In order to help people realise that the normal understanding
of life is inadequate, the Buddha talked about ‘dukkha’, translated as
dissatisfaction or unsatisfactoriness. He often summarised his teaching as the
Truth about ‘dukkha’, its origin, its ending, and the path to its ending.
These core teachings, to be measured against one's experience and used for
guidance, are known as the Four Noble Truths.
The First Noble Truth:
There is dukkha
Life as we normally know it must always have a proportion of
disagreeable experiences - sickness, pain and distress are obvious examples.
Even in relatively affluent societies people suffer from anxiety, stress or a
loss of purpose; or they feel incapable of dealing with life's challenges.
Moreover, agreeable experiences are limited and transient for instance, 'dukkha'
can be brought on by the loss of a loved one, or being badly let down by a
friend. What also becomes apparent is that these feelings cannot be relieved for
long by our usual responses, such as seeking pleasure, greater success or a
different relationship. This is because 'dukkha' stems from an inner need. You
could call it a longing of the heart - for understanding, peace and harmony.
Because it's an inner or spiritual need, no matter how we try to alleviate such
feelings by adding something pleasant to our life, it never quite succeeds. As
long as we are motivated to seek fulfilment in what is transient and vulnerable
and it doesn't take much introspection to recognise how vulnerable our bodies
and feelings are - we will always suffer disappointment and a sense of loss.
"Being associated with what you do not
like is dukkha,
being separated from what you like is dukkha,
not getting what you want is dukkha.
In brief, the compulsive habits of body and mind are dukkha."
The Second Noble Truth:
There is an origin to 'dukkha'
The Buddha's experience was that this wrong motivation was in
essence the origin of dissatisfaction. How is this? By always seeking fulfilment
in what is transient, we miss out on what life could be offering if we were more
attentive and spiritually attuned. Not using (through not knowing) our spiritual
potential, we are motivated by feelings and moods. However, when mindfulness
reveals that this is a habit rather than our true nature, we realise that we can
The Third Noble Truth:
'Dukkha' can stop
Once we've understood the Second Truth, the Third follows on,
if we're capable of ‘letting go’ of our conscious and unconscious self-centred
habits. When we are no longer defensive or aggressive, whenever we respond to
life without prejudice or fixed views, the mind rests in an inner harmony. The
habits and viewpoints that make life appear hostile or inadequate are checked.
The Fourth Noble Truth:
There is a Way to stop 'dukkha'
This involves the practical guidelines for bringing a
spiritual focus to bear on life as we are living it. We can't 'let go' until we
become capable of that through cultivation of our spiritual nature. But if there
is proper cultivation, the mind will naturally, incline towards Nibbana
that is needed is the wisdom to know that there is a way and the means to
accomplish that way.
The 'Way' is defined as the Noble Eightfold
Path. The 'wheel'
symbol that is often used in Buddhist iconography is a depiction of this
Eightfold Path in which each factor supports and is supported by all the others.
Buddhist practice consists of cultivating these factors: Right View, Right
Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right
Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
The 'Right-ness' of them is that they entail living in
accordance with virtue, meditation and wisdom rather than from any self-centred
position. Such a Way is therefore 'Right' for others as well as oneself.
"He who has understanding and great
does not think of harming himself or another,
nor of harming both alike.
He rather thinks of his own welfare,
of that of others, of that of both,
and of the welfare of the whole world."
FOLLOWING THE PATH
When asked to explain why his disciples always
looked cheerful, the Buddha commented:
"They have no regret over the past,
nor do they brood over the future.
They live in the present;
therefore they are radiant."
Someone who has fully cultivated this way finds serenity and
patience in themselves in times of difficulty and the wish to share good fortune
when things go well. They live a life free from guilt, and, rather than having
violent mood swings, the mind and heart stay steady and buoyant through the
circumstances of life.
These are the fruits; but like most fruit, they have to be
cultivated slowly and persistently with good-heartedness. For this reason, the
guidance, or simply the companionship, of like-minded people is almost
indispensable. The Refuge of Sangha is a reflection on this. Most generally, 'Sangha'
refers to all spiritual companions, but this spiritual companionship is
highlighted by the religious order of alms-mendicants who live under a detailed
code of conduct that unambiguously presents the values of the Buddhist path.
Buddhist monks and nuns are not preachers -being specifically
prohibited from teaching unless asked to do so - they are spiritual companions,
and their relationship with the general Buddhist public is one of mutual
support. They are prohibited from growing food or having money; they have to
keep in touch with society and be worthy of support. Buddhist monasteries are
not escape-hatches, but places where others can stay, receive teachings and most
important - feel that their act of service and support is appreciated. In this
way, the monks and nuns provide more than companionship and guidance - they also
present the opportunity for others to gain confidence and self-respect.
"Do not think lightly of goodness,
'Nothing will help me improve.'
A pitcher is filled with water
by a steady stream of drops;
likewise, the wise person improves
and achieves well-being
a little at a time."