[from Sarika, 27 May 1996]
The Basic Teachings
Cause of Suffering
The content of the
Buddha's enlightenment is considered to be the four noble truths. This was his
first teaching following his awakening.
1. Life contains suffering.
2. There is a cause of this suffering.
3. The suffering can be ended.
4. The eightfold path.
One of the three characteristics of existence is dukkha or suffering. All human life contains this suffering, which can also be translated as imperfection. Siddhartha lived a very sheltered life and never saw any of the difficulties that ordinary humans beings face. It wasn't until he was 29 years old that he went outside the palace walls and traveled through the town. For the first time, he saw poverty, illness, old age and death. He also saw a renunciate, an ascetic monk. Immediately following the birth of his only child, a son, he left home and went to live in the forest. His goal was to find a way to help human beings end this suffering.
Dukkha is something like driving a car with the wheels out of alignment. It's annoying, and the car may pull to the side, making a kalumping sound. At any rate, the ride is not smooth. Some dukkha is harder than others. Losing someone we love, losing our home in a fire, being maimed in an accident -- all of these are serious sufferings. Getting stuck in a traffic jam, going home to find that your partner ate the last chocolate donut that you'd been thinking about all day, not being able to balance your checkbook -- these are less serious but still annoying imperfections.
The second noble truth explains the cause of suffering, the kleshas or hindrances, usually expressed as desire, anger and ignorance. Human beings always want something. Little babies come out of their mother's womb with their hands clenched. They grab on to anything as a reflex action. As we get older, we clutch at things not only with our hands, but with our minds. We think that getting our desires met will bring us happiness. So, instead of the car that's kalumping along, we want a new car, a shiny bright red Mustang convertible or a BMW or whatever. We want it now, and we're sure that it will make us happy.
Sometimes we get what we want. But we find it doesn't solve our problems. The result is not what we'd hoped for. Maybe the car is a lemon. and we have to take it back to the dealer many times and argue to get them to fix it or replace it. Maybe somebody steals it; it's so pretty. Maybe we get into an accident, and now it's an old damaged car. At any rate, it doesn't get us a new girlfriend or a better job or even satisfy the desire we felt for the car.
Anger is also looked at as aversion. We don't want certain things. We don't want to be ill, we don't want to be poor, we don't want our boss to be on our case. This makes us unhappy, and we try to push it away. It's just the opposite of clinging and desire -- anger and denial.
The third hindrance is ignorance or illusion. This doesn't mean that we are lacking in information, that we can find the truth if we read enough books. It means that we don't see how the world really works, how our minds work. We have ideas about things, but those ideas are not necessarily reality, although we may treat our thoughts and opinions as though they were dicta from an authority beyond our ken.
The third noble truth tells us that there is a way to end suffering. And the fourth truth explains that way, the eightfold noble path.
Next time, the details of the path.
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