…And once we have the condition of peace and joy in us, we can afford to be in any situation. Even in the situation of hell, we will be able to contribute our peace and serenity. The most important thing is for each of us to have some freedom in our heart, some stability in our heart, some peace in our heart. Only then will we be able to relieve the suffering around us”, said Thich Nhat Hanh.
The Four Noble Truths forms the box holding a most powerful tool-kit capable of yielding the dramatic change Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of. It is the gift of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, who learned that living beings experience difficulty in their day-to-day life and that this is so because we become attached and crave satisfaction from our attachments in ways that are inherently unsatisfying. The Buddha taught that there is a possibility of becoming free of the difficulties by leading a life of compassion, wisdom and meditation. These he called, the Four Noble Truths-The Toolbox.
The First Noble Truth describes the difficulties we experience as self-imposed and frustrating because we are unwilling to accept the natural and cyclical nature of life. We refuse to acknowledge and deal with the fact that we will experience ups and downs, that relationships are imperfect, that we are not perfect, that we become ill, that we die, and that we are also happy and joyous and sometimes very content and that it is all filtered through the components of our individuality, the Five Skandas.
The skandas or aggregates are five aspects we use to interact with phenomena. We perceive form, and through our form. We use senses; we combine feelings and sensations to create perceptions of what we encounter; we apply our intentions, creating karma and we use our sense consciousness, all ephemeral and temporary to make decisions about what we see, do, think and believe.
The Second Noble Truth describes the pain caused by the flawed nature in the interaction of these skandas. Our form, sensations, perceptions, intentions and consciousness become hijacked by the part of the consciousness called ego. We become attached to forms and our sensations, perceptions and intentions are driven by seemingly incessant cravings that unfold into poisons called kleshas. These obscurations keep us from seeing reality as it is and from achieving lasting peace now.
The Third Noble Truth states that we can become free of suffering or dukkha (Sanskrit), and that we can do it by attaining wisdom. The Buddha said …”whoever in this world overcomes this craving so hard to transcend will find that suffering goes away like drops of water falling from a flower.” Wisdom comes through understanding that we are in charge of our happiness and that joy and freedom exist within and not without. I like to compare this with riding a bicycle. You are the power and control behind the bicycle. If you are pulled you lose control. If you are pushed, you fall. Only you can decide how to ride your bike and how much power and speed you can exert!
The Fourth Noble Truth states that we can change, and that there is a path the Buddha and many others tried, to attain wisdom. This spiritual journey led them away from the dissatisfaction of a conditioned existence and into long-lasting peace and harmony. They followed what Enlightenment-The tool-kit, knows as the Eight-fold Path. They also cautioned about the roadblocks on the path. Just like in the Tour-de France, it is a wonderful, long and at times perilous journey. Yet, for us it is the most necessary journey of awakening. What the Buddha called heroic in nature. Just like in “the tour”, he said that we would find awe-inspiring mysteries, joyful encounters, outstanding adventures, and we will most certainly find obstacles that we ought to be prepared to overcome. He challenged us to be prepared for the dramatic change of a caterpillar if we wanted to fly like a butterfly. The Buddha cautioned that the ego was ready to stand guard with a suit of armor. Yet the ego is part of us. Will we be able to get out of our own way? Lama Surya Das asks about “which habits or patterns will you let go of easily, and which will have the tenacity of superglue?”
The obstacles that the Buddha personally confronted on his journey are called The Five Hindrances:
- Ill will
- Spiritual laziness (torpor, sloth)
These challenges show up consistently throughout the Eight-fold path to Enlightenment. Learning how to use this “tool-kit” as we encounter the hindrances, will enable us to be more effective as we ride the road to peace. The Buddha thought of this path as an eight-spoked wheel with interconnected links to develop the essential values of wisdom, ethics and presence.
Wisdom is embodied in Right View and Right Intentions. Ethics is embodied in Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood and Meditation is embodied in Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
Last night we discussed at length the fears that bind us into making poor judgments; the incorrect image of “perfection” we crave in people, things, beliefs, situations that propels us to manifest conflict and suffering for us and those we love, not to mention the impact on society at large. We identified our aversion to pain, our avoidance to seek healing for the right reasons. We talked about our misconceptions of abundance and the difference between desire and wanting. Being part of the sangha, the spiritual community helps us practice and encourage us to stay present and on the road. It teaches better ways of maintaining our bicycles in tip-top shape. I invite you all to share your experiences with these concepts. How do they show up in the day-to-day living? Are you present? Do you stop at least three times daily and ask yourself: What am I thinking? What am I feeling?
Follow this link to contemplate a piece I created to explore the way we perceive. It is called “The Nature of Reality”, http://www.lidiascherart.com/large-view/Spiritual%20Art%20/207608-5-0-17233/Mixed%20Media/On%20Canvas/Non-representational.html
Your comments are always welcome!