[This week I am reprinting a short article I wrote on the basics of Buddhism. It was quick, short and blunt; without (at least I tried) a large amount of language that would be unfamiliar to readers with no experience in the Dharma. Enjoy and feel free to comment]
The first (and arguably the most important) sermon taught by the Buddha concerns the four noble truths. The core of any Buddhist’s belief structure and any practitioner’s practice finds its heart within these four simple but deep statements.
The first noble truth is that life is frustrating and painful. Even moments where we may be happy, the world around us is suffering. The quickest path to compassion is to understand the first noble truth. We, all of us, are subjected to old age, sickness and death.
The second noble truth is that suffering has a cause. Suffering exists because we constantly struggle to survive, cling and define ourselves by things that are impermanent. Like trying to grasp and hold onto water; it is ultimately futile. The more we struggle to grasp impermanent things in a world constantly in flux, the more painful is our existence. It isn’t the actual experiences that cause suffering, it’s our attachment and clinging to those experiences. It isn’t the food that causes the stomach pangs, it’s the hunger.
The third noble truth is that the cause of suffering can be ended through non-attachment. By realizing and working to cease the clinging to sensual things our struggle becomes unnecessary. We can form relationships with our spouse, children and friends without wishing them to things that they were in the past or expecting them to be in the future. This, to a Buddhist, is living in the moment. Simple engagement with the moment leads to simple pleasure.
The fourth noble truth shows one how to achieve that non-attachment. The Buddha outlines the path a practitioner can take to end the cause of suffering called the Eightfold Path. The first two points of the path (Right View and Right Intention) operate through the cultivation of wisdom, the third through fifth points (Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood) are concerned with the cultivation of proper ethical conduct while the sixth through eighth points (Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration) have most to do with mental development.
“Upon a heap of rubbish in the road-side ditch blooms a lotus, fragrant and pleasing”—The Buddha from The Dhammapadda
Our goal is the nirvana of cessation. The cessation of anger, ignorance and jealousy while cultivating compassion, wisdom and mindfulness. The greatest surprise perhaps is that nirvana always existed for us. Once we remove the clutter and wipe away the dingy film of the skandhas this begins to become clear. This achievement can be made by any practitioner that follows that path. What you actually identify yourself is of little concern. The Buddha’s teachings are open to everyone to apply to their daily life and are not the sole provenance of monks and meditation masters, Buddhists or renunciants; it is always open, at some level, to those that are open to and willing to embrace change. It is the conclusion of a life spent juggling great doubt, great faith and great striving.