation practice, there are still days when I have to drag my ass to the cushion.
When we sit, we are able to be present for this aversive feeling. Sometimes we sit in these circumstances and are not able to concentrate one bit. Other times we may gain some insight into our mind’s behavior. Whatever the case, sitting even when we don’t want to is a practice in facing our emotions head on.
Get a Meditation Buddy or Mentor
Having somebody to check in with about your meditation can be of great help. It may be just a friend. Having somebody else who meditates in your life is a great start. Connecting with this person, you can talk about your practice, and encourage each other to sit. We have found that making friends who also meditate benefits us greatly.
In addition to having a meditation buddy, you may find a mentor or teacher to connect with. This person doesn’t have to be the world’s foremost expert on meditation or Buddhism. Having somebody in your life that has a bit more experience than you do is incredibly beneficial. A mentor is somebody you can go to with your questions and thoughts. It is somebody to connect with and be accountable to. If you ever would like to check in, ask questions, or try to connect with one of us here, you may call or text us at (323) 790-6252. We do have both male and female mentors available to talk and text at no cost!
Join a Meditation Group
One way we can create a regular practice is to join a local meditation group. Many areas have groups that meet frequently. Building a sangha, or community, helps encourage us and drive our practice. We feel some accountability to practice, and often learn new techniques and practices.
Because we liked this question so much, we are starting a daily check-in routine for our meditations. Check it out and join us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/TESWmeditation/. You also may check out Insight Timer, an app for your mobile device. Insight Timer allows you to track your meditation sessions, connect with others, and listen to guided meditations. If you are unsure about meditation groups in your area, please feel free to ask us on our social medias or via email.
These are just a few suggestions. In the end, we have to buckle down and sit when we don’t want to. Maybe start with just 5 or 10 minutes every day. Be gentle with yourself, don’t judge, and allow yourself some wiggle room. If you really want to sit every day and get into the habit of a regular practice, you may have to experiment, and you definitely will have to deal with some discomfort.
Sitting down to meditate is greatly beneficial, but most of us don’t sit all day long. In order to enhance our spiritual lives, we must bring our practice off the cushion and into the real world. One aspect of our lives off the cushion that we may bring mindfulness to is our conversations. There are two parts to a conversation: speaking and listening.
One way that we may practice off the cushion is through Right Speech. Right speech is the practice of speaking mindfully, not creating suffering in ourselves or in others. Some questions you may ask yourself when considering speaking are: Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it necessary? Is it timely? What is my intention?
These questions help us look at our speech and see the reason we are talking. We have the opportunity to practice every time we speak. A teacher of mine recently suggested that we take a deep inhale and a deep exhale before speaking. If somebody begins speaking while we are inhaling and exhaling, we wait for them to finish, then take our deep breath again. Just as we meditate to decrease suffering, we may decrease suffering with our speech.
A few things we may be careful of while speaking are lying, exaggeration, and speaking about people who are not present. Often, these things are harmful and create suffering.
Although listening is not listed in the Noble Eightfold Path, it is incredibly important in our practice. When we listen mindfully, we are inviting the other person to speak openly. Mindful listening can be one of the most healing, compassionate things we can do. Just like sitting on the cushion, mindful listening is a practice. Our minds wander, we think about what we want to say, or we judge. Listening wisely, we simply provide a place for somebody to speak. Perhaps Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says it best:
Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less. If you want to help him to correct his perception, you wait for another time. For now, you don’t interrupt. You don’t argue. If you do, he loses his chance. You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less.
Buddhism is about simple truths which, if followed in everyday lifestyle, can assist us in understanding suffering and overcoming it. Buddhism is also about respecting other living beings, living peacefully with every person and being righteous in our actions, deeds and beliefs.
The inspirations of the Buddha are founded on what he encountered and learned before he achieved enlightenment. Soon after becoming enlightened, he taught people how to arrive at that enlightenment through their own knowledge and by following some practical understanding. Buddhism teaches that one must understand the truths of life by practicing the Eightfold Path, which is the broad outline of Buddhist practices.
Although Buddhism does not encourage blindly following guidelines, it is crucial to know the teachings and philosophies of Buddha to realize the self-management that Buddhism is all about. The Four Noble Truths are the very basis of this.
The Four Noble Truths
The First Noble Truth
The Truth of Suffering: In accordance with this teaching, each being experiences suffering in life. Ailment and death are inevitable and so is emotional pain. There is a belief in reincarnation and the Buddha says that we need to all know that in our potential lives we will go though discomfort. If we can comprehend this, then we can use our current life to get liberation from potential suffering. On the other hand, if we do not grasp this straight-forward truth, then we just may possibly waste our existing existence attempting to obtain happiness for this one life, rather than liberation for the numerous lives that follow.
The Second Noble Truth
The Reality of the Cause of Suffering: Buddha believes that the supply of suffering is attachment. We attempt to find happiness and crave joy, leaving behind the truth that everything is impermanent. We also seek for pleasure outside our beings. Even if we uncover someone within that makes us content, we by no means are satisfied. When we get close to something or somebody we often attach. When something leaves us, we crave. We constantly avert from feelings and thoughts, and it is our own delusion that leads to the suffering.
The Third Noble Truth
The Truth of the End of Suffering: This piece of wisdom says that we can end suffering completely by freeing ourselves from any variety of attachment and craving. We have to end clinging to others, ideas and items. We can attain detachment by removing the principal trigger of our suffering. Buddha motivates individuals to attain a state of Nirvana or freedom from the complications and worries of existence.
The Fourth Noble Truth
The Truth of the Path That Frees Us from Suffering: Right here, Buddha advocates following an inner spiritual path that will show us the way out of suffering. Following the Eightfold Path will lead us to correct happiness and liberation as well as enlightenment. By way of the Eightfold Path, Buddha teaches individuals how to end the suffering by following eight tips.
When I am suffering, my tendency is to blame something outside of myself. As a first reaction, I look to external phenomena to put the responsibility on. As I practice more and more, I am able to look inward for the causes of my suffering with less resistance. My reaction of blaming an external circumstance or person is more easily brought into my awareness, and I am able to look deeper at my suffering.
In his book Essence of the Heart Sutra, the Dalai Lama states, “In truth, it is always and only the mental afflictions that agitate our minds, yet we tend to blame our agitation on external conditions, imagining that encountering unpleasant people or adverse circumstances make us unhappy.” This insight is something that I have understood intellectually for quite some time. However, I have only had the experiential understanding recently, although I have been practicing for years.
I have had this experience on retreat, but also in simple 30 minute sits. When I am sitting, all of my basic needs are met. Generally, I am in a safe and comfortable position both in relation to the outside world and with my own posture. However, I can still experience great suffering. Things that happened weeks or months ago may arise. Thoughts of my own actions arise. Thoughts of craving, delusion, and aversion arise. Emotions arise that are clearly based on my own MENTAL afflictions, not any physical afflictions.
In meditation, I have found that the root of all of my suffering is within my own head. A teacher of mine often tells the story of the Buddha’s encounters with Mara in which the Buddha simply says, “I see you Mara.” I have a tattoo on my forearm to remind myself of this story and its lesson: that by simply bringing attention in a compassionate manner to our suffering, clinging, aversion, and delusion, our ability to let it go is greatly increased.
The other day, after a sit with my girlfriend, I opened my eyes and simply said. “Mara is in my head.” I had a painful sit with many unpleasant emotions arising, but I did not suffer greatly. As the unpleasant emotions and thoughts arose, I looked at them and simply stated repeatedly, “I see you Mara.”
Furthermore, I have recently began a practice that my teacher recommended of actually sitting at night and inviting the unpleasantness in. As I sit and invite in fear, worry, regret, and anger, I am able to compassionately look at it and begin to understand its causes.
Some days I just don’t feel one hundred percent. I am unfocused, irritable, or maybe even overly excited. With my meditation practice of compassionately inviting in any and all emotions, I am able to look within for the cause of these mind states. Rather than feeling discontented and not knowing why, I am sometimes able to feel discontented but aware.
I am not perfect with this, but my responses to suffering in everyday life are growing in wisdom. I use the mantra, “I see you Mara” many times a day. When I have a moment to myself, I often invite up anything that is weighing on me, allowing it to naturally move on. When I hold onto things in my subconscious, they affect my state of mind and heart greatly. As I let them go, I can begin to uncover my heart and a stillness of mind.
Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva) is the practice of earning a living in a mindful and compassionate manner. At its foundation is not violating the Five Precepts. The Five Precepts teach us not to kill, not to steal, to abstain from sexual misconduct, not to lie, and not to use mind-altering substances. In making our living, we must not violate these precepts. It has been explained by one of my teachers as not harming others in the way you make your living. We should not deal in arms, human beings, meat, intoxicants, nor unlawful labor.
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says on page 104 of his book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings, “To practice Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others… Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them. We should be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way we earn our living.”
As the Fourth Precept says, we should abstain from using false speech. As discussed in the Five Precepts article, this is more than simply not lying. It also involves not using half-truths nor exaggerating. We must be careful that our professions do not require us to violate this precept of honesty. If we are to observe Right Livelihood, we must make our living through honesty and Right Speech.
We also must observe the Second Precept and not participate in stealing in our work. More than just not stealing, we must “not take that which is not freely given to us.” Obviously, we should not steal from our employer, co-workers, or employees. We also must be conscious of the social impact of the business or industry we are in. If we are hoping to learn to live in Right Livelihood, we must not work in businesses that utilize inhumane labor, deceive customers or suppliers, nor take advantage of the ignorance or cravings of others.
In earning our living, we must be mindful of the people we may be harming. Are we dealing in weapons, intoxicants, or breeding ignorance? Our jobs cannot cause harm on others; we must be compassionate and loving with our work. Practicing loving-kindness in our career, we cannot possibly harm others in any way.
One important aspect of Right Livelihood is our work attitude. We must not waste our employer’s time by doing other tasks while on the clock, give co-workers negative attitude, nor come late and leave early. Essentially, we must practice Right Effort in the workplace. Keeping a right attitude is very important to right livelihood, as we must work with mindfulness and love.
All in all, Right Livelihood is the practice of earning a living with mindfulness, compassion, loving-kindness, and respect.
The Second Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states, “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” The principle behind Step Two is hope. The 2nd Step is also closely related to the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, especially the Third Noble Truth.
Step Two and Hope
In Step One, we admit powerlessness over drugs and alcohol. We concede to our innermost selves that we are addicts, and practice rigorous self-honesty. In Step Two, we essentially do the opposite. We are offered hope for a seemingly hopeless state. The phrase, “Came to believe” tells us that our faith does not always happen instantly. It takes time. We slowly open our minds and hearts to see what the Twelve Steps have to offer us. As we know we are powerless over things and our lives are unmanageable, we are being offered a way to live a life manageable by a power greater than ourselves.
Step Two not only gives us hope in terms of a power greater than ourselves. In the Second Step, we are offered hope in a more general sense. We feel quite hopeless and as if there is nothing that will help us. Step Two is the door that once we begin to open, we are presented with a beautiful path of work toward a joyous and free life.
Step Two and the Third Noble Truth
In the First Step, we have our limits brought to light, and are practicing Right View. We recognize the first two Noble Truths of suffering and the causes of our suffering, which are our addiction and own powerlessness. In Step Two, we are presented with the reality of the Third Noble Truth: that the cessation of this suffering is possible. Just as the Second Step is beginning to open the door to the rest of the steps, the Third Noble Truth leads us into the Fourth Noble Truth of the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Third Noble Truth teaches us that ending suffering is indeed possible. Once we have learned to understand our suffering and see it clearly, we have the potential to eradicate it completely. The Third Noble Truth, like Step Two, is of hope. The possibility to progress and leave behind the suffering is a reality for each and every one of us.
Taking Step Two, we are believing in the a power greater than ourself (which in the Buddhist sense would be the Dharma). The Third Noble Truth assures us that this power truly can eradicate our suffering, just as the Second Step says the power can “restore us to sanity.”
Equanimity is the practice of treating things neutrally. We don’t judge or react; we experience things exactly as they are and do not add on. Speaking with a teacher recently, we discussed the different ways that equanimity work in our lives, and he clarified two unique examples.
Equanimity with Others
Equanimity with my relationships with others was not something I had given very much thought to. In our relationships with others, we find ourselves either becoming attached or detaching harshly. We are sometimes often the equanimity phrase, “May you be in charge of your own karma.” In this way, we learn to let go of the results. Our prayers or good wishes for someone else will not change them; it changes us. Practicing equanimity, we recognize this and let go fo the outcomes.
In working with others, we often become attached to their progress. When a sponsee relapses, a child fails a class, or a loved one is in pain, we sometimes feel at least partially responsible. All we can do is practice metta, touch their pain with compassion, and appreciate the happiness of others. However, as the phrase we use says, others must take control of their own karma. Rather than see it as detaching, we are simply letting go of our attachment to their happiness. This end of the spectrum is essentially not being codependent. When someone is unhappy, we don’t blame ourselves. We do what we can and leave their suffering up to them. We continue to send metta and compassion his or her way.
At the other end of this is completely detaching. This is also not healthy. Sometimes when a child, sponsee, or loved one continues to create their own suffering (with drug use, poor judgement, anger, etc.) we become cold and calloused. We detach strongly, losing compassion and care. When they are suffering or make mistakes, we act with anger or even malice. The practice here is the same: we must act with love and compassion without becoming attached to the outcome. We may repeat the phrases in meditation or throughout the day, “May you be at ease,” “May you be happy,” “May you be free from suffering,” and “May you be in charge of your own karma.” These phrases are of metta, mudita, karuna, and upekkha.
Equanimity is also very applicable with our responses to emotions and thoughts. As commonly discussed, our natural reaction is to avert from unpleasant feelings and to attach to anything that pleases us. When we have unpleasant feelings, we label them as bad or negative. We do this similarly with pleasant feelings. Practicing equanimity, we focus on the direct experience.
With negative emotions, we label them as negative and bad. With equanimity, we must simply focus on the direct experience, rather than adding more things on. Sharon Salzberg calls these things exactly what they are: add-ons. These add-ons serve us no purpose. They are a product of our survival instincts and societal conditioning. When we add on, we are living in delusion and without compassion. Recognizing the truth, we see simply that an unpleasant emotion is just an unpleasant emotion.
We must so similarly with pleasant emotions. Rather than attach and crave more, we must recognize the pleasant feeling as just a pleasant feeling. A phrase offered to me by my teacher for this is, “May I treat things as they truly are.” It has to do with Right View, and seeing the true nature of our thoughts and emotions.
Practicing equanimity, we are able to live in a neutral, joyous position. We don’t cling to pleasant feelings nor avert from unpleasant ones. We also are not letting our joy rest in the hands of others. We are able to live freely and joyously.
The Twelfth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests we “practice these principles in all our affairs.” In prayer and meditation, our work with others, and meetings we are able to be present and work our spiritual program. However, the majority of our days are spent in the real world. It is much more difficult for us to work our programs in daily life, and we must remain vigilant.
A fundamental tool we have for practicing the principles in our lives is to remain mindful. When we are truly present, focused on what we are doing in the moment, we are able to see more clearly our own actions and thoughts. With mindfulness, we are able to be conscious of our spiritual practice. Whether we are meditating, walking, or working, we always have the potential to be mindful. People hear the word meditation, and most commonly think of a formal sitting meditation. Meditation means, “To focus one’s thoughts.” Recognizing where we currently are physically, emotionally, and mentally is focusing one’s thoughts.
One of the first thing we often notice when practicing this mindfulness is the arising of thoughts and emotions. We begin to notice more frequently anxiety, fear, resentment, etc. This can be painful, but leads to great insight. As we recognize our emotions and thoughts, we take some of their power away. Sometimes we feel that we are suffering but not exactly sure why. This is because the emotions and thoughts are being pushed down and eventually build up. When we are mindful and recognize them, we are able to prevent them from controlling us so much. Simply recognizing to ourselves, “I feel anxious” has tremendous power. Speaking about it with somebody else is even more powerful.
The Quality of Our Actions
Our thoughts and emotions drive our actions. When we become aware of the feelings and thoughts, we see the actions that follow them. We must ask ourselves many times throughout the day where our actions are coming from. Are they coming from a place of love? Of fear? Of anger? Of compassion? When we recognize where our actions are coming from, we gain insight into our true nature. The principles we are working to practice become more visibile to us, and we gain judgement in our actions.
A big part of looking at the quality of our actions is how we speak. Speaking accounts for the majority of our communication with others, not just what we say, but how we say it. Remaining mindful of our speech, we often say things and are able to see where in the heart or mind they came from. With this knowledge, we are able to work on these thoughts and feelings, or at least on not acting (speaking) on them. We check if our words are helpful, true, and loving or if they are vengeful, jealous, or harsh.
Along with the actual quality of our actions, we also must investigate our true intentions. Sometimes we do “good” things with bad intentions, or we make mistakes when our intentions are pure. When we notice resentful, selfish, or averting intentions arise, we must recognize them, for if we don’t we will act on them. When we perform a good deed, we also must gently praise ourselves for keeping pure intentions.
Being Gentle with Ourselves
When we find ourselves making a mistake or acting in an unwholesome manner, we must be accountable. We cannot afford to let ourselves get away with everything; we must deal with our mistakes before they deal with us. However, there is a gentle way to go about this. We must practice the principle of compassion with ourselves in these cases. Everyone makes mistakes, and they truly are opportunities to learn. If we hurt others, we must make amends promptly. We also must make amends to ourselves by diligently working to change the behavior.
It truly is not easy to practice these principles in the fast-paced world where not everyone is working a spiritual program. However, this is not an excuse to behave poorly. It is a true test of our abilities and growth.
The First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states, ”We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” The principle behind this first step is honesty. Step One also is closely related to Right View in Buddhism.
The first step is a simple (not easy) declaration of our complete defeat. Looking out our addiction, we see that our behavior has centered around our addiction. The first part of Step One, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol,” is a look at the nature of our using. Powerless is a strong word, and frightens many of us. However, when we look at the way we use, powerless is indeed a fitting word. When we drink and use, we lose all control and power. Taking the first drink, pill, hit, etc., we immediately succumb to our own powerlessness, and give in to the power of the substance.
We also experience powerlessness with the mental obsession we have. Even before we take the first drink, we are in constant thought of alcohol. Our lives are centered around alcohol. When we are not drinking, we are looking for the first drink. We are preoccupied with alcohol, not only losing power of action but also power of thought over it.
When we work this first part of Step One, we are practicing rigorous self-honesty. In order to see the nature of our powerlessness, we must be willing to set down the ego and be genuinely honest. This honesty helps us see that true extent of our powerlessness. As we honestly look at places we drank when we should not have, times we drank when it was inappropriate, and amounts we drank that we should not have, we recognize our powerlessness.
The second half of the First Step is “that our lives had become unmanageable.” Many people read this the first time and misinterpret it. What this is saying is not that our drinking had become unmanageable, but our lives. Yes, our drinking is obviously unmanageable, but the point is that our entire life is unmanageable by ourselves. When we look honestly at our lives, we see how unmanageable it has become. Our entire lives are out of our own control. With honesty, we are able to concede to our innermost selves that we are alcoholics and that our lives are unmanageable by our own control.
Step One and Right View
Right View and Step One are very closely related. Right view is the practice of seeing things as they truly are. The principle of honesty goes very well with Right View. In Right View, we begin to see things as they really are. When we are drinking and using, our perception is certainly disturbed. We are not seeing things as they really are, although it seems real to us.
Practicing the First Step and Right View, we open our minds to seeing the world from a different perspective. We look at our drinking and using, and we recognize the truth. We see more clearly the nature of our addiction. Rather than blaming everything on external issues, we recognize it is our own powerlessness that is the root of our suffering.
We also recognize how unmanageable our life has become. This is not to say we recognize the need for a Higher Power in our lives; rather, we come to terms with the reality of our lives being out of control. Often for some time, we have not been able to manage our lives. Where we previously believed we were in complete control, our convictions change.
Right View is essential to the First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous because we must begin to see things more clearly. We recognize the cause of our suffering is the addiction, powerlessness, and unmanageability.
Right View (samyag drishti) is often the first of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. Right view is the practice of seeing things as they really are, or recognizing the true nature. Before anything, Right View is a full understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Sariputra said that Right View was the ability to distinguish wholesome roots from unwholesome roots.
One of the most fundamental issues having to do with Right View is our perception. The Buddha told Subhuti, “Where there is perception, there is deception.” The teaching here is that our perceptions affect everything we experience, and we must be careful in trusting our perception. Our human nature, conditioned brains, and closed hearts cause our perceptions to consistently deceive us. Our perception is dependent upon everything going on within us, and as we change, so does our perception. The Buddha taught that our perceptions are nearly all erroneous.
Right View vs. Wrong View
When we speak of Right View, it is often compared to having a Wrong View. Right View is seeing things as they are, recognizing our suffering is of our own making, and not trying to control the external world. We must look at our own mind. In this sense “wrong view” is doing the opposite; it is blaming others for our suffering, trying to control things, and not seeing things as they are.
However, many Buddhist teachers agree that most every view is truly a wrong view. Having Right View, we let go of our perceptions and attachment to them. Any view is still a view, and not recognizing the true nature of things, and thus wrong. However, this is a more advanced concept.
The truth of Right View is that we must focus the mind on the mind. Rather than focusing our mind externally on things we come across, we must focus our minds on our minds. Looking at ourselves, we see the First Noble Truth, that there is suffering. We also recognize the Second Noble Truth, the cause of our suffering. The root of our suffering is our own minds. Our fear, delusion, craving, and attachment create almost all of our suffering.
Recognizing this with Right View, the door opens to focusing our minds on our minds, concentrating on ourselves. As Ghandi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” We cannot change the external, but we can change our minds, our delusions, and our unwholesome behaviors.