Thursday, July 05, 2018

Happy 4 Noble Truths Day!

Independence day celebration in America is a perfect opportunity to go over the 4 noble truths. Sangharakshita says something to the effect that just like the taste of salt in the sea, the taste of freedom is a part of the Dharma life.

The Mnemonic way of remembering the 4 noble truths is as follows: Dukkha, samudaya, niroda, marga:

1. Dukkha: a feeling, a felt experience of discomfort, disease, pain, suffering. Infatuation of sense pleasure stops us from seeing dukkha. Nobody is saying life is only suffering, there are many great pleasures. But the idea is that those little moments of pleasure sort of put us onto a path of chasing desires and pleasure that, well, it's just going to be a chase that will be mostly unsuccessful. Thinking about things we want is much easier than than thinking about satisfactions, even if we keep a gratefulness journal. Trying to focus on things we are grateful does shift the focus a little, but it won't get rid of the human reaching for more.

(I think that's some of what Christianity is reaching for with the Garden of Eden myth, with God as the ultimate prankster. Hahaha, you are thrown out of paradise.)

(Dukkha is shared with Hinduism but in Hinduism the goal is to understand the ultimate nature of the self, where as in Buddhism we are taught that there is no ultimate nature of the self, it's conditioned.)

Condition existence has it's limitations. You can build a wonderful life, but you will not escape aging, illness and death. How many times have you been disappointed because things didn't come out the way you wanted them? It almost seems like life is set up to fall short of our hopes. You could see life as a process of making important relationships and then saying goodbye to them.

Seeing into dukkha is a key insight in Buddhism, reality, that has depth and can keep growing. Like so many of the things you can read about Buddhism, you can say, "oh yea, I get that," but over years and years of dedicated practice, you see how your understanding and appreciation can grow and develop. You can look at dukkha without getting depressed.

Think about insecurity, fears and safety. I see gated community with guards. I think about looking at people on the subway. Think about how in a city you can't go a long time without hearing an ambulance. I think about temperature--it's so easily too hot or too cold. Think about the news. Even when everything is going well, you want it to continue. I feel this on a retreat or camping. I think about litter, urban decay, someone puking after a night of celebration, divorce court, venereal disease.

Dukkha is one of the three marks of existence, namely dukkha ("suffering"), anatta (not-self), anicca ("impermanence").

2. Samudaya: The root of dukkha which is craving. You can get a moment of satisfaction but how many times have you gotten something and it just feels empty. Or you get something wonderful and it's gone so soon. I see my grandmother when I say hello, then so soon, saying goodbye. She loved to be around family so much and they all went away.

The link on Wikipedia for samudaya leads to the twelve nidanas which is a key teaching. The wheel of life is a visual representation of it.

Hedonism doesn't work. This is the push towards spirituality, the desire for something more. If there was no dukkha there would be no religion or spirituality. We try so hard to make ourselves happy, it can really help you with empathy to think that. Donald Trump is really just trying to be happy, and push away pain. Look at the whole life of rock stars. There is so much substance abuse and early death, fading into obscurity.

The Lotus Sutra includes a parable where a house is on fire. The father wants to lure the children outside with a promise of greater pleasures, they won't leave the house because they are having too much fun playing and don't notice the fire. Think of kids at the park who don't want to go home and their parents are trying to drag them away. Fire is an important idea in Buddha. Things are burning. The arrow is in the air. The new toys outside the burning house is the Dharma, meditation, spiritual community, the vision and path that leads us away from the futile effort to not suffer.

3. Niroda: is a release, ending of suffering, is possible. There exists liberating insight.

Realizing a possibility is amazing. I think about realizing things I can do on the computer or the revelation of a city or a museum, a view on a mountain top, or skiing, or sex. It's amazing to know there is more than just chasing sense pleasure. The toys outside the burning house are fun, even if they were not what we thought they were.

4. Marga: The path. The eightfold path. I'll do a post on that tomorrow. There is a path towards radical waking up. We can relate to dukkha with equanimity.

Here is a good talk on the 4 noble truths based on the Sattipathana Sutra by Vajradevi of the TBC. (Vajradevi has a good article on Vajrapani on Wildmind). I have based my post on this talk, so this is also a footnote. Her presentation is more clear, she is not responsible for my muddled presentation.

Eightfold Path

The eightfold path is the path leading out of suffering, the 4th noble truth. I learned VESALEAS (/vessel ease/) in Vision and Transformation, which is called something else now I think. I can't help but think of Sangharakshita's talk on regular versus irregular steps in the path. This will be a brief overview and I will go over each one in detail the following days. Wikipedia has VRSALEMS (/very Salems/).

1. Perfect vision (view, understanding): Conditionality. Understanding on some level why, how and where you are going with the Dharma.

2. Perfect emotion (resolve): Focused peaceful renunciation.

3. Perfect speech: honest, helpful, kindly speech

4. Perfect action: Ethics, the 10 precepts guide. I have learned that making mistakes has had a negative impact on my practice.

5. Perfect livelihood: Not putting obvious suffering in the world.

6. Perfect effort: preventing unwholesome mental states.

7. Perfect awareness (mindfulness)

8. Perfect samadhi (dhyana)(Concentration)

Here is Sangharakshita's talks on the Noble Eightfold Path given in 1968. He does it better than me, don't hold him responsible for my botched expressions.

Sunday, July 01, 2018


"...another morning I may be no more than an unpaid babysitter for the antics of my mind in the playpen of the meditation cushion."

Paul Weiss from Moonlight Leaning Against an Old Rail Fence