The Buddha's Four Noble Truths
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The Buddha's Four Noble Truths (28 min.)
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
February 17, 2008 - Dallas, Texas

I remember a time a few weeks ago when I kind of had a really nice few hours of kind of in that state of just open heart, love, and present in mindfulness. I walked into the room of the young adults of the Center for Spiritual Living, and I just looked around, and I had the thought, oh Buddha, look at all the cute disguises. And I have the same feeling tonight. I'm just looking around. Oh Buddha, look at all your cute disguises. How wonderful. I almost don't want to give a dharma talk because I feel like I'm just Buddha talking to Buddha.

Well, thank you for those of you who came last Sunday to our Lunar New Year celebration. We had over 180 people in this room. It was very powerful. And tonight we are just continuing the theme of our Lunar New Year because in the Lunar New Year calendar, Lunar New Year takes place for two whole weeks, not just one day. So we just wanted to continue that celebration but in a more intimate space and more focused on the basic fundamental teachings of enlightenment.

Tonight I would like to address the Four Noble Truths that the Buddha taught, and this will begin a two-month series so that every Sunday from now, Lunar New Year, until Earth Day, April 20, will have something to do with the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path of Enlightenment. And so tonight, I would like to talk about the Four Noble Truths. And for some reason it sounds complicated to you in some way, just remember that it all boils down to I am home.

A few years ago, I was at a retreat for young adults when I was still able to be called a young adult, and my friend Tim was there in California at this retreat, and he one night told me and a few others about the whole process of composting and what all is involved with composting and how human and animal feces gets kind of warmed up by the sun, baked under some leaves and other things, and then it is broken down by little worms, and little microorganisms can break it down further, and then it goes into the soil and becomes fertilizer and fertilizes the beautiful flowers and the trees and grasses, which then become nourishment for the animals and humans.

On the next day while we were walking outside, I began to just really enjoy walking with all the young adults. We walked over to this little hill, a mountainside overlooking a valley below, and just walking, enjoying the breathing, walking in nature with each other, the monks, and nuns. And maybe because I had been practicing for a while before then, and maybe because of just the energy of the retreat, I suddenly had this profound revelation. There is bird shit everywhere. I mean seriously. All over the ground, on the rocks, on the grass, everywhere. And I contemplated this for a few minutes, and I realized that for thousands and millions of years, as long as birds have existed, there has been bird shit all over the planet. They fly thousands of miles from the North to the South back and forth every year, and they just cover the whole planet with bird shit.

And I thought to myself why isn't the planet poisoned with all this toxicity? And then I remembered my friend Tim's beautiful teaching to me on composting, because all of that nature has provided processes whereby these things can be transformed, broken down back into the basic elements, which then can become fertilizer and nourish other plants and beautify the earth so that all these things, instead of becoming toxic, can become nourishing.

So as I continued to contemplate this bird, I thought about the Buddha's teaching on suffering, and I remembered how my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, renames the teachings from time to time to modernize them, so let's see if you can see this… If you can't, it is okay. But the First Noble Truth is the truth of suffering, and the Second is the causes of suffering. And the Third is the possibility of the cessation or transformation of suffering, and the Fourth is the path that leads to transformation or cessation of suffering. This is a medical model based on the way they diagnosed things in India at the time. They first figure out what is the cause of it, can it be cured, and that if they can, what is the medicine or the procedure, the cure?

So it is a very basic model, and the Buddha used that model to look at the human problem of suffering. But our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, he kind of changed it around. He did it this way. So he switched one and two with three and four. So instead of beginning with suffering, he began with a cessation or transformation of suffering. So he renamed it this way. First, there is well-being. Well-being is possible, and here is the path to well-being. And there is also ill being, and the path to ill being.

Audience Member: What was that?

ChiSing: Ill being. So you basically got well-being and the things that cause well-being, and you have ill being and the things that cause ill being. It is very simple. So this is how Thich Nhat Hanh kind of rearranged for modern times, just to put a more positive spin so it wouldn't have to start with suffering. So, well-being.

Well, as I contemplated the bird shit everywhere, I came up with the Four Noble Truths according to Brother ChiSing. Shit happens, and shit is made of non-shit elements. Shit can turn into compost and fertilize beautiful things, which then can lead to beautiful gardens. And then turning shit into compost. All right.

So, let us look at the problem of our suffering. Let's look at it from the traditional point of view first. There is a difference between pain and suffering, and the Buddha is not addressing primarily the problem of pain, but the problem of suffering. What is the difference? Pain is like, oh! That's pain, okay? Ouch. That is pain. But this is suffering: Oh my God. I just hurt my toe. I'm not going to have enough money to pay the doctor. It is going to turn into gangrene. I'm going to be in the hospital for weeks and weeks. I'm going to be dying or if I do not die, it is going to make me ugly, and no one is going to want to date me. That is suffering. Pain is the simple sensation of natural human life, but suffering is the anguish—mental suffering we add on top of this, layers and layers and layers of this. Not only our own personal layers, but our parent's layers and our ancestor's layers and our cultural and social layers.

So there is this problem of suffering. What is the cause of that suffering? The three main causes that the Buddha outlined for us—and they are not the only, but they are the three fundamental ones, going back here. The first one is usually called craving or grasping or obsessive desire, but really that is just back in the old day, they would say the first item on the list of things because it was too long to say the whole thing, so they would say the top of the list to mean the whole list. So it is not just that craving and desire is the only final cause of suffering, but that it is the top of the list. The other two are aversion, which is its twin opposite, and then the fundamental parent of both of them is delusion or ignorance.

Craving is that part of the suffering where we want something to be other than what it is so badly that we make ourselves suffer over it. For instance, the fact that people get sick or that there is pain in childbirth or that there sometimes is pain in death or the fact that there is death. If you really think about it, birth, sickness, old age, death has been going on for millions and millions of years. It is just nature. It is just a natural part of life, and yet here we are today. We still have problems with it. We still don't like it. We still resist it, you know? And we don't accept it, but it is the very acceptance of the truth, the reality that actually can relieve our suffering around these things.

And the same with aversion, which is just the twin opposite. We just resist reality instead of going with the flow of reality, and that resistance creates that internal suffering. It is the same thing with craving. It is kind of like a romantic relationship where you just love this person and they do something kind of that, and you really, really hate them. And then they make up and you really, really love them, and then they do something again, and it is just this kind of mood swing thing back and forth. And what is it based on? It is that pivot of delusion and ignorance of the true reality. It is the delusion that you're going to actually find the deepest kind of truth and happiness in these mood swings.

Anyway, that is a very basic explanation of the causes of suffering, and you can come up with all kinds of other causes that kind of stem from these. And in my model, the Brother ChiSing model, shit is made of non-shit elements. And this is like the teachings of the Buddha when she said that one of the things we are deluded about and ignorant of is the fact that everything is impermanent not everything is not self. Those are two of the three or four fundamental qualities of the way things are, and what that means is well, everything changes. Everything is impermanent. Everything is evolving and growing.

You know, it reminds me of a story that our teacher once said. You know, his father and his daughter were at the retreat, and the father was saying, "Oh man. Impermanence. Everything is changing, and everyone is going to grow old and change, and we're going to lose things, and it was like the truth of impermanence is such a terrible thing, and then his little daughter was so wise—said to the dad, "Well, daddy, if there is no impermanence, how could I grow up?" Right? So there's a positive way of looking at these things, too. Impermanent allows all the possibilities of the universe to occur. Infinite potentiality becomes infinite possibility because of impermanence.

And not self. What is the truth of not self? Well, people have been trying to figure this one out for many, many centuries. You know, some people don't get it. Some people don't, and really, I don't think you really fully get it until you at least have a few glimpses of greater experiences from your practice, and then you start to really get it because it is not something you just think about. It is something that you really get in your whole being, but I will just give you a simple understanding of the meaning of not self, and again, our teacher puts it very beautifully. Just think of this table for instance. This is a table, but it is also not a table, because it is also wood, and it is all the things that wood is made of, all the different molecules of wood. It is also the sunshine that made the tree and the rain and the water and the logger to cut it and the carpenter who built it beautifully—for our sangha, by the way. And it is also made of the consciousness of the minds who came up with the idea of the table in the first place.

So, it is a table, and it is not a table. We are ourselves, and we are not ourselves. Our self is only a self because it is not self, and shit is only shit because it is non-shit. And suffering is only suffering because it is also not suffering. So when we look deeply at our shit and look deeply at our suffering, what is it really made of? Let us break it down. So let's say I am angry. There is anger there. What is it made out of? Is it just because this person did this? Is that the only reason for this anger? It is also made of the fact that this person reminds me of someone a year ago or in my childhood, and so that anger is compounded by a memory, and so I am projecting. Also this anger may be made of fear or of sadness or of outrage or other things. You keep breaking it down into its simple elemental forms, and soon you will know the way to transform it.

Just like with shit. Because shit isn't just shit, it is made of things that also can be nourishing and you can break it down because within shit is the sunshine and the earth and the air and the rain and fertilizer and compost and nourishment for the plants. So we do not have to reject anything in our experience if we know how to skillfully transform it. If we understand its causes and the layers underneath, even our negative experiences can become positive.

If it weren't for all of the times in the years past where I had problems with certain sangha members and just trial and error, learning how to relate to people, learning how to be community. If I did not have those times where it was hard and where I had some friction with certain people, I would not be the spiritual leader that I am today. I would not have any of the skills that I have now, which make it more possible for a sangha like this to exist in Dallas. We do not have to reject any of our experiences if we know how to look deeply into it and find out what it is made of and transform and cook those ingredients into something beautiful.

And transformation is possible. It is our true nature. Truth is our true nature. Goodness is our true nature. Beauty is our true nature. And nothing in the universe has to be rejected. It can all be included because it is empty of a solid, permanent state. It can always be transformed.

What are the two qualities of a Buddha? Wisdom and compassion. But wisdom cannot be there without learning through life experiences, learning through sometimes difficult experiences, because without those difficult experiences in life, you don't have wisdom. You may have knowledge, but not wisdom. Wisdom comes with experience. And compassion only comes from deeply experiencing and being with the difficulties of life and the suffering of life and the pain of life and the pain of others. Because without that, it is not compassion. There is no compassion without that, so a Buddha is made of suffering. A Buddha is made of shit. A Buddha is made of an average human being like all of us. Buddha is made of non-Buddha elements. Myself is made of nonself elements.

So I would like to close my thoughts with—oh, and then there is the process. This reminds me of certain characters I used to go see a long time ago, were they always talk about the problem and the solution, but they would not talk about how you get there. I love Buddhism. We've got a process. We have it down. So anyway, it is the Eightfold Path: right view, right-thinking, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

And to understand those three, you can just break them down into three categories of wisdom. How do you translate this? Shila, like ethics or morality. Which is a better word? Which do you like?

Audience: Ethics.

ChiSing: Ethics. Okay. And samadhi, so let us just say meditation. So wisdom is the right view and right-thinking, and next week, Rod, one of our sangha members will talk about Big Mind, which is the vast or true nature, which is the true view of the truth—is its own true view. It is not any one small perspective. And then the next week after that, Dr. Cynthia Rexroat from CSL we'll be here to talk about right thinking and about how she aligns her thinking in harmony with the universe through what she calls spiritual mind treatment and so on and so forth.

So, ethics, there is right speech, right action, right livelihood, and then meditation, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. All three are important. Sometimes in the religious upbringing I had, we may have only had one or two of those, but all three are important for enlightenment and awakening in the transformation process. We need to have wisdom. Basically we start off with the basic wisdom, just a basic understanding of how to think and how to try to view things from a more enlightened view, but actually you do not really get wisdom by studying, the deepest form. It is through the whole practice that it comes back to wisdom, deepest wisdom, from your own true wisdom that comes forth.

But we start off with a little wisdom teaching, we also live ethically, live mindfully in relationship to others because really we are one, and we are acting that out. And then of course meditation and so forth, the transformation of consciousness. So all three working together will put you on the wheel of awakening. With just one or two, it is going to be more difficult. I think the Buddha was very wise when he gave this simple teaching to us. In this simple teaching, there is such profundity. You will discover that profundity as you practice. You will have your own version of the Four Noble Truths. Maybe your version can be shit happens, but maybe something else.

And in conclusion, I would like to just share that this sangha was begun with a particular bodhisattva in mind. A bodhisattva is the beginning of awakening, meaning dedicated to becoming a full Buddha on behalf of all beings, to benefit all beings, and one of the bodhisattvas that is not very well known, his name is Sadaparibhuta, and he is the bodhisattva of encouragement, also sometimes called the non-discouraging bodhisattva. Every person that this person met in his earth life, he would say, "Oh, you are going to be a Buddha. You are a Buddha." So even if they were insulting him or throwing stones at him or thinking he was crazy, he just would only say positive things to them and remind them—tell them the truth, "You are a potential Buddha. You are a Buddha."

So this is what the sangha is about, took personally and collectively remind ourselves that all of Dallas-Fort Worth that we are Buddha, even when we do not feel like it, even if we don't look like it, even though sometimes we do not always act like it, but we are Buddha. And just keep saying the truth until it is realized. That is the practice of bodhisattva Sadaparibhuta.

Thank you.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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