Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On The Precipice and The First Noble Truth

It is nearing the last day of my husband's work before he is permanently laid off, and right now I feel as though we are standing with one foot in the past and the other in the future. I suppose if you look at it that way, a person is always in this position, but today it seems a more significant stance. 

Last night I lay awake for quite awhile with the thought that a person can have everything in one moment, and lose it all in the next. This happens to all of us at one point or another in our lives. Our story is about the loss of a long-standing job, for others it might be the loss of a loved one, or their house burning down to the ground...ultimately it is the loss of our own lives. It would be a pretty depressing thing if you let yourself think about it too often!

I know better than to let myself get on that train of thought, so last night instead of getting too caught up in my own misery, I reminded myself of what the Buddhists call the Four Noble Truths: 

There is suffering.
There is the cause of suffering, which is desire and clinging.
There is an end to suffering.
There is a path to the end of suffering.

Quite often when I find myself about to get caught up in sad or angry thoughts, I remember the Four Noble Truths, and I have to admit I've repeated them to myself quite a bit lately! When you look at them, they seem quite simple. A lot of Buddhists consider them to be "beginner's Buddhism", but those who are wise enough know that they are the backbone of the Buddhist philosophy. How to stop suffering was Siddhartha Gautama's (the Buddha's) quest and what drove him on a spiritual path. The original word in the Pali language was "dukkha" which was translated as "suffering", but the actual meaning of dukkha is closer to something like "unsatisfactoriness".

We experience dukkha in very small ways every day. Standing impatiently in the slowest checkout line in a supermarket is dukkha. Running around the house desperately looking for your lost keys, is dukkha. Suddenly remembering an embarrassing incident from your past and fretting about it all over again, is dukkha. And realizing with great fear that in two days you no will longer have a job, is dukkha.

Dukkha, or suffering also comes in the aftermath of wonderful experiences, happy times and great accomplishments, not because of those wonderful times themselves, but because we want to hang onto them and feel that way forever, or repeat them over and over again. This is also suffering.

Of course, there is physical suffering and pain, illness and growing old. But the main focus here in this post will be on mental and emotional suffering....because that, as the Buddha taught, is something we can actually change.

Today, you who are reading this post will experience dukkha on some level or another. I guarantee it. It may be very small and almost indistinguishable, but it will be present...on the other hand, if you, like me, are going through a difficult time right now, you'll have no trouble recognizing it. The interesting thing about suffering is that it ebbs and flows. If you "stand back" from it for just a moment, you'll begin to notice that its intensity is not constant. Sometimes you'll even forget about it for a moment, or actually find yourself feeling good. This is something very important to note! Because most of the time, we actually perpetuate our own suffering...we will actually REMIND ourselves of it again and fall right back into it! Is that stupid, er what?? This is human nature.

So today, I'm going to "watch" my thoughts very carefully, and every time I find myself slipping into that unhappy train of thought, I'm going to say to myself "Ah hah! That is suffering." If you are interested in joining me, please do. In the next post, I'll explore the Second Noble Truth in more detail.

IJ

3 comments:

  1. Interesting synchronicity for my life here - I just started reading "An Idiot's Guide To Buddhism" a few weeks ago. I must admit my weakness for "monkey mind" (as you might infer from my own blog) it's a lifelong struggle.
    When I was a teenager I had the good fortune to be introduced to vedic philosophy which parallels buddhism and agrees that "attachment is the root of all misery". And when we're forcibly torn from our attachments, it's to be looked at as a blessing. Still, I hope your "blessing" doesn't cause you or yours too much discomfort.

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  2. Thanks for sharing these insights. I have no more than a "Comparative Religions" course knowledge of Buddhism but I'm finding these ideas quite compelling. I know there's a lot of stress swirling around your family during these uncertain times. During my teen years, my dad was unemployed over half the time and we really struggled as a large family. I still cringe when I remember some of the dietary decisions my mom made LOL.

    Since 2008 only has four more hours left where I am, I'll take the opportunity to wish you and yours all the best in the new year.

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  3. Hey Monty...thanks for your post and Happy New Year to you and yours too!

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Hi and thanks for your input!